The Giants go to Detroit this weekend to take on the Lions, who have lost three straight. Here's what I saw watching the Lions on film in their last four games:
When The Lions Have The Ball
The Spotlight: Quarterback Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford is having one of the best years of his career. He still possesses an outrageously strong arm. He can make every throw, often times with different arm angles and non-traditional footwork. He can still accurately pump the ball 20+ yards in the air while falling backwards. It is really a marvel to see.
He is more decisive with the ball and is getting it to the right player. His 13-3 TD/INT ratio would be the best of his career.
His 62.4% completion percentage would be his lowest since 2014, but his 12.9 yards per completion is the highest of his career. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), his average depth of target of 11.7 is more than two yards higher than his previous high in 2017 (9.4). Stafford is constantly looking down the field, and is not afraid of throwing 50/50 balls into coverage. Giants defensive backs will have their chances to make plays on the ball. Stafford has underrated agility. He can buy time with his feet and makes throws on the run, or gain valuable yards when plays break down.
Quotebook -- Giants safety Jabrill Peppers: "I played against him a couple years ago. He dices up pretty nice. I know I'm definitely coming into that game with a different mindset because I played against him. His surrounding cast has gotten a lot better. The guys have matured around him. He has some pieces now. The acquisition of the tight end (T.J. Hockenson) has helped him a lot. We know we definitely have our work cut out with Matt. They didn't give him all of that money for no reason."
The Matchup: Right Tackle Rick Wagner vs LOLB Markus Golden
Wagner has taken every offensive snap this year and has allowed 3 sacks, 4 quarterback hits and 16 hurries. Golden, who leads the Giants with 5.0 sacks, lines up mostly over the opposing team's right tackle and will draw Wagner on most plays. With the Lions downfield passing game, getting pressure with only four men will be paramount, and Golden is the team's best chance of getting there. Taylor Decker has had similar issues at left tackle, where Lorenzo Carter will try to get to the quarterback.
Scheme and Tendencies
*The Lions are second in the NFL behind only the Chiefs with 47 pass attempts that travel 20 or more yards in the air. Detroit's 28 completions ties for sixth in the NFL. Stafford is particularly effective throwing deep down the middle of the field. According to PFF, he is 8 of 16 for 249 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception on passes between the numbers that travel more than 20 yards in the air. Outside the numbers, he is only 6 of 28 for 237 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
*The Lions prefer to run those downfield routes and deep crossing patterns off play action. Play action comprises 26.5% of the Lions' pass plays, the 12th highest rate in the league. According to PFF, on play action passes this season, Stafford is 37 of 60 for 628 yards with two touchdowns and only one interception. He has an impressive 13.3 average depth of target on those plays. It will be a similar challenge the Giants faced against Kirk Cousins and the Vikings on play action passes.
*The Lions 57.1% run frequency on 1st and 10 (8th highest in the NFL) and 43.8% run frequency in the first half (7th highest in the NFL) makes teams respect their run game. Their workhorse running back, Kerryon Johnson, was placed on injured reserve this week. They signed Alfred Morris but most of the early down work is likely to go to 6th round rookie runner Ty Johnson. He is not particularly explosive but will grind out yards that are there. He is a capable receiver, catching 8 of 9 targets for 35 yards.
*J.D. McKissic, a 5-10, 194-pound converted wide receiver, will get his share the third down work. He has been used mostly on gimmick plays, like jet sweeps, through the first seven weeks of the season. He only has 7 catches for 73 yards.
*Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones make up a very balanced and dangerous wide receiver corps. Jones has five more receptions than Golladay but only two more yards. Golladay is more of a deep threat, but both can win down the field. They are dangerous matchups for the Giants cornerbacks with speed to win over the top. The elusive Danny Amendola plays the slot and has 20 catches for 252 yards. Marvin Hall could be an x-factor in this game. He has only four catches this season, but they have gone for 152 yards. He is a true speedster and will stretch the defense from the slot or outside.
*T.J. Hockenson and Jesse James are the Lions two-headed monster at tight end. According to PFF, the Lions have run 12 personnel on 16.5% of snaps this year. Hockenson is an excellent two-way tight end who can catch and block. He has a big body and can post up defenders to create throwing windows for Stafford.
*The Lions like to throw fades in the red zone to their taller wide receivers and Hockenson.
Keys For The Giants Defense
- Get pressure with only four rushers
- Prevent big plays over the top
- Be disciplined against play action
When The Giants Have The Ball
The Spotlight: Cornerback Justin Coleman
With Darius Slay dealing with a hamstring injury and potentially unable to play, Coleman is the Lions' top cornerback. He will play the nickel when teams have three receivers on the field, but will otherwise play outside. According to PFF, Coleman has allowed 29 catches on 54 targets for 358 yards and five touchdowns. He will play press-man at the line of scrimmage.
The Matchup: Edge Defender Devon Kennard vs. Right Tackle Mike Remmers
Kennard leads the Lions with three sacks and lines up primarily on the left edge of the Lions defense. He is still a better run defender than a pass rusher. He wins with effort and is relentless. According to PFF, Kennard has eight quarterback hits and 11 hurries to go along with his three sacks.
Schemes and Tendencies
*According to PFF, the Lions play some variation of man to man defense over 60% of the time, which is the second highest rate in the NFL. Cover One (man to man with a single high safety) makes up more than half of their snaps. They will drop their linebackers underneath and to try to take away quick passes. Their coverage has been strong this year against prolific offenses like the Chiefs and Packers. If Darius Slay cannot play with his hamstring injury, it will be interesting to see whether they adjust their coverage schemes and play less man defense.
*While much attention has been paid to the trade of safety and defensive captain Quandre Diggs, it is fellow safety Tracy Walker who has been the difference maker at the position. Detroit lines him up deep, in the box, or on a receiver in the slot. He has been great in coverage and might be used more there if Slay can't play. He has two interceptions this season, and has allowed 18 catches for 280 yards.
*According to Next Gen Stats, the Lions are the only team that allows more than 10 air yards (10.8) per pass attempt. They also force opposing quarterbacks to work outside. Opponents' passes go outside the numbers 49% of the time, which is the highest rate in the league. They force contested throws down the field.
*In spite of a talented secondary, Detroit is ranked 30th in pass defense. The reason? According to Next Gen Stats, the Lions pressure the opposing quarterback only 17.9% of the time, which is the second lowest rate in the league. They rely on three and four man rushes to get home, blitzing less than any other team in the NFL (15% of the time). The result is opposing quarterbacks have on average 3.04 seconds to throw. No other team is higher than 2.9 seconds. When the Lions have blitzed, they have been effective, holding opposing quarterbacks to a rating of 76.19, the 8th lowest in the league. The Lions have only 12 sacks this season.
*Former Giant Romeo Okwara and former Patriot Trey Flowers are the Lions other two edge rushers. According to PFF, Okwara has four quarterback hits and 13 hurries to go along with his one sack. Flowers, a big money free agent addition this summer, has four hits, 14 hurries and one sack. Flowers is a naturally gifted pass rusher and likes to win with power. Flowers plays mostly on the right side of the line and will sometimes move inside to right tackle.
*Opponents have allowed 32 plays that have gone for 20 or more yards, tied for 7th most in the league. Twenty-seven of those plays have been passes.
*Opponents are converting 45.6% of their third downs, the 7th worst rate in the league. On third and more than six yards, the Lions are the third worst team in football (31.6% conversion rate).
*Even with former Giant Damon "Snacks" Harrison inside alongside A'Shawn Robinson, the Lions are allowing 4.94 yards per rush play, which ranks 28th in the league.
*Jarrad Davis and Christian Jones start with Devon Kennard at linebacker, but rookie Jahlani Tavai gets a lot of snaps on passing downs next to Davis. Tavai is their best coverage linebacker, and Davis has been best as a pass rusher on those downs.
Quotebook -- Giants Tight End Evan Engram: "We have to be physical, too. That's the thing, they are real physical, they are good upfield, they are heavy handed. We have to get after them in the run game, we are going to have to work on technique and small things this week and then when Sunday comes around, we are going to have to get physical and compete."
Keys For The Giants Defense
- Attack the Lions linebackers in the passing game with Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram
- Make chunk plays against the Lions defense
- Run it consistently with Saquon Barkley
Conclusion: This game has the potential to be a high scoring affair that may be decided by which team is able to make more explosive plays.
Giants vs. Lions Broadcast Info: TV channel, Radio Station and Live Stream.