10 numbers that have defined the Lions' season
Allen Park – NFL coaches and players regularly scoff at statistics, pointing out the only stats that matter are wins and losses. Fair enough, but it’s all the other numbers that add up to victory or defeat.
And with respect to the idea that every game is different, here are 10 numbers that have largely defined the Detroit Lions’ disappointing 5-10 season heading into this Sunday’s finale in Green Bay.
4.71 – For years, we’ve been told quarterback Matthew Stafford possesses one of the NFL’s strongest arms. That's probably still be true, but it’s certainly been holstered this season. Stafford’s average completion is traveling fewer than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, which is both the lowest of his career and the lowest in the NFL this season.
In what many would consider his two best seasons, 2011 and 2017, Stafford’s completions averaged 6.32 and 6.42 yards. A number of factors contributed to this season's troubling drop, including a depleted arsenal down the stretch, an effort to get the ball out quickly to keep Stafford healthy and upright, and his less-than-stellar accuracy on deep passes, a year after thriving in that department.
26.5 – One of the biggest question marks coming into the season was whether the Lions would be able to manufacture a consistent pass rush. Considering Ziggy Ansah barely played because of a bum shoulder, the fact the team has racked up 40 sacks is quite impressive.
And while sacks are great, a good pass rush is better defined by how much pressure it’s generating. Detroit’s didn’t generate enough. According to Football Outsiders, the team ranks 27th in the NFL, hurrying opposing quarterbacks a little more than a quarter of their drop-backs. There isn’t a bigger defensive need this offseason than an edge defender who can consistently disrupt the pocket.
4.2 – After years of committing resources to the run game, the Lions finally found some life on the ground in 2018, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. That’s the best the team has done since 2011. The success was largely fueled by an improved blocking scheme and the addition of ultra-talented rookie Kerryon Johnson, who was churning out 5.4 yards per pop before going down with a knee injury.
The downside is the improvement came in a year where much of the NFL was more efficient running the ball. Only six teams are averaging fewer yards per carry than the Lions in 2018.
13 – There have been some positive signs for Detroit’s defense this season, which we'll dip into later, but one of the biggest negatives has been the lack of turnovers, just 13. If you’re going to play a bend-don’t-break style, if helps when you force an opponent into back-breaking mistake every once in a while.
Darius Slay had more interceptions last year than the entire defense is likely to finish with this season. The team sits at six picks through 15 games. Nevin Lawson remains without one for the season (and his career), while Glover Quin is on the cusp of being shutout in the category for the first time since 2011. This team needs defensive playmakers in the worst way.
8.2 – The Lions' pass defense ranks 10th in the NFL, but that number is a mirage. One, because the Lions have done their best to slow the pace of games to a crawl this year, and two, because they’ve been behind by double-digits so often opponents haven’t had to pass all that much this season.
Looking under the hood, the Lions are allowing 8.2 yards per pass attempt, the worst in the NFL. Paired with the lack of interceptions, that’s troubling inefficiency. But again, a lot of that is tied to the lack of a pass rush.
5, 3.77 – Early in the season, the Lions couldn’t seem to prevent the big play. The team allowed several game-altering long runs, five going for at least 40 yards.
But along came Snacks. The addition of dominant nose tackle Damon Harrison, acquired for the meager cost of a fifth-round pick near the trade deadline, fueled a transformation of Detroit’s run defense. Since his addition to the roster, prior to the seventh game of the season, the team has allowed opponents to average just 3.77 yards per rush, the fifth-best rate of any team during that stretch.
5.6 – Given all the struggles early in the year, you might have thought the Lions were among the worst in the league drawing special teams penalties. Not so, surprisingly, but the dynamic punt return game from a year ago has evaporated this season.
Prior to an early-season knee injury, Jamal Agnew was struggling to replicate his Pro Bowl season from a year ago, in part because of some of those penalties negating his better returns. In total, the Lions are averaging 5.6 yards on punt returns, 31st in the NFL. In 2017, no one was better.
50.0 – Given some of the team’s offensive woes, the Lions weren’t in the red zone all that often, a little more than three trips per game. But what’s worse is how poorly the offense managed to capitalize on those opportunities, scoring a touchdown just half the time the ball was worked inside the 20.
The blame can be spread around. Stafford missed some open throws, there were some regrettable play calls and blocking and penalty issues led to too many negative plays.
0 – Stafford has been the king of fourth-quarter comebacks since being drafted by Detroit. Since 2009, he’s been credited with 26, more than any other quarterback.
This year, zero.
Barring a rallying effort in Green Bay on Sunday, Stafford will finish a season without a fourth-quarter comeback for the first time in his career. And it’s not like there weren’t opportunities, but the Lions couldn’t come through in the clutch against San Francisco, Dallas, Seattle, Minnesota, Los Angeles or Buffalo.