Watchtower Review: Lions vs. Chiefs

>> 9.20.2011

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.

Heh.

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.

Heh.

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).

Well.

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.

11 comments:

randomguy313 September 21, 2011 at 9:27 AM  

Ty, I think more often then not this season it will be save to assume that the yards per attempt will be disproportionate to the yards per carry.

The only way I see Best or another RB popping a run beyond 40 yards is if they catch the D blitzing. My reasoning is given the pass first mentality of this offense it will be criminal for the opposing defense not to just stay in a shell and rush four or at most bring one person on a blitz. With the defense focused on the pass it will be difficult for Best or any back to get through the two levels to pay dirt.

Given this concern, the Lions will have a difficult time dealing with the Vikings this weekend on offense.

Jared Allen and Kevin Williams give the Vikings the ability to rush only four and get to Stafford while also being stout enough at the line to mitigate the run game, which is already non-consequential.

If they can pull out this game watch out world because despite being 0-2 the Vikings pose a formidable match up to the weaknesses the Lions have this season.

Nate Washuta September 21, 2011 at 10:46 AM  

randomguy,

The vikings actually do blitz quite a bit. When they only bring 4 is when they're vulnerable because their back 7 is mediocre against the pass and they give up all the underneath stuff you could ever want.

randomguy313 September 21, 2011 at 11:56 AM  

@Nate My point is not necessarily directed at schemes, talent wise Jared Allen and Kevin Williams will provide a more difficult challenge then an inexperience dline (see Tampa) and marginally better dline for KC when you factor in Tamba Hali.

Notice in the first half that KC was able to put some pressure on Stafford and although they did not get home to record sacks; their pressure had an effect on the Lions.

My contention is that if the Vikings resort to what you claim they do, blitz a lot, they will lose this game decidedly. The Lions ability to create mismatches and spread the defense to identify the blitz will help them.

However, if the Vikings just allow their front four to cause havoc they will have a chance to slow this offense down.

I am trying to garner a similar comparison to how I think this will play out and the one thing that always seems to creep in my mind is Lions/Bears last year.

Stafford went like 11-15 for 85 yards before going out hurt; but the gameplan the Bears implemented seemed to focus on keeping things in front of them and putting their money on the dline getting pressure.

Team that with a good run game and the Vikings will put themselves in position to win the game.

Whether they can execute will remain to be seen.

I just wanted to emphasize that this game is significant for me because the Lions run game will not be dominant with our current interior line, but winning this game, against this type of talented dline, will deem it unnecessary to have a dominant run game.

Anonymous,  September 21, 2011 at 3:04 PM  

The Lions running game hasn't been very good, but if you throw in the short screen passes, it is adequate. If I was to choose between a offensive line built for the run xor the pass, I'd pick pass any day, so the OL is indeed built now for what the Lions want to do with Stafford at the helm. Titus showed in the KC game that he may very well be the 3rd WR they have been searching for so I doubt the pass offense will be limited because of the lack of a running game.

But in any case, I don't think it matters because the Lions seem to have a dominant defense now that can return the ball to the offense no matter who they play. A running game is essential only when the defense is marginal, as it has been in the past. This year, it would not surprise me to see at the end of the year that the defense is ranked higher than the offense in various categories.

I'm convinced that this is the year of the Perfect Storm -- 16-0 plus SB win.

randomguy313 September 21, 2011 at 3:43 PM  

@Anon - Not only screen passes; the quick hitches are extended sweeps and with Burleson's wiggle he can make someone miss more often than not.

I definitely like that the Lions have an identity with the pass-first mentality and they are not trying to pass off as if it isn't the case.

Personally, I would differ with you on what type of OL but that's neither here nor there.

Nate washuta September 21, 2011 at 5:03 PM  

I'm basing my opinions on what the Vikings have shown in their past three games. I went back and watched every snap against the lions in week 17, and the chargers and bucs this year. Last year, they respected the pass and went with cover 2 for most of the game. When they did blitz, the lions picked it up nicely. When they didn't blitz, underneath throws were always open. I will say that the Vikings were great against screens in all three games I watched because that's mostly d-line and LB recognition and requires a different skill set than LBs covering in space

When they blitzed, they tended to bring the safety down into the box post-snap to cover short routes or stuff potential runs. That way, the open routes are the deep ones that don't have time to develop if the blitz hits home.

randomguy313 September 22, 2011 at 11:32 AM  

@Nate I hope we can agree that fundamentally a defense works to make the opposing team one-dimensional in their attack; thus making it easier to stop the offense.

Since the Lions are one dimensional from the outset, although they have a marginal ability to keep defenses honest, I believe the talent the Minnesota defense possesses will provide a tougher challenge than their two previous games.

What I gather from your responses is that Minnesota will not pose the challenge I think it will given the inability of their front four to get pressure consistently thus making them blitz more often.

This seems to be the crux of the matter, you do not have high confidence in the Vikings line to get pressure on Stafford without getting assistance from blitzes and my contention is the best way for the Vikings to win is to rely on that front four more often than blitzing.

The great thing is we shall see what happens Sunday.

Nate Washuta September 22, 2011 at 2:40 PM  

The crux of my argument is that the type of passing attack you deploy when the Vikings bring 4 rushers is exactly the type that they don't guard against. They play cover 2, dropping the back 7 into coverage, making you settle for small gains through the air. These routes (flats, short outs and crossing routes) only take a few seconds to develop, while the front four pressure takes longer than that.

If they blitz and play man-to-man, they're gambling that their pressure will reach you before your receivers can beat the man coverage. So either the lions don't want to see blitzes (because they'll take 4-6 yard gains against zone over and over again all day), they want to pick up the blitzes (so their receivers have time to get open), or they want to throw it to CJ (who's always open in man-to-man coverage).

randomguy313 September 22, 2011 at 4:32 PM  

@Nate You are starting to scare me. Cover 2 defense works to disrupt those sorts of routes you indicated. I hope you misspoke. Corners have short flats and seek to stop those check downs.

You attack a Cover 2 in the seams and overloading a side and presenting options at different levels.

Seam routes and combination routes take time to go down the field and if the pressure isn't there then that defense will be exposed.

I have tried twice, granted it was implicitly, to surmise whether you felt the talent level of Minnesota's line was better than previous teams the Lions played.

That was where my initial comments were headed, irrespective of scheme.

Nate Washuta September 22, 2011 at 7:42 PM  

"The idea of the cover-2 is to force the quarterback to settle for short-yardage passes in the hopes of goading him into mistakes. Should a quarterback want to throw down the sidelines, he would have to contend with a cornerback who is covering the short zone, and the safeties, who are deep. Traditionally, throwing to the sidelines against the cover-2 is too risky." (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/21/AR2006122101553.html)

It's well known that the tampa 2 is a "bend but don't break" defense. It forces you to settle for throws underneath the shortest zones until you make a mistake. "Short zones" typically end up being somewhere around 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. They limit your run after the catch ability, but not your ability to catch the ball out of those routes. That's why the defense is predicated on speed (to get to the ball carrier quickly) and tackling ability (to get the ball carrier to the ground).

I do believe that Minnesota's line is better than the previous two. Jared Allen is a special player, and the rest are capable, but it's tough to gauge how effective they are with the amount of short passing that teams do against them. For instance, in week 1, the chargers' top 2 RBs and top TE combined for 20 catches, while their top 2 WR combined for 5 catches.

randomguy313 September 23, 2011 at 12:12 AM  

Nate Nate Nate...SMH

I almost don't want to continue this dialogue because it is straying away from what my initial sentiments of this game was about, but I feel it would be a disservice to not respond to what you just posted.

Using your source please read the following:

"But, as defenses have found out this year, the one vulnerability in the cover-2 is the deep middle, where the safeties are asked to cover a great deal of ground. The middle is especially vulnerable in the Tampa-2 variation because it asks the "Mike backer" to line up against and cover a slot receiver on deep routes."

"The center of the field has been where the Redskins have given up some of their biggest plays, plays Williams would care to forget."

"That middle is now the spot they're looking for," Campbell said. "You have to be able to disguise it a little more and jam receivers better. Otherwise, that is the big hole."

To emphasize my point please watch Coach Billick at the 1:00 mark on this link

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2f_qFhT1m7o&feature=youtube_gdata_player

There are so many variations of Cover 2 that we can go back and forth on this which I am not inclined to do.

Although you have indicated that you watched the Vikings last three games and they blitzed more often than not I think the Vikings best chance to win is to "bend but don't break" on D, I disagree with that phrase but consider it an olive branch, and rely on Kevin Williams and Jared Allen to win their matchups.

You have done work on the sets that the Lions run and know that the base seems to revolve around shotgun sets with either 2 Tights or 3 receivers. This gives the Lions the ability to flex the TE or RB to set up mismatches. If the Vikings intend to play man, or blitz it will be more recognizable to the Lions when the D is spread out.

I put the advantage to the Lions skill players if the Vikings intend to blitz Stafford.

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