The Watchtower: Lions at Cowboys

>> 9.30.2011

Any Cowboy Bebop fans in the house?

The Detroit Lions’ season hinges on this game. This week and next are two tough tests before a nice stretch of winnable games. However, with the Lions’ back-half schedule it’s conceivable the Lions could be 7-3 heading into Thanksgiving and miss the playoffs. The Lions, I think, would do just fine to get a split of the next two weeks—but if they’re 4-0 heading into Monday Night Football, they’ll be set up for biggest Lions victory in years. With the soft underbelly of their schedule coming up after that, a 5-0 start could propel the Lions into truly rarefied air.

However, if the Lions don’t win today, and can’t win on Monday Night, they’ll likely have to win their last three games to make the playoffs: at Oakland, vs. San Diego, and at Lambeau. Betting on breaking a losing streak old enough to vote and smoke cigars against the best team in football on The Frozen Tundra in January is . . . well, a bad bet.

Every year, I gnash my teeth waiting for the chance to use the current year’s data. It really, really, really helps to see what the teams are really doing—and if a systemic advantage is obvious, there have to be accurate expectations before we can accurately project under- or over-performing those expectations. This year’s wait is over.

Jason Garrett vs. Gunther Cunningham

  JG Ornk PpG YpA YpC Gun Drnk DPpG DYpA DYpC PTS PTSΔ YpA YpAΔ YpC YpCΔ
‘10 DAL 7th 24.6 7.02 4.17 DET 20th 23.1 6.75 4.51 28 +13.8% 6.15 -12.4% 4.47 -0.7%
‘11 DAL 13th 23.0 8.95 3.16 DET 3rd 15.3 5.17 4.99            

Last season, The Lions - Cowboys Watchtower was the first analyzing a coaching staff after a midseason firing. We took a look at Garrett’s pedigree from the Norv Turner/Ernie Zampese branch of the Air Coryell offense, and determined there wasn’t a clear systemic advantage.

In that game, the Lions’ defense held the Cowboys to 6.15 YpA, down 12.4% from their season average. The Cowboys’ running game outperformed their season average (4.17 YpC), but almost exactly met the average the Lions allowed in 2010 (4.47 attained, 4.51 avg. allowed). The Cowboys only managed to score seven points  in the first half; it wasn’t until the controversial 97-yard punt return by Bryan McCann that Kitna and the ‘Boys finally got the offense going.

Last year’s Lions managed to significantly slow down a potent passing offense—something they didn’t do often. They did it by surrendering to a middling rushing attack, but the tradeoff held the Cowboys to their scoring expectations.

This season, the Cowboys have been much more effective through the air, averaging a ridiculous 8.95 YpA—yet, partly thanks to an anemic 3.16 YpC they’re averaging fewer points per game, 23.0 vs. 24.6 last season. Meanwhile, the Lions swagger into Jerryworld with the 3rd-best scoring defense in the NFL. They’re allowing just 15.3 points per game, and a tiny 5.17 YpA. Other teams have been able to run on the Lions, though, rolling up a robust 4.99 YpC.

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.

Mitigating/Aggravating Factors

Last season, I really felt the Lions had the Cowboys figured out until that back-breaking punt return changed the game. This season, the Lions will face a banged-up Tony Romo instead of Kitna—but honestly, I’m not sure that’s a clear win for Dallas. The key will be how well the Lions handle the big stage of Jerryworld, and the big expectations.

Scott Linehan vs. Rob Ryan

Lin Ornk PgG YpA YpC Ryan Drnk PpG DYpA DYpC PTS PTSΔ YpA YpAΔ YpC YpCΔ
MIA 16th 19.9 5.94 3.69 OAK 25th 23.9 6.67 3.79 31 +56% 8.42 +42% 4.53 23%
STL 10th 22.9 6.69 4.26 OAK 18th 20.8 5.89 3.96 20 -13% 6.23 -7% 4.23 -1%
DET 27th 16.4 5.42 3.95 CLE 21st 23.4 7.44 4.57 37 +126% 9.81 +81% 3.56 -10%
DET 4th 33.7 8.45 2.80 DAL 13th 23.0 6.48 2.97            

Rob Ryan started out as an assistant under . . . wait for it . . . wait . . . yes, of course, his father Buddy in Arizona. In 1994, his first season as defensive backs coach, the Cardinals held opponents to just 16.7 points per game; 4th-best in the NFL. Cornerback Aeneas Williams went to the first of what would be six consecutive Pro Bowls. In a hilarious side note, Steve Beuerlein, Jay Schroeder, and Jim McMahon (yes THAT Jim McMahon) all started at quarterback for the Cardinals that year.

After the 1995 season, the Ryan clan was let go, and after a year out of fooball Rob ended up at Oklahoma State as defensive coordinator. Ryan was named Coordinator of the Year by Sporting News in his very first season, and after two more years leading a top-notch defense, he was hired by Bill Belichick to coach the Patriots’ linebackers. Ryan coached the linebackers there from 2000-2003, and left to coordinate the Raiders defense under HC Norv Turner.

During the craziest coaching situation in recent history, Ryan remained a stalwart. Through two years of Norv, one insane year of 1994 flashback with Art Shell as head coach and Tom Walsh as OC, a year of Lane Kiffin, and then Lane Kiffin starting 2008 as a lame duck and Tom Cable taking over midway, Rob Ryan remained the defensive coordinator in Oakland.

After 2008, Ryan reunited with fellow former Pats defensive assistant Eric Mangini in Cleveland. In Ryan’s two seasons, the Browns were the 21st-ranked and 13th-ranked scoring defenses in the NFL. It wasn’t enough to keep Mangini employed, but it got Ryan hired to replace Wade Phillips as the Cowboys’ defensive signal-caller.

The apple hasn’t fallen too far from the Ryan defensive tree. If you’ve got some time, I highly recommend this Dallas Cowboys Times piece discussing Ryan’s zone blitz philosophies, and how offenses attack them due to presnap tells. It has diagrams. I like diagrams. 

When the Lions faced the other Ryan brother last season—he of the very similar hyperaggressive 3-4 defense—I thought Rex Ryan might have Linehan’s number a little bit. I based it mostly on how thoroughly Ryan dismantled Linehan’s awful 2007 Rams team. However, the Lions’ output exactly matched what I projected if there were no advantage for Rex Ryan against Linehan. So, Rex has no advantage against Linehan—but what about Rob?

In 2005, Linehan’s Dolphins faced off against Ryan’s Raiders. Linehan’s offense was the 16th-best that year, averaging 19.9 PpG. Oakland was the 25th-ranked defense, allowing 23.9 PpG. The ‘Fins exceeded their scoring average by a whopping 56%, passing and running more effectively, to boot.

This pattern was followed in 2009, when the Lions faced off against the Browns. If that sentence gave you a little twinge in the nether regions, it’s because it is the “Stafford Mic’d Up” game. The two struggling teams aired it out like crazy, and the meager 16.4 PpG Lions offense racked up 38 points, a ridiculous 128% boost. Stafford and the Lions netted 9.81 YpA, an 81% improvement over average. Some of that was just the track-meet nature of the game, but some of it, I’m convinced, was systemic.

The odd duck is the 2006 matchup, where Linehan’s 10th-ranked Rams slightly underperformed their season averages against Ryan’s 18th-ranked Raider D. The explanation, though, comes in the nature of the game: the Rams shut out the Raider offense; the Rams put it in the cooler early. They ran the ball 35 times compared to just 22 pass attempts, depressing scoring in the process.

So, 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.

Mitigating/Aggravating Factors

I could be wrong about the offensive advantage. The season averages could still be too wet-behind-the-ears to matter. The Lions’ offensive line could melt in the face of the hot, hot, Dallas blitz. but you know what? I think the data is right here. I like the Lions to get downfield early and often, exposing the Dallas blitz. Random prediction: Jahvid Best takes a screen pass to the house.

Conclusion

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.

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Watchtower Review: Lions at Vikings

>> 9.29.2011

From this week’s slightly-truncated Watchtower:

I can't find any game where Bill Musgrave faced off against a Schwartzingham defense as a playcaller, at least not while running anything like this offense.

With no schematic advantages either way, we must project the Vikings’ offense to meet expectations. Though I don’t typically use data from the current season until after the third game, at this point I’m left with no choice. The Vikings are currently scoring 18.5 points per game, after averaging 17.6 points per game in 2010. The Lions are the second-best scoring defense in the league, allowing just 11.5 points per game. I don’t expect the Lions to finish the season allowing so few points per game, but I do expect the Vikings to score fewer than their season average today.

Therefore, I project the Vikings to score between 10 and 13 points. I have extremely low confidence in this projection.

Obviously, this isn’t what happened.

The Lions are scoring 37.5 points per game, but I don’t expect that to last all season. I’ll project the Lions to outperform what I think will be their season averages on the year, scoring 34-37 points. I have extremely low confidence in this projection.

Obviously, this isn’t what happened either.

The objective of the Watchtower is to tell the story of the game from what we see in the data; to look at the matchup of the two teams and see how their offenses and defenses will play against each other. The story the data told me was this:

I project a 34-13 Lions victory. My gut feeling on the relative strengths of these two teams agrees with that projection.

The key phrase in there is “the relative strengths of these two teams.” If the Lions and Vikings played ten times on a neutral field with no one watching, I suspect the average outcome would be something like 34-13. I truly believe the Lions are one of the best teams in the NFL this season, and the Vikings are going to struggle to something like a 5-win season.

However, the two teams weren’t playing on a neutral field, which I considered a mitigating factor:

One thing I'd keep an eye on: the Vikings have started hot in each of their first two games, only to fall apart. They’re pretty much playing for their season, at home, in a place where the Lions almost never win. If they jump out to an early lead, momentum may carry them beyond expectations . . .

I feel like this Vikings team is backed against the wall at 0-2, and—though they’re saying all the right things—I have to believe the Lions are believing their own press at this point, too. I worry about the Vikes getting the jump on the Lions and popping the hype balloon.

I avoided a Michigan State-Notre Dame comparison because I don’t want to associate my Lions stuff with various local rivalries. There’s a reason I keep my college stuff over at A Beautiful Day For Football. But the comparisons were just too obvious. A 2-0 team feeling its oats after a complete and total blowout win, travelling to a notorious stadium to play a rival fighting for its life at 0-2.

The Vikings moved the ball just as well as they had through the first two weeks, gaining 5.86 YpA (5.93 avg. through Week 2), and 5.74 YpC (5.85). Since the Lions have a better-than-average defense (through Week 3, 3rd-best defense in football), this means the Vikings performed better offensively against the Lions than they did in the first two weeks.

Defensively, the Vikings stopped the Lions’ run game cold, allowing 1.05 YpC (3.31 avg. through Week 2). The passing offense moved the ball at an 8.22 YpA clip, down slightly (8.59 avg.)—but of course, Stafford was sacked five times for -40 yards, and the Lions were assessed 7 penalties for -65 yards. This was how the Vikings held the Lions’ 33.7 PpG offense (through Week 3, ranked 4th) to 26 points.

Really though, the story of the game was the one I worried about: the Vikings playing their brains out, the crowd noise and the pass rush handing the Vikings the momentum, and the Lions finding themselves having to scrap their way out of a hole, as opposed to putting it in the cooler.

This is why I was so grumpy about the probably-enhanced crowd noise: it made an enormous difference in the way the game played out. The lesson to take away from this game, and this Watchtower, is that the Lions are clearly much better than the Vikings. The Lions took Minnesota’s best shot—and staggered—but leaned on the ropes long enough for their talent and skill to win the day.

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Jeff Backus, Jared Allen, and Dirty Cheating Vikings

>> 9.27.2011

26 Sept 2010: Detroit Lions left tackle Jeff Backus looks to pick up his block against the Minnesota Vikings' Jared Allen at Mall of America Field in Minneapolis, Minn.

PaulieP (Scottsdale): Colts first time here, do you believe the allegations about pumping in crowd noise? Have you heard the "skip"?

Jeremy Green: (11:10 AM ET ) I don't doubt it. The Vikings used to do it in the 90's when they had very good foootball teams.

Jeremy Green is the son of former Vikings coach Dennis Green. In 2007, after the Colts' CD of crowd noise audibly skipped during a Pats game, the younger Green admitted in an ESPN chat that the Vikings used fake crowd noise, too. Both teams play in domed stadiums, play admittedly loud music, and are famous for unfailingly-loud crowds—but both teams staunchly deny they artificially boost the crowd noise.

CBS ultimately took the fall for the Colts incident, claiming their audio may have fed back somehow; the NFL scrubbed all recordings of the event from the Internet. Green later said it was just, like, his opinion man—one informed only by half his lifetime spent going to Vikings games during his father’s tenure as head coach. As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk said at the time:

Please.

The initial comments from Jeremy Green sure don't read like opinion, and Green's relationship with the head coach at the time puts him in a great situation to know the facts.

The mere fact that Green would try to backpedal in such lame fashion tells us all we need to know.

Then again, Green is now doing hard time for possession of drugs and child pornography, so his character isn’t unimpeachable.

The Lions offensive line had kept Matthew Stafford clean through the first two weeks, allowing zero sacks by either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Kansas City Chiefs. The Bucs and Chiefs have combined for nine sacks across the other four games they’ve played, yet neither bagged Stafford once. Through two weeks, the Lions had the No. 1 Pro Football Focus-graded pass-blocking line in football.

Yet, the line was in disarray against Minnesota: Jeff Backus had one of the worst games of his career, and earned the worst PFF grade (-7.6) they’ve ever assigned him. Backus was flagged for four penalties, including consecutive false starts on a critical fourth-quarter drive. He also got the blame for two sacks and three QB pressures.

Gosder Cherilus was benched after allowing a sack and a pressure in just the first six snaps. Replacement Corey Hilliard didn’t fare much better: he allowed a sack, two hits, and a pressure. Rob Sims also allowed a sack and three pressures; his -4.9 PFF grade was his second-worst-ever (besides the 2008 season opener, when he played through a torn pectoral muscle). Oddly, the two whipping boys of the Lions line—Dom Raiola and Stephen Peterman—had the days’ best grades at -1.1 and +1.1, respectively. Raiola’s pass blocking grade by itself was positive (+0.3)

What happened here? Is Jared Allen that much better than Tamba Hali? Is Kevin Williams that much better than Gerald McCoy? Or might it have something to do with the “crowd” being so loud that Matthew Stafford had both hands pressed over both earholes in the second quarter, trying desperately to hear the radio embedded in his helmet?

Make no mistake: crowd noise is, will, should be a factor in NFL games. During the Kansas City game, when we Lions fans cheered loud enough to draw a timeout or a false start, it was a great feeling knowing we had given our team an advantage. Seahawks fans strongly believe they are “The 12th Man.”

That’s why the Lions veteran line, coached by an experienced coordinator like Scott Linehan, should have been better prepared to deal with the notorious Mall of America noise. The Lions didn’t use max protect against Minnesota’s pass rush, preferring to throw it over the Vikings heads.

Unfortunately, Lions receivers didn’t get open consistently enough to make that approach effective. Nate Burleson, who usually thrives in space underneath, was nearly invisible. It wasn't until Matthew Stafford leaned on Brandon Pettigrew and Titus Young in the second half that the Lions started moving the chains.

Trusting the offensive line to slow Jared Allen and company long enough for Stafford to make the Vikings pay was a gamble. Noise or no, the line clearly didn’t respond the way Lions coaches had hoped. After the game, head coach Jim Schwartz said, “We need to be more effective at [right tackle]. I will just leave it at that.” On Backus, Schwartz’s opinion was similar: “He gets a lot of attention because he's a left tackle. Just in general terms, Jeff can play better and he will play better.”

Ultimately, pointing fingers at Minnesota’s illegal advantage—real or perceived—is folly. Good teams overcome disadvantages like that; they persevere and perforam. No matter what you think of the Vikings’ tactics, Jeff Backus and the offensive line was good enough to pass what might be their toughest test all year: Jared Allen and the Vikings line in one of the toughest road environments in football.

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Three Cups Deep: Week 3, Lions at Vikings

>> 9.26.2011

coffee

The Lions were down, 13-0. They’d given up a 53-yard punt return, plus a face mask penalty, and the Vikings had taken over on the Lions’ doorstep. The Lions’ defense, which had bent and stretched and warped—but held—was finally rendered broken by this impossibly short field.

It only took three plays for the Vikings to find paydirt, and suddenly the Lions were down by twenty points. The offense hadn’t found a rhythm, and Matthew Stafford was plugging his earholes trying to hear the radio embedded in his helmet. With the raucous, deafening, mostly-artificial Vikings crowd rattling in their ears, the Lions’ offensive line was in disarray. The Vikings front four was pinning its ears back, eager to gnaw on Stafford’s bones. Victory seemed impossible. After ten consecutive victories—almost a full calendar year of neverending happiness—the Lions’ streak was about to end.

I wondered aloud after the Lions’ disassembly of Kansas City last week: what will it take for the Lions to lose? How high is their upside, exactly? How good will another team have to be to actually defeat them?

The Lions had handled Tampa Bay and Kansas City, and the only opportunities either team had to get in the game were the opportunities the Lions handed them. It was hard to picture what kind of team would actually disrupt the Lions pass offense, or pass on the Lions secondary.

Suddenly the answer was before us: it was the 0-2 Vikings, and they were going to kick the Lions’ butts.

Was I waking up from a wonderful dream? Had some enchantment made me see a mediocre Lions team as an unstoppable force, and now I was seeing “real” Lions on their quest for a 7-9 season? Or, was I falling into a nightmare, where the unflappable Matthew Stafford got flapped and the Lions’ passing attack got outgained by a running back and the newly-minted ballhawking secondary couldn’t cover a terrible Vikings WR corps that featured a puking-his-guts-out-on-the-sidelines Percy Harvin?

I got my answer as to who the real Lions are. They’re the team that took the field in the second half, never deviated from the game plan, and slowly overtook the Vikings with execution and tenacity. Stafford completed 70% of his passes (near as makes no difference), over 8 yards per attempt, and had nearly 400 yards through the air.

The defense completely shut Adrian Peterson down after halftime, holding him to just five yards in the second half. The Vikings offense that moved the ball at will in the first half scored just three points in the second. Titus Young and Brandon Pettigrew made catch after catch after catch, converting tough third downs over and over. Jahvid Best couldn’t get much going on the ground, but converted a crucial 3rd-and-1 when the Lions needed it most. The defense stopped Toby Gerhart on a critical 4th-and-1 late in the game, preventing a likely Vikings score and setting up the Lions’ game-tying drive.

When the Lions won the toss in overtime, I exhaled. If you want a difference between this team and last year’s, between this team and the last decade of Lions football, there’s the difference. The Lions won the toss and got the ball first and I knew it. I knew it. I knew they would win it.

The pass that set up Jason Hanson’s game-winning kick was poetry three times over. First, Jahvid Best’s fearless, damn-the-torpedoes block of Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway: Best sacrificed his body and was absolutely trucked—but Greenway couldn’t touch Stafford. Second, Stafford’s pass: to avoid the mayhem an arm’s reach in front of him, he leaned onto his back foot and delivered an achingly perfect 40-yard ball to Calvin Johnson down the sideline. Third, Johnson’s fingertip catch: a doctoral-level demonstrative lecture on concentration, seeing the ball into your hands, and “completing the process.”

It shouldn’t have surprised anyone to see Jason Hanson out there on first down. As I said in my Lions - Vikings Live Blog at Bleacher Report:

From that distance, you trust the best kicker ever. Game over. Lions win.

Hyperbole? Maybe. Feeling my oats? Probably. Feeling my oat soda? Almost certainly. But the point remains: the Lions are a team that wins ballgames. They hold onto leads. They blow people out. They claw their way back from a 20-point hole. They win at home. They win on the road. They win in and out of division. They win and win and win and they do not lose.

The Lions have won eleven straight games now. I’m not sure if this third cup of coffee means yesterday’s nightmare is over, or if we’ve finally awoken from a collective dream. Right now, I don’t care. I’m just feeling the mug’s warmth on my hands, and the blue fire’s warmth on my face.

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Fireside Chat: Lions at Vikings

During this week’s celebratory Fireside Chat, I included my exclusive interview with Lions linebacker Justin Durant. I apologize for the sound quality/volume of that segment! Beyond that, it was a good show, so check it out. If you dig it, you can subscribe via iTunes for free.

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The Watchtower: Lions at Vikings

>> 9.25.2011

vikings_tower

My apologies for the fallen Watchtower this week. Between wedding season, and the unexpected opportunity to interview Justin Durant, I ran out of time. Also, I forgot I’d have to re-reasearch the Vikes’ offensive coordinator (the bulk of the time crunch) until it was kind of too late. I’ll make it up to you today with a Bleacher Report liveblog of the game itself, and a Fireside Chat containing the audio of the Durant interview.

I started this blog the day the Lions fired Rod Marinelli. Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was among the few serious candidates for the vacancy, and I profiled Frazier’s resumé in my first title post series, “To Whom It May Concern.” As it turns out, Frazier had a “difference of opinion” with the Lions’ brass, specifically as regards how quickly the Lions could be turned around:

“[W]e had different perceptions of where to go and the length of time to get there,” Frazier said.  “We were really far apart in that. . . .  I will just say we had a different philosophy and vision for two years from now or a year from now.”

Two years later, here we are: Jim Schwartz’s Lions are taking on Leslie Frazier’s Vikings—and though the contest will be in Minnesota, the Lions are four-point favorites. One wonders what Frazier thinks now—of the length of time it would take to turn the Lions into contenders.

Bill Musgrave vs. Gunther Cunningham

Bill Musgrave seems like a pure Bill Walsh WCO disciple. As a player, he backed up Joe Montana and Steve Young under George Seifert. When Musgrave retired, he immediately went into coaching, joining Joe Bugel’s staff in Oakland. Seifert eventually took over the Carolina Panthers, and brought in Musgrave to coach the quarterbacks. According to Wikipedia, Seifert increasingly leaned on Musgrave for playcalling help, even over OC Gil Haskell. The following offseason, Haskell left and Musgrave was promoted to coordinator.

After four games as OC, though, it’s rumored Seifert dressed down Musgrave in front of the team for his poor playcalling. Musgrave resigned. That year, those Panthers played Gunther Cunningham’s Chiefs, but Musgrave was long since out.

After running Al Groh’s offense at Virginia (and developing Matt Schaub) for a year, Musgrave was hired as Jacksonville’s OC. After two years where the offense finished 25th and 29th in scoring, Musgrave was let go.

Musgrave landed in Washington, serving as quarterbacks coach for one year, then spent five years in Atlanta in the same position—though by the end, he’d been promoted to Assistant Head Coach.

The long and short of it is, Musgrave was a pure Bill Walsh disciple with impressive pedigree, but has run a diverse set of offenses since then. Musgrave has ditched Brad Childress’s complicated Andy Reid-style WCO verbiage, and switched to the Ron Erhardt system, which was used by Ken Whisenhunt in both Pittsburgh and Arizona.

Everywhere I’ve looked, I’ve found that Musgrave’s offense in Minnesota is going to be simpler, more flexible, and better suited to maximize the talents of Adrian Peterson—while making it easier on the Vikings’ young quarterbacks. Ironically, it’s this switch in verbiage and approach might have introduced a learning curve for Donovan McNabb, who was supposed to be a plug-and-play fit in Minnesota.

Long story short, I can't find any game where Bill Musgrave faced off against a Schwartzingham defense as a playcaller, at least not while running anything like this offense.

With no schematic advantages either way, we must project the Vikings’ offense to meet expectations. Though I don’t typically use data from the current season until after the third game, at this point I’m left with no choice. The Vikings are currently scoring 18.5 points per game, after averaging 17.6 points per game in 2010. The Lions are the second-best scoring defense in the league, allowing just 11.5 points per game. I don’t expect the Lions to finish the season allowing so few points per game, but I do expect the Vikings to score fewer than their season average today.

Therefore, I project the Vikings to score between 10 and 13 points. I have extremely low confidence in this projection.

Mitigating/Aggravating Factors

Well golly. I'd need some real data to have some factors to mitigate or aggravate, eh? One thing I'd keep an eye on: the Vikings have started hot in each of their first two games, only to fall apart. They’re pretty much playing for their season, at home, in a place where the Lions almost never win. If they jump out to an early lead, momentum may carry them beyond expectations. If not . . . well, not.

Scott Linehan vs. Leslie Frazier

Lin Fraz Ornk PgG YpA YpC Drnk PpG DYpA DYpC PTS YpA INT YpC Fum Sack
MIN TBB 8th 24.4 6.60 5.3 1st 12.2 4.88 3.79 24 7.78 2 7.52 3-11 2-1
MIN IND 6th 25.3 7.16 4.71 19th 21.9 7.15 4.43 28 8.89 0 5.75 2-1 2-15
MIA TBB 16th 19.9 5.94 3.69 8th 17.1 6.15 3.46 13 6.21 0 3.56 3-2 4-24
DET MIN 27th 16.4 5.27 3.92 10th 19.5 6.89 4.14 13 5.07 2 3.79 2-1 2-16
DET MIN 27th 16.4 5.27 3.92 10th 19.5 6.89 4.14 10 4.39 0 4.23 2-1 3-20
DET MIN 14th 22.8 5.99 3.99 16th 21.9 6.36 3.92 10 5.51 2 3.32 1-1 1-15
DET MIN 14th 22.8 5.99 3.99 16th 21.9 6.36 3.92 20 6.62 1 3.96 1-1 1-8

In Watchtowers past, I’ve found there is a mild systemic advantage for Scott Linehan offenses against Leslie Frazier defenses. However, in each of the last two games, critical red zone turnovers have short-circuited that advantage, and the Lions’ offense has  underperformed expectations. Today, Matthew Stafford will leading the offense, instead of Shaun Hill—and I’ll presume the Lions’ systemic advantages remain intact.

The Lions are scoring 37.5 points per game, but I don’t expect that to last all season. I’ll project the Lions to outperform what I think will be their season averages on the year, scoring 34-37 points. I have extremely low confidence in this projection.

Conclusion

This has been an awfully frustrating season for Watchtowers so far, and I appreciate your patience. Today, I project a 34-13 Lions victory. My gut feeling on the relative strengths of these two teams agrees with that projection. However, I feel like this Vikings team is backed against the wall at 0-2, and—though they’re saying all the right things—I have to believe the Lions are believing their own press at this point, too. I worry about the Vikes getting the jump on the Lions and popping the hype balloon.

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