The 7-2 New York Giants host the 3-6 Detroit Lions in a Week 11 battle. The Lions are on a two-game winning streak after defeating the Green Bay Packers (15-9) and the Chicago Bears (31-30).
Much like the Giants, the Lions epitomize grit and toughness. Scoring points is not an issue for the Lions. They have scored 219 points on the season while also scoring zero points against the Patriots in Week 5. They are ninth in the league in average points per game. The Giants have scored 187 points on the season, 22nd overall.
The Lions are fourth in the NFL in creating explosive plays (20 yards or more). They have 42 explosive plays, with 36 of them as pass completions. The only team with more explosive plays are the Chiefs, Bills, and Dolphins.
The Lions don’t have a dearth of talent on their roster. They have some explosive playmakers on offense in wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and running back D’Andre Swift (when he’s healthy). Their offensive line has three former first-round picks.
However, the defense is among the worst in the league. Detroit ranks 31st in run defense, allowing an average of 160 yards per game, so expect a heavy dose of Saquon Barkley once again. The Lions’ defense has allowed 264 points - last in the league, whereas the Giants have only allowed 173.
The offense, led by former No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff, bears the responsibility of carrying Detroit to victory. Detroit has losses with 35 and 45 points on their resume, and the Lions have dealt with their fair share of injuries on offense.
St. Brown missed a game with an ankle injury and was knocked out of the Dallas game in the first quarter. Wide receivers D.J. Chark and Josh Reynolds have dealt with injuries, the former of which is on injured reserve, along with first-round pick Jameson Williams. Wide receiver Trinity Benson suffered a knee injury last week that knocked him out of the remainder of the game.
Kalif Raymond, the former Tennessee Titan slot wide receiver, has received an uptick in snaps and production due to the injuries.
Detroit recently traded starting tight end T.J. Hockenson to the Minnesota Vikings, which gives opportunity to young, unproven assets like Brock Wright, James Mitchell, and Shane Zylstra.
Goff was acquired via the Matt Stafford trade before the 2021 season. The move made sense from a roster-building standpoint - the Lions are slated to have two top-11 selections for possessing the Rams’ 2023 first-round pick. They also used draft capital acquired in the Rams deal to trade up for Alabama’s Jameson Williams.
Goff has not lived up to being the first overall selection, but is a respectable quarterback; I am excited to see how Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale dials the blitz up against Goff. According to Pro Football Focus, Goff is the 35th-ranked quarterback overall when under pressure.
When seeing pressure, Goff is 38 of 83 with a 45.8 percent completion rate for 514 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. Martindale’s ability to dial up exotic pressure looks could result in poor decision-making and offensive mistakes, albeit the Lions’ protection is among the best in the NFL.
Goff is blitzed the eighth most in the NFL, but he ranks 24th in pressure rate with an 18.7 percent clip. For reference, Daniel Jones is second in pressure rate with 28.5 percent of his dropbacks resulting in pressure while being blitzed the 17th-most.
The numbers for Goff when he is protected are impressive. He has thrown for 1,763 yards with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions. Goff has completed 70.6 percent of his passes when not pressured.
On the season, Goff has 2,277 passing yards with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has completed 63.8 percent of his passes with an average of 7.6 yards per attempt. Much like the Giants, the play-action pass is a friend to Goff.
Goff has completed 64.6 percent of his passes off play action for seven touchdowns with three interceptions. He averages 8.2 yards per attempt, and his ability to deliver precise balls over the middle of the field is above average.
Pressuring Goff and making him uncomfortable should be a priority on defense. He is little threat with his legs, and the Giants just made Davis’ Mills life difficult last week. Goff is an upgrade over Mills, with a lot more experience, but I expect the Giants to dial up pressure in a variety of ways to make Goff’s life difficult this Sunday.
The rushing attack of the Lions is the primary threat on offense. Former Green Bay Packers running back Jamaal Williams has nine touchdowns, tied in second with Titans’ running back Derrick Henry. Cleveland’s Nick Chubb leads the league with eleven.
Williams is the thunder to D’Andre Swift’s lightning. If the Lions are on the goalline or need a few yards, Williams typically gets the ball. Swift is dealing with knee and shoulder injuries that have limited his snap count to just 29 over the last two games.
Swift has 10 carries over the last two games but is effective out of the backfield catching the football. His workload is down, but coach Dan Campbell expressed optimism that Swift will be able to carry a bigger workload against the Giants.
Expect to see more of number 32, who has not cracked double-digit carries since Week 1. To make the Lions’ running back situation a bit murkier, Justin Jackson also played 17 snaps last week against Chicago.
The Giants must shut down Detroit’s ability to possess the football and establish the run. Swift earning more carries doesn’t bode well for New York. Still, if the Giants linebackers play as disciplined as they were against Dameon Pierce and the Texans, then the defensive unit should hold up and force Goff to make plays through the air.
Detroit may have the best offensive line the Giants have seen yet in 2022. Here’s their starting offensive line:
LT: Taylor Decker
LG: Jonah Jackson
OC: Frank Ragnow
RG: Evan Brown
RT: Penei Sewell
Jackson was a day-two pick in 2020, and Brown is an undrafted player from that same class, but the other three players are all first-round selections, and they play as such.
I don’t know much about Evan Brown, but the former SMU Mustang has allowed only 10 pressures and zero sacks in 290 pass-blocking reps. It appears that Brown has meshed well next to the young, talented Sewell and the former Pro Bowler Frank Ragnow.
It’s a difficult offensive line, but Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams are both playing fantastic football. Lawrence is playing at an elite level, and he’s outshining Williams, who is also playing excellent football. Both Lawrence and Williams were dominant in run defense last week.
I expect to see the Giants employ a similar front that we saw against Houston. A TITE front - three big bodies inside the tackles to occupy gaps - with the two EDGE rushers well outside the tackles, creating a five-man front on the line of scrimmage.
Pressure Goff, and stop the run - these should be two of the major bullet points of defeating the Lions, and they work hand-in-hand. If the run is stopped, the play-action pass is less effective, allowing the Giants pass-rushers to tee off. Force the Lions to be one-dimensional and take their offense out of rhythm.
Martindale will bring pressure from every which way in every defensive personnel package that he employs.
The Giants will load the line of scrimmage to stop Williams and Swift. Jaylon Smith and Micah McFadden are two players that can make this philosophy successful. Last week against Houston, they were both disciplined and made few mistakes; McFadden had a couple of rookie errors but made several physical plays at the line of scrimmage.
One issue that could cause a struggle is stopping slot receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. The second-year player is tough and physical and will punch people in the mouth as a blocker, which plays into the hand of the Lions’ play-action passing attack.
St. Brown is crafty and deceptive with run/pass releases during play action, and he understands how to uncover against man and zone coverage. Darnay Holmes against St. Brown is one of the critical matchups for the Giants’ defense.
The Lions will also look to exploit rookie safety Dane Belton who played every snap for the Giants in place of the injured Xavier McKinney. Belton had his first interception last week, and almost had another. Still, he makes rookie errors in terms of angles of entry in run support; he was a primary reason why Dameon Pierce rattled off 44 yards on his longest carry last week instead of 8 yards.
If the Lions get their ground game going and control (at least somewhat) the point of attack, a player like Swift can take advantage of Belton in the alley. If Belton is forced to step down and execute his run assignment several times, that can set up play-action shots that could lead to explosive plays down the field.
This is a winnable football game for the Giants, but the Lions are on a two-game winning streak.
If New York can pressure Goff, stop the run, and continue to be opportunistic on defense, the Giants should win this football game. It is easier said than done, though, to execute all of those tasks.