the lions congregation: week ten

>> 11.21.2009

Well, it’s time once again for the Lions Congregation—the weekly series over at the Church of Schwartz.  Men living lives committed in service to the Schwartz discourse upon these questions three:

  • Well respected ESPN columnist Kevin Seifert says the Lions have 7 keepers on their roster. Using his methodology, who do you see as a keeper on this roster?
  • Do the Lions need cheerleaders?
  • What’s your projected outcome for Browns - Lions?

Go, and enrich your soul with the answers!


fireside chat #1

>> 11.20.2009

Several weeks ago, I posted that I’d be producing some film clips called “Fireside Chats”.  Despite my nearly paralyzing self-conciousness about this, here’s the first in the series.  Please, let me know what you think:


the watchtower: Lions vs. browns

>> 11.18.2009

Wikipedia Commons

Last week, we had the pleasure of deconstructing a team that had already gone under the knife: the Minnesota Vikings. This was both exciting and troubling: a historical analysis that relied heavily on historical data, run twice, should predict the same result—and we all know that two teams playing twice won’t result in the same outcome twice, right?

  • I originally concluded that the Gunther Cunningham 4-3 disproportionately disrupts Childress’ conservative flavor of the Bill Walsh offense, and that conclusion was indisputably correct.
  • Given a huge talent and execution advantage, but a definite systemic disadvantage, I expect the Vikings will meet or slightly underperform their season averages: scoring 27-30 points, passing for 6.75-7.0 yards per attempt, and rushing for 3.75-4.0 yards per carry. I have very high confidence in this prediction.
  • I originally concluded that given lesser talent, Scott Linehan’s balanced offense meets or slightly exceeds expectations against a Dungy-style defense, even while allowing more sacks and/or turnovers. This conclusion was also confirmed by the results of Week 2.
  • With lesser talent, and therefore a small-to-zero systemic advantage, the Lions will slightly underperform, or approach, their season averages: 14-17 points scored, 5.0-5.25 YpA, and 3.75-4.0 YpC. I have very high confidence in this prediction.
  • The Lions will lose this week, scoring 14-17 points against Minnesota’s 25-30.

Astonishingly, the final score was 27-10—one missed Jason Hanson field goal away from perfectly matching Week 2’s 27-13 final, and almost exactly what I’d projected based on the previous contests.  The rushing and passing numbers, however, threw me for a loop.  The Lions gained 93 yards on 22 carries, for a surprisingly stout 4.23 YpC average, and passed 51 times for 224 yards, netting a surprisingly lame 4.39 YpA.  Once again, the Lions’ defense couldn’t contain the Vikings long enough to really control the ball with that running game . . . and once again, the Vikings’ pass rush simply overwhelmed the Lions’ offensive line.

The Vikings, for their part, did take advantage of the Lions' already-suspect, dropped-like-flies-during-the-game secondary, with an outrageous 11.10 YpA.  That opened things up for the running game, and All Day plowed through the defense for a better-than-Week 2 4.90 YpC average.

Something that’s really interesting to me is that while these breakdowns are proving to be remarkably strong predictors of final score, they’re all over the map when it comes to the rushing and passing per-play effectiveness.  Big plays really swing the per-play passing numbers, and rushing seems to be the inverse of what I expect . . . the historical rushing and passing per-play  averages have value in analyzing the past, I’m just not sure they have predictive value when projecting the future.  Food for thought.

Anyway, postmortem over.  On to the Browns!

Scott Linehan vs. Eric Mangini

Eric Mangini, much like our own Grandmaster, began his career as an unpaid assistant (actually, a ball boy) for the Cleveland Browns--and like Schwartz, was given an assistant gig when the team moved to Baltimore.  Mangini, unlike Schwartz, left the Ravens to rejoin Belichick in New York as a defensive assistant.  Mangini then followed Belichick to New England in 2000, to serve as defensive backs coach.  After winning the Super Bowl in 2001, 2003, and 2004, Pats’ DC Romeo Crennel took the Browns' head coaching job, and Mangini was promoted to replace him.

Here we have our first problem: Mangini has only been a coordinator or head coach for five years.  This is what happens with “hot young assistants”; they have nearly no track record.  On the other hand, Mangini’s coaching-tree influence is incredibly strong: his entire coaching career, from age 23, up until his hiring as the Jets head coach at 35, was under the guiding hand of Bill Belichick.  As a result, I’m including all data from Belichick’s days with the Patriots forward.  As you can see, this nets us some good numbers:

Lin Man Ornk PgG YpA YpC Drk PpG DYpA DYpC PTS YpA INT YpC Sack
MIN NEP 8th 24.4 6.60 5.3 17th 21.6 5.99 4.71 17 5.55 0 6.12 4-8
MIA NEP 16th 19.9 5.94 3.69 17th 21.1 7.03 3.62 16 7.66 1 3.08 0-0
MIA NEP 16th 19.9 5.94 3.69 17th 21.1 7.03 3.62 28 6.83 0 3.70 2-9
DET CLE 26th 15.9 5.08 3.95 27th 25.0 7.40 4.73 10 4.54 1 3.52 0-0

Unfortunately, the 2002 data isn’t very solid.  The Patriots didn’t rely primarily on a 3-4 look until the 2003 season, so schematically there’s reason to doubt the figures.  As SI’s Don Banks points out in that article, Belichick has flexed in and out of 4-3 and 3-4 looks throughout his career—but the switch from a 4-3 with some wrinkles to a 3-4 with some wrinkles was enough of a shift to grab national headlines.  Tellingly, Belichick disciples like Mangini, Crenell, and new Denver HC Josh McDaninels use the 3-4 alignment almost exclusively.

So, knowing this data may not be solid, let’s touch upon it.  Linehan’s Vikings were the 8th-ranked unit in the NFL, averaging 24.4 points a game, 6.60 yards per attempt, and a punishing 5.3 yards per carry.  The Patriots’ scoring defense that year was mediocre; ranked 17th, they allowed 21.6 points per game.  The pass defense was still strong, holding opponents to just 5.99 yards YpA—but the rushing defense struggled, allowing an alarming 4.71 YpC.

Surprisingly, the Pats held the Vikings to well below their scoring norms: only 17 points scored.  This probably had something to do with the 3 lost fumbles, and four sacks, that the Patriots forced.  The YpA and YpC were spot on with expectations, furthering the argument that the Patriots depressed scoring with turnovers and disruption; not by “actually” stopping the Vikings’ superior offense.

In 2005, we have some excellent data.  Not only was Eric Mangini the titular defensive coordinator, but Scott Linehan was calling signals for the Pats’ divisional rivals, the Dolphins.  Yes, that’s right, they played eachh other twice in 2005.  Miami was the median scoring offense that year, ranked 16th and netting 19.9 PpG.  Their passing offense was middling, too, averaging only 5.94 YpA.  Their rushing offense was also solid but nothing to shout about, with 3.69 YpC.

In a strange case of symmetry, the Patriots were the 17th-ranked scoring defense that season, too; allowing 21.1 points per game.  They allowed 7.03 YpA, and 3.62 YpC.  The expectations here would be, well, the averages.  The Fins should’ve scored 20-21 points, gained between 6 and 7 YpA, and exactly 3.6 YpC . . . not so much.

In the first game, the Fins mustered only 16 points.  I’m not quite sure how, as they passed for 7.66 YpA (360 yards on 47 throws!).  Rushing was anemic, only 3.06 YpC, but when you throw that much, and have only two turnovers, that defense is bending, but not breaking.

In the second game, on New Years' Day, the Dolphins came strong with the ground game. Thanks mostly to Ricky Williams, the Fins ran 40 times for 148 yards; only 3.7 YpC but effective nonetheless. Gus Frerottte was much more efficient, completing 22 of 35 passes for a still-solid 6.83 YpA. The result? 28 points hung on the Patriots, and a W for the Dolphins.

This illustrates a point I've made before about divisional rivals: when two teams play twice in the same season, the results of the games are primarily affected by weather and quarterback play.  In Miami in November, they throw 47 times.  In New England on New Year's Day, they run 40 times.  We all know from reading our Watchtowers that Linehan's offense is much more potent when the ground game is working; the effect here was dramatic.  The Fins scored nearly twice as many points, and tasted victory.

We have one more data point: in 2009, Mangini's Browns faced Scott Linehan's Lions. Yes, that's right, it feels like a million years ago, but the Browns played the Lions this preseason.

I'm going to be honest with you, folks: I have no idea what to do with this data.  Part of me says that due to the completely different rosters, rotations, etc. (both teams have benched their “starting” QBs since then, both teams were still on 80-man camp rosters, etc.) it should be completely discounted.  Part of me counters that this should mean it was pure scheme-on-scheme interaction, divorced from talent and execution . . . but then, enumerating and controlling for talent and execution is how I isolate that scheme-0n-scheme effect.

No, I don't think I can include this data in my analysis; there are just too many variables in the rosters, systems, and playcalling to assign significance to these numbers.  Therefore, I'm concluding that given lesser or equal talent, a Belicheck 3-4/4-3 flex defense disproportionately disrupts the scoring of a balanced Scott Linehan offense, even while allowing typical ball movement on a per-play basis.  A 60-minute offensive committment to using an effective running game may neutralize this effect.

I don't anticipate Kevin Smith having a huge day against Shaun Rogers, Robaire Smith, and company--and given the way Linehan's been putting games in Stafford's hands lately, even if Silent Bob brings the fire, they might not stick with him.  Therefore, I’m going to project the Lions will meet or slightly exceed their season averages in passing and rushing, but score fewer-than-typical points, to wit: 12-15 points, 5.50-6.00 YpA, and 3.75-4.00 YpC.

Mitigating/Augmenting Influences:

To add another layer to things, the Lions seem to abandon the run, even when it's working well--but then, they also seem be behind late in a lot of games.  We haven't seen this Lions team play with a lead very often--and when we have, turnovers, mistakes, or just plain failure have quickly ended said lead.  If Kevin Smith finally, finally gets a chance to establish a rhythm, maybe he'll break through in the second half, like Ray Rice did on Monday night.

I'm hearing a lot of talk about the Browns' unstoppable defensive line--but I'll take the Vikings' DL over the Browns' any day, and Silent Bob just ran for 4.58 yards a carry against them . . . essentially, if Cleveland's offense hangs their defense out to dry as badly as they have been, the Lions's offense will have many, many possessions to get into rhythm and build some confidence.

If the Lions offense can play like they did at Seattle, and at Minnesota, they shoudl be able to really get going against Cleveland at home.

Brian Daboll vs. Gunther Cunningham

Brian Daboll, I think, has finally, officially, beaten me.  the 34-year-old Daboll’s coaching resume is even shorter than his boss’s.  He was a grad assistant at my own Michigan State University from 1998-1999, under Nick Saban.  He joined the Patriots’ staff as a defensive assistant from 2000-2001, then got promoted to wide receivers coach, in which role he served from 2002-2006.  In 2007, Eric Mangini took Daboll with him to New York to serve as QB coach under OC Mike Hiemerdinger.  After two seasons on Broadway, Mangini took Daboll with him to Cleveland, and installed him as offensive coordinator.

Unlike Mangini, who spend his entire coaching career as a defensive assistant to a defensive mastermind with a distinct system, Daboll has served on both sides of the ball, for several different coordinators and coaches with dissimilar systems.  I’m done.  That’s it.  I have absolutely no reliable data to go upon . . . except for this:

The 2009 Cleveland Browns have the worst offense ever.

There's simply no getting around this fact.  The Browns are averaging 8.7 points per game, and have failed to score an offensive touchdown in 6 of the 9 games they've played so far.  They’re averaging 3.96 yards per pass attempt, and 3.73 yards per carry.  They have almost no ability to move the ball, no ability to convert on third down, and no ability to score points.

Trent Dilfer was on the Huge Show last night, and he called them the worst offense he’s ever seen—gamely admitting that he has both played on, and been the cause of, a lot of bad offenses.  He noted all the same things I said in my last article: with zero verticality in the passing game, and a slew of poorly drafted, poorly executed screens, the defense’s job is done for them.  Dilfer also said he talked to an active NFL quarterback who claimed that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady would each struggle to crack a 60.0 passer rating in that system, with that surrounding cast.

The upshot of all this is that despite the Lions’ suspect, and decimated, secondary, Gunther Cunningham should have every opportunity to crank up the heat and disrupt the Browns further.  Unfortunately for Cleveland, they simply don’t have the quarterback or wideouts to take advantage of the poor coverage—and the heavy, heavy blitzing will just make it all that much worse.

I don't have any data whatsoever to back this up, but I'm concluding that the Browns are going to meet, or slightly underperform their averages: 6-9 points scored, 4.00-4.50 YpA, and 3.5-4.0 YpC.


The Lions have absolutely no excuse to not win this game.  As bad as they have looked at times, as difficult as it’s been, and despite having the same record as the Browns, they must prove they are a cut above this Cleveland team.  Cleveland is a disaster in progress; a team in freefall.  They’ve already fired their GM, their coach is the unanimous choice for the next to be fired, and the owner is openly courting a “football czar” to completely take over the on-field product.

The Lions, on the other hand, had their freefall; had their disaster season.  They just made all of those hires, and just drafted “the future”.  The Lions have to prove that they are on the way up from 0-16 by beating a team who’s hitting rock bottom right now.  In a sense, this puts all the pressure on the Lions to produce.  In another sense, the Lions have a chance to really, thoroughly dominate a team, and build some confidence for the stretch run—and for 2010.



>> 11.17.2009

Icon SMI

Last night, I watched most of the Monday Night game between the Browns and Ravens.  I’d decided it'd be a good idea to take some notes, effectively TV scouting the Browns.

I’m going to be real for a second here, folks: if the Lions can't beat the Browns in Ford Field, they will not win another game this season.

The Browns' offense is the most anemic, pathetic, limpid, impotent unit in football.  They have absolutely zero confidence in their quarterback.  The Browns’ gameplan for victory last night was to completely remove Brady Quinn from the equation.  I didn’t actually chart the game, but I would venture to guess—without exaggeration—that over eighty percent of the Browns’ offensive snaps were either a run, a screen pass, a TE screen, a WR screen, a bubble screen, or a Wildcat play.

It’s difficult to imagine, but Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll appeared to be petrified by the prospect of Brady Quinn making a read and throwing the football.  On the  few occasions where Quinn dropped back and threw a real pass, he and his receivers almost never agreed on the route to be run.  Five yards ahead, behind, outside, inside; WRs not expecting the ball, WRs expecting the ball and not getting it . . . every conceivable misfire or miscommunication occurred.  I’m going to let the numbers speak for themselves:

13 of 31, 99 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions.

Folks, that is miserable.  13 of 31 is 41.3%--and again, he was throwing a large percentage of screen passes.  41.3% should not happen.  You know what else should not happen?  3.13 yards per attempt.  When Brady Quinn drops back to pass, you can expect an average of three yards gained . . . that would be anemic for a running game, but for a passing offense, it’s . . . apalling.

Daboll is trying like crazy, though, to disguise what he’s doing.  He’s using Martzian levels of pre-snap motion: TE from one side to the other, new strong-side slot WR to weak side split end, RB from tailback to offset FB; all on the same play!  However, once that’s all settled down, they’re either running up the middle or running a screen.  I am completely confident in the Lions’ ability to stop these guys.

The one thing that really stuck out to me was the explosive playmaking ability of Josh Cribbs.  They try to run the Wildcat with him, but the total lack of offensive threats around him stops it cold.  When Josh Cribbs fakes a handoff to undrafted free agent rookie James Harrison, is there a linebacker in the world who bites?  Even so, Cribbs often makes hay, even with insufficient daylight.  I’m neither joking nor exaggerating when I say that a full-time Cribbs “Wildcat" would be much more dangerous than their current base offense.

Of course, there is the other side of the ball, and I won't sugarcoat it: the Lions are going to struggle to run the ball against the Browns. Besides the OT-to-OT havoc we all know a motivated Shaun Rogers can wreak, and the constant penetration by former Spartan Robaire Smith, the Browns’ secondary is not afraid to get up and support the run.  CB Eric Wright is a tackling machine, and safety Abram Elam loves to lay the lumber across the middle.

In the end, though, we're talking about a team that simply can't beat anyone.  As I've mentioned in the past, there's a special quality about offense: it can beat itself.  If you can't run block, and can't complete a pass, it doesn't matter which defense is across from you.  Given the state of this Cleveland Browns offense, the Lions probably won’t need to score 10 points to win.


three cups deep: reality check

>> 11.16.2009

It eternally escapes me how a Lions fan--an otherwise rational human being, who wakes up and goes to work and drinks coffee and does all of the things that a normal person such as you or I might do--can log on to, say,, on a Saturday, post, "Vikings 52 Lions 3 Wake me when it's over!", and then on Sunday evening, log back on and post, "THE LIONS SUCK! THEY ARE TERRIBLE AND THERE IS NO HOPE!  THEY LOST A GAME AND A FAN OF THIRTY YEARS TODAY!!!!!!1"

Folks: the Vikings came into the game 7-1.  The Lions came into the game 1-7.  The last time these two teams played, the final score was 27-13.  This time, it was 27-10 (and the Lions missed a field goal).  Anyone who was surprised, or taken aback, by the result was delusional coming into it.  Winning would have been a wonderful surprise; putting up a decent fight in a losing effort was regrettably predictable.

First and foremost, we saw Matthew Stafford resume his upward trend: 29-of-51 for 224 yards, 1 TD, and no interceptions.  His scrambling was back--he made some really, really nice plays on the move--and the zip on his passes returned, too.  Stafford also reconnected with Calvin Johnson; Megatron led the way with 8 catches for 84 yards.  Perhaps most excitingly, he completed 2 or more passes to seven different players.

Of course, Stafford was far from perfect.  A few really critical throws were off the mark, like two fourth-and-short incompletions that killed the Lions' comeback attempts.  Once again, there were a lot of drops.  It's tough to put a finger on this: are the Lions receivers terrible (likely), does Stafford throw a hard-to-catch ball (also likely), or is it just a lack of chemistry between a rookie quarterback and a WR corps he's barely played with (thirdly likely)? Unfortunately, without being a Lions QB, WR, or coach, you just don't know whose fault these drops are.

Overall, we saw him improve from "his five interceptions cost us the win" to "he made enough plays to keep us in the game" in one week.  Certainly, he could have made a few more plays--and that might have been the difference between victory and defeat--but any time you ask a rookie quarterback to beat Brett Favre by throwing it fifty times, you're asking too much.

We DID see "Dr. Jekyll" yesterday.  Despite underwhelming on offense, and despite disintegrating into a M.A.S.H unit over the course of the game, the Lions stayed in it.  They didn't let it get out of hand, kept fighting right down to the final gun, and were still within striking distance in the middle of the fourth quarter.

I’m not about to blow a bunch of sunshine up where your sun don’t shine; this was another tough loss in long string of tough losses.  But it’s clear that if THAT Matt Stafford had been under center last week, the Lions would've won.  Moreover, it's clear that if we get this Matt Stafford next week--hosting the Browns instead of traveling to the Vikings--the Lions will win.  For their sake, and for ours, let's hope that it's true.

Okay, normal people, let's get some more coffee together . . . and let's quit posting suicide notes on Mlive.


the lions congregation: WEEk TEN

>> 11.15.2009

It’s time once again for the weekly worship at the Church of Schwartz!  The men of the Lions Congregation--the best Lions bloggers on the Internet, plus me--gathered to moot the issues of the week:

  • If Ernie Sims is ready to play in the next few weeks, where do you put him?
  • Jeff Backus hasn’t been horrific the last week or two. Is there any way he’s back with the Lions next season?
  • Is there any way possible the Lions beat the Vikings this week?

So please, take time out to read the works of the Schwartz-fearing men of the Internet!


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