The boom of fantasy football has no doubt shaped the increased importance in stats to today's NFL. The problem that inherently comes with that is when individual stats, or individual players, become more important than the team or even winning games.
This situation usually rears its head after a loss, but even after Sunday's victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the stats crowd has been in full force. Most notably, the criticism has come on Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions' lack of offensive production. He completed just under 58 percent of his passes for only 185 yards and one touchdown, but he was hamstrung throughout the game with poor protection and field position. That's not to say Stafford, or the offense, played a perfect game, but they played an efficient game and still won. I guess efficiency just isn't that sexy, though.
Maybe it's the contrasting styles of winning that are throwing everyone off. I know we're all still getting used to it. After all, the majority of the games the Lions have won over the last decade have come at the hands of the offense. This season, some of the Lions' most impressive wins have come from playing strong defense.
But the defense's strong start also begs an interesting question: what's wrong with the offense?
New coaches, new scheme and new philosophy
Under former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, the Lions offense was primarily a pass-first, one-back spread offense that lined up with three receivers in a base set. A staple in Linehan's offense was the vertical passing game. The crux of Linehan's offense during his time in Detroit, however, was relying too much on Matthew Stafford to win games with his arm.
Between 2011 and 2013, Stafford ranked in the top five in pass attempts, including a gaudy 727 attempts in 2012. The Lions offense knew it had to carry the team, and Stafford knew he had to carry the offense. There are probably only three or four quarterbacks on the planet who have sustained success playing that type of football, and Stafford isn't one of them.
Enter 2014. The Lions spent the entire offseason making sure that their success isn't solely on the shoulders (or arm) of Stafford. They brought in a variety of weapons to diversify the offense. They brought in Drew Brees' quarterbacks coach to be the offensive coordinator. And they brought in a head coach who worked side-by-side with Peyton Manning.
But all of those new coaches and players come with a new scheme and philosophy. The goal in the NFL is not to be at the top of every statistical category; the goal is to win football games -- a mantra that Jim Caldwell has tried to emphasize on his team this season:
"I'm not certain what you've been accustomed to, but my goal was to change it. I came in with the idea that we're going to try to make certain that this team is more about winning than about statistical milestones and I think that's the most important thing that you have to look at. Good teams win different ways. I think we're trying to develop ourselves into being a good team. We're not there yet."
Execution is key
So while it may seem like Stafford and the Lions offense have taken a step back, it's really been more about poor execution than poor play-calling.
On Sunday against the Vikings, the Lions were just 1-for-13 on third down. And while it's easy to put all the blame on the person calling the plays, in this case Joe Lombardi, the execution prior to third down has really held the Lions back.
"I think that execution is always the bottom line," Caldwell said. "We had three successive drives where we had two holding penalties, a sack and anytime that you have holding penalties that take you back to second and 20 or more, or first and 20, we had a couple of those. Those are very difficult to overcome, plus it left us with a situation where we were third down and nine-plus on maybe 12 or 11 different occasions."
It's easier to see why the Lions struggled on third down when you put the situations into context. The Lions were consistently putting themselves in bad situations to start drives, which led to poor positions on third down.
In combination with penalties and sacks, the Lions simply haven't taken advantage of their big-play opportunities. Whether it's been in the passing game or the running game, both aspects have failed to execute. If the Lions can start to hit some of those plays while continuing to play solid defense, they could begin to make some serious noise in the NFC.
"Do I expect at some point in time that you'll see the offense explode?" Caldwell asked. "I do think you'll see it be a lot more productive than we've been. That's part of the process. You just keep working at it and get better. The most important thing is to win. That's the key."
After all, in a world consumed with stats, winning is the only one that really matters.