Gameday Post: Lions at Bills

>> 11.13.2010

I’m going to give this paragraph over to my man Neil at Armchair Linebacker, because he’s already said what I meant to say, only better, so I won’t bother repeating him:

On Sunday, the Detroit Lions, my favorite professional football team, will descend upon Buffalo will furious vengeance in their hearts. They will devour the souls of the living and gnaw upon the bones of the wicked dead. There is no joy in any of this, no beautiful glimpse of the future. The future is irrelevant. So is the past. There is only now, there is only today, and today there is no choice but to win, to crush, kill, destroy.

Well said.

Saturday morning, I was stopping in to a convenience store on my way to get McDonald’s breakfast.  Near the door, I met eyes with a man in his, say, late 50s/early 60s.  He saw my Lions hat, and a serious look crossed his face.  He nodded with great import, and slowly said “ . . . that’s a good-lookin’ hat.”

I’m not sure I can accurately convey just how important this seemed to both of us at the time—it was a very real, very palpable bond we shared just then, if only for a second.  Being a Lions fan is still, at this instant, an underground thing.  It’s still, for right now, something you do in private, or risk being ostracized.  On the rare occasion you see someone else bold enough to brand themselves with the Honolulu Blue . . . you recognize it.

Today, though, the Lions have a chance to take a big step towards Lions fandom being part of a normal Michigander’s daily routine—and the chance is a great one, indeed.  The Lions can win on the road, for the first time in forever.  They can beat last season’s win total.  They can properly round the corner from one of the toughest first-half schedules in the NFL, to one of the easiest second-half schedules in the NFL.

They can do what decent teams do, which is beat terrible teams on the road.  If they do it emphatically enough, they can even, finally, separate themselves from the dregs of the NFL—both in the national NFL hivemind, as well as in the standings.  I think they can do it, and I think they will do it.

. . . frankly, they’d better do it.  Don’t forget to join me live, via Ustream, at 11:00 pm EST for the Fireside Chat podcast, so we can discuss it either way.

Technorati Tags: nfl,detroit lions,buffalo bills


The Watchtower: Lions at BIlls


There aren’t 25 bison in that picture, but let’s pretend there are. Twenty-five horned, furry demons, each representing a road defeat.  The herd has been rolling the Lions for years now, and now they have to take a stand.  The 0-8 Buffalo Bills are the best chance the Lions will have all season to break the streak.  It’s now, or never.

Chan Gailey vs. Gunther Cunningham

Chan Ornk PgG YpA YpC Gun Drnk PpG DYpA DYpC PTS ΔPTS YpA ΔYpA YpC ΔYpC
PIT 11th 21.5 6.23 4.38 KCC 11th 18.8 6.60 3.78 17 -20.9% 10.65 70.9% 3.06 -30.1%
PIT 7th 23.2 6.57 4.33 KCC 1st 14.5 6.43 3.92 10 -56.9% 4.81 -26.8% 6.17 42.5%
DAL 9th 23.8 7.25 4.04 KCC 22nd 22.7 6.23 3.81 17 -28.6% 5.69 -21.5% 3.12 -22.8%
MIA 8th 21.5 6.97 3.52 TEN 25th 24.2 7.31 3.53 24 11.6% 11.25 61.4% 2.48 -29.5%
BUF 26th 18.8 5.70 4.3 DET 23rd 22.4 7.13 4.79            

You may notice a few tweaks in the format.  Team Coached, Rank, PpG, YpA, YpC for offense, then the same for defense.  Then Real Points, Delta-Points, indicating the percentage away the season mean, YpA, Delta-YpA, YpC, and Delta-YpC.  The idea here is to see, at a glance, that in their four meetings as coordinators and/or head coaches, Gunther Cunningham’s defenses allowed Chan Gailey’s offenses to score 20.9% below, 56.9% below, 28.6% below, and 11.6% above their season averages on the year.

. . . but I’m getting ahead of myself.  From 1974 to 1993, Chan Gailey bounced around both the college and NFL ranks.  He served as an assistant, coordinator, or head coach for six different teams, which includes multiple positions (or multiple stints) at Troy State, Air Force, and with the Denver Broncos under Dan Reeves.  It wasn’t until he got a gig as the Steelers’ wide receivers coach in 1994 that his career in the NFL took off.  Under OC Ray Erhardt, the Steelers pounded the run game.  But Cohwer wanted to open it up a bit—and that philosophical dispute led to Erhardt’s ouster after the ‘95 season.  Bill Cowher gave Gailey the reigns—and a directive to score points.

That Gailey did.  The Steelers were ranked 11th and 7th in the NFL in scoring during his two years as offensive coordinator, and Gunther faced him with his fearsome Chiefs D both times.  In the first meeting, the 21.5 PpG Steelers performed to expectations when facing the 11th-ranked defense, scoring 17 points.  They were much more effective through the air then typical (70.9% better!), but could only muster 3.06 yards per carry.

In the 1997 matchup, both units were better.  Gailey’s Steelers were racking up 23.2 PpG, but the Chiefs were only allowing 14.5.  The Chiefs put the clamps on even better than expected, though, allowing the Steelers just 10 points (56.9% below their average).  Oddly, they allowed 6.17 yards per carry on the ground, but held the Steelers to a meager 4.81 yards per attempt.  This jibes with something we’ve seen before from offenses that like to spread it out against Gunther’s D: when he lets them run wild but stops the pass, they can’t score for beans.

Chan's success with the Steelers’ offense got him his first crack at the Big Chair in the NFL, with the Dallas Cowboys.  With Dallas’ vaunted skill position trio of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin, Chan’s offense scored 23.8 PpG, good for 9th in the NFL.  With a very robust 7.25 YpA, and a very Emmitt-like 4.04 YpC, Dallas’ offense had plenty of teeth.  The Chiefs were significantly down that year, dropping from the #1 scoring defense in the NFL to only the 22nd-best.  They were allowing points at a 22.7 PpG clip—and yet, they held the ‘boys to just 17 points; an extremely impressive performance.  Interestingly, YpA and YpC were both depressed by just over 20%.

In the final matchup, we have what’s likely to be the best test. It’s a recent Chan Gailey offense versus a Schwartz/Cunningham defense—unfortunately, it’s an 8th-ranked Dolphins offense versus a 25th-ranked Titans D.  The ‘fins were scoring 21.5 points per game, while the Titans were allowing a significant 24.2.  Expectations would be that Miami would score well above their average—and they did exceed their average, but not by much.  They put up 24 offensive points, exactly matching the Titans’ average on the season (remember, Miami was a well-above-average offense!).  This time, it’s more like the first meeting, where the offense went wild through the air, but did nothing on the ground.

Given the data above, I’m more than comfortable proclaiming that given greater, equal, or lesser talent, Gunther Cunningham’s hyperaggressive defenses disproportionately depress the scoring output of Chan Gailey offenses.  There is no consistent mechanism in terms of run/pass disruption—and typical depression mechanisms like sacks or turnovers aren’t the causes either (they’re not on the chart this time, but trust me, those numbers weren’t exceptional).

The 26th-ranked Buffalo offense has been averaging just 18.8 points per game, by far the worst Chan Gailey offense we’ve looked at.  The Lions, ranked 23rd, are allowing 22.4 points a game.  In theory, we should split the difference here—but applying a moderate systemic advantage, I’ll project the Bills to score 13-16 points.  I’m not even going to attempt YpA and/or YpC, given how all over the map those numbers are this time, but I have high confidence in this scoring projection.

Mitigating/Aggravating Factors:

Even if I’m wrong about the systemic advantage for Gunther, we’re still looking at 17-20 points—not enough to overcome our next matchup.

Scott Linehan vs. George Edwards

DET 7th 25.4 5.52 3.50 BUF 32nd 29.1 6.94 4.84            

Here’s a problem.  Except for two years in Washington around the turn of the century, Bills defensive coordinator George Edwards hasn’t been a defensive coordinator before.  Since Linehan didn’t face off against Edwards in either of those years, we have no data to go on, save for this season’s averages.  The only real “coaching tree” substitute we can look at is Dom Capers, for whom Edwards was the linebackers coach in Miami.  From a Capers-y Watchtower:

. . . As we've seen with Gregg Williams and Dick LeBeau, Scott Linehan's balanced, conventional offense is disproportionately successful against an aggressive, blitzing 3-4.

I can’t at all be sure that this applies to Edwards’ flavor of 3-4.  In terms of pass rush, they don’t seem effective; they’re 25th-ranked in sacks.  But, they’ve faced fewer pass attempts than anyone but the Broncos, meaning their pass rush rate is closer to middle-of-the-pack.  They’ve faced so few pass attempts because A) they’re usually playing from behind, and B) they’re terrible against the run.  Buffalo’s faced more rushing attempts than anyone else—295 in just 8 games.  That’s 36 rushing attempts per game.  Despite every team attempting to put it in the cooler via the run, the Bill are still allowing a walloping 4.84 YpC.  This still isn’t as bad as the 2008 Lions, but it’s not much better.

So what’s going to happen when the 7th-ranked Lions offense comes to town?  Since most of those points were scored with Shaun Hill at the helm, there shouldn’t be any dropoff from the usual rate of production.  Even if there is . . . well, we’re talking a team that averages 25 points a game going up against the worst defense in the NFL.  Even if we presume there is no systemic advantage, the Lions should score 30-35 points.  Due to the total lack of systemic historical data, I have low confidence in this projection.

Mitigating/Aggravating Factors:

If Shaun Hill’s performance is limited by his injury—or if the playbook has been cut down because he can’t take snaps under center—then this number could very well fall.  However, I see a big, big day for Jahvid Best against this defense, and at least a just-plain-old-big day for the passing game.  Unless there is some serious defensive/special teams scoring for the Bills, the Lions should get an early lead and hold it.


Somehow, the tenor of the national conversation surrounding the Bills-Lions game has become “Oh, sweet, the Bills will get a chance to get off the schneid!  They pretty good for 0-8; they just almost beat the Bears, you know.”  But the numbers just don’t support it.  This is one of the best offenses in the NFL going against, by far, the worst—and on the other side, a mediocre offense against a mediocre defense.  The Lions have a clear upper hand in this game, and mostly likely will win, 30-14.  Hey, twenty-five fell demons of meadow grazing and road defeats!  We are apex predators; you lose.

Technorati Tags: nfl,detroit lions,buffalo bills,jim schwartz,chan gailey,scott linehan,gunther cunningham,george edwards


Tinderbox: Awesome Video of Gunther

>> 11.12.2010

Bills Watchtower later tonight.

Here is an awesome, awesome video of Gunther Cunningham talking.  Just go watch it.  (H/T: commenter Matt).


Lions vs. Jets: A Visual Miscellany

>> 11.11.2010

Here are some more cool pictures from the game on Sunday that I didn’t work into the Three Cups Deep.

Walking to the stadium.  Here’s where I initially spotted the tremendous XXXXXXXXXXL Germane Crowell home authentic . . . but check my man over on the right.  Is that a Kelvin Pritchett away replica tucked into belted Wranglers?  With a Lions hardhat?  Awesome.  Moving on from the “vintage” rack, we have a couple nice selections from the “so fresh and so clean” department:

That Stafford away authentic looks gorgeous.  The Suh home authentic looks . . . forgeous.  Look at the number patches . . . not quite right (compare the “9” in the Suh to the “9” in the Stafford).  Also, the sleeves are straight-cut, not banded like authentics.  Honestly, I didn’t spot this until afterwards, though—the Chinese knock-off stuff is getting better and better.

Megatron away authentic.  Honolulu Blue on white just looks so good.  Excellent choice, sir.

“No pictures, please.”  Note the knitted Lion hat.

My son handing his first Lions ticket to his first Lions ticket-taker to enter Ford Field to see his first Lions game.  Sniffle.  Ticket-taker, please don’t sue me for likeness rights.  TIA.

To quote a wise and learned scholar (Xzibit), “This is what happens when determination meets a broke-assed motherf****er.”  Only a matter of time before my man turns that “3” into a “4” and that “SMITH” into a “BEST.”  Oh, and check out David Sloan at the front of the line!  He was Dallas Clark before it was cool to be Dallas Clark, supposing Peyton Manning were Scott Mitchell and Dallas Clark had knees made of Velcro.

Indoor fireworks!  Excellent.  I think this was Stafford’s introduction but I’m not positive.

Somehow I set “blur” to “ON” at some point, but here’s my little boy watching the Jets fans congregate, post-game.  This part was hard.  Note his little Lion tail, drooping.

Like I said . . . this part was hard.

It’s cool, though, because we got in the line to run onto the field and score a touchdown.  the looooooooooong line.

Okay, this is terrible.  This kid is wearing a “wolverinehead,” like a cheesehead, except it’s a wolverine snout.  Dad is wearing a U of M cap.  That would all be fine, I guess, except little dude is rocking a LaDanian Tomlinson Chargers jersey.  Look, neither the Michigan Wolverines, nor the San Diego Chargers, were playing in that game.  LaDanian Tomlinson was in the game, but playing against the team they came to root for.  I was so grumped out by this compound attire foul, the out-of-place Zetterberg didn’t even faze me.

Tough to see, but that sign says “I HATE EVERYTHING ABOUT NEW YORK,” with  ‘No Smoking Sign’ circles with lines through them drawn around every major New York City sports franchise’s logo.  I was so impressed with the craftsmanship, and the seething hatred, I almost took it home.

He hit the Ford Field turf running.

They gave every kid a miniball, and then lined ‘em up on the 30-yard line.  They ran ‘em in batches of howevermany.  Chaos.

After scoring his touchdown, he looked up at the goalposts, reared back, and threw his miniball over the crossbar . . . and over my head.  It bounced off the rail on top of the wall—inches from actually going in the stands.

“Dad, I told you they were gonna let me on the field.  I told you I was gonna need my cleats.”  I get a certain perverse joy out of being a Stupid Old Dad.

On the way out, a major jersey win: a little dude rocking a Vanden Bosch home.  I did not see much jersey love for KVB, but that kid brought it.  Well done.

. . . and good night Lions everywhere.

Technorati Tags: nfl,detroit lions,ford field,new york jets


watchtower Review: Lions vs. Jets

Well, last week’s Watchtower had an obvious error:

My instincts tell me that a team the Packers shut out at home won’t put up 24-27 against this defense in front of a sold-out Ford Field. Despite all the ways I could be proven wrong, I’m going to go with the data and my gut. The most likely outcome of the game is a 17-13 Lions win.

Durr Sharks?

Durr Sharks.

Hat tip to Brian at MGoBlog.

On the positive side, this is only the second game I’ve been wrong enough on to actually get the winner incorrect.  On the negative side, damn.  I’ll admit, I did not think Sanchez had that just-before-halftime bomb in him.  Not only did it unquestionably deflate the crowd, and reverse the tide of momentum as they went into the lockers, it also accounted for a huge percentage of the Jets’ offense that day.  That pass was the difference between 336 yards passing and 262 yards passing.  It was the difference between 8.62 YpA and 6.89 YpA.  It was the difference between 23 points and 16 points.  It was the difference in the game.

If we assume that the 2004-2005 Chargers provide a representative sample of Brian Schottenheimer’s schematic and playcalling tendencies, the Jets’s offense will either meet—or vastly underperform—expectations against Gunther Cunningham’s aggressive 4-3 defense, depending on which phase of the offense the Lions attack. Given the recent success of the Lions’ pass rush and secondary, I expect the Lions to attack the pass—and therefore, I project the Jets to score 10-13 points. Unfortunately, because we’re working off of a possibly fallacious assumption—the 2004-2005 Chargers’s offense being interchangeable with the 2010 Jets—I have very low confidence in this projection. If there were no systemic advantage or disavantage, the expectation for the Jets’ offense against the Lions’ defense would be 24-27 points.

Okay so.  The assumption has been proven fallacious.  [[ Martyball == Brianball ]] returns false.  Looks like either there’s no systemic advantage or disadvantage for Gunther against Brian Schottenheimer, or that one lapse in coverage threw everything out of whack.  Either way, this half gets a grade of FAIL.

With no systemic advantage or disadvantage, expectations for the Lions’ offense versus the Jets’ defense would be set at 17-21 points. However, if we apply this perceived disadvantage when facing Rex Ryan defenses, I project the Lions will score 15-17 points. I have low-to-medium confidence in this projection.

This is not a big surprise; the only data point for Linehan against Ryan was the 2007 Rams, after they’d lost Steven Jackson and anyone else who had any shot of being a productive offensive football player.  The only reasons I considered a possible advantage in effect were: A) how mediocre the Ravens’ defense was that season, and B) how thoroughly said defense scoured the Earth clean of Gus Frerotte on that day.

Lessons Learned:

Seems like I have to keep learning this one, but: if you have very low confidence in your analysis because of sample size or mitigating factors, do not roll with it anyway because it sounds right.

Technorati Tags: nfl,detroit lions,new york jets,rex ryan,brian schottenheimer,jim schwartz,scott linehan,gunther cunningham


Matthew Stafford: Your Opinion is Irrelevant.

>> 11.09.2010

Matthew Stafford is the quarterback of the Detroit Lions.  He is guaranteed to receive forty million dollars to be the quarterback of the Detroit Lions.  He is a remarkably talented starting quarterback, in a league where starting quarterbacks determine the majority of a franchise’s success.  Many franchises try for years—if not decades—to get their hands on a quarterback like Matthew Stafford.  The Detroit Lions had waited longer than any other franchise to get their hands on a quarterback of this caliber.

Shaun Hill is the backup quarterback of the Detroit Lions.  Just a few weeks ago, many fans were calling for Hill to remain the starter even after Stafford was cleared to play.  Hill is a savvy veteran quarterback, who knows the Lions’ system.  The Lions have won with him at the helm this season.  He has a career 32/18 TD-INT ratio, 85.1 passer rating, and 11-11 record as a starter.  He is under contract through the 2011 season.

The Detroit Lions cannot, and therefore will not, acquire a quarterback who would be an immediate upgrade over Matthew Stafford or Shaun Hill for the 2010 season.  As above, good NFL quarterbacks are both rare and valuable.  Therefore, any quarterback who is not currently under contract in the NFL is not a good NFL quarterback.  Any quarterback brought in midseason will not understand the offense well enough, fast enough, to execute it better than Shaun Hill during any point in the season.

The Detroit Lions cannot, and therefore will not, acquire a quarterback whose long-term upside equals or surpasses Matthew Stafford’s in the forseeable future.  Again, such quarterbacks are vanishingly rare—and are available only by drafting at the top of the first round, or by trading astonishing amounts of value.  Even if the Lions had the #1 overall pick to spend on the best available quarterback in the draft, they could not afford to sink $160 million into two quarterbacks.  Any quarterback acquired in the second round or lower will be at a steep disadvantage to Stafford for 2011 and beyond—in terms of raw physical talent, physical maturity, understanding of the offense, and game experience.

These are the facts.  Whatever you want to make up on your own time is fine.  Whatever scenarios you play with in your head, that’s great.  Keep them there.  Do not waste all of our time, effort, and brain cells by calling up WDFN and telling Killer that you have this great idea where the Lions should sign Jeff George.

Jamarcus Russell is a Wookiee; your opinion is irrelevant.

Technorati Tags: detroit lions,matthew stafford,jamarcus russell


Three Cups Deep: Lions vs. Jets

>> 11.08.2010

“Where ya goin’?” he asked.  I was at the top of the staircase leading down to sections 104 and 105, my just-having-used-the-potty son in my arms, fighting against the four-wide stream of Lions fans heading for the exits.  “C’mon,” the Jets fan sneered while clapping, sarcastically.  “You were all loud a minute ago, where ya goin’?  It’s like this?  You abandon your team now?  After all that?  C’mon!  Where ya goin’?”

The Jets had just completed a 52-yard pass to Santonio Holmes, and the Jets were setting up camp in field goal range.  This Ford Field crowd, who’d sold the place out, who’d rocked and rolled all afternoon, who’d made all kinds of noise all afternoon, had just had their hearts ripped out.  I wanted to say something, wanted to shut him up, wanted to make it not true . . . but I had nothing.  It was clearly over now.  After being the better team all game long, after being so close to such an amazing achievement, after having my boy’s first Lions game be the greatest victory in a decade, it was all gone, and soon the Jets would kick a field goal and it would all fizzle into nothingness.  It was infuriating and heartbreaking and I wanted to alternately punch this guy in the mouth and then maybe cry.

Someone tried to crack back.  “Yeah . . . you look like a New York fan.  You look like a New York fan.”  I don’t know what that means, and my guess is neither did this guy, either—further, he was shuffling past me to the exit while Jet Fan was standing on top of a seat, holding court.  If those words were meant to shut Jet Fan up, they didn’t work.

In that dark, sickening moment, I was crushed.  I was disgusted at the Lions fans heading for the exit, I was heartbroken that everything that that day might have been turned to sand in my hands, and I was exhausted, drained, completely spent emotionally and physically.  I had absolutely nothing left.

Before the game, it was nothing but sunshine.  Lions fans, Lions gear, and a crisp, gorgeous day boded well for my boy’s first Lions game.  Street musicians, music coming out of the nearby bars and restaurants, people buying and selling tickets, jerseys of all colors, sizes, shapes, and names on proud display.  Some of these were just too good to be true:

We took our seats.  The scale, the noise, the pageantry . . . all of it looked newer, bigger, fresher to me, as if I was seeing it through his eyes.  Even the coin toss was epic and legendary, as far as he was concerned.

I’m not going to recount the entire game.  It’s been done—and done and done and done.  I covered most of my in-game thoughts last night during the Fireside Chat.  But here’s what I’m taking away from this game: pride.  Pride in the fans that showed up and roared for sixty-plus minutes.  Pride in the team that faced off against the toughest, most physical, most swaggerest team in the NFL, and “bloodied” them.  “Knocked them down.”  Forced them to admit that they “weren’t the same old Lions.”  Even had their leader whining about how the Lions are the “dirtiest team in the league.”  As I said last night, for today, I’ll take that.

The outcome may have been crushing.  The score, the mistakes, the injuries, they may take the wind out of our sails, as fans.  It might even take the wind out of the Lions’ sails.  But yesterday the Lions took on the best, and hit them in the mouth.  They made them taste their own medicine—made them taste their own blood in the back of their throat.  Both teams walked away knowing the Lions outplayed the Jets.

I know there are no moral victories, and almost only counts in horseshoes, and if you ain’t first, you’re last, and all that crap.  But yesterday the Lions played like men, played like a tough, talented team that knows they’re tough and talented.  The transformation from 2008 to now is nothing less than astonishing, and if you’re too blind to see that, that’s a you problem.  As much as it hurts, as amazing as it could have been but wasn’t, it’s still a landmark moment in this franchise’s development and—let’s admit it—it was a hell of a football game.

I’m proud of my boy—who fought through his disappointment to tell visiting Jets fans “good game”—and I’m proud of this team.  I’m proud to wear my gear and be a fan.  I’m proud that a game that would have been a 35-7 shellacking a season and a half ago was yesterday, to borrow Rex Ryan’s analogy, a twelve-round prizefight.

I'm proud--and you should be, too.

Technorati Tags: nfl,detroit lions,new york jets,rex ryan,jim schwartz,ford field


Fireside Chat: Lions vs. Jets

Here’s this week’s Fireside Chat.  It isn’t for the faint of heart.

Technorati Tags: detroit lions,new york jets,podcast


Lions vs. Jets Gameday Post: A New Beginning

>> 11.07.2010

Today, I take my four-year-old son to his first Lions game.  He’s been talking about it for weeks, and he’s been talking about it nonstop for days.  He’s been waking up every morning hoping it’s Sunday, and bitterly disappointed every morning except this one.  He’s all decked out in gear, as we all are, and he’s bouncing off the walls with excitement.  I even had to talk him out of wearing his cleats!

He’s nowhere near as excited as I am.

This is an enormous game for us as fans, but it’s also a game of incredible import to the franchise.  For the first time in years, the Lions are going to have a crack at a legitimate Super Bowl contender—and a legitimate chance to win.  Depending on who you ask, the Jets are favored by something more than a field goal but less than a touchdown.  I’m not the only person to pick the Lions to win, either—Sterling Sharpe on NFL Network’s NFL Playbook did the same.

If the Lions win, it'll be their biggest in years . . . maybe since before Millen.  If they lose, it’ll break my little boy’s heart, no matter how hard I prepare him for it.  Either way, today will be a landmark in franchise history, a day when we find out exactly how far the Lions have come.

Technorati Tags: nfl,detroit lions,new york jets

Newer Posts Older Posts Home

  © Blogger template Simple n' Sweet by 2009

Find us on Google+

Back to TOP