From the Lions vs. Chiefs Watchtower:
Last season, the Lions had the 19th-best defense in the NFL, allowing 23.1 points per game. The Chiefs scored 22.9 PpG, 14th-best in the league. I’m going to project the Chiefs to score 23-27 points. I have hellaciously low confidence in this projection.
When a Romeo Crennel defense has average-or-better skill level, it disproportionately disrupts a Linehan offense’s scoring—primarily, by depressing per-play pass effectiveness. Run effectiveness seems to go up in response, possibly due to Crennel ‘ceding’ the run in order to stop the pass. When Crennel’s available talent is lesser, though, the situation reverses itself: Crennel’s defense becomes extremely susceptible to the pass, and therefore allows points in bunches.
Given that the Chiefs have lost their best pass defender, Eric Berry, to an ACL tear, and given the Lions’ explosive passing offense, I believe Detroit able to at least compensate for this schematic advantage—and possibly, overcome it and flip the tables on Crennel.
I project the Lions to score 31-34 points. I have extremely low confidence in this projection.
Knowing this is more of a shot in the dark than an actual projection: I project a 34-23 Lions win.
MWAH HA HA HA HA HA.
When looking at the history and resumé of Chiefs’ OC Bill Muir, I noticed eerie parallels between him and former Lions OC Jim Colletto. Both Muir and Colletto were previous colleagues of the OCs they replaced, Charlie Weis and Mike Martz. Both Weis and Martz are known as pass-first schematic innovators who occasionally overestimate their own superiority. Both Muir and Colletto were charged with maintaining the existing framework of the offense, while streamlining out the “wizardry” and reinforcing the MANBALL.
So far, Muir’s tenure has been every bit the disaster Colletto’s was.
Early on, the Chiefs used tosses, sweeps, and reverses to exploit the Lions’ defensive line. As I’ve said on here before, and as Pro Football Focus has repeatedly identified, the Lions’ linemen often abandon gap responsibility in the name of penetration. Notably, I saw Kyle Vanden Bosch drawn well out of position on the reverses—leaving nobody home to make the tackle. This was a clever bit of scheming by the Chiefs, and one I expect to see deployed by other teams this year.
After halftime, the Lions did a much better job of staying home—and of course, the Lions’ offense made stopping the run a moot point anyway. I believe this is a design principle of the defense. As someone on the Fireside Chat noted, Schwartz has said “We’ll stop the run on the way to the quarterback,” and that’s exactly what we saw in effect: the Lions did not stop the run well, but the Lions’ offense made stopping the run irrelevant.
Instead, the Lions focused on pass rush and pass coverage, and the result was incredible. Two sacks, one QB hit, nine pressures, a batted pass, four forced fumbles (three recovered), and three interceptions. As I said in my latest Bleacher Report article, 5 Ways NFL Experts Were Wrong About the Detroit Lions, the Lions’ back seven currently rank number one overall in Pro Football Focus’s pass coverage grades.
On the offensive side, I’d found Crennel’s defense did a disproportionately good job against Linehan’s offense in years when Crennel’s defense was ranked in the top two thirds of the league. Crennel’s 17th-ranked Patriots held Linehan’s 8th-ranked Vikings to just 17 points—and Crennel’s 11th-ranked Browns completely shut out Linehan’s 16th-ranked Dolphins. In both games, passing effectiveness was static, or down, while running effectiveness greatly increased. It seemed like Crennel was allowing the run in order to stop the pass.
However, the year Crennel’s D was ranked 23rd and Linehan's Rams were the 28th-best (read: 3rd-worst) offense in the NFL, the Rams went wild. Those timid Rams hung 27 points on the Browns, 65% above their season average. They averaged 8.36 YpA, 48% better than their season average—though their run game managed only 3.29 YpC (-13%). I concluded that when Crennel’s defensive talent is well below average, Linehan’s offenses explode through the air (despite running less effectively).
The Lions mustered only 2.97 YpC, but blew up for 8.05 YpA—and, of course, scored 48 offensive points. It must be said: the offense was assisted by a short field several times, as the defense forced an astounding six turnovers—but the Lions were excellent in the red zone, converting many of the chances they got. It looks as though my analysis of what happens when Linehan meets Crennel was spot on.
In conclusion, this game was super-awesome, and the Lions haven’t even played their best football yet. It’s all part of finding out exactly how high expectations for the Lions should be—and in this case, how low expectations for the Chiefs should be.