Back in the dark days of November 2010, I wrote a fan post called Measuring Progress.
The basic gist was that although the results to that point in the 2010 season were dismal (2 wins and 8 losses), the statistics were suggesting a team better than its record. Based on that, I argued that the stats were a leading indicator suggesting significant improvement was around the corner (with some watch outs for danger areas, like increasing numbers of penalties). At the time, I wrote, "if the Lions were a stock, I'd be buying right now."
Until then Lions had won 5 games in a three year span, and moods were dark - the vehemence of the response surprised me. So, like with a lot of things in life, I decided to wait a bit and see how things played out.
The four game win streak to close out that season was nice, but I still decided to wait.
Now, with the 2011 season and a playoff appearance conclusively in the books, I wanted to take a look and see if the trends played out. More so, are there new trends or areas of concern emerging?In my old post, I looked at a number of team offense and defense stats from ESPN NFL Stats and NFL.com Stats. I'll replicate those here, but only focusing on where the Lions ranked among the 32 league teams.
General things that you can observe from the above:
1) The Lions offense is the engine pulling the train. The improvement in 2010 was good, but a largely healthy Stafford in 2011 led to dramatic improvement across the board into a top 5 passing / points offense. Unsurprisingly, the run game languished - injuries didn't help here.
2) The defense also improved in 2010, but that gain was unevenly maintained in 2011. The rankings on base stats like points and yards per game slightly worsened, but splashy stats like interceptions, forced fumbles, and sacks improved or remained high. From a points / yardage perspective, the Lions are a bottom third defense; from a turnover / sack perspective, they're top third.
3) Penalties continue to pile up - in the Schwartz era, the Lions consistently have been terrible at avoiding penalties on defense.
On offense, things are clicking - going into the draft, this could be considered a maintenance and tune up job. Keep starters healthy and develop decent backups, upgrade if a position looks like it's falling off.
On defense, some big plays are there, but still too many yards (and ultimately points) being given up. With the Lions' potent offense, the need isn't as great, but it would be interesting to consider what the improvement could be even if only unnecessary penalties could be reduced.
Going out on a limb with the defensive stats, one wonders if the Lions have playmakers (evidenced by the splashy stats) but the coaching scheme is allowing more yards and points. In fairness, you could argue the scheme favors sacks and turnover generation instead of low yardage by design.
Performance is always relative to the competition, and we'll see how the other teams in the NFC North improve further in the draft, but re-signing the majority of our own free agents is a good sign that we'll hopefully continue to see results like the last year's.