Through the disappointment of so many close losses and late-game fall-aparts we've seen, it is, I believe, important to look at some of the positive aspects of the Lions' play to get an idea just how good this team could be if our single most important player didn't spend most of the season injured.
I was going to look at our pass offense, rush offense, pass defense, rush defense, and special teams to highlight some of the most important measurable categories we're doing well and how much we've improved (or declined) compared to previous seasons...and then I realized how much work that would be, so I'll make this part one, and hopefully look at the others over the next few weeks.
It's a passing league, and if you can move the ball through the air you can really give your team a chance to win most games. To get an idea of how much the Lions have improved in this category, just look at where we have been, and where we are compared to the rest of the NFL through 11 games so far.
Passer rating is not perfect, but it is a good comparable measure of a successful passing offense, as it takes into account yards per attempt, touchdowns per attempt, interceptions per attempt, and completion percentage, and compiles them into one nice number.
For the sake of comparing improvement over the past three years, I'm going to just arbitrarily combine all the QB's from 2008, as well as the 2009 QB's who weren't Matthew Stafford. I know this doesn't paint a perfect picture if you're debating whether Daunte Culpepper is better than Drew Stanton (for example), but my purpose here is to illustrate A)how much better we are with Stafford this year now that he's got his shaky rookie season under his belt, and B)how much better we are with Shaun Hill as a backup than all the other guys we've had to play and replace over the past three years.
Our worst QB? Culpepper+Stanton in 2009, followed by Stafford as a rookie trying to lead the first 0-16 team in NFL history, followed the five-man turnstile from our winless 2008.
Our best QB? Stafford this year--clearly a top-10 quarterback when he's been healthy.
Our second-best QB in recent history? Shaun Hill.
Although maybe they don't get enough credit for one reason or another, our O-Line has done an excellent job keeping defenders away from our quarterbacks. I know, Stafford got injured game 1 on a Julius Peppers sack, but when you look at a much broader picture, and consider how many times our quarterbacks have been hit or sacked per pass play, our pass protection is the sixth best in the league right now.
Someone brought up a what I thought might be good point a few weeks ago: since Shaun Hill has been playing the majority of snaps and doesn't have the arm to take chances downfield like Stafford did, doesn't that make our pass protection, as measured in sacks+hits per attempt, less impressive, if he's completing shorter passes and getting fewer yards on a pass attempt? I don't believe it does.
Yes, the Lions have a below-average 6.1 yards-per-pass-attempt, but there is actually not a positive correlation between yards per attempt and sacks+hit %, in fact there is a very slight negative one--that is, teams with a higher ypa, on average, have slightly better pass protection. But really, they're all over the board:
So, to summarize: Backus & Co: keep up the good work protecting the pocket. Hopefully next year it will be Stafford benefiting all the time from your work, and not our backup.
What do you think?