3TFO: Lions @ Jaguars, Week 9
Storylines abound for this matchup as the Jacksonville Jaguars recently traded underachieving wide receiver Mike Thomas to the Detroit Lions in exchange for a mid-round draft pick. That’s not exactly the trade deadline blockbuster you’d see in other sports (or even from the New England Patriots), but it qualifies as moderate news in a league that’s just not conducive to in-season trades. Thomas may not even contribute right away in Detroit as he joins a group of similarly talented complementary receivers. In the long run though, it was probably worth the risk for the Lions to see if he can reach the potential he showed in his first couple years as a slot receiver.
Last week, the Lions responded well in a make-or-break game against the Seattle Seahawks to move to 3-4. On the other side, the Jaguars played a hard-fought game against the Green Bay Packers, but their 1-6 record has them creeping towards “with-the-first-pick-in-the-draft” status.
Let’s take a look at the key battles that will shape this matchup.
Lions Passing Game vs. Jaguars Defensive Backs
Coming off his best game of the season, quarterback Matthew Stafford has been the subject of debate all year. On one hand he’s been marred by inconsistent play. On the other hand, he hasn’t had a lot of help from his receiving corps as his accuracy percentage ranks ninth in the league at 75.1%, and the 315 yards he’s lost through the air on drops is more than any other quarterback in the league. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson has already matched his total from last year with seven drops, and his Yards per Route Run (YPRR) is down to 1.87 after posting a 2.43 mark last season. Despite his recent inconsistent play, the Jaguars will still focus their efforts to stop him this week, opening things up for WR Titus Young who is coming off two strong games catching 15 of 17 balls thrown his way for 181 yards.
The Jacksonville secondary will counter Johnson’s big-play ability by keeping their safeties deep. Strong safety Dawan Landry spends only 29% of his snaps within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage, while fill-in free safety Chris Prosinski has done so on only 12.7% of his snaps. Jacksonville’s Cover-2 heavy scheme did a nice job of limiting big plays last week against the Green Bay Packers and they’re likely to incorporate a similar strategy this week. Both Jaguars starting cornerbacks, Derek Cox and Rashean Mathis, have been rather limited in practice after missing last week’s game, so it could be on CBs Aaron Ross, William Middleton, and Mike Harris again this week. Middleton’s 0.77 yards per coverage snap ranks near the top of the league in his limited time, while Ross has also shown well with his 1.05 mark.
Lions Defensive Tackles vs. Jaguars Interior Offensive Line
We’ve been asking for more disciplined play from defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and he’s delivered in recent weeks. He’s coming off his best two games of the season and his +0.5 grade against the run is on pace to be a career high. He’s right in line with his career numbers as a pass rusher as well, as his 5.8 Pass Rush Productivity (PRP) is tied for 11th among defensive tackles. Fellow DT Nick Fairley has rushed the passer at a similar clip (6.0 PRP). Perhaps most impressive about the Lions’ four-man rotation of Suh, Fairley, Corey Williams, and Sammie Lee Hill is that they’ve only missed one tackle as a group on 29 attempts this season.
While the Jaguars’ offensive line ranks second to last in Pass Blocking Efficiency (74.6, just ahead of the dismal Arizona Cardinals), they’ve gotten stellar play from left tackle Eugene Monroe and new right tackle Cameron Bradfield has shown improvement in recent weeks. Combine that with the Lions’ inability to get consistent pressure off the edge this season, and it looks like Detroit will have to get to QB Blaine Gabbert through the interior. Rookie left guard Mike Brewster took over for Eben Britton last week after he struggled to adjust to his new position. Brewster has shown better in pass protection since early in the season and, though he ranks 63rd among guards in PBE, his 94.6 mark is certainly better than Britton’s 89.3, which ranks dead last. Rounding out the interior is RG Uche Nwaneri whose PBE ranks in the middle of the pack at 96.6 while C Brad Meester is tied for 28th at the position at 97.4.
Jeremy Mincey and John Chick vs. Jeff Backus
For the Jaguars, it will be a team effort at right defensive end as pass rush specialist John Chick returned from injury last week. He’ll pair with run stopping specialist Jeremy Mincey who will line up at right end on early downs. Mincey’s +8.2 run stop grade ranks fourth in the league among 4-3 defensive ends, while his run stop percentage of 5.7 is tied for 16th. Chick was Jacksonville’s best pass rusher last season before he got hurt, as he posted a PRP of 11.7 on his 133 pass rushing snaps.
The Jaguars’ duo will go up against LT Jeff Backus whose uneven pass block/run block splits put him around league-average at the position. His +9.5 pass block grade ranks sixth in the league while his PBE of 96.5 is tied for 14th. On the other side, Backus is our worst-rated run blocker at -12.8, which would indicate he may have a difficult time blocking Mincey on Sunday, while holding his own against Chick. We’ll see if those numbers play out this weekend.
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