Why I think Detroit Lions’ win streak comes to an end vs. New York Giants

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Lions (3-6) at New York Giants (7-2)

The coaches: Lions-Dan Campbell (11-26-1 overall, 6-19-1 with Lions); Giants-Brian Daboll (7-2 overall, 7-2 with Bears).

Last game: Lions beat Chicago Bears, 31-30. Giants beat Houston Texans, 24-16.

Last meeting: Oct. 27, 2019: Lions won, 31-26.

Key matchups

Giants RB Saquon Barkley vs. Lions LB Alex Anzalone: After facing one of the NFL’s best rushing quarterbacks last week, the Lions’ focus Sunday will be on stopping the Giants’ more traditional ground game led by Barkley. He led the league in rushing yards entering the week and was lauded by Lions coaches for his explosive ability. He darts through holes with one of the best jump cuts in the NFL, which means it will be imperative for Anzalone and the rest of the linebackers to stay in their lanes and tackle well. Stopping Barkley is much more than a one-man show, but Anzalone’s play will be in the spotlight after Pro Football Focus tagged him with five missed tackles last week.

Lions C Frank Ragnow vs. Giants NT Dexter Lawrence: Ragnow missed two days of practice this week with a toe injury he has been dealing with all season. Offensive line coach Hank Fraley said Ragnow has basically been playing on “one leg,” and explained the digit gives him problems both pushing off and anchoring, which are essential to everything linemen do. Ragnow has spurts of dominant play, but has not been as consistent as he was before his foot problems started last fall. In Lawrence, he will face one of the best nose tackles in the NFL. The 342-pounder obliterates rush lanes and has been key to the Giants’ red zone and short-yardage defense. He’s not just a run-stuffer, either, with five sacks in New York’s past six games. He’ll be a problem for Ragnow, Evan Brown or whoever the Lions play at center.

Scouting report

Lions run offense vs. Giants run defense

As good as D’Andre Swift is, the Lions have had success running their offense through Jamaal Williams in recent weeks and that won’t change Sunday. Williams is approaching a career-high in carries but has shown little wear from the workload. He’s a power back built to run in cold weather. He wears defenses down with repeated body blows, but he does not provide many explosive plays.

The Lions have one run longer than 15 yards in four games since the bye and have kept tight tabs on Swift’s workload as he returns from ankle and shoulder injuries. He should have a specific package of plays and it will be incumbent upon offensive coordinator Ben Johnson to scheme up ways to get him the ball in space.

The Giants rank ninth in scoring defense but are near the bottom of the NFL in rushing yards per game (133.2) and are last in yards per carry (5.5). Big plays have been an issue as they’ve allowed five runs of 25 or more yards in their past four games. They do have two anchors on the interior of their defensive line in Lawrence and Leonard Williams, who power their second-ranked red zone defense.  Edge: Lions

More:As injuries nag, Lions RB D’Andre Swift ‘still trying to be myself with what’s going on’

Lions pass offense vs. Giants pass defense

The Lions had the makings of a dangerous pass game early this season, when skill players were healthy. Their production has slipped in recent weeks, but receiver DJ Chark’s potential return Sunday would make them viable again vertically.

Jared Goff has not attempted a pass more than 20 yards downfield the past two weeks, and Josh Reynolds likely will miss his third straight game with a back injury. The Lions made a concerted effort to get Amon-Ra St. Brown the ball early against the Bears and he finished with season-highs in catches and yards. It would be wise to get him involved early again.

The Giants are more vulnerable through the air than the numbers would indicate (a respectable 217 yards per game). They have not played a passing offense that ranks in the top 12 all season and are tied for last in the NFL with two interceptions. Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has never met a blitz he didn’t like, and Fabian Moreau is an emerging cornerback. Edge: Lions

Giants run offense vs. Lions run defense

The Giants have steamrolled teams on the ground, with Barkley and quarterback Daniel Jones leading the way. After two years of battling injuries, Barkley, 25, looks like the player he was a few years ago. He is averaging 4.7 yards per carry, and Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said Barkley is the best back he has seen this season at being able to “break a tackle and take it the distance.”

Jones, in his fourth season, is not Justin Fields as a runner, but must be accounted for in the zone-read game. Jones, 25, ranks fourth among QBs in rushing behind Fields, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen, and had 107 yards on 11 carries in a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in October.

The Lions have allowed more than 100 yards rushing in every game this season and gave up a season-high 258 yards to the Bears last week. They’ve had no answer for running quarterbacks this season, and have allowed 15 rushing touchdowns. Rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez will return after missing the Bears game with an elbow injury, and the Giants are deficient enough at receiver that Jeff Okudah should have another big game in run support. Edge: Giants

Giants pass offense vs. Lions pass defense

The Giants are not particularly dangerous throwing the ball, but they have been an efficient passing team this season, as Jones has cut down drastically on his turnovers. He has not thrown an interception since Sept. 26 and is completing a career-best 65.8% of his passes.

Jones ranks near the bottom of the NFL in intended air yards as the Giants’ passing game has mostly worked as a complement to their rushing attack. Barkley leads the team with 29 catches and Darius Slayton is the only player with more than 200 receiving yards. Wan’Dale Robinson has taken over as the Giants’ primary slot receiver the past few weeks.

The Lions rank last in the NFL in yards allowed per pass, but have gotten better play from their secondary since making changes to personnel and scheme. Jerry Jacobs and Mike Hughes have shared No. 2 cornerback snaps opposite Okudah, and Will Harris has played as the nickel corner. The Lions still need more from their pass rush, especially with Charles Harris out (groin injury). But rookie Aidan Hutchinson has done small things to impact plays even when he’s not getting home with his rush. Edge: Giants

More:Letting Kenny Golladay go among best decisions in Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes’ tenure

Special teams

Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp pinned some recent problems in punt coverage on Jack Fox. Fox’s net average has dropped to a career-low 39.8 yards and the Lions are 30th in punt return yards allowed. “It really probably does start with the punter. We’ve got to punt the ball a little bit better. He hasn’t played quite up to his standard the last couple of weeks,” Fipp said. Michael Badgley has solidified the kicking job, making all five field goal attempts. Badgley went 4-for-4 on field goal tries in his first game at MetLife Stadium this season, when he was with the Bears.

The Giants rank just ahead of the Lions’ in Football Outsiders’ composite special teams rankings, but they’ve had ball security issues in the return game. Adoree’ Jackson replaced Richie James on punt returns last week and adds explosiveness to the position, and Gary Brightwell has been dependable on kick returns. Graham Gano is 4-for-4 on plus-50-yard field goals, though he does have one miss from 37 and another attempt blocked. Jamie Gillan is netting 40.9 yards per punt. Edge: Lions

Prediction

The Lions have won two straight by taking advantage of other teams’ mistakes, but they can’t count on the Giants gifting them turnovers like Fields and Aaron Rodgers have done. The Giants are a sum greater than their parts. They run the ball well, play aggressive defense and don’t create extra possessions for their opposition, and that has been enough to vault them into playoff contention. If the Lions can bottle up Barkley (which seems unlikely) or force Jones to resort to bad habits (more probable), they’ll have a chance – but only if Jared Goff takes care of the football and the offense creates some big plays. Playing on the road for a second straight week, I don’t see the Lions doing enough of those things to extend their winning streak to three. The pick: Giants 24, Lions 20.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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