After taking a step back in Week 3’s divisional matchup with the Minnesota Vikings, the Detroit Lions’ defense no longer has the legs to step back any further. If this thing hasn’t bottomed out, if this Lions defense has yet to crater and put together their absolute worst performance, this is going to be a very, very long season of football.
It’s hard to ignore how painful Detroit’s performance on defense was against the Seahawks because on the other side of the ball, you’re probably asking yourself, “when was the last time this Lions offense was so potent?” The Detroit Lions have scored more points through four games than any other team in the NFL, yet they find themselves at 1-3 near the quarter pole. Detroit’s offense, without 57.8 percent of their yards from scrimmage in their lineup on Sunday, hardly skipped a beat by putting up 45 points. When it did hit a hiccup—Jared Goff’s pick-six to start the second half—the game was over; their offense was no match for a defense that hemorrhaged 555 total yards to the Seahawks—with 63 plays on offense, that’s 8.8 yards per play.
For this Detroit Lions team, we have some data courtesy of Pro Football Focus that can help us better understand the football the Lions have played thus far—and how they’ll continue to play from here on out. Let’s take a closer look at the Lions by the numbers after their loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 4.
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Let’s set the defense aside for just a moment of celebration: T.J. Hockenson had the best game of his career, hauling in eight passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns—including an 81-yard reception that included a whole lot of YAC from Hockenson’s diesel engine.
One of the most impressive numbers that helps to illustrate Hockenson’s historic afternoon is his 5.11 yards per route run. Hockenson’s professional debut against the Arizona Cardinals in the 2019 season opener (3.45) is the closest he’s come to that kind of efficiency, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time considering the injuries Detroit’s offense was dealing with against Seattle. To help give this some context, Hockenson’s 5.11 Y/RR was better than Tyreek Hill (4.32 Y/RR), Justin Jefferson (3.77 Y/RR), and Davante Adams (2.68 Y/RR) in Week 4—and it was by far the highest number of any tight end with at least four targets.
Something to note about his performance yesterday was how it coincided with the absence of Amon-Ra St. Brown—a curiosity brought up by Jeremy Reisman during our PODcast Sunday evening. It begs the question: is there enough room for both St. Brown and Hockenson to thrive on the field together?
Another week where Jamaal Williams handled the bulk of the carries, and another week where he proved he’s more than capable of toting the workload while D’Andre Swift is on the mend. Williams running style isn’t nearly as elusive or slippery as Swift, and he doesn’t have that breakaway gear to his game that helps Swift break off those explosive runs, but it just doesn’t matter: Williams wins with physicality and keeping his legs moving forward through contact.
Williams had 78 rushing yards after contact which accounted for 72 percent of the yards he gained on the ground. Beyond the 51-yard touchdown run, Williams’ afternoon as a runner was efficient and effective, picking up 5.1 yards per carry and finding the end zone twice. One area where the Lions are missing Swift’s contributions, however, is in the passing game: Williams had two drops on three targets against Seattle, moving his total to eight targets and three drops on the season.
6, 12, 138
There’s no more ignoring the defense after their performance against the Seahawks. Seattle entered Week 4 as a below-average attack on the ground—the Seahawks were averaging just 74.6 rushing yards per game through three weeks—but then cut loose for 235 rushing yards against Detroit.
There is no stat PFF can give us that paints a clearer picture of Detroit’s inability to stop the run than 138 rushing yards after contact and six (6) missed tackles forced by the Seahawks on the ground. To add insult to injury, of the 27 first downs Seattle tallied against Detroit, 12 came on the ground—including the embarrassing display above where Rashaad Penny turned a third-and-16 draw play into a 36-yard touchdown run.
For a team that prides themselves on stopping the run, they certainly couldn’t do it against the Seahawks. Here’s to hoping Aaron Glenn and Co. can figure out what’s amiss with their run defense because next week brings the New England Patriots—DVOA’s No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL.
3 for 101 and 3
It might just be one week, but no one on the defense was safe from getting their lunch money taken—not even Jeff Okudah, the defensive darling of the first three weeks.
Before the matchup, D.K. Metcalf had some words for how the Lions approach to covering wide receivers might be giving people a false impression of how their corners—specifically Okudah—were performing in coverage. On Sunday, he showed how much the Lions will miss someone like Tracy Walker in the backend.
When covering Metcalf, Okudah gave up three catches for 101 yards and all three catches resulted in first downs. This isn’t a condemnation of Okudah; the sky isn’t falling, but it sure suggests that Okudah is more human than many were making him out to be after having three consecutive weeks of tight coverage on big-name receivers. Even good cornerbacks are susceptible to getting beat from time to time, and when it’s Metcalf who bullies you around for an afternoon, it’s not a cause for panic. It is, however, a reason to pause, to pump the breaks on talks of Okudah being the “lockdown” corner people were making him out to be before this game.