Watchtower Review: Lions at Packers

>> 10.06.2010

I do not feel like doing this.

In the Watchtower for the Packers game, I said this about the Packers’ offense:

But with the Lions possessing a systemic advantage against the Packers’ already injury-weakened running game, and in depressing the Packers’ scoring, I project the Pack will fall just short of their season average, scoring 24-27 points. I have very high confidence in this projection.

Given the depth and specificity of the data we’ve got, and the special circumstances surrounding the matchup, I’ll take the opportunity to get a little more specific: I cite my Whack-A-Mole principle, and project that the Lions will concede the run to the Packers, allowing 3.75-4.0 YpC, in order to focus primarily on the pass, which should yield 7.5-8.25 YpA. Further, I predict the Lions will sack the Packers four to six times.

It looks as though the Packers overshot this window--but Charles Woodson’s pick-six accounted for seven of the Packers’ 28 points.  With only 21 points scored, the defense did even better than expected.  My running projection wasn’t too far off either; the Packers netted 4.38 yards per carry.  The Packers’ passing YpA (which is a devil to predict) was 10.65; that’s much more than I expected.  Finally, my projection called for four-to-six sacks, but the Lions managed only two.

How did the Packers run and pass better than they usually do, get help from the Lions with massive penalties, only get sacked twice, and still underperform scoring expectations?  For starters, turnovers—even though the Lions turned it over three times, the Packers turned it over four times, killing drives.  Second, the way the Lions repeatedly handed the Packers the ball, and yards via penalties, reduced the number of snaps the offense had to take. 

The Lions only sacked the Packers twice, yes—but Rodgers only dropped back to pass nineteen times.  In the first three games, Rodgers had been sacked a total of three times—on 108 dropbacks.  With the Lions’ sack rate on Sunday, once per 9.5 dropbacks, if Rodgers had been forced to throw as many times as he usually has this season (36), the Lions would have garnered 3.79 sacks.  Of course, if we’re playing that game, the Packers’ 32.21 attempts, at 10.65 YpA, would have netted them 343.04 passing yards . . . so let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth.  The Lions got two sacks on 19 dropbacks, and that's good.

Ultimately, the Lions depressed the Packers' scoring with a couple of sacks (one killing a crucial late-third-quarter drive), four turnovers, and good old-fashioned ball control. The Packers only had time to run 38 offensive plays . . . you just can’t generate a lot of points with so few bites at the apple.

Now, let me take a moment to address longtime commenter Matt, who routinely drops knowledge in the comments (more than I can adequately respond to!).  Here’re some excerpts of Matt’s challenge to my Watchtower conclusions:

There's a problem with your analysis. You say the Packers are getting gashed by the run, but if you check the box scores, it's not really true.

. . . By these numbers, the Packers have given up 333 yards on 67 carries (4.97 ypc), but 152 of those yards and 17 of those carries came from QBs (two-thirds of THAT being Vick). That leaves the running backs gaining only 3.6 yards per carry. Even though they haven't faced any of the elite RBs yet, the Packers aren't as bad against the run as some numbers suggest. They just let the QB slip out every now and then and once that QB was Vick.

This is a great point; I was remiss not to break it down further.  The Packers aren’t any softer than usual against tailbacks this season; Jahvid Best   These things have a way of working themselves out, though . . .

With all this in mind, I don't think Sunday looks very bright for Jahvid Best, regardless of how the toe feels. That being said, if he plays around 80-90%, there's a good chance he scores whatever touchdowns the Lions manage. I also don't think the Lions are getting 9 yards a carry out of Shaun Hill.

Thanks to that wild 40-yard scamper, they actually got 13.25!  Of course, I would never have predicted it, and it shows that my notion that Green Bay is generally struggling against the run this year was false.  However, we may have stumbled upon something interesting: are Green Bay’s nickel packages especially susceptible to quarterback runs?  With a three-man front  attempting to rush the passer, and one or more linebackers blitzing, it would make sense that there’s a giant gaping hole in the middle of the field.  I’ll be keeping an eye on this throughout the season . . . and for the next Watchtower.

Given the season averages so far, and taking into account (but not overemphasizing) the systemic advantage Scott Linehan has against Dom Capers, I project the Lions to mildly outperform expectations, meeting or falling just short of their season averages: 15-20 points, 5.50-to-6.00 YpA, and 4.00 YpC.  I have medium to high confidence in this projection.

The rushing, as we discussed, was thrown off by Shaun Hill's scramble. The Lions' team per-carry average was a stout 5.86!  Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith combined for 15 carries and 62 yards, or 4.13 YpC.  That’s a half-yard better than the tailback-rushing-allowed figure Matt so helpfully calculated, and over a full yard better than the Lions’ season averages so far.  Clearly, the advantage Linehan has over Capers in the running game came into play.

As far as the passing goes, at first blush the Lions were much better than expected—but the Lions only averaged 6.13 YpA.  It wasn’t so much that the Lions were much more effective through the air than usual, it was when they were effective, completing 62.9% of their passes and converting 10/17 third downs, the Lions possessed the ball, moved the chains, and got many more bites at the apple.  Also, just as their defensive penalties were making the field shorter for the Green Bay offense, the Lions’ offensive penalties were making the field longer for themselves.  They padded out that 331 yard passing-yard total by getting back a lot of they yards they gave tot he Packers—they key point here, though, is that they did get those yards back.

Clearly, the Lions outperformed my projections for points, strengthening the trend of Linehan offenses outperforming Capers/LeBeau 3-4 defenses.  What’s maddening, though, is that they left so much on the table: four second-half scoring drives ended in field goals instead of touchdowns, most notably this sequence right here:

1-6-GB 6 (12:12)

    14-Sh.Hill pass incomplete short right to 81-C.Johnson.

2-6-GB 6 (12:06)

    (Shotgun) 14-Sh.Hill pass incomplete short left to 80-B.Johnson (38-T.Williams).

3-6-GB 6 (12:00)

    (Shotgun) 14-Sh.Hill pass incomplete short left to 85-T.Scheffler.

4-6-GB 6 (11:54)

    4-J.Hanson 24 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-48-D.Muhlbach, Holder-2-N.Harris.

When you have 1st and goal from your opponent's 6-yard-line, and your last three drives all ended in field goals . . . you have to score a touchdown there.  You just have to.  If the Lions can’t figure out their red-zone strategy. . . or, more accurately, if Shaun Hill can’t figure out how to execute the Lions’ red-zone strategy, the Lions will continue to be unable to close games until Matthew Stafford comes back.

1 comments:

Matt,  October 6, 2010 at 2:31 PM  

I think the glaring issue with that last drive is the absence of Jahvid Best. I don't know how he was feeling at this point in the game, but you've got 1st and goal from the 6 and your fresh-out-of-the-package stud RB doesn't touch the ball once? At least they took a shot with Calvin.

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