PACKERS // LIONS OVERVIEW
The Lions have struggled to begin the year, allowing the third most yards per carry and the ninth most yards per pass attempt, and only eight teams have allowed more points per game. Only five teams have allowed more points per drive than Detroit.
Detroit further increases shootout potential by ranking ninth in the NFL in yards per drive — and while they rank 17th in points per game, this is largely the result of a red zone offense that ranks dead last in touchdown percentage, one year after ranking 10th. The Lions have the same offensive pieces as last year (with the addition of Kerryon Johnson), and these red zone woes should evaporate soon enough.
The Packers have also struggled in the red zone to begin this season, with only four teams scoring touchdowns at a lower rate. The Packers get bad news in this spot, as Detroit quietly ranks third in red zone touchdown rate on defense — carrying over the same bend-but-don’t break philosophy that Matt Patricia had with the Patriots.
PACKERS PASS OFFENSE
Aaron Rodgers has not quite been himself to begin the year — failing to top 300 passing yards in a game through four weeks of the season, and tossing “only” seven touchdowns. While he did take off for 31 rushing yards last week on five carries, his lack of mobility is obviously changing the way he has to play — and this week, he could be without two of his top three targets in Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison. Cobb said he was nowhere close to playing last week and seems unlikely to be close this week, either. Allison is hoping to clear concussion protocol, but much of that is obviously out of his hands.
Interestingly, no team has faced fewer pass attempts than the Lions so far this year…and only three teams have notched more sacks this season. Detroit ranks second in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate, as their pass rush has been a big bonus to begin the year. Teams are leaning on the run against Detroit in order to protect their quarterback and take advantage of the Lions’ greatest weakness, which has led to only two teams in football facing more rush attempts than the Lions, and to no teams allowing more rushing yards. (It’s not even close.) Green Bay ranks sixth in passing play percentage to begin the year, and Rodgers generally prefers to stick to the pass and control the game himself when he can; but it’s reasonable to expect him to finish below 40 pass attempts for the first time since Week 1.
The best piece on the Lions’ back end has unsurprisingly been Darius Slay, who has allowed only seven catches for 64 yards on 14 targets through four games — with only 12 total yards allowed after the catch. Slay will see plenty of Davante Adams, but with the Lions primarily leaving him on his side of the field this year, Adams should avoid him on 70% of his routes. After last week’s 14 target game for Adams, Rodgers said that Adams should have been given 20 looks. Rodgers is a strong “trust” guy (he loves throwing to the guys he feels most comfortable throwing to), so look for Adams to harvest a large number of targets this week if Allison and Cobb both sit.
If Allison gets cleared to play in time, he shapes up as the second option in this attack after seeing target counts of eight, six, four, and 11 to begin the year. Those 11 targets came in only three quarters last week before the concussion hit. Even with chances of a run-leaning game script elevated in this spot, Allison will see plenty of work if he is out there.
If Allison remains on the sidelines, Jimmy Graham will likely be leaned on after seeing six to eight targets in three consecutive games. Green Bay will have even more incentive to lean toward the run if Allison misses, but there should be enough volume for Graham to stick to his typical range — giving him enough floor and ceiling to be considered in this spot.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling took over the slot snaps last week, but he disappointingly saw only three targets in a matchup that set up perfectly for him to see a large amount of work. This week, he’ll take on Jamal Agnew, who has allowed 10 catches for 141 yards on only 13 targets, with 62 yards allowed after the catch. MVS will be one of the fastest men on the field this Sunday, giving him clear upside; but volume will be a concern — even as the clear number three in this attack — as Rodgers practically ignored him in a prime Week 4 spot. MVS has legitimate slate-winning upside if he gets involved this week, but that involvement is not a given.
The target distribution on the Packers will likely flow through Adams, Graham, MVS, and the running backs if Allison misses. Last week, the Packers leaned on two tight end sets with Lance Kendricks (two targets; one catch for five yards) and gave J’Mon Moore 11 snaps (zero targets). Equanimeous St. Brown could also take over as a starter this week — but targets should be thin in this spot regardless.
PACKERS RUN OFFENSE
This is a prime spot on the slate from a team-performance perspective, though the Packers frustratingly continue to split the backfield reps among Aaron Jones (29 snaps last week), Jamaal Williams (28 snaps), and Ty Montgomery (20 snaps). We have used “pass blocking” as the reason for Jones taking a backseat to Williams, though it should be noted that Williams pass blocked on only four plays last week (while Jones pass blocked on three). This opens optimism that Jones will continue to see his role expand after hammering opponents for 6.3 yards per carry across his first 17 totes on the year (compared to Williams’ 3.4 yards per carry across 47 totes).
There are whispers that Mike McCarthy is aware that Jones is his best back (how could he not be?), but that he wants to keep him fresh for the stretch run of the season. It has rarely been in the Packers’ arsenal to give a back 20 carries to begin with, so our best bet here is to hope the Packers go run-heavy, and that Jones sees 14 to 16 carries. The likeliest scenario is another 10 to 13 carry game. He has one target in each game to begin the year.
Montgomery will continue to be involved in the pass game, while taking on a few carries of his own. Williams will need a touchdown or two (or a broken play) in order to pay off.
LIONS PASS OFFENSE
As always: the thing we love about Detroit is that their distribution of targets is extremely reliable, with Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, and Kenny Golladay accounting for over 88% of this team’s air yards through the first four weeks of the season. Very few teams have a reliable target distribution this narrow — giving all of these guys at least moderate floor and ceiling every single week. Detroit ranks 10th in passing yards per game one year after ranking sixth. Only three teams are throwing the ball more frequently than the Lions.
The Packers have been below-average against the pass to begin the year, and they have especially struggled downfield, ranking 23rd against downfield passing according to Football Outsiders. The Packers’ only real test so far through the air has been the Vikings (otherwise, they faced the Bears, Redskins, and Bills). In that game, Adam Thielen went 12-131-1 on 13 targets, while Stefon Diggs went 9-128-2 on 13 targets.
All three of these wide receivers on the Lions are capable of running the routes that Diggs and Thielen tortured this team with (lots of short, quick throws, mixed in with some simple second-level routes, some crossing routes, and some double-moves that were able to spring them deep downfield), so there is really nothing that helps us pinpoint usage for this matchup. What we do know is that Jones offers the most pure upside, with the deepest aDOT on the team (tied with Mike Williams for fifth in the NFL) and with the largest share of the Lions’ air yards. Golladay has the best floor/ceiling combo, with a smaller share of the team’s air yards, and with a less aggressive downfield role, but with more overall targets (32 through four games, to 29 for Jones). Tate has the highest pure floor, with 44 targets on the year; and while his short-area work theoretically gives him less upside, his elite YAC ability bumps off some of the concerns, and his ability to go downfield when necessary bumps off the rest of the concerns.
Behind these three, the Lions’ passing attack is scraps. Jones // Golladay // Tate dominate looks in this offense.
LIONS RUN OFFENSE
The Lions continue to employ an upside-killing three-man backfield, with Matt Patricia saying this week that Kerryon Johnson is getting enough work. So far this season, Johnson has seen touch counts of eight, 13, 18, and 10, while LeGarrette Blount has seen touch counts of four, nine, 18, and seven. Theo Riddick retains his role on passing downs, with touch counts of nine, nine, three, and five.
Green Bay has invited teams to attack on the ground, and they rank 22nd in yards allowed per carry, so the matchup is non-threatening; but in order for Kerryon to pay off, he will need a couple of big runs or a spike in workload. The Lions have yet to secure a carry inside the five-yard-line this year, but they have given two carries apiece to Blount and Kerryon inside the 10. Blount has zero yards on these two carries, while Kerryon has 13 yards and a touchdown.
There is a chance that either (or both) of these teams could lean on the run in this spot, as this is the best way to attack each defense; but given the nature of Aaron Rodgers on the Packers and the facts at hand with Jim Bob Cooter calling plays for the Lions, the likeliest scenario is that each team will continue their pass-heavy ways (each team enters this game in the top six in the NFL in passing play percentage).
Each quarterback is in play in tourneys (behind the guys in the more obvious pass-leaning shootouts, but with similar upside), while we should expect a big workload for Davante Adams and (to a lesser extent) Jimmy Graham on the Packers, with Marquez Valdes-Scantling standing out as a high-upside tourney flier. MVS is the kind of play that could enable you to go fairly chalky elsewhere on your roster — and on the outside chance he hits, you’ll be seeing dollar signs all day Sunday.
I like all the pieces in the Lions’ passing attack, though it is frustrating that so little separates one from the other. More than likely, we will see one spiked game from this group, one respectable game, and one disappointing game. These may not be good enough odds for cash games, but I like them for tourneys. Jones is especially underpriced on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, while Golladay is especially underpriced on FanDuel.
I like Aaron Jones and Kerryon Johnson as “bet on talent” plays in a good matchup — and with value a bit thin this week, either guy makes sense on DraftKings or FantasyDraft as a “bank on eight points, hope for 20” sort of play. Kerryon has shown more usage in the pass game, while Jones has the better matchup. Each guy is set aside for tourneys only for me.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
No “official words” here yet, but it appears likely that Davante Adams and Marvin Jones both play. Randall Cobb is out. It appears likely that Geronimo Allison misses.
If Adams plays and Allison misses, Marquez Valdes-Scantling becomes interesting as a salary saver. I’ll have his targets pegged at around four to seven, as I expect Rodgers to over-target Adams (while also leaning on both Jimmy Graham and the run game a little bit more). MVS has potential to beat that target projection if Rodgers unexpectedly goes out of his way to involve his rookie wide receiver more prominently. In this case, Adams also joins guys like Julio Jones, “Vikings receivers,” and “Steelers receivers” among the top wide receiver plays available. I’ll still probably leave him sixth on that list, given the tight matchup with Darius Slay, but it’s a close sixth. He’ll be in play as a strong tourney option.
If Adams misses, MVS should spike in targets. There will still be some guesswork involved here, but it just won’t make sense for him to see fewer than seven or eight targets if he is the only guy out there with actual playing time under his belt.