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Detroit Lions Preview: Offense

As others have noted, the Detroit Lions are kind of a big deal offensively. I'll try not to get all hysterical on that point, though the numbers certainly won't calm my nerves. (To alcohol we go!)

This coming Sunday the good guys face off against the 4th most prolific offense in the league, currently, with an intimidating 387.2 YPG. Good news first: We won't have much trouble defending against the run because they don't really do so: The Lions are dead last in total attempts (78) and attempts per game (19.5). So are they just, like, that efficient? Meh, no. Their 3.8 YPC is pretty forgettable at 20th in the league. Testament to their inability to score and make game-changing rushing plays are a meager 3 rushing touchdowns thus far and a long after four games of 24 yards. [Aside: Did you know our longest rushing play of the 2007 season has been 20 yards? Wonderful.] They are surprisingly good at fumbling the ball, though, with 4, bad for 2nd worst in the league.

The bad news: No team has passed for as many total yards as the Lions (1,251). No team has passed for more yards per game than the Lions (312.8). No team has more first downs through the air (64). They complete the 4th most passes (%68.5), average the third most per attempt (8.5), and throw the ball well deep (5th and 2nd in 20+ and 40+ yard completions, with 17 and 4 respectively). If a silver lining exists it is that the Lions have allowed a massive 22 sacks thus far this season, more than any other team, more than the majority of any two teams combined. To contrast the Redskins, Cardinals, Saints, Colts, and Patriots have given up 19 sacks. Combined.

Are these unproductive yards? No, the Lions are 4th in scoring with 28.5 PPG. However they are pretty dismal on third down, converting 32% of the time, which is about 31st in the league, I believe. Also 0-2 on 4th down. I mentioned yesterday that their defense was sloppy? So is the offense: 31 penalties (3rd most in the league) for 204 yards (10th most) tells a story.

My immediate reaction is that we need, need, need to win the turnover battle. This team fumbles and isn't all that great at protecting the ball, even in the air -- their 6 interceptions thrown is 4th most in the league. That's likely a result of the incredible 22 sacks the team has allowed, a trend I'd be all too happy continuing. Key to the game will be pressure and I am taping this one to review whether Gregg Williams has the brains or cajones to actually do so. This is an outstanding passing team in spite of the fact that they a) suck on third down, b) hang their quarterback out to dry, and c) thus from a) and b) can't control possession (22nd in the league in ToP). This team manages massive yards even under adverse conditions. Ceding them time in the passing game isn't going to help us in the secondary, whatever benefits the coaching staff thinks we get from rushing four with 7 in coverage. One of their prodigious receivers will get open, given time, and Jon Kitna will successfully complete passes to them, given time. Jam the receivers at the line, get your hands up, blitz aggressively, play mean physical football, and hope for benevolent results like tipped interceptions or sack/fumbles.

Let's talk principals. Jon Kitna currently leads the league in passing yards, has the 9th best passer rating, and is completing over 70% of his passes. Roy Williams is 3rd in the league in receiving yards with 388, damn near 100 per game. Both Williams and Shaun McDonald, whoever that is, have more receiving touchdowns than our entire team combined. So you're telling me that the Lions are for serious offensively even without Calvin Johnson? Yea, 'tis true (but he also has as many receiving touchdowns as our entire team).

What says you, Football Outsiders? Actually there's reason to believe that their absolute numbers aren't as impressive as one would think. Detroit is currently 12th in overall Offensive DVOA, 31st in rushing though 8th in passing. Their Wide Receiver DPAR Rankings have Shaun McDonald (5th), Calvin Johnson (16th), and Mike Furrey (30th) all ahead of Roy Williams (44th). News to me. They're reluctant to throw the ball at Tight Ends, though been successful in limited efforts.

Making matters all the worse is that we might have to outscore them sans Santana  Moss. This would be no easy task with The Saint, near Herculean without. Still, look to costly Detroit turnovers to explain why we win or privation thereof to explain why we didn't.