Detroit Lions vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dave Birkett’s scouting report, prediction

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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Detroit Lions (1-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4)

The coaches: Lions-Matt Patricia (10-25-1 overall, 10-25-1 with Lions); Jaguars-Doug Marrone (38-49 overall, 23-32 with Jaguars).

Last game: Lions lost to New Orleans Saints, 35-29; Jaguars lost to Houston Texans, 30-14.

Last meeting: Nov. 20, 2016: Lions won, 26-19.

Key matchups

Lions LT Taylor Decker vs. Jaguars DE Josh Allen: The Lions have dealt with injuries on their offensive line all season and on Sunday likely will start their fourth different combination in five games. Decker has been the one mainstay, taking every snap at left tackle and playing arguably the best football of his career. The Lions have given up too many sacks as a team – 12, which puts Matthew Stafford on pace to be sacked a career-high 48 times – but this week face one of the NFL’s most anemic pass rushes. The Jaguars are tied for last in the NFL with five sacks, and their only game-wrecker is Allen, who has 12.5 sacks in 20 career games. Allen’s speed is an issue, but if Decker can keep him out of the backfield, the Lions should have plenty of time to operate on offense.

Assigning blame for Matthew Stafford’s career-high sack rate with Lions ]

Jaguars WR Laviska Shenault Jr. vs. Lions CB Amani Oruwariye: A second-round pick in the spring out of Colorado, Shenault has a team-leading 23 catches for 270 yards through five games. Not only is he Gardner Minshew’s favorite target, he’s also Jacksonville’s most dynamic player, lining up all over the field, including at running back, where he has nine carries. The Lions won’t have top cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Justin Coleman in the lineup because of injuries, and they’ve rarely traveled with receivers this season. But Oruwariye has been the team’s best cornerback and he’s bound to match up plenty with Jacksonville’s No. 1 pass catcher, especially if D.J. Chark sits with an ankle injury.

Scouting report

Lions run offense vs. Jaguars run defense

Adrian Peterson missed practice time this week with a non-COVID-19-related illness. If he’s good to go, he should get the bulk of the carries in the Lions’ by-committee backfield.

Peterson is averaging a respectable 4.5 yards per carry this season, but the Lions rank 24th in rushing at 101.8 yards per game. Neither D’Andre Swift nor Kerryon Johnson has a run longer than 10 yards, and the Lions have used those backs in such specific roles that it’s impacted their play-action passing game. Swift’s biggest contributions have come as a receiver; he’s second on the team with 13 catches. But coming off a bye, the Lions are in position to give him more work on outside zone rushing plays.

The Jaguars don’t do much well defensively, and that includes stopping the run, where they rank 26th in the NFL at 136.6 yards per game. It doesn’t help that they traded their best run defender, Calais Campbell, in the offseason, and it doesn’t help that Myles Jack missed time the past two weeks with an ankle injury. Jack should be back on the field Sunday, and that should help limit the chunk plays that have been an issue of late. Rookie Davon Hamilton should see an expanded role at nose tackle with Abry Jones battling injury. Edge: Lions

If RBs are so easy to find, why do Lions keep taking them high in NFL draft? ]

Lions pass offense vs. Jaguars pass defense

The Jaguars have similar problems to the Lions on defense in that they can’t stop the run and get minimal pass rush, which has made life tough on their secondary. Jacksonville enters last in the NFL in opponent completion percentage (75.8%) and yards per attempt (8.8) and have given up more 20-yard pass plays than all but seven teams.

Stafford has seen his completion percentage dip this year, which he and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell attribute mostly to sloppy footwork. Stafford needs to be better for this offense to operate at peak efficiency, and his receivers have to get open.

Matthew Stafford never has thrown TD pass against Jacksonville Jaguars ]

Kenny Golladay has 10 catches in the two games he’s played, but his yards per catch are way down – 18.3 last year vs. 11.9 this year – as opponents have successfully stymied the Lions’ deep passing game. T.J. Hockenson leads the Lions in receptions (15) and yards (180), and considering Jacksonville’s struggles defending the tight end, could be in for a big game Sunday. Edge: Lions

Jaguars run offense vs. Lions run defense

For as great a story as undrafted rookie running back James Robinson is, the Jaguars have one of the least productive rushing games. They’re 26th in yards per game (98.4), have topped 95 yards rushing once and have one rush longer than 20 yards.

Robinson gets the majority of the work. He’s a well-rounded back who seems capable of getting tough yards, but he’s not a game-changer. Quarterback Gardner Minshew is second on the team in rushing, and the Lions have to be wary of him breaking contain in passing situations. The Jaguars occasionally use Shenault out of the backfield, but might be limited in their ability to do that Sunday because of Chark’s ankle injury.

The Lions are last in the NFL in run defense by a wide margin at 170.3 yards per game. They’ve gotten little push up front and sometimes have trouble getting off blocks at the second level. Lions coach Matt Patricia said he’d be simplifying the defense this week in hopes of playing better, though he was vague on what that means. Danny Shelton has a tough matchup with Brandon Linder in the trenches, and if he can’t control that battle, the Lions could be in for a long day. Edge: Jaguars

Jaguars pass offense vs. Lions pass defense

Minshew Mania has all but worn off in Jacksonville. The Jaguars’ quarterback is a generally accurate passer who knows where to go with the ball, but his average arm strength limits Jacksonville’s big-play ability and he’s surrounded by mostly underwhelming talent.

The Jaguars have some depth at receiver. Shenault is an exciting player and has proven to be Minshew’s favorite target this year. Chark (73 catches, 1,008 yards, eight TDs last season) is overlooked because of the city he plays in, and Keelan Cole has revived his career in the slot. Chark might not play though, and the Jaguars have had protection issues up front, allowing sacks on nearly 9% of their pass attempts.

Whether the Lions can take advantage of Jacksonville’s protection problems is another story as they have one of the NFL’s most feeble pass rushes. Without Trufant, Jeff Okudah rejoins Oruwariye in the starting lineup. Trey Flowers could be in for a big day against banged-up left tackle Cam Robinson. Edge: Lions

Special teams

The Lions have been dominant in the punting game, and that’s a big reason why they rank near the top of the Football Outsiders composite special teams rankings. Jack Fox leads the league with a 49.9-yard net punting average and Tony McRae has shined at the gunner position. Return man Jamal Agnew lamented his lack of opportunities earlier this week, but has made the most of the few punt returns he has had with a 17.5 yard average. Matt Prater, despite a couple misses from 50-plus yards, remains one of the most trusted kickers in the league. 

The Lions’ good fortune at the kicker position is even more evident when compared to what Jacksonville has gone through. The Jaguars will use their fifth kicker in six weeks when Jon Brown takes the field Sunday. Jacksonville’s first four kickers – Josh Lambo, Brandon Wright, Stephen Hauschka and Aldrick Rosas – all suffered injuries. The Jaguars have used a rotating cast in the return game as well, with Cole and Chris Claybrooks both flashing potential in limited opportunities, and they seem to challenge opposing return men, which could mean Agnew gets return opportunities. Edge: Lions


Since opening some eyes with a season-opening upset of the Indianapolis Colts and a late-game loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Jaguars have settled in as the team most thought they were entering the year. They’re one of the three least talented teams in the NFL, and the Lions, if Patricia wants to keep his job, have no business losing to them. Coming off a bye week, this is a chance for the Lions to both get their high-powered passing attack on track and to find their footing defensively. Frank Ragnow’s injury at center, and the resulting line shuffle it could create, are a concern for the Lions. But if they lose this game, it’s time to cash in the chips on the season. Pick: Lions 28, Jaguars 17

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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