Last year, the Detroit Lions were defined by thrilling comebacks, unbelievable finishes and Matthew Stafford being stellar in the game’s most defining moments. It was a roller-coaster ride of the season that ended with a playoff appearance but an ultimately disappointing finish.
While the disappointing finish remains constant this year, the teams hasn’t quite been as exciting along the way. The games have been similarly close, and Detroit’s record may end up being the exact same as 2017, but the team itself just hasn’t been all that exciting.
Analytics website Football Outsiders agrees. While their statistics have nothing to do with the excitement of each individual game, their overall DVOA score indicated the efficiency of each team. And according to their calculations, the Lions were the most consistently ordinary team in the league.
On a week-to-week basis the Lions were essentially the same, boring average team. According Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz, the Lions’ overall DVOA score had the least amount of week-to-week variance with a deviation average of just 4.4 percent.
“The Lions were a team that was slightly above average in a somewhat boring way until they were slightly below average in a somewhat boring way,” Schatz writes.
While Schatz is mostly right—the Lions certainly declined as the season went on, and they looked mostly average for the entire year—the team wasn’t really all that consistent when diving a little deeper into the stats.
Overall DVOA, which is what Schatz uses to declare consistency, combines the performance of five different units: pass offense, run offense, pass defense, run defense and special teams. When diving into those specific units, you can see how the team has actually drastically changed since early in the year.
This is the week-by-week breakdown of every unit (except special teams). Each ranking is based on the cumulative efforts of the season. In other words Week 11’s ranking isn’t just based on Week 11, but Weeks 1 through 11.
As you can see, there has been a drastic drop in the team’s run defense performance. The reason the overall DVOA has remained somewhat steady isn’t because the team is playing consistently, but because Matthew Stafford and Detroit’s pass offense has been increasingly compensating for a horrible run defense.
Early in the season, the Lions were able to win games with a strong defense, a not-horrible running game and modest passing game. In Detroit’s wins over the Giants and Vikings early in the year, Stafford threw the ball for just 322 passing yards combined.
But quickly—around the bye week—everything changed. The Lions were no longer controlling the game on the ground, and that meant relying heavily on Stafford again. Since the bye week, Stafford is averaging 299 passing yards per game, while Detroit has jumped from the 23rd most efficient passing offense to 12th.
In the past few years, that has been an effective strategy to keep the team’s head barely above water, but nothing more. This year, it wasn’t even good enough to do that.