Four Downs: The statistical impact of 'Snacks' for Lions
Allen Park — Here are four observations after having a night to ponder the Detroit Lions' 28-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Damon Harrison needed just two days of practice with his new team to prove he’s a true difference-maker in the middle. When the man called "Snacks" was on the field, there was a night-and-day contrast in how the Lions performed against the run.
I spent last night going back over the broadcast copy of the game and focused on how well Detroit defended the run when Harrison was on the field compared to when he was on the sideline. The results speak for themselves.
When Harrison was playing, the Seahawks ran the ball 25 times, 17 which came in the second half when they were up at least 14 points, and averaged 3.6 yards per carry. When the 355-pound nose tackle was on the bench, that rate jumped to 5.1 yards per attempt.
These numbers aren’t artificially inflated by a big run. In fact, Harrison was on the field for the Seahawks’ longest gain, a 12-yarder by Chris Carson in the first quarter, as well as a 10-yard end around, where he had no direct impact on the result of the play. His ability to eat up space and double-team blocks proved to be exactly what was anticipated when he was acquired in a trade with the Giants last week.
Harrison even provided a boost in the pass rush, recording one of the team's two sacks of Russell Wilson.
And what the performance ultimately proves is one man can’t save the Lions. The team needs more defensive firepower and likely won’t find it until next offseason, via free agency and the draft.
And before anyone gets the bright idea that Harrison needs to play more, that’s not realistic. He was on the field for 62 percent of the defensive snaps for his debut, which is close to a max workload. During his career, he’s never played more than 61 percent over the course of a season. His dominance, in part, is predicated on being well rested through the course of the game.
Three week ago, in this very space, I made an argument that wide receiver Kenny Golladay was inching his way toward NFL stardom. In that piece, I noted the key to becoming a star was playing at a high level consistently. In the two games since, he’s caught three balls, on three targets, for 49 yards. He was held to a season-low 12 yards by the Seahawks.
The production drop isn’t necessarily a reflection of teams figuring out Golladay, or that offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is out-thinking himself by scrubbing the talented second-year receiver from the week’s game plan. It’s a simple reminder of the number of trusted weapons quarterback Matthew Stafford has at his disposal, and his willingness in the post-Calvin stage of his career to take the best matchup instead of forcing something that’s not there.
This week, it was Marvin Jones’ time to shine. Last year’s leading receiver had been quiet to this point, before breaking out with seven grabs for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
There will be more games this season where Golladay is the primary weapon, but he’s also going to have more like this one, where he’s a non-factor. That's bound to happen when you believe you have three No. 1 receiving options.
In 2017, the Lions covered up many of their defensive flaws with turnovers. Led by Darius Slay’s league-leading eight interceptions, the Lions finished third in the NFL with 32 takeaways. This year, the Lions have six through seven games. Only the San Francisco 49ers have generated fewer.
Since Quandre Diggs intercepted a pass on the first snap of the season, the Lions only have one other pick. That’s unbelievable.
Coach Matt Patricia put an obvious emphasis on forcing turnovers (and protecting the football) throughout the offseason, but to date, those teaching points aren’t coming to fruition.
Some of that is the new defensive scheme. Consistently being in the right place at the right time will continue to be a season-long developmental project for the whole defense, even savvy veterans like Glover Quin, who came inches away from his first interception this year. Those are plays he almost certainly makes at any other point during his tenure with the Lions.
It also highlights the need for more playmakers this offseason. It obviously starts with the pass rush, where the Lions continue to struggle generating pressure. Additionally, most opponents, including Seattle, are staying away from Slay. So adding a cornerback with translatable ball skills in the upcoming draft should be a strong consideration.
The loss to the Seahawks hurt the Lions' playoff hopes in more ways than one by giving away the head-to-head tie-breaker to a second NFC team in the thick of standings. Seattle currently holds the sixth seed and now effectively has a two-game lead on Detroit.
The Lions’ best path, as narrow as it may be, will be winning the division. That’s something the franchise hasn’t done in 25 long years.
Ignoring history, the Lions are 1-0 in the NFC North this season, having beaten Green Bay, and are only a game behind the division-leading Bears.
It’s a big if, but if Detroit can sweep their three divisional games in the next month, including two with Chicago, the team would be in the driver’s seat heading into the season’s stretch run.