Many years ago, Lions fans got to learn that Matthew Stafford was quite good at throwing long passes. Unfortunately, there was a stretch of years where the passing game was dominated by short passes, and Stafford was considered a “dink and dunk champion.” Then came a change in 2019 when former Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell pledged to restore the vertical element to the Lions offense.
That was last September when Bevell promised us deep passes. Though Matthew Stafford played just half a season, we can confidently grant Bevell a truth in advertising seal of approval:
Matthew Stafford throwing pic.twitter.com/cfHwGoAA74— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) July 6, 2020
Did the deep throws work? You bet they did. Recall from this past May, Stafford was a top quarterback by nearly every dimension in ESPN’s QBR system for 2019. Now, PFF’s fantasy account is talking about Stafford’s average depth of target, but were those broken plays or sandlot ball plays stretching the data? According to ESPN Analytics’ Seth Walder, the answer is negative, and it was all by design:
Deleted and re-posting because I didn't phrase right.— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) July 8, 2020
This is top 10 team/route group combinations *on targets* used most relative to league/same route group also on targets. pic.twitter.com/m75RlRLXyk
That tweet means Detroit threw what Walder is calling “vertical” routes (includes post, go, corner, seam, deep fade) more often relative to the rest of the league than everybody but Tampa Bay, Cleveland, and Seattle. What’s really interesting, though, is that the Lions (read: Stafford, for the most part but not always) were choosy about when they threw it deep.
According to Walder, the plays called by Bevell did not push the team up the list when the exercise was repeated simply for routes run and not actual targets. The only teams in the top 10 route usage relative to the rest of the league that qualified with “vertical” routes were Tampa Bay, Dallas, Seattle, Baltimore, and the team whose fanbase is in San Diego.
If we do all routes (targeted or not) relative to league average, Tampa verticals are #1.— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) July 8, 2020
That means Tampa Bay targeted a lot of vertical routes but they also ran a lot more vertical routes than other teams. In Detroit’s case, they targeted vertical routes more often than other teams, but did not necessarily run a lot more of them than anybody else. They are playing opportunistically, and apparently getting set up with good looks to go deep. A big piece of that has got to be Darrell Bevell and quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan.
There may not have been a more obvious case in recent years of a playcaller changing a team's offense than the switch from Jim Bob Cooter to Darrell Bevell for the #Lions— PFF DET Lions (@PFF_Lions) July 9, 2020
2016-18: 10.9% Deep Pass Rate (25th)
2019: 15.4% Deep Pass Rate (4th)https://t.co/Gillc4HIMW
Now that the Lions are getting a healthy Matthew Stafford back, a healthy Marvin Hall back to blaze past everyone, a little more seasoning for T.J. Hockenson and one year in the system for everyone to get comfortable, good luck to all the deep safeties. Now, on to the rest of today’s Notes:
- ESPN Analytics’ Seth Walder also wrote an article about the effectiveness of pre-snap motion. Although the Baltimore Ravens were an extreme outlier, it turns out motion usage is up no matter how thin you slice the bologna:
League-wide motion at the snap has increased over the past three seasons.— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) July 9, 2020
Even if we exclude the Ravens it's:
Some notable offenses that use a lot of motion: Ravens (1st in motion usage), 49ers (4th), Chiefs (5th), Rams (6th), and Cardinals (7th). Where were the Lions? Seventh from the bottom of the league (26th in motion usage) at a rounded-off five percent. So, maybe something Bevell could throw more often into the mix?
- It’s official (hat tip to @ChrisBurkeNFL for spotting this):
- For those who are into self-flagellation, Jeff Risdon at Lions Wire has a splendid article identifying ten players who were highly regarded in the 2017 draft, selected after the team picked Jarrad Davis, and have already built impressive careers in the league.
- In case you were wondering if we were any closer than a week ago to getting answers for how any of this is actually going to work, that would be a negatory:
Other notes:— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 10, 2020
— Where fans are allowed at games, they will wear face coverings.
— Actual training camp schedule of practices can be tied to the preseason game questions, so not there yet.
— The economics are not yet finalized, either. https://t.co/Q1CZqusMRG
- Defensive monolith in the middle Danny Shelton and his Furry Shelton Foundation took part in a backpack giveaway for kids (with Auburn Young Life).
- Over at the Worldwide Leader (ESPN+ subscription required for this one unfortunately), ESPN writer Jeremy Fowler wrote up the results of a survey sent to “more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players” that asked each participant to identify their top 10 to 15 players at each position. Today’s reveal was for Wide Receivers; although Kenny Golladay did not make the list, he was an honorable mention that finished just outside the rankings.