I did get something sort-of resembling a Watchtower up before the Falcons game on Sunday, if only just. Without any of the historical breakdown or schematic analysis, I just looked at season ranks and averages. It was done entirely on my iPhone in stolen moments. It looks like it:
The Falcons have the NFL's 17th-ranked offense, averaging 22.5 points per game. The passing attack has garnered a respectable-but-not-great 6.22 YpC, while the rushing game is netting a very solid 4.37 YpC.
The Lions defense is allowing a stingy 19.0 points per game, 7th-fewest in the NFL. Opponents are passing for a miniscule 5.55 YpA, while they're running all over the Lions at a 5.21 YpC clip.
The Falcons power running game directly attacks the Lions defensive Achilles heel. Then again, so did the 49ers, and their offensive output exactly matched my projections. Therefore, I project the Falcons to score 17-20 points, throw for 5.5-6.0 YpA, and run for 5.0-5.25 YpC. I have medium confidence in this projection.
The Falcons scored 23 offensive points, just above what I'd projected. Their passing game slightly outperformed expectations as well, gaining 6.23 YpA--matching their season average to 1/100th of a yard. The running game actually performed BELOW their season average, well below my projections: 4.16 YpC.
This is an example of what I call the "Whack-a-Mole" effect. When a defense has a glaring weakness in one area and they’re going up against an offense with a corresponding strength, often the D will “sell out” the strength of their D to shore up the weakness. The net result is usually the same in terms of team scoring and overall per-play effectiveness.
This is best known to fantasy football fiends who are drooling over starting their stud running back against the worst run defense in the league. Somehow that never quite results in 200 yards and 3 TDs, does it? According to Mike Mady at Scout.com, the Lions were emphasizing the back seven stopping the run against the Falcons; could it be that pass coverage suffered as a result? I’ll go back and look at this.
The end result of the defense's effort would have looked much better if the Lions’ offense hadn’t repeatedly hung the defense out to dry:
The Lions offense is still the 4th-best in the NFL, racking up 29.7 points per game. The passing attack is slightly slowed after last week's performance, but still high-flying at 6.99 YpA. The ground game is chugging along at 3.92 YpC.
The Falcons are allowing a ridiculous 7.97 YpA, surely a big part of why they're allowing a 22nd-best 24.5 points per game. The run defense is much better, allowing 3.84 YpC.
The Falcons defense is particularly ill-equipped to stop the Lions pass attack. I project the Lions to score 34-37 points, passing for 9.50-10.0 YpA and rushing for 3.50-3.75 YpC. I have medium confidence in this projection.
The brutal reality: 16 points, 5.72 YpA, and—surprisingly—5.2 YpC.
This is the worst underperformance of expectations I’ve seen since Daunte Culpepper got the Lions completely shut out by the Packers (I’d projected 24-28 points). Let’s be clear, here: the Falcons allowed 8 YpA through six games and faced a team gaining 7 YpA and held them to less than 6 YpA. This does not compute.
This isn't Whack-a-Mole effect, either; if it were the Lions would have rolled up 200 yards on the ground and still scored 34-37 points. This has nothing to do with the Falcons defense and everything to do with the Lions offense playing like a shadow of itself.
Next up: numbers and film.