As the Detroit Lions head toward December with some positive momentum, here are three key matchups for Week 13 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In the 2021 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions were the bottom of the barrel in the NFL. Both teams had brutal seasons and ended up with the top two picks in the draft. Through the end of October of this year, things didn’t seem much better. The Lions had just a single win, and the Jaguars had just a pair as they endured a five-game losing streak.
However, both teams ended the month of November with a renewed sense of optimism. Jacksonville went 2-1 in the month, with a last-second victory over Baltimore in Week 12. Detroit went on a three-game winning streak before losing a heartbreaker to the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving.
As these teams look to continue their momentum into the month of December, here are the key matchups that will be critical to the outcome of Sunday’s game.
Detroit Lions vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: 3 key matchups
Matchup 1: Lions LT Taylor Decker vs. Jaguars DE Travon Walker
While the pass rush has left some things to be desired, No. 1 pick of the 2022 draft has still made an impact for Jacksonville. Travon Walker has been a great run defender, and he does a lot to free up Josh Allen on the other side of the defensive line. Walker’s length and athleticism give him the ability to stack and shed blocks in the run game effectively.
Detroit’s offense relies heavily on the ground game to set up the pass. Against Buffalo, the run game struggled to get going as Ed Oliver disrupted everything the Lions wanted to do on his way to winning AFC Defensive Player of the Week. This week Detroit is going to want to get back to the way things were in Week 11 against the Giants.
Decker should hold up solidly in pass protection against Walker, but the run game is going to be a different animal. Decker needs to be able to move Walker, or at least hold his ground to give the run game the best chance at success.
Matchup 2: Lions DE Aidan Hutchinson vs. Jaguars RT Jawaan Taylor
For most of the draft cycle, it seemed as if Aidan Hutchinson would be the first overall pick. Up until the combine, he was relatively unchallenged. Then Walker lit up the event, and his hype grew to the point the Jaguars selected him over Hutchinson. On Sunday, the Michigan product will get a chance to show who the better player is.
He’s going to need to have another big game, as the Jaguars’ offensive line is coming off an incredible performance against the Ravens in Week 12.
Hutchinson has been trending up for several weeks now. He needs to be a disruptive force to rattle Trevor Lawrence.
Matchup 3: Lions RB D’Andre Swift vs Jaguars LB Chad Muma
It’s make-or-break time for Swift. After a dominant season-opening game against the Eagles, and an impressive Week 2 despite limited snaps, Swift hasn’t been able to stay on the field or be particularly effective. Even when he’s gotten snaps, he’s often been indecisive as a runner which has yielded unrealized yardage. With an extra few days of rest, Swift can hopefully work his way back to a big role in the Lions’ offense.
On the Jaguars’ front, rookie MIKE linebacker Chad Muma would be the primary defender tasked with bringing Swift down in space. A third-round pick of thi year’s draft, Muma was someone a lot of people wanted in Detroit. He’s a very smart player with great instincts, and he’s athletic enough to cover most backs in space.
That being said, Swift is more dynamic than most backs. If he’s able to earn a stronger share of the touches this week, Detroit’s offense becomes infinitely more dynamic.