Watchtower Review: Lions at Bears

>> 9.15.2010

Last season, I did the review of each Watchtower as the opening portion of the next one.  This made some sense, as I was still fine-tuning the process, and I was reviewing how I was writing them as much as what the results were.  However, looking back through the archives, putting half the analysis of one game into the article for the next make finding stuff really, really hard.  To that end, I’m breaking out the Watchtower review into its own little piece.

In the Watchtower for Sunday’s Lions road game against the Bears, I recited my findings from previous seasons:

“Given greater, equal, or lesser talent, Lovie Smith's relatively aggressive Tampa 2 will surrender a disproportionate amount of yards to Linehan's balanced offense, but also generate high numbers of sacks and turnovers, disproportionately disrupting scoring.”

I went on to analyze the 2009 data, and found that that all held true—except for the “scoring” bit.  In their two games last season, the Bears allowed the Lions to score 24 and 23 points, compared to the Bears’ 2009 average of . . . 23.5 points.  That’s right, the bottom-feeding Lions offense performed about as well as everyone else did against the Bears last season.  This was well above the Lions’ average scoring rate of 15.9 ppg.  The only difference in the Bears’ defense last season was an unprecedented lack of talent and execution for a Lovie Smith defense—so I added an “unless they’re bad” clause:

"Given greater or equal talent, Lovie Smith's relatively aggressive Tampa 2 will surrender a disproportionate amount of yards to Linehan's balanced offense, but also generate high numbers of sacks and turnovers, disproportionately disrupting scoring. Given mediocre or poor talent, Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 surrenders disproportionately high yardage and points, respective to the Linehan offense’s talent level."

Given the above, and the lack of 2010 scoring averages for the Lions (for) and the Bears (against), and the presumable-but-unknown improvement by both the Lions’s offense and Bears’ defense, I projected the following:

The Lions should score between 20 and 24 points.  I have low confidence in this prediction.

I note, ruefully, that Calvin Johnson's game-winning touchdown being wiped off the board reduced a confidence-boosting 20 (or 22) to a depressing 14.  On defense, there was only one data point, and it precisely bore out expectations—leading me to conclude:

"So, we only have one data point, and it points toward neither side having a systemic advantage or disadvantage. The two teams should play to their (relatively unknown) talent and execution levels."

Taking a wild stab in the dark, "I projected":

"Let’s just call it thirty points. This is a guess and not a prediction, and I have extremely low confidence in it."

It was appropriate that I had extremely low confidence in it, because it was totally wrong.  In the conclusion, I summarized:

"I’ll say that based on extremely weak data, the most likely outcome of the game is a close Lions loss, with lots of sacks and turnovers for both sides, and a final score of 24-30."

Of course, the official final score of the game was 14-19, depressed as predicted by many sacks and turnovers for both sides.  The Lions had a harder time moving the ball than the Bears—Chicago racked up a whopping 463 yards of total offense, compared to the Lions’ meager 168.

If the Lions were the beneficiary of a systemic advantage that allowed them to move the ball better than usual, either the Lions have an epically bad offense this season, or the Bears are much, much better than commonly thought.  One factor skewing these numbers: the swapout of Matthew Stafford for Shaun Hill.  In last seasons’ games, we saw that the Lions had no chance at victory without Stafford behind center—and it showed in the statistics.

Probably the most alarming thing we saw yesterday—besides the miscarriage of justice that stole the win, and the injuries to the franchise quarterback and best young pass rusher—was the total lack of effectiveness from the rushing game.  Jahvid Best ran for only 1.4 yards per carry on Sunday, which dramatically limited the effectiveness of the passing game—and in turn, the offense.  It’s possible that this Bears defense, with a healthy Brian Urlacher, has returned to its prior-to-2009 fearsomeness—and it’s also possible that the running game we saw in the preseason was only a mirage.

On defense, Cutler and the Bears moved the ball with incredible ease; 10.62 YpA show that yards were coming in chunks through the air.  Despite averaging only 3.25 YpC, the Bears continued to feed the ground game, too: 31 carries at that rate is good for 101 yards.  Fortunately, the Lions managed to snare an interception, recover three fumbles, and sack Jay Cutler four times—and the timeliness of said turnovers kept points off the board.  Even better was the tremendous four-down goal line stand.  It was a signature performance by the defensive line, and it kept the game in the Lions’ control—for a little while, at least.

Going forward, the defense will probably be less spectacularly vulnerable; the Martz offense specifically attacks the Lions' defense's greatest weaknesses.  Then again, the defense may well be less spectacular; the Martz offense’s greatest weaknesses played to the Lions’ defense’s strength.  Even given the way the back seven was—for the most part—traumatized by the Bears, the Lions’ D played with enough heart, and enough pass rush, to make me think there’s hope for this team despite the painful loss.


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