The Detroit Lions are getting ready for to face the Oakland Raiders, and our writers are getting a glimpse of how the players get ready for the game.
Dave Birkett, Shawn Windsor and Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press
Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett previews the Detroit Lions‘ Week 9 game against the Oakland Raiders.
Know the foe: Oakland Raiders (3-4)
Coach: Jon Gruden (102-97 overall, 45-42 with Raiders)
Key players: QB Derek Carr, RB Josh Jacobs, TE Darren Waller, LB Tahir Whitehead, S Lamarcus Joyner
Last game: Lost to the Houston Texans, 27-24
Last meeting: 2015 season: Lions won, 18-13
The buzz: It has been a full seven weeks since the Raiders played a game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, and after Sunday they have just four games there before moving to Las Vegas next season.
They have an outside chance to make their last season in Oakland a special one. They need one more win to match their 2018 total, and they’ve shown major improvements on offense. Carr, in particular, seems much more comfortable in his second season under Gruden. He’s averaging a career-best 7.7 yards per pass attempt, and his sack numbers are way down playing behind a revamped offensive line led by right tackle Trent Brown.
Josh Jacobs: What the Detroit Lions’ run defense will encounter
The Raiders spent one of their three first-round picks in April’s draft on Jacobs, and the rookie has jump-started the running game with his physical play. Waller is one of the breakout stars of the NFL. He has 46 catches in seven games, which is more than double his career total (18) coming into the season. And Tyrell Williams is the best of an average group of receivers, but a nice complement to the running game with his speed.
Defensively, the Raiders don’t strike fear in anyone, though they have some good, young talent. Benson Mayowa leads the way with 5.5 sacks; Whitehead, an ex-Lion, is the team’s leading tackler; and Karl Joseph has played well at safety since first-round pick Johnathan Abram was lost for the season to a shoulder injury.
A ‘superstar QB’: Everything Jon Gruden said on TV about Matthew Stafford
The Lions will win if … they hold the Raiders below 40% on third-down conversions. Oakland has been lights out on third down this season, converting nearly 49% of its attempts, third-best in the NFL. Lions coach Matt Patricia said the Raiders do a good job of scheming coverage beaters to a variety of personnel and protecting Carr in those situations.
The Lions have one of the worst third-down defenses in the league with a 47.3% conversion rate against. They don’t generate enough pass rush, and their secondary has shown cracks in recent weeks. They’ve allowed 13 third-down conversions in 22 attempts in their past two games and can’t afford to have a performance like that on the road Sunday.
The Raiders will win if … they hold the Lions to 24 points or less. Here’s an odd stat: The Raiders have scored exactly 24 points in three straight games, and in four of their seven games this season. They’ve won two of those games and lost two, and are 0-4 when they allow more than 24 points. The Lions have been clicking on offense, scoring 30 points or more in three of their past four games. They’ve done most of their damage through the air, which doesn’t bode well for Oakland’s leaky pass defense. The Raiders give up more big plays than almost any other team and don’t have enough pass rush to affect games. If they can’t get to Matthew Stafford on Sunday, they don’t stand much chance of winning.
Matchup to watch: Raiders TE Darren Waller vs. Lions S Will Harris
Tracy Walker has been the Lions’ tight-end stopper this season, holding the likes of Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce and Evan Engram relatively in check. Normally, he’d draw the assignment on Waller, but Walker left last week’s win over the New York Giants with a knee injury and is not expected to play Sunday.
That means rookie Will Harris will see an expanded role on defense. He has held his own in a support role, but the third-round pick out of Boston College hasn’t had to cover a talent like Waller for any extended period of time. Waller is an excellent athlete who can stretch the field and has quickly become Carr’s favorite target. If he has a big game Sunday, the Raiders will be tough to beat.