What a difference a week makes, huh? After week 7's games, I had the Jaguars and Lions #1 and #5 in my "Impotence Rankings," making it a potential "stupor bowl" matchup. Coming into this matchup, the Jaguars fell to #3 and the Lions took a huge slide down to #10 after knocking off the Seattle Seahawks in a hard-fought game to get their 3rd win.
After the Oakland game, the Jaguars were without Maurice Jones-Drew and a sub-par Blaine Gabbert after an embarrassing 2nd half collapse that made fans legitimately wonder if the Jaguars were the worst team in the NFL. This week, Gabbert is coming off of his first 300+ yard game ever and the Jaguars defense played very tough against a Packers team that was supposed to blow them out of the water.
Sure, Gabbert threw 49 times to get his 300 and only managed a pedestrian 6.2 yards per attempt (less than the league average), the running game was anemic, and the team allowed an embarrassing blocked punt for a touchdown against only ten players, but it was a game with a lot of positives... Right?
Anyway, here is what the Jaguars can do to avoid sliding further this week in the Battle to the Bottom:
1) Continue throwing: Many Jaguars fans saw Blaine Gabbert get 49 passing attempts last week and were thrilled. For the Jaguars to continue leading the charge to the number one pick, the Jaguars should give Gabbert another game like last week. Why? Because the Lions are secretly a top 10 passing defense.
Yes, I'll repeat that: The Lions are a top 10 passing defense.
Detroit allows an impressive 214 yards per game through the air and their starting four defensive linemen, Cliff Avril (4.5), Kyle Vanden Bosch (3.5), Ndamukong Suh (3.5), and Corey Williams (2.0), have accounted for 13.5 sacks through seven games. Unlike the Packers, the Lions have a balanced pass rush, so the pressure will be on Gabbert if the Jaguars try to sling the ball too much. That kind of pressure causes problems for a passing game, especially the kind of passing game that ranks 32nd in the league.
2) Double Megatron: In past seasons, Calvin Johnson has demanded double coverage on almost every play. He has the unique combination of size and speed that defines the kind of wide receiver you look for high in the first round (take note, Gene Smith). Johnson is still the kind of player you need to focus on in the passing game, but here's a little nugget for you: He has scored one TD to Titus Young's three.
Over the last two games, Young has caught 15 passes for 181 yards and two TDs versus the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks, ranked #7 and #5 respectively in total defense. Double covering Megatron will leave Young in single coverage a lot of the time against the Jaguars' 23rd ranked pass defense, which will be without Rashean Mathis and possibly Derek Cox as well. It's looking pretty good for the Jaguars in that sense.
3) Give the Lions the last drive: Neither of these two teams is especially good and this game is likely to go down to the wire. If it does, the Jaguars must make sure that the Lions have a final shot to win the game. The NFL rules changes have made it such that every questionable play draws a flag, and every flag goes to the offense. Essentially any team with a halfway decent passing game can mount a 2 minute drive, especially Calvin Johnson, Matt Stafford and the Lions.
Detroit has made coming back to overcome a late game deficit a habit. In fact, all three of their wins have come on scores in the last minute of regulation or overtime. If the Lions have the ball as the clock is winding down, you can more or less chalk up a win for them. No matter the opponent, that's how the Lions win games.
Turnovers: This is a simple point and one that is pretty unchanging from week to week. Turnover ratio is a huge deciding factor in who is going to win a game in the NFL. The Jaguars right now have an even number of turnovers for and against. The Lions are -4. Bounces on fumbles are random. If those bounces go Detroit's way, it could make all the difference.
It's hard to believe how worried I am that the Jaguars will falter in the Battle to the Bottom this week. By the numbers, it's a clear Lions win. Detroit has the 2nd best passing game against an injured Jaguars secondary, a strong pass rush to disrupt our passing game (which is now forcibly our best weapon), and overall the Lions average 150 yards more of total offense than the Jaguars. Still, this feels like a close game.
In the end, I do believe the Jaguars will stay on track this week with a 6-point loss. 23-17 Lions