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Game Preview: Detroit Lions
Good morning! ☀️
Christmas is a week on Sunday and I’ve yet to wrap a single present. Hopefully, the Jets deliver an early Christmas present this Sunday as they take on the Lions.
Detroit is currently 6-7 and in the hunt for the playoffs and they’re also on a 2-game winning streak having beaten the Vikings and Jaguars over the last couple of weeks.
That doesn’t really tell the true story though, the Lions have been playing well for some time. They lost to the Bills by 3 points and beat the Giants by 13 points, they also beat the Bears and Packers recently too. Being 5-1 in their last six games means they’re a very dangerous outfit and shouldn’t be underestimated.
Mike LaFleur met with the media and addressed a few topics. On Elijah Moore and what he’s seen in the last few weeks, he said “he's just in a good place." On the team’s slow starts he said "It's not a difficult game if we don't make it difficult." On Bam Knight "He's brought an element of juice and toughness that our offense needed." - He also confirmed that Mike White is showing no ill effects from his rib injury but then said, “Even if he did, he wouldn’t say anything”.
Coach Saleh had some positive things to say about Jared Goff: "Goff is taking care of the football. I think he's got 7 interceptions on the year. He delivers, I mean he's very accurate, very accurate with the football, quick decision maker, and he is very comfortable back there and he's playing very, very well."
Sheldon Rankins also had a lot of time for the Lion’s offensive line: "They're a good group up front, they play physical. They play nasty. They play violently. You can tell that is their identity and that's what they want to be known for."
Bam Knight won the rookie of the week belt, which is the 10th time a Jet has won it in 13 weeks (not counting the bye week). It's a popularity contest, but one the Jets win on a weekly basis.
It was announced that the Jets had cut Will Parks, which came as a bit of a surprise. Parks was on the Wednesday injury report with a DNP due to non-injury-related reasons, 24 hours later he was off the report and off the team. It was later reported by Rich Cimini that the team hoped to get him back today if he cleared waivers, some “roster gymnastics” and nothing more.
Offensive line coach John Benton expects the Lions to try and replicate what the Bills did to bring pressure on Mike White - "Once you show a weakness, they're going to bleed you out until you fix it."
Having watched Dan Campbell and the Lions on Hard Knocks this year, I’ve been watching their results closely. Campbell is an easy guy to cheer for after all.
The Lions started 1-6 but they never felt like a 1-6 kind of team. During that run they had a 3-point loss to Seattle, a 3-point loss to the Eagles and a 4-point loss to the Vikings.
The problem for Detroit was they couldn’t stop a nosebleed. They gave up 38 points to the Eagles, 48 points to the Seahawks and 29 points to the offensively inept Patriots.
Those problems haven’t gone away, but they have improved. They’ve kept two of their previous four opponents under 20 points (Giants & Jaguars) and limited the Vikings to 23 points as well.
All you need to do is look at some splits to see how this young team continues to improve, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Their 26.7 points allowed on average per game in 2022 would rank them 31st in the league, but over the last 3 games, that number is down at 21.7 which puts them 15th. The 403.2 yards allowed per game on average would also put them 31st, but over the last three, that number is down at 361.0 which puts them 24th.
Their third-down completion percentage allowed has fallen from 48.08% to 41.18% and they currently rank 10th in the league with an average of 1.3 takeaways per game, a higher number than the Jets who are currently going through a barren spell.
But with all that being said, the Detroit Lions are not a good defensive team. They have good players like Aidan Hutchinson who has 8 sacks and 39 pressures as a rookie, and Kirby Joseph, another rookie who is having an impressive start to his NFL career, but they’re susceptible to both the run and pass.
The Jets, if they can negate the impact of Aidan Hutchinson and protect Mike White can put up a statement game on offense. The Detroit secondary shouldn’t be able to handle the firepower the Jets possess in Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore and hopefully Corey Davis.
The Lions are currently ranked 30th in pass defense, allowing 263.4 passing yards per game and unlike the run defense which has seen an improvement recently, the Lions are allowing 267.3 passing yards over their last three.
Detroit also has the 2nd worst record in another key category. 42.5% of all offensive drives this year by their opponent has led to points being scored, only Atlanta has a worse record, and the Jets by comparison are 3rd best in the league at a shade over 30%.
The key for the Jets and a problem area that needs to be addressed is ensuring that the points scored come via touchdown and not Greg Zuerlein’s boot.
The Lions are 23rd in terms of sacks produced, 17th with a pressure rate of 22.1% and 7th with a blitz rate of 30.9%. So they don’t get to the QB a whole lot, they pressure around league average but to generate that pressure, they blitz a lot. Teams that blitz a lot tend to put a strain on the defensive backs to maintain coverage, and as mentioned above, I’d take our receivers over their defensive backs all day.
For me, that’s a clear advantage to the Jets. But the tight ends and the running backs are going to have to be alert on blitz pickup, and White is going to have to identify where the pressure is coming from and get the ball out of his hands quickly. Fortunately, that’s what he does best.
It’ll be interesting to see if former Jet and current Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn mixes things up against a team who will likely welcome the blitz defensive strategy, considering their strengths. On a side note, I was a big fan of Aaron Glenn who went to two Pro Bowls as a member of the Jets in 1997 and 1998.
On the other side of the ball, it’s going to be an outstanding battle between one of the best defenses in the league and one of the hottest offenses in the league.
Over the last three games, the Lions have put up on average 409 yards per game, the 4th best mark in football (The Jets are #3 at 420 yards per game). Their 33 points per game over the last three also rank them in the top 5 in terms of scoring offense. That’s well above their season average of 26.8 points per game, but even that number places them in the top 5.
There are two key stats buried in the numbers for the Detroit Lions offense that tell part of the story:
43% of all their drives end in points, which is good for 6th best in the league
9.6% of all their offensive drives lead to turnovers, the 10th best in the league.
When you can score points at the end of drives and not turn the ball over, good things happen for your offense and that can lead to good things for your defense as well, as you’re not putting them in short-field scenarios.
If you look at the defensive side of the ball for the Lions, you can pick out the odd good player. If you look at the offensive side of the ball, you can pick out plenty.
Jared Goff is having a fine season at Quarterback, completing 65.3% of passes for 3,352 yards with 22 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions.
Amon-Ra St. Brown leads the receiving unit with 106 targets, 56 more than Josh Reynolds who’s second on the Lions with 50 targets. Shutting down St. Brown will be key to limiting Goff and the Lion’s offense, fortunately for the Jets, they have two shutdown cornerbacks.
The Lions like to move Brown around, so it’s likely we’ll see him against Sauce and Reed, but he spends more of his time in the slot (324 slot snaps vs 276 wide), so Michael Carter II will have to be at his absolute best if he hopes to limit St Brown. Detroit has also recently got Jameson Williams back off IR, their 1st round pick from the 2022 draft, and his speed will need to be taken into consideration.
On the ground, the Lions have two very good backs in Jamaal Williams and D'Andre Swift who have combined for 1,180 yards and 18 touchdowns, with Williams doing the majority of the heavy lifting. Although the Vikings were able to limit them to a combined 58 yards on 22 carries last weekend.
The big battle will be between the Jets’ defensive line and the Lions’ offensive line, and this is where Quinnen Williams will be key. The Jets’ star defensive tackle is considered 50-50 to make it for Sunday’s game having left the Bills game in the 2nd quarter due to a calf injury, but if the Jets hope to slow the run game down and generate pressure, he’ll be a big piece of the puzzle.
Against the Vikings last weekend, the interior of the Detroit line allowed 8 pressures on Goff, but the tackle combination of Taylor Decker (LT) and Penei Sewell (RT) allowed just 1, and the line as a unit ranks 7th in terms of yards before contact for the running back (1.7). Both of those stats highlight why it’s key for Quinnen to play on Sunday.
Decker and Sewell have combined to allow 46 pressures and 5 sacks over 13 games, or if you break that down that’s just 3.5 pressures per game and 0.4 sacks per game on average. Carl Lawson, JFM, Huff, Clemons, Curry and Johnson will need to be at their best if they hope to get pressure on Goff around the outside. The Lions QB isn’t the most mobile player in the league and his average time to throw of 2.70 seconds only puts him 21st in the league (minimum 100 dropbacks), so there will be opportunities.
However, only 2 teams in the NFL have allowed fewer than the 19 sacks the Lions have allowed and Jeff Ulbrich said that the Lions have the best offensive line the Jets have seen this year which is hard to argue with.
Generating pressure on Goff is absolutely key, as he completes just 43.8% of passes when pressured (36/42 qualified QBs) and while he’s tossed 4 touchdowns, he’s also thrown 4 interceptions. Considering the Jet’s defensive unit is top 5 in pressure rate at 37.9%, this is the battle that will win the game on that side of the ball.
One thing you’ll often hear about the Jets’ defense is that they bend but don’t break. That tends to mean you can move the ball on them but they clamp down in the red zone, that theory is going to be tested this weekend against the #1 offense in terms of red-zone conversion. If we are talking about touchdowns and touchdowns only, according to Team Rankings, the Lions convert on 75% of red-zone opportunities and they’ve been at 90% over the last three games, both are #1 in the league. Best not to let them move that football at all.
To finish things off I’m just going to share the DVOA comparisons between the two teams according to Football Outsiders:
Total DVOA: Jets (9th), Lions (11th)
Offensive DVOA: Jets (19th), Lions (7th)
Defensive DVOA: Jets (6th), Lions (24th)
Special Teams DVOA: Jets (18th), Lions (9th)
Have a great weekend everyone, and let’s hope we’re talking about a Jets victory when we get back to TJW on Monday.
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