Watchtower Review: Lions at Cowboys

>> 10.04.2011

Last week I correctly predicted a lot of things about the NFL. I correctly picked the winner of 14 of last week’s 16 NFL games, including the exact score of the SF - Philly game. In the Watchtower, I also correctly predicted the winner . . . but that’s about all I got right.

The Cowboys have no systemic advantage over the Lions, so I project them to meet expectations, scoring 17-20 points. If last year’s pattern holds, they will throw for 6.75-7.50 YpA, well below season averages, and run for 3.75-4.0 YpC, well above season averages. I have medium confidence in this projection.

Of course, the Cowboys scored 30 points. Here’s where it gets interesting, though: They threw for 7.04 YpA and ran for 4.19 YpC—almost exactly in line with my expectations. The Cowboys moved the ball against the Lions defense just as well as I thought, but scored way more points. Why?

Willie Young got one sack on the last drive--that's it. The Lions committed 4 defensive penalties, 3 by Corey Williams and 1 by Ndamukong Suh. One gave the Cowboys a free first down on 2nd-and-five, and the Dez Bryant TD came three downs later. One made a 3rd-and-10 into a 3rd-and-5, which was converted—ultimately leading to a Cowboys field goal. The third and fourth were on the Cowboys’ final scoring drive, allowing the field goal that made it 30-17. That last one was Suh’s disputed roughing-the-passer penalty on a failed 3rd-and-3 that would have stopped that drive.

As I’ve said before, the Lions are built to jump to an early lead, then turn up the defensive heat as teams play catch-up against tem. The offense hung the defense out to dry time after time after time—and only because the back seven took the game into their own hands was the victory delivered.

The Lions shouldn’t be winning games because the defense is dragging the offense back into the game kicking and screaming; the offense should be dominating from the jump. This has to get better.

We’re left to conclude that Scott Linehan’s balanced offense has a systemic passing advantage against Rob Ryan’s hyperaggressive 3-4 defense. Linehan’s offenses pass much better than expectations, and score much better than expectations, when facing a Rob Ryan defense. Therefore, I project the Lions offense to outpeform expectations, especially through the air, scoring 33-35 points. I have medium-to-high confidence in this projection.

Whoops. The Lions’ offense scored just 20 points. I apparently forgot to project per-play running and passing effectiveness, but believe me when I say 5.58 YpA is way below expectations. The Lions had been averaging 8.45 YpA coming into the game, and I was projecting a systemic pass advantage. The Cowboys had been allowing 6.48 YpA coming into the game, which is a little on the stingy, but the Lions’ passing attack should have been much more effective than it was, even without an advantage.

The run game bounced back after last week’s awful performance, averaging a tepid-but-acceptable 3.71 YpC. The Cowboys had been excellent against the run, allowing just 2.97 YpC, so that’s actually an excellent performance. Between the offensive line holding the #1 pass rush in the NFL to no sacks, and the running game producing as-usual against a stout run D, the offensive line really redeemed themselves against Dallas.

I believe this game is critical to the outcome of the Lions’ season. The Lions will be a very tough out at home, but have a vicious last three games of their schedule. To get a road win on this big of a stage would be huge, and it makes me gunshy that the data leads my proverbial horse to water. Yet, what have I to do but drink? The most likely outcome of the game is a 34-20 Lions win.

Got the score wrong, but got the conclusion right: no matter how you slice it, this Lions win has enormous implications for the rest of the season.


Dennis,  October 4, 2011 at 3:15 PM  

Kudos on the Philly/SF game Ty.

Unfortunately, I did not get to watch most of the game on Sunday, but early on in was rather frustrating to see the Lions play soft on the receivers when it was obvious that the Cowboys were going to limit the amount of 5 to seven step drops for Romo.

Chris Houston's pick seemed to be an adjustment on Gun's part; was that consistent from the second half on Ty?

NateWashuta,  October 4, 2011 at 4:40 PM  

Actually, some of the bail-out came as a result of pressure in Romo's face, not just good play by the back 7. On Houston's pick, Avril got in Romo's face and made him throw it a split second before he wanted to and before the receiver was able to cross Houston's face (although Houston did have great position). On the last pick, Suh and KVB came through the line and were both held, allowing Romo to throw it off his back foot. Witten had beaten Tulloch 1-on-1 and the safeties weren't in deep zones, so it probably would have been a TD had it not been for the pressure causing a short throw.

Flamekeeper_Ty,  October 4, 2011 at 4:55 PM  

That's a great point, Nate. Avril got a lot of pressure, especially in the second half. Overall I think the D-line underperformed, but the secondary didn't do it all by themselves.

Flamekeeper_Ty,  October 4, 2011 at 4:55 PM  

Yeah I think coverage was tighter in the second half, if for no other reason than it couldn't get any looser.

icelander13,  October 5, 2011 at 7:00 PM  


You were closer than you give yourself credit for.

Defensive scores are wonderful, but at the same time, they take away credit for points from the offense. Let's say carpenter makes the pick, but is tacked around the 20 or 30. That's an almost automatic three, and a probable seven. Likewise, Houston gets tackled right at the point of the pick. 20 yards later, we have 3 more offensive points.

By scoring, the offense lost two short fields, where I believe they are good for 10 points. That gives them 30 for the game, and hits your prediction!

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