The inaugural post of my reformatted game (and team) review column has arrived. Allow me to break down what you can expect to be reading in this periodical. Every week, I'll be selecting a talking point (the titular "Skinny") from the previous game and breaking it down statistically. Following that, we'll see a run-down of Lions related statistics and rankings. Finally, we'll see a sneak preview of our next opponent and then I'll leave you all off with the quote of the week.
This past Sunday we faced our second 10-win team from last year in as many weeks. As most of you know by now, we shellacked the Kansas City Chiefs in a 48-3 contest during our home opener. This week's talking point (after the jump) will be focused on our run defense's performance against last year's best rushing attack.
A team that gave up 18 touchdowns and 124.9 yards per game on the ground last season should be shaking in their boots at the first weeks of this schedule. In three consecutive weeks, we were scheduled to face very difficult rushing attacks: Tampa Bay (eighth in the league in 2010), Kansas City (first), and Minnesota (10th).
Kansas City gave us quite a shock in their opening drive against the Lions. In their first three plays from scrimmage, Dexter McCluster, Thomas Jones, and Jamaal Charles gashed us for a combined 56 yards. While somewhat gimmicky during the McCluster play, Jamaal Charles deserves a lot of credit for his 24-yard off-tackle sprint into our secondary. They game planned well and executed.
Unfortunately for Kansas City, their success on the ground stopped there. After racking up an entire third of their game's total rushing yardage in the first three plays, the Chiefs sat at our 24-yard line and proceeded to post runs of five, one, and three yards, coming just shy of gaining the first down that might allow them to score a touchdown. Jamaal Charles was injured on the last play of that drive while running out of bounds and would not return to the game; that said, Thomas Jones is as capable a backup RB in the league, free agent pickup LeRon McClain is a formidable power rusher, and Dexter McCluster is a speedster with home run ability.
Following a three-and-out on our part, Kansas City once again took the field in the first quarter. They managed again to get close to the red zone on a fairly meticulous drive, but their rushing attack was already succumbing to our defense. Jones ran twice for a total of 3 yards, and McCluster gave an effort up the middle that was stuffed for only two.
Kansas City's next drive began with under a minute to go in the quarter and extended several minutes into the second. We were gashed again up the left side on a gimmicky run from Dwayne Bowe for 12 yards; an improvement, but a weakness that will need to be fixed. That was immediately followed by an off-tackle run from McClain for 12 yards. And then it stopped again. Jones, McClain, and McCluster all took shots at our defense and managed to muster up only nine yards, forcing a punt.
If you're keeping track, the Chiefs had 11 runs to only 3 passes in the first quarter, gathering 94 yards on the ground (8.55 YPC).
By the time Kansas City got the ball back half-way through the second quarter, cracks were already showing in their offense. Thomas Jones got two carries totaling seven yards in a three-and-out, and they didn't attempt to run the ball in the following drive. They ended the half by running only once more -- a five-yard run from Dexter McCluster to convert a second down. However, our offense was doing its job and putting points on the board; Kansas City couldn't keep relying on the run with a 17-point deficit going into halftime.
In the second quarter, the Chiefs had six runs to seven passes, attaining 23 yards (3.83 YPC).
They came out swinging after the second half, showing a strong commitment to the run again. In their first drive of the third quarter, they ran the ball four times, only managing 17 yards for the trouble (including two runs for no gain). They did pop a nice run off for 12 yards from Thomas Jones, but it was becoming clear at this point that the run was ineffective and Kansas City had no margin of error to continue relying on it. Their next drive only had two rushing attempts totaling three yards, and proved to be the last runs of the quarter.
The third quarter saw the Chiefs attempt to run six times again, to six passes, grabbing 20 yards (3.33 YPC).
There were a little over 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter before the Chiefs attempted another run. Fortunately for us, it was stuffed for -2 yards and the next two efforts yielded only four and five yards a piece. With five minutes left in the game, Tyler Palko was in for Kansas City and our second string was already warmed up. Facing third-and-10 at their own 20-yard line, the Chiefs handed the ball off to Dexter McCluster. He managed a nice eight-yard run before being brought down by Willie Young, and then our opponent closed out the day on the game-ending drive with two meek three-yard runs from Jackie Battle against our second stringers.
The Chiefs ran six times in the fourth quarter and passed seven times, gaining 16 yards (2.66 YPC).
On the day, Kansas City attempted to run 53.7% of the time; they grabbed a couple long gashes (helped considerably by end-arounds and gimmicks) but were incapable of setting up any sort of regularity on the ground against our defense. I don't want to downplay Jamaal Charles' injury, because I have no doubt he would have assisted them in this game, but let's not forget Thomas Jones is coming off an 800+ yard season himself.
The Chiefs are a run-first team who had to play from behind. That is our Modus Operandi against any run-first team, including both of our first two opponents, and it will likely be against Minnesota in Week 3. They executed well in blocking and game planned correctly before the score got out of hand, but we controlled their rushing attack well enough to create a scoring deficit, and we forced Matt Cassel to pass. That is the reason we won the game. Not injuries and not penalties. Any time you can force the opponent to give up their strength and play into yours, you are going to win.
All in all, it was a pretty good day for our renovated defense, but it wasn't always pretty. There are some problems that will need to be corrected and there are some scheme issues that will always present a problem for us against teams that run off-tackle. I've broken down Kansas City's running plays into a chart showing where on the offensive line they were running to, as follows:
|Left End||Left Tackle||Middle||Right Tackle||Right End|
|Yards||39 yds||24 yds||26 yds||27 yds||27 yds|
|Per Carry||9.45 YPC||24.00 YPC||2.88 YPC||5.40 YPC||3.37 YPC|
The obvious outlier on the chart is the run off left-tackle. That was a great play from Jamaal Charles, and it's unfortunate it was the only time that gap was tested all game. We won't know if that's going to remain a weakness, but I suspect it won't. I have to believe the reason the run occurred was because of Jamaal's speed; he hit the hole hard and quick just before we got there to seal it. Ordinarily, such a run would have either been stopped immediately or it would have bounced out to the left end. Still, weakside runs appear to be an obvious weakness on our defense. I'm hoping the coaches notice this too and will work on shoring it up, but our run defense up the middle is incredibly encouraging considering the opponent we will face next week in Adrian Peterson.
10 — A solid average of 6.1 yards per play ranks us 10th in the league going into Week 3. I wouldn't expect it to improve much on the average, but Keiland Williams has a chance to boost our running game enough that we'll see this increase relative to the rest of the league.
9 — As in Matthew Stafford. In two games he has already topped yardage and touchdowns from last year's three games. He is also posting career high numbers in completion percentage and passer rating. Following Week 1's tremendous QBR of 87.4 (fourth), he followed up against Kansas City with a QBR of 62.1 (13th).
He took a hit in QBR this week because of a very low clutch weight average (0.7), which we can attribute to the fact that much of Stafford's passing was done in unclutch situations during a blowout. Still, after two weeks into the season Matthew Stafford ranks fifth in QBR, ahead of all other NFC North quarterbacks and behind Tom Brady, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Hasselbeck, and Tony Romo.
8 — You can tell it's early in the season when 421.0 yards per game and an opponent third down conversion rate of 32.0% are only good for eighth in the league. I wouldn't consider it far-fetched to continue a yards per game average over 400 through the season, but expect third down conversion rates to normalize across the entire league the further we go into the season.
7 — Of all plays from scrimmage the Detroit Lions have taken part in, 34.8% of them were on a first down. This is a very encouraging statistic considering our abysmal third down conversion rate (26.92%, 26th), showing that our offense is still moving smoothly despite an alarmingly bad statistic.
6 — The Lions lead the league in turnover differential at +6, thanks in small part to opponents shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly. However, our team is playing its share of heads up football and forcing plenty of mistakes on their own merit. In addition, our defense is holding opponents to 4.9 yards per play and our offense is converting on 70% of red zone opportunities, both good for 6th in the league.
5 — Receptions by Titus Young. He was absolutely stellar against Kansas City, and his stock looks to be on the rise. It appears we have finally, after failures in Derrick Williams and Tim Toone, found the receiver we've been waiting for. AJ Green, Julio Jones, and Randall Cobb may be capturing everyone's attention now, but Titus Young could quietly have an Offensive Rookie of the Year caliber season.
With weapons like Jahvid Best, Nate Burleson, Calvin Johnson, and Brandon Pettigrew taking up so much attention from defenses, expect Tony Scheffler and Titus Young to continue exposing opponents. This team officially has too many weapons to game plan against, let alone cover.
4 — Sacks in two games? Four. Stafford's passer rating? Fourth in the league. 100% conversion percentage on fourth downs? Check. The player who scored 12 points against Kansas City in his 297th start with the Detroit Lions? None other than our #4, Jason Hanson.
3 — We are, as everyone knows, controlling the ball very well. Our pass/run ratio is nowhere near as lopsided as it was last year and our running game is effective, if mediocre. This has led to a third best in the league 57.36% average time of possession, equating into roughly 34 minutes and 14 seconds per game. The Lions also rank third best in the league in points per play.
Three stands for something else notable: the number of Lions player who scored 12 points against Kansas City. Including Jason Hanson's 12 points, Calvin Johnson and Jahvid Best both racked up 12 points in their outing this past Sunday.
2 — Second best in the league in both points scored and points allowed. Second best (20%) in opponent red zone scoring percentage. Two wins. Only two other NFC teams remain undefeated going into Week 3.
1 — First in scoring margin. Tied for first (100%) in fourth down conversion percentage. First in takeaways, first in turnover margin.
0 — Zero sacks allowed. Zero wins for our next opponent. Zero losses.
AROUND THE BEND
This next Sunday at 1:00 PM ET we travel to the Metrodome (what's left of it) to face off against our divisional rival, the Vikings. Considering the three-point lean Vegas puts on home teams, we're essentially favored by a touchdown (money ranging between -3 to -4 in our favor). If history is any indication, we lose this game; but if history is any indication, we were meant to go 0-16 after our preseason as well.
The Vikings are a tough team to get a read on right now; while they have appeared dominant for all but two quarters of football this season, those two quarters were all that mattered as Minnesota remains winless going into Week 3. At the moment, the Detroit Lions are hovering anywhere from 12th to third behind only the Packers and Patriots (yes, you read that right; yes, it was on Bleacher Report). Similarly, the Vikings are all over the map -- some as high as 20th and some as low as 28th in the league. In survival league probabilities, Detroit looks to be a good selection (although likely not the best) with roughly 73%.
A confident, rebuilt Detroit team is going on the road, is favored, undefeated, and strong on offense and defense. This looks to be our game to lose.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"You knew this already, but Matthew Stafford has inhuman arm strength. It's preposterous. When he's healthy, that offense is basically the Death Star." - Andy Behrens