Welcome back to another season of Detroit Lions football and another season of our On Paper previews. If you’re new to the Lions or Pride of Detroit or On Paper, let me break down how our standard weekly preview works. Click Here to watch NFL Football 2020 Live stream NFL
On Paper seeks to objectively break down each Lions game with statistics as the deciding factor in these previews. Each team’s unit (ie: pass offense) will be matched up against the opposing team’s corresponding unit (ie: pass defense). At the end of each matchup analysis,
I will hand out an advantage on a scale from zero to five based both on how strongly the matchup favors one side and its importance to the final outcome. Admittedly, there is no science to that part of the preview.
At the heart of On Paper is our matchup charts. These seek to put each team’s weekly performance in its proper context. We pull the stats from that week and compare it to their opponent’s weekly averages. For example, if the Lions pass for 330 yards with a passer rating of 100.0 one week, that looks like a pretty solid performance on its own. But if
the defense they were going against averaged 360 yards allowed per game and a 115.0 passer rating, that’s actually a below-average performance by the Lions. So that cell for the week would get filled in with red. Yellow cells represent a performance within five percent of averages. Note: Color coding is based on the team we’re describing. So red for the Bears = bad for the Bears (good for the Lions). Green for the Bears = good for the Bears (bad for the Lions).
It sounds very complicated, but I promise you’ll get the hang of it. And, of course, for the first three weeks of preview, we’ll be using 2019 data while explaining the limitations of that data.
With all of that out of the way, here is our Week 1 On Paper matchup between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.
Lions pass offense (14th in DVOA in 2019) vs. Bears pass defense (11th)
There’s no clearer sign of just how important Matthew Stafford is to this team than this chart. In half the games he played last year, the Lions exceeded both opponents’ allowed passing yards and passer rating averages. In the eight games he didn’t play, the Lions accomplished that zero times.
Unfortunately, we have no data points against the Bears with Stafford at quarterback. Instead, Chicago got Jeff Driskel on short notice. Then they got undrafted rookie David Blough on short notice. In other words, you can just throw out those two data points completely.
This offseason, the Lions didn’t do much to change their passing offensive weapons. All four of their top receiving options have returned. They will, likely, be expecting big growth from second-year tight end T.J. Hockenson, and they may have a couple new weapons out of the backfield, but that all remains theoretical and not yet reality.
However, when Matthew Stafford’s back injury was discovered, the Lions had the fifth-best passing attack. It’s hard to see how that may have gotten worse this offseason.
This Chicago Bears defense may have regressed last season, but it was still incredibly hard to succeed against them. They allowed just two teams to exceed their passer rating averages last year, and only two managed a passer rating above 100: Teddy Bridgewater and Patrick Mahomes.
Overall, their statistics were quite impressive, despite the lack of sacks (32, t-24th) and interceptions (10, t-25th). They allowed just 222.1 passing yards per game (ninth), 6.6 yards per attempt (t-fourth) and a passer rating of 85.2 (eighth).
As for changes this offseason, much like the Lions offense, it was mostly about keeping the band together. While there remain questions about the secondary, with no Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Prince Amukamara this season, most of the players that left weren’t key pieces of this defense anyways.
However, the progression of second-round rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson could be key to this unit, as he’s expected to start from Day 1.
Matchup to watch: Bears EDGEs vs. Lions offensive tackles. Injuries could play a big part here, as Lions starting right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Bears edge defender Robert Quinn both did not practice on Thursday. But Taylor Decker vs. Khalil Mack figures to be an entertaining matchup, as both players remain at the top of their game right now.
Advantage: Lions +1. I’m going to give this matchup the same advantage I did when the two teams met for the first time last season—and we had no idea Stafford wasn’t going to play. Largely, these teams remain similar from that time. And although the Bears were really good at stopping the deep ball last year (only 40 plays of 20+ yards allowed, t-third fewest), this Lions offense can hurt you in multiple ways.
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