clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

A statistical breakdown of the Lions defense vs. winning teams

New, comments

Is the Lions defense to blame for their woes against winning teams?

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I got the idea from a fellow writer friend of mine. Don Drysdale over at Detroit Sports Nation to be exact. He sent me this tweet.

That tweet inspired three days of research recording Matthew Stafford stats until the finished product became last week’s article about Matthew Stafford’s performance against winning teams.

Needless to say, my quest to prove that quarterbacks wins is a meaningless and ignorant stat continues. Today’s piece is a direct follow up of last week’s, and the theory is somewhat similar.

Many were hoping to see what these games against winning teams looked like on both sides of the ball. We’ve already seen what Matthew Stafford has done, and the results were actually not bad at all. We learned that Matthew Stafford is quite competitive against winning teams and that he doesn’t play much worse against them. So it appears he’s not the reason the Lions can’t beat winning teams... or at least not the only one.

Now it’s time to look at the Lions defense. Just how do they perform when they take the field with a winning team? Let’s take a look a the stats. Just like last week, these a broken down into categories. The Schwartz Era, The Caldwell Era and Playoffs. Here we go.

Jim Schwartz Era

Year Opponent Pass Yards YPA Passer Rating Rush Yards YPC Touchdowns Forced Turnovers
Year Opponent Pass Yards YPA Passer Rating Rush Yards YPC Touchdowns Forced Turnovers
2009 Saints 358 12.74 137 157 5.1 6 3
2009 Vikings 153 12.55 115.3 129 3.7 2 1
2009 Vikings 492 12.55 120.5 152 4.9 3 2
2009 Packers 342 10.46 124.7 80 2.9 3 2
2009 Bengals 202 5.17 65.3 119 2.7 1 3
2010 Bears 362 10.49 108.3 101 3.2 2 4
2010 Jets 327 7.97 82.9 110 3.6 2 2
2011 49ers 125 3.13 60 203 7 2 2
2011 Falcons 218 4.35 63.1 129 4.1 2 2
2011 Packers 307 10.52 116.6 136 6.4 3 0
2011 Packers 480 12.61 136.4 81 3.3 6 2
2012 49ers 226 8.58 107.7 148 5.4 3 1
2012 Vikings 111 4.27 71.2 127 4.5 0 0
2012 Bears 150 5.48 76 171 5.3 1 0
2012 Seahawks 236 6.6 96.8 133 7 3 2
2012 Vikings 221 8.16 114.2 196 5.7 3 0
2012 Packers 236 8.56 106.4 95 3.2 2 1
2012 Texans 315 6.04 78 205 7.3 4 1
2012 Colts 391 6.22 70.8 138 4.7 5 3
2012 Packers 173 7.21 80.7 140 5.6 2 1
2012 Falcons 279 11.22 142.6 73 3.3 4 0
2012 Bears 257 8.94 95.8 144 4.1 2 0
2013 Cardinals 248 5.72 73.5 87 3.4 2 1
2013 Packers 274 9.8 106.8 180 5.4 1 0
2013 Bengals 372 12.71 135.9 57 3.1 3 0
2013 Packers 139 4.7 51.9 24 1.6 0 3
2013 Eagles 179 7 73.9 299 6.5 4 1
2009-2013 Per Game Avg 265.7 8.3 96.8 133.9 4.6 2.6 1.4

Okay, let me first say this: You have to give Jim Schwartz a lot of credit for taking this team from the train wreck it was on defense, to the small motorcycle wreck it became on defense later. What stands out here is that the Lions got ran all over despite having Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

133.9 rushing yards allowed per game? That’s really bad. How bad is it? The 2008 Lions allowed 172.1 rushing yards per game. That’s a 38-yard difference and doesn’t really prove the point. But the fact that it’s that close is bad. It’s just bad.

The Lions actually appear to be better against the pass here than I expected. Holding winning teams to 265.7 yards per game. The issue is the 96.8 average passer rating. That means quarterbacks don’t have to throw for 400 yards against the Lions, because they’re comfortably efficient throwing for 265 a game.

The Caldwell Era

Year Opponent Pass Yards YPA Passer Rating Rush Yards YPC Touchdowns Forced Turnovers
Year Opponent Pass Yards YPA Passer Rating Rush Yards YPC Touchdowns Forced Turnovers
2014 Packers 162 6.74 88.8 76 3.4 1 1
2014 Bills 308 6.58 88.1 49 2.2 0 1
2014 Cardinals 306 8 91.4 46 1.7 2 2
2014 Patriots 349 6.49 94 90 4.5 4 1
2014 Packers 226 12.09 139.6 138 4 3 2
2015 Vikings 153 9.61 120.6 199 4.7 3 1
2015 Broncos 324 7.6 101.7 41 2.1 3 2
2015 Seahawks 287 11.81 125 110 3.5 1 3
2015 Cardinals 161 15.79 154.2 187 7.4 6 0
2015 Vikings 316 10.17 118.3 140 4 2 1
2015 Cheifs 145 7.2 108.7 206 6.4 6 0
2015 Packers 333 6.11 83.6 47 2.6 2 0
2015 Packers 273 7.44 96.2 67 2.7 4 1
2016 Titans 238 7.06 102.8 139 5.7 2 1
2016 Packers 205 11.88 129.3 123 5.1 4 0
2016 Redskins 301 8.23 106.9 130 4.4 2 2
2016 Texans 186 5.55 83.4 105 3.3 2 1
2016 Giants 201 8.61 115.3 114 3.5 2 0
2016 Cowboys 212 13.6 148.3 164 5.4 6 0
2016 Packers 300 11.88 126 153 4.9 4 0
2014-2016 Per Game Avg 249.3 9.1 111.1 116.2 4.1 3.0 1.0

As we jump into the Caldwell era, I begin to get a little concerned about Teryl Austin. As you can see, things here look a bit worse, though the Lions have cleaned up their play against the run for the most part.

Their play against the pass is what improved the most. Going from 265.7 to 249.3. That’s a drop of 16.4 yards per game. again the issue occurs in the passer rating portion. The Lions went from allowing 96.8 to 111.11. The increase there is frightening. This again symbolizes that quarterbacks are accurately having their way with the Lions on a normal basis.

I mentioned they cleaned up the run stopping a bit. Going down 17.7 yards per game is triumph when you consider the running backs the Lions have had to play against. But regardless of this, 4.1 yards per carry is still bad enough to create concern. And you can see the Lions are still giving up big games, like the 206 yards against the Chiefs or the 164 against the Cowboys a month ago.

Something I noticed

The Lions are for some reason exceptionally good at forcing turnovers against winning teams. That’s 57 forced turnovers against winning teams since 2009. Yet it goes back to the same question. Why do the Lions lack a killer instinct? Why are they unable to stick the dagger in the backs of their opponents and twist? Perhaps it’s safe to say that if the Lions just learned to convert turnovers into points, they could be a very difficult team to play.

Playoffs

Year Opponent Pass Yards YPA Passer Rating Rush Yards YPC Touchdowns Forced Turnovers
Year Opponent Pass Yards YPA Passer Rating Rush Yards YPC Touchdowns Forced Turnovers
2011 Saints 466 12.23 134.4 167 4.6 6 2
2014 Cowboys 293 10.74 114 73 3.4 3 1
2016 Seahawks 224 8.8 119.3 177 4.6 3 0
2011-2016 Per Game Avg 327.7 9.5 122.6 139.0 4.4 4.0 1.0

No surprise here. When the Lions head to the playoffs in the past five years, they head right into a buzzsaw. Perhaps Drew Brees’ performance against the Lions in 2011 is the stuff nightmares are made of. We all know what happened against Dallas with the picked up flag, but allowing three touchdowns and a pass attempt average of 9.5 yards surely had a lot to do with the loss, if not more.

And finally the Lions just played against a better team in the Seahawks. They were unable to force a turnover or stop the run. This will lead to many losses to winning teams if not corrected.

Looking back on the last two pieces, it’s quite evident that blaming Matthew Stafford individually for losses against winning teams is ludicrous. The defense seems to have a lot more to do with it than any other unit. But again, it goes back to the initial thought. Football is a team game. I think today’s piece may prove that.

What do you think Lions fans? be sure to leave your comments below.