The Lions have started 0-2 against two teams expecting to make deep runs into the playoffs. So far, the defence has been burned via the linebackers and injuries to starting cornerbacks but the offense has surprised in patches, with Goff managing 3 excellent quarters of football out of 8.
Can the Lions make the necessary adjustments to the defense to remain in a game and will the offense deliver a complete game in their future, which appears to be our only key to victory?
These questions need answering fast with the arrival of the Baltimore Ravens, and Lamar Jackson to Ford Field on Sunday September 26 2021.
Jamie Collins is now on the trade block and he appears to have played his last snap for the Lions. His snaps appear to be being shared out between 4th round rookie Derrick Barnes and special teams ace Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
WR1 Tyrell Williams has been placed on IR with a concussion, clearly a severe one. A concussion that requires IR has a massive range of recuperation times, ranging from 2 weeks to season-ending.
The Ravens have had an interesting start, falling to Vegas in overtime at the Allegiant Stadium 33-27 before beating the Chiefs at home 36-35.
The offense is clearly cooking, scoring 62 points in the first two weeks, but they've been bleeding on defence, giving up 69. So what's happened?
It all starts with unique QB Lamar Jackson. His throwing has clearly improved from a low base year on year, but you have to account for his skills on the ground. He averages 6.9 YPC and leads the Ravens with 193 yards through the first two games. However, if you do put a spy on him, you'd better watch out for the increased number of offensive weapons they have who aren't being doubled.
WR Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown. Brown has had an up and down couple of years so far in Baltimore, but according to Ian from UK Ravens, this is his first season entirely free of injury. And it looks like it too; 12 catches on 16 targets for 182 yards and 2 TDs is nothing to sniff at, but how about this - that's now 8 TDs in his last 8 regular-season games.
WR Sammy Watkins. While he's never proven to be a reliable WR1, he's a legitimate threat all over the field. He enters this matchup with 8 of 15 for 140 yards on the season.
TE Mark Andrews. An underwhelming beginning to the year, Andrews has been in the top 5 of tight ends for years and it's only so long until he has another game-breaking performance.
The main issues for Baltimore have been two-fold:-
1) They can't keep their RBs healthy, losing 3 in 12 days to season-ending injuries (Dobbins, Hill & Edwards). They've combated this by bringing in Latavius Murray as RB2, Devonta Freeman as RB3, and Le'Veon Bell to the practice squad backing up UDFA RB1 Ty'Son Williams. Between them, so far they've proven that this scheme is very friendly to RBs.
2) This O-line is fragile. All-Pro LT Ronnie Stanley suffered a season-ending injury last year and has suffered several injuries to open up this season. It doesn't appear likely he will be suiting up on Sunday. Alejandro Villanueva, the long-time Steeler, has moved from RT to LT to fill the gap and looks far more at home there. He's excellent in the run game but is still a liability in pass blocking. The replacement RT is Patrick Mekari who has now played in every position across the line in his short Ravens career. He's been surprisingly good so far. Interior O lineman Zeitler, Powers, and Cleveland have been very underwhelming so far, although Ian from UK Ravens highlights a lack of practice reps being the potential issue here. Finally, Bradley Bozeman has been a good center to hold the line together.
All in all, it appears as though both weaknesses have been fairly well dealt with. The O-line fragility is masked by Lamar's running talents regardless and the running game is productive behind him.
This defense plays as much as a unit as any I've seen in this league. They play some of the highest amounts of Cover 1 and 0, putting QBs under huge amounts of pressure. This is borne out by the great performances so far of first-round rookie Odafe Oweh and free-agent acquisition Justin Houston. Calais Campbell continues to be a monster inside too. Oh, and they also have Marlon Humprey, potentially in the top 3 CBs in the league...
However, this high blitz percentage comes at the cost of putting their own secondary under a lot of pressure. LBs, CBs and S alike are put on an island and asked to perform miracles. It's no wonder that Patrick Queen continues to struggle in coverage. Having said that, the Ravens have found some success in targeting specific opposition strengths and shutting them down - see Tyreek Hill's low numbers last week after being shut down by Anthony Averett.
Given all of the above, and what we already know about the Lions, how do the matchups look?
Well, for Detroit's offense, they know they're going to be facing a complex defensive scheme and a team who love to blitz, and we know what Goff can look like under pressure. Having said that, Detroit's O-line is fulfilling its promise so far as one of the best in the league. The Lions' thin path to victory will rely on Sewell, Jackson, Ragnow, Vaitai, and Nelson keeping Goff upright. If they do that, there will be chances for this wide receiver corps to make some chunk plays. Watch out for Trinity Benson and Kalif Reymond to put up some yardage in this game.
On the other side, Detroit's rushing attack is 4th in DVOA, but they're facing a Baltimore side who have no problem stopping the run, being 9th in DVOA in run defense. The Lions are going to struggle for success in the run against their toughest test so far.
For Baltimore's offense, success primarily will always primarily be through Jackson and the running game. It looks like the Lions' best OLB/Edge run defender Trey Flowers is out for this game, having missed practice all week, which is going to make it hard to contain on the outside, also robbing Lions fans of more highlight reel moments that Flowers regularly delivers. Romeo Okwara showed improvement in that respect last week, but Flowers' replacements in Charles Harris, Austin Bryant, and Julian Okwara are a big step down. It's hard to see the Lions getting success here, and trying to stop Lamar burning you for multiple double-digit runs is the order of the game.
In the pass game, the Lions are depleted at corner, and yet to combat the run game, look to them to run only one high safety which will put these corners one on one often on the outside against 'Hollywood' Brown and Sammy Watkins. That doesn't sound like a recipe for success either way. Aaron Glenn spoke of the benefits of a two safety look against the run, but that requires a very high level of safety play which I fear the Lions do not yet possess.
One thing is for sure. There are points in this game and a lot of them. I expect this to turn into a shootout pretty quickly. I anticipate a game similar to the Green Bay game, in that I think the Lions can hang with their opponents for 2/3 of the game, before falling behind late and getting a consolation score in garbage time.
Ravens 41 - 33 Lions
What do you think will happen?
EDIT: Since writing this article, Baltimore have had a number of players ruled out due to Covid-19.
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