In their 12 matchups throughout NFL history, the Chargers were favorites nine times but “only” carry a slight winning record of 7-5. Their last game was a 13-10 Chargers loss, as Philip Rivers threw for a passer rating of 73.0 and could not overcome Los Angeles legend Matthew Stafford.
If that feels forever ago, it was actually in early 2019 — Austin Ekeler was the game’s leading rusher.
1. The Lions have prioritized some very unusual things in their team-building approach, but it’s worked. Do you or other Lions fans still find yourself frustrated at moves like drafting Jahmyr Gibbs early, or are they comforted by the fact that the class as a whole is returning value over investment already? Does the success of D’Andre Swift in Philadelphia play a role in this? How would you have changed the first round knowing what you know now?
RM: To throw positional value completely out of the window in the first round was unsettling, especially when it came to the selection of linebacker Jack Campbell at 18th overall. Brad Holmes had set a precedent in his first couple of offseasons that linebacker was just not a position he would devote a ton of resources to in building this defense, but then he went and gave Alex Anzalone a considerable bump in pay (three years, $18.3 million) during free agency and followed that up by drafting Campbell, so it left a lot of heads spinning.
Anzalone has really tightened up his game and is playing the best football of his career, but Campbell’s rookie season has been a bit of a mixed bag. They’ve worked Campbell onto the field in a variety of ways, trying him at SAM as more of a pass rusher capable of dropping back in coverage to… less than good results. But he’s destined to play the MIKE, he’s playing more of it as of late, and it’s what his game is better suited for in the long run, there just so happens to be some talent (Derrick Barnes) that played their way ahead of Campbell in training camp.
As far as the Gibbs selection, we all saw what he’s capable of doing back in Week 8 on Monday night against the Las Vegas Raiders. With David Montgomery sidelined, Gibbs had done an admirable job filling in, but the game against the Raiders felt like his coming-out party. He’s a dynamic back who can put stress on a defense in a variety of ways, but it’ll be interesting to see how Detroit strikes the right balance between him and Montgomery in the second half of the season.
It really feels like Detroit had their sights set on Devon Witherspoon in the draft, but Seattle took that opportunity from them, and it might eventually come back and bite them considering the lack of depth at outside corner after Emmanuel Moseley played just a couple of snaps before tearing his ACL for the second season in a row. It feels tough to play the “what if?” game with the Lions draft because the trade back from 6th overall allowed them to maneuver around the board and add guys like Sam LaPorta and Brian Branch in the second round.
2. Do I have to admit that Sunshine Jared Goff is genuinely good or are there reasons to continue doubting what’s going on with that? How much of their passing performance is high-level yards-after-catch production or offensive design and how much of it is Goff? And is it weird to get questions about whether or not Goff is buoyed by his receiving corps while people also do not give Amon-Ra St. Brown much love in receiver rankings?
RM: It’s not weird to ask those questions at all because they feel valid. Even after watching how well Goff has played with offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, and seeing how their great relationship has helped cultivate a balanced attack that accentuates Goff’s strengths, it feels like the situation surrounding Goff is one that a lot of quarterbacks could play some of their best football in. That’s not a knock on Goff, necessarily, but it’s hard to ignore just how perfectly the table has been set for him. There’s a top-shelf offensive line in front of him, a running game that punishes opposing defenses, and as long as Goff can hit the shots they take, the Lions are one helluva unit on offense. Now, another important question is can this offense play from a deficit? We haven’t had these situations pop up aside from the Seahawks game–the Lions clawed back into it to force OT and then lost without touching the ball–and the Ravens game which wasn’t much of a contest at any point.
3. Everyone has talked about how good the Lions are in the trenches and when I look at all the players individually that certainly seems to be the case. But they rank 25th in pass rush win rate, 30th in run stop win rate on defense and 15th in pass block win rate on offense and 23rd in run block win rate. What gives? Is it entirely because of injury or Is Aidan Hutchinson secretly overrated? Does he need help? Do ESPN’s metrics suck?
RM: Let’s start with yes, ESPN’s metrics suck from my very amateur statistical analysis standpoint, but there’s some truth to the Lions trench play being a little overrated, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Take, for instance, something mentioned by The Athletic’s Colton Pouncy on his podcast: “The Lions have the fourth-slowest average time to pressure at 2.65 seconds. Quarterbacks’ average time to throw, the Lions have allowed the second longest time to throw at 2.99 seconds. And then average time to sack, the Lions have the slowest average time to sack in the NFL at 4.17 seconds.” So despite the pressure numbers Hutchinson and the bunch have piled up, they aren’t doing it in a hurry.
The run defense, however, is very legit and very real. There is a laundry list of data points going back to last season that show Detroit is stout against the run, and it’s the one area where you can count on this defense to show up and hold their own.
4. How are Lions fans at dealing with the fact that they are frontrunners for the first time in more than a decade? Does it change how the fanbase interacts with the team? Do expectations change how toxic or welcoming a fanbase is? And how do you deal with bandwagoners?
RM: Trying not to project here, but I think we’re past the point of waiting for the other shoe to drop. We’re no longer waiting for Lucy to pull the football out from underneath us at the last moment. This city, this state, is all about Football, and for the first time in a long time, it feels like people are enjoying the ride because of what the Lions have built. Coupled with the way the NFC North is showing its warts in a big way, there’s a sense that this kind of success isn’t going to be here one moment and then gone the next.
Fans, for the most part, have embraced this rebuild because they believe in Dan Campbell. They believe in Brad Holmes. They believe Sheila Hamp. For my whole football-consuming life, I’ve never known fans to be this trusting of Lions brass. It’s been paper bags and the “Millen Man March” to display their distrust and frustration and anger with the product on the field. Bandwagoners are welcome, although we’re unsure how to welcome them because this is uncharted territory, so don’t let the gatekeepers scare you off, they just don’t know how to deal with this realization that the Lions are good–and might be good for some time!
5. I like free money. What are some of the best bets at DraftKings Sportsbook going in to the game for the Lions that people may not know about?
RM: We have that in common, Arif, so let’s try and give the people an extra pay day this Sunday. These two defenses have given up some big totals to some of the best offenses in the NFL. The Chargers ate a 36-burger from the Miami Dolphins, and then gave up 31 to the Kansas City Chiefs a few weeks later. The Lions, well, they coughed up 37 points to Seattle in Week 2 and then 38 points felt like a measure of mercy from Baltimore in Week 7. All of those teams are top-10 in team offense DVOA, and so are both the Lions and Chargers.
Hitting the under has been all the rage in the NFL this year, but with a total set at 48.5, I’d hit the over since you have a couple of talented offenses squaring off this Sunday.