Holding any NFL offense to just six points is quite the accomplishment, especially when it’s against a division leader coming off a bye week’s rest, it’s on the road, and it’s an offense that features names like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
For the Detroit Lions, it’s another example of how this team has grown and developed under the tutelage of this coaching staff assembled by Dan Campbell. A veteran like Alex Anzalone is playing the very best football of his career, a newcomer like Cam Sutton is proving he’s the No. 1 cornerback the Lions signed him to be, and Jerry Jacobs, an undrafted player who has battled through injuries to return to the field, is rising to the occasion. With accolades, without accolades, with question marks or without many expectations, this coaching staff has helped players from all points in their career reach new heights, and it’s been the key to this 5-1 start to the season.
As we’ll do every week throughout the season for this Lions team, we’ll comb through some of the advanced data courtesy of PFF that can help us better understand the football the Lions have played thus far—and what to look forward to in the coming weeks. Let’s take a closer look at the Lions by the numbers after their win over the Buccaneers in Week 6.
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38.5% run-stop rate
Again, Alex Anzalone is stacking performances this season in a way that’s proving everyone wrong. The Anzalone Apology Tour 2023 raged on in Tampa Bay as he made his presence felt in both pass coverage and run defense, but it was his 38.5% run stop rate that outpaced all other defenders in the NFL. On 13 run defense snaps, Anzalone recorded five defensive stops—”tackles that constitute a ‘failure’ for the offense” according to PFF.
The Buccaneers had 16 rushing attempts for just 46 yards (2.9 yards per carry) and the Lions run defense recorded 10 stops in total. One week it’s Alim McNeill and the big guys up front, another week it’s some of the defensive backs getting their noses dirty, and in this game, Anzalone spearheaded that charge and kept the Buccaneers offense one-dimensional—something Baker Mayfield and the rest of the Tampa Bay offense wasn’t ready to shoulder.
2.7 yards per reception
Cam Sutton has been a steady player so far this year, and when you don’t hear too much of a cornerback’s name on game day, that’s usually a good thing. But against Tampa, Sutton had his first breakout performance as the team’s No. 1 cornerback, and his name was heard on broadcasts for all the right reasons.
Of 85 qualifying cornerbacks who played at least 21 coverage snaps in Week 6, Sutton finished third in coverage grade (82.7), allowing three receptions on five targets for only 8 receiving yards—and recording two defensive stops on a couple of short completions to Rachaad White and Deven Thompkins that each netted 0 yards. Sutton allowed just 2.7 yards per reception, the top mark of any cornerback who was targeted at least four times in coverage in Week 6, and registered his first pass breakup of the season. Holding Mike Evans to just one reception for 8 yards is the kind of play that makes the $33 million price tag more than justified.
7 first downs
Let’s take a moment to mourn the end of Josh Reynolds’ streak of receptions resulting in first downs. Through six weeks, Reynolds is t-sixth in yards per reception (17.9) among NFL wide receivers and his contributions as an explosive-play threat have really helped springboard drives for this offense.
The Lions offense didn’t skip a beat last week without Amon-Ra St. Brown because of contributions from less heralded players like Josh Reynolds and Craig Reynolds, but in his return to action against the Buccaneers this week, St. Brown was the exact piece the offense needed to put this game away.
St. Brown posted a career-high in receptions (12) and seven of those receptions resulted in first downs, which was t-second among wide receivers in Week 6. Up by 14 points with nearly 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Lions orchestrated an 11-play drive that lasted nearly seven minutes. David Montgomery exited the game before the half with an injury, and the Lions couldn’t rely on their bruising back to eat clock and put the game away. Instead, it was St. Brown who caught four passes on the drive, two of them that resulted in first downs, and played an integral part in icing the game for Detroit.
Oh, yeah, and he ignored a principle concept the team coaches to their wideouts to put the first Lions touchdown on the board, and it gave Craig Reynolds the opportunity to make the play of the game, so more props for that.
14.3% pass-rush win rate, 22.2% run-stop rate
Everyone’s favorite nose tackle clad in overalls, Benito Jones was on the roster bubble for most of training camp. Most were under the impression that McNeill and Isaiah Buggs would be the two starters, and with Levi Onwuzurike healthy and ready to contribute, Jones was on the outside of the 53-man roster looking in.
Buggs ended up being a healthy inactive for the first two weeks, and Jones’ play wasn’t consistent enough to help fans understand the rationale in having Buggs on the bench. Against the Bucs, Jones registered four quarterback pressures for a 14.3% pass-rush win rate—t-21st among interior defensive lineman—and recorded two run stops on nine defense snaps for a 22.2% run-stop rate, the seventh-most efficient mark by an interior defensive lineman in Week 6. For a player who had to work his way onto the roster in the first place, Jones’ efficient and productivity as a rotational player can fly under the radar to those who see nothing from him in the box score. In reality, these advanced statistics help show how Jones’ efforts help bolster a defensive line that’s stopping the run and putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.