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The Detroit Lions’ pass rush was uniquely bad in 2019

This chart says it all.

NFL: DEC 29 Packers at Lions Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Chances are if you’re a Detroit Lions fan with a working set of eyes, you know that the team’s pass rush was absolutely horrible in 2019. Pick any game of the season, and you’ll see numerous plays in which the Lions gave the opposing quarterback plenty of time to pick apart their secondary, and then he would proceed to do exactly that.

I could throw numbers at you all day—like the team’s worst pass-rush win rate in the league (24 percent), or their 28 sacks on the season (second-lowest) or their 31st-ranked overall PFF pass rush grade (61.8). But sometimes, it’s much, much more impactful to see how bad thing are through a visual medium. Thankfully, PFF’s Eric Eager provided us with this wonderfully disturbing chart:

That’s the Detroit Lions on an island at the top left. On the y-axis (up-and-down, for the mathematically challenged) is the average time for opposing quarterbacks to throw. The Lions sit around 3.05 seconds, the only team in the NFL above three seconds and just one of two teams above 2.9 seconds.

But the x-axis is the particularly damning statistic. It represents the average amount of pass rushers utilized, and, again, the Lions stand alone. On average, they use about four rushers per play, while all but four teams averaged at least 4.125 rushers per play. That may not seem like a huge difference, but you can see how every team is clumped together, except for a few outliers, including Detroit.

This seems to suggest that much of the Lions’ pass rushing problem was self-inflicted. Their refusal to send more pass rushers very clearly resulted in more time for the opposing quarterbacks to throw. That would be a rational way to read the chart.

But there are also other things to consider. The Lions’ coverage units were, in general, decent this year. As a result, quarterbacks had to hold onto the ball longer, which increased the “time to throw” metric. We saw this happen a lot early in the season against guys like Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Carson Wentz.

Additionally, it’s easy to say, “Well, the Lions should have just rushed more defenders.” But what if they didn’t have the players to do so? Part of the problem in Detroit was that they simply didn’t have players who were good at pass rushing. Sending more inefficient pass rushers only makes the team move vulnerable in coverage. Ironically enough, it could have decreased the time-to-throw metric, but only because receivers would be more open.

Still, whether this was a problem borne out of bad coaching decisions or bad personnel, it was still a major problem. And the Lions better figure out something quick, because if this chart looks similar next year, Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia may be amongst those looking for jobs next January.

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