Detroit Lions Preview: Defense

We're up against the Detroit Lions this week (see: Pride of Detroit) a team that looks surprisingly sharp this year. It hasn't escaped my attention that the Lions already have as many or more wins than they had in the entire, ahem, 2006, 2002, and 2001 seasons. By historical contrast, Your Washington Redskins won only 3 games for the last time in 1994. Prior to that one must look back to the dark days of Bill McPeak in the early 60s for comparable bouts of failure, though those bouts of failure give me bouts of painful diarrhea just thinking about. Excuse me.

Back to that Detroit Lions defense, going on traditional statistics. Against the pass the Detroit Lions rank 30th (tie with Cleveland) giving up a massive 267.5 yards per game in the air. Not as bad as you'd think, since they've been passed against a significant amount, credited likely to leading a good bit of their games through 4 weeks. In YPA they still rank near the bottom of the league, at 22nd, with 7.6 yards. Only six teams are allowing a higher completion % to opposing quarterbacks as well -- the Lions are giving up 67.7% of the passes thrown.

From a strategic point of view, nothing leaps out at me from their team statistics more than the amount of big plays their secondary is giving up. Though they've given up just 9 plays of 20+ yards, which is about middle of the league, they are the worst around in preventing those 40+ yard completions with 5 (tied to Saints). The only thus far revealed truly strong aspect of Jason Campbell the passer has been his long ball, which is quite sharp. Methinks this secondary is suspect to the deep pass play, and methinks we'll need to take advantage of them to win this game.

What have they done right against the pass? A number of things, surprisingly. Despite the loss of Dre Bly, the Lions currently lead the NFL in interceptions, with 9. Combined with their mediocre 8 passing touchdowns given up, Detroit is just about in the middle of the league in opposing passer rating, though I should note that stat is very nearly meaningless in my opinion. More impressive than that are the 14 sacks they've accumulated, good for fourth best in the NFL. Against our injured offensive line this could pose significant problems, though Jason Campbell is generally a bit larger, stronger, and quicker than the opposing quarterbacks Detroit has faced.

Traditional stats on their running game reveals a defense that should neither concern us nor leave us excited. They're 17th in YPG (114.2), 19th in YPC (4.1), though have given up 6 touchdowns, bad for 3rd worst in the league. If anything jumps out at me from their numbers it is that the longest run they've given up has been just 25 yards. That suggests those 4.1 yards per carry have been scooped fairly consistently and aren't skewed by one or two monster runs. Two weaknesses worth exploiting: Touchdowns, which Clinton Portis does best, and relatively consistent bits of 5-10 yard gains, which Ladell Betts does best. I am feeling pretty good about how we match up.

In total, briefly: Lions cannot prevent points, are 30th in the league with 30.2 per game, and cannot prevent yards, are 29th with 381.8 YPG. Their third down percentage, a statistic I would emphasize, leaves much to be desired at 44% returns for opposing offenses, bad for 24th in the league. This is also a sloppy team, the most penalized in the league in total infractions (39) and 2nd in total penalized yardage (283).

But what do traditional stats know? Maybe not as much as Football Outsiders. The Lions are outplaying their DVOA rating as of this moment. Per FO, the Lions are 18th in the league with a -4.7% total DVOA (explained here) and have an estimated win total (explained here) of 2.2, which is a good bit below their actual win total of 3-1. The Redskins, by contrast, are 15th in total DVOA (-1.3%) and are playing at potential with 2.0 wins. The Lions are 18th defensively but especially bad against the run at 24th, per Football Outsiders. Per their defense against specific receiver ranking another exciting trend emerges, notably that the Lions are one of the worst teams in the league against opposing #2 WRs. Antwaan Randle El, as I'm sure fans have noticed, is playing about as good football right now as he had in his entire career, and very much looks like an overachieving #2 WR. Don't expect a big game out of the other receivers as the Lions rank 6th and 2nd vs. 1st and Other (not 1st or 2nd) receivers respectively, as well as 5th against tight ends; sorry Cooley. Receptions out of the backfield could be lucrative, though, as Detroit ranks 31st against running backs.

I'm a stat nerd though admit that there's more story to be told. Here are the principals involved behind the numbers:

Weakside Linebacker Ernie Sims leads the team with 36 tackles, followed closely by inside linebacker Paris Lenon.  Their interior is mean with two Texas Longhorns of note in Shaun Rogers and Cory Redding. I noted earlier that the team had a lot of interceptions though it really has been a team-wide effort; 8 players were used in the production of that stat. Only backup CB Keith Smith has more than one pick.

The sacks have likewise been spread out a good bit. Backup LE Jared Devries has 3, while Paris Lenon, starting LE Dewayne White, SLB Boss Bailey (kick ass name, also younger brother of former Redskin Champ -- what balls those parents had, naming their kids Boss and Champ), backup NT Langston Moore, and starting RE Kalimba Edwards have two sacks a piece. No, I don't know by heart the Detroit Lions defense, but it's listed, even if significant injuries aren't.

What to take from the above? Nothing, really, since my Lions (and Redskins for that matter) analysis leaves much to be desired. But what I think I see is a Detroit Lions defense that isn't especially strong in any particular area and weak in two places I think we excel (relatively) in: running the ball and going deep, a combination Joe Gibbs likes to exploit in order of the former and then the latter. Their defense scares me the most in their sacks and ability to steal the ball from the air which, again, tends to happen sequentially with the former followed by the latter.

That said, this matchup, our offense vs. their defense, could very likely be the best showing we've had thus far this season. What I think will decide the outcome more than likely will be our defense vs. their offense, and that analysis is pending either later this evening or tomorrow or never, time not-permitting.

Post your own thoughts and insights below as I'm not all that familiar with Someone Else's Detroit Lions.

HTTR

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