The Lions moved to 3-1 on the season with a gritty, grind-it-out road victory over their division rival.
Their start is fueled, at least in part, to the their ability to generate 11 takeaways. That’s enough to share the league lead, and one of the 10 biggest surprises through the first quarter of the NFL season, according to ESPN.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, in the story posted Monday, notes the Lions ranked 27th in Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) last season, a flaw somewhat hidden by their eight fourth-quarter comebacks.
This season, the Lions rank fourth in DVOA, which “measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent,” according to The Football Outsiders.
“The biggest reason the Lions have been able to turn things around on defense? Takeaways,” Barnwell writes. “Detroit forced just 14 turnovers in 16 games last season, which was 28th in the league. In 2017, though, the Lions already have forced 11 takeaways, including three from Case Keenum and the Minnesota offense on Sunday. Teryl Austin’s unit is tied with the Ravens for the league lead in takeaways. Who saw that coming?”
The Lions lead the NFL in turnover differential, at plus-9.
Barnwell has his doubts the Lions will be able to sustain their pace in takeaways, noting two takeaways against the Falcons came on balls that went through the receiver’s grasp, and a fumble recovery Sunday came when Vikings running back Dalvin Cook suffered a knee injury.
“The Lions should have a good enough offense to avoid bottoming out if the defense does head toward the mean in turnover rate,” Barnwell writes, “but their defense is running a high-wire act by relying so heavily on takeaways. It’s a high-risk, high-reward model, and if the takeaways disappear, the Lions could decline quickly.”
The Lions next face the Carolina Panthers at 1 p.m. Sunday at Ford Field in Detroit.