Three Cups Deep: Week 10, Lions at Vikings

>> 11.13.2012

fire_cupping_small1

Fire is mysterious. It burns, it sears, it destroys—and it heals. You know me to be a man of facts, of analysis, of numbers and science and truth. But I’m also a man of emotion, perception, and faith in ultimate justice. There are times when truth is inescapable, and times when it is ineffable. There are times to rely on intellect, and times to open up to what we don’t know.

After nine games the Lions are one game below .500, and the Lions fanbase is wounded. We watched the Vikings again grind out an improbable victory, again saw the offense flail ineffectively as the defense stood tall, and again saw huge Vikings touchdowns nullify a spectacular fourth-quarter offensive awakening.

Once again, the Lions fanbase is crying in pain, dazed and struggling for answers. Are the Lions a good team, playing below expectations and falling victim to circumstance? Are the Lions an overrated team, a castle built on sand, heading for another complete collapse? Are the Lions a young team, experiencing growing pains as they learn to win? Or are these manifestations of that poltergiest undisciplinedness; Mikel Leshoure’s offseason pot habit mischievously causing Stafford to throw a pick, Ponder to throw deep spirals, Megatron to fumble and Adrian Peterson to reel off 120 yards in the last 15 minutes?

There is an ancient art of healing called fire cupping, which if you saw the Karate Kid reboot you know what I’m talking about: a lick of flame in a glass jar pressed against skin, causing a partial vacuum that bursts capillaries and rushes life-giving blood to the patient’s afflicted body part. Science, it isn’t. But in this case a little mysticism, a little blue flame, is exactly what Lions fans need.

While the treatment might be ineffable, the disease is not. The Lions offense is, statistically, still among the best in the NFL. They’ve gained the third-most yards, scored the 13th-most points, are ranked 6th in overall offense by Pro Football Focus, fifth in Offensive Expected Points Added and ninth in Offensive Win Probability Added. But anyone watching sees a much less effective offense.

calvin_johnson_detroit_lions_fumbleThe Lions are ranked 20th in average yards-per-attempt, tied with the league average at 7.2 YpA. This is down from 12th (7.8 YpA) in 2011. The Lions are a little bit better when interceptions and touchdowns are factored in: They rank 15th in the NFL in Adjusted YpA, at 7.0--but they ranked 7th in the NFL last season with 7.8 AYpA. The most telling stat of all? Yards per Completion, where the Lions dropped from 14th (12.0 YpC) to 23rd (11.4 YpC). Nevertheless, the Lions lead the NFL in passing attempts, just as they did last season.

So: the Lions are throwing the ball much less farther down the field, and they’re doing it less effectively. For the first three quarters of nearly every game, Matthew Stafford is able to hit the broad side of a barn, but it seems like he’s only able to hit the broad side of a barn.

In prior games, Stafford’s problem has been his ineffectiveness on third down. The Lions were again dreadful on third down (1-of-9, 11%) against the Vikings, but that was because they were so often dreadful on first down, especially in the first half.

By my count, the Lions faced 35 first downs on Sunday, 17 in the first half. Of those, they rushed 9 times at 3.1 YpC (10 at 3.7 including a Stafford scramble), and passed 7 times at 6.71 YpA. In the first quarter, the Lions lined up for a first down, and were held to two yards or less five times. That’s just not good enough. Putting the offense in constant second-and-long and third-and-long situations is going to result in punts.

Punts kill defenses.

Through the first seven quarters the Lions faced the Vikings in 2012, the Lions allowed 153 rushing yards and no touchdowns from Adrian Peterson, and 312 passing yards and 1 touchdown from Christian Ponder. That’s 106 offensive plays, an average of 4.39 yards per play, and seven offensive points.

In the last quarter, the dam burst: the Lions allowed 120 yards and a touchdown to Adrian Peterson, plus a 20-yard touchdown pass to Christian Ponder. That’s 15 offensive plays, an average of 9.33 yards, and 18 offensive points.

The Lions are an offensive team. It is built to score 28-plus points every time it takes the field. This Lions defense is an aggressive defense, built to ravage teams playing catch-up. Asking them to completely deny Adrian Peterson any yards and the end zone for eight quarters is asking too much. Asking this defense to shut down the run and suffocate the pass for eight quarters is too much. Asking this defense to make up for a cornucopia of punts and turnovers committed by a 200-million-dollar offense is too much.

Stafford and the offense have to stop playing scared in the first quarter, and incandescently in the fourth. Stafford has to stop breaking down and rolling out and flushing away when he’s got the second-best pass protection in the NFL.

But what, you ask, is the good news? That the incandescent play of Stafford & Co. is still there. That the switch is still able to be flipped. That when push comes to shove, these coaches, these players, and these schemes can still rip other teams to shreds. As long as all the elements are in place, anything is possible—even making the playoffs.

Before you scoff, remember: the Lions have made the playoffs from unlikelier circumstances.

7 comments:

Anonymous,  November 13, 2012 at 7:02 PM  

What is wrong with the Lions?

On defense, it is the number of injuries in the secondary coupled with poor depth, and specifically, the absence of Delmas. Without Delmas in the secondary, the Lions are hard pressed to stop decent offenses until the field is compressed in their own red zone. Peterson would not have run for a long gain/touchdown with a healthy Delmas in the secondary, guaranteed.

On Offense, it may be a case of trying too hard to fix problems that don't need fixing and getting away from what has worked in the past (or even in the 4th quarter). There is a substantial element of luck involved in winning a football game, and the best teams talent wise do not always win because of how the ball bounced on a particular play. And when the team starts loosing, the tendency is to throw out or diminish what has worked before and replace it with what presumptuously will fix a "problem", but the original, real problem was just bad luck, not what they originally were doing.

Early in the season, it appeared the Lions were running even though at times it was ineffective, but I thought it would pay dividends later in the year, as they improved. The running does seem to have improved with LeShoure and Bell but it has been at the expense of Schefler, who typically is replaced by Reiff when they run now. Replacing 5 to 15 yard passes to a TE with 2 to 5 yard runs by a RB, may not be sufficient to overcome penalties or incomplete passes, and thus the poor 3rd down stats.

As I've said before, I get the feeling that many of the players are just trying too hard to make plays and need to just loosen up a bit. I still think the Lions can make the playoffs either as a wildcard or a division champ but it has to start by beating GB.


Anonymous,  November 13, 2012 at 7:09 PM  

What is wrong with the Lions?

On defense, it is the number of injuries in the secondary coupled with poor depth, and specifically, the absence of Delmas. Without Delmas in the secondary, the Lions are hard pressed to stop decent offenses until the field is compressed in their own red zone. Peterson would not have run for a long gain/touchdown with a healthy Delmas in the secondary, guaranteed.

On Offense, it may be a case of trying too hard to fix problems that don't need fixing and getting away from what has worked in the past (or even in the 4th quarter). There is a substantial element of luck involved in winning a football game, and the best teams talent wise do not always win because of how the ball bounced on a particular play. And when the team starts loosing, the tendency is to throw out or diminish what has worked before and replace it with what presumptuously will fix a "problem", but the original, real problem was just bad luck, not what they originally were doing.

Early in the season, it appeared the Lions were running even though at times it was ineffective, but I thought it would pay dividends later in the year, as they improved. The running does seem to have improved with LeShoure and Bell but it has been at the expense of Schefler, who typically is replaced by Reiff when they run now. Replacing 5 to 15 yard passes to a TE with 2 to 5 yard runs by a RB, may not be sufficient to overcome penalties or incomplete passes, and thus the poor 3rd down stats.

As I've said before, I get the feeling that many of the players are just trying too hard to make plays and need to just loosen up a bit. I still think the Lions can make the playoffs either as a wildcard or a division champ but it has to start by beating GB.

The Correct 1,  November 13, 2012 at 7:14 PM  

What is wrong with the Lions?

On defense, it is the number of injuries in the secondary coupled with poor depth, and specifically, the absence of Delmas. Without Delmas in the secondary, the Lions are hard pressed to stop decent offenses until the field is compressed in their own red zone. Peterson would not have run for a long gain/touchdown with a healthy Delmas in the secondary, guaranteed.

On Offense, it may be a case of trying too hard to fix problems that don't need fixing and getting away from what has worked in the past (or even in the 4th quarter). There is a substantial element of luck involved in winning a football game, and the best teams talent wise do not always win because of how the ball bounced on a particular play. And when the team starts loosing, the tendency is to throw out or diminish what has worked before and replace it with what presumptuously will fix a "problem", but the original, real problem was just bad luck, not what they originally were doing.

Early in the season, it appeared the Lions were running even though at times it was ineffective, but I thought it would pay dividends later in the year, as they improved. The running does seem to have improved with LeShoure and Bell but it has been at the expense of Schefler, who typically is replaced by Reiff when they run now. Replacing 5 to 15 yard passes to a TE with 2 to 5 yard runs by a RB, may not be sufficient to overcome penalties or incomplete passes, and thus the poor 3rd down stats.

As I've said before, I get the feeling that many of the players are just trying too hard to make plays and need to just loosen up a bit. I still think the Lions can make the playoffs either as a wildcard or a division champ but it has to start by beating GB.

E,  November 14, 2012 at 11:58 AM  

Delmas was on the field for Lynch's huge run.

E,  November 14, 2012 at 12:06 PM  

Like the analysis but it goes without saying that if Stafford plays consistently better the Lions will do better. That holds for the quarterback of every other team. Not something that happens by wishing for it.

The Correct 1,  November 14, 2012 at 3:58 PM  

Yes, but if I remember, he got boxed in by a bunch of other players and teamates and couldn't extract himself from the congestion until it was too late. Not sure whether he was in the proper "position" but only the coaching staff knows.

Against Peterson, Silva was out in the open, but still couldn't make the play. Tis the price you pay when you have to rely on a bunch of inexperienced rookies with limited abilities to make plays. But as usual, if one player screws up, then the bloggers/media trash the entire team and always the coaching.

Nick Cramer,  November 14, 2012 at 7:43 PM  

Ty,


I will toss this one to you. My roommate insists that the Lions are only a good offense in the forth quarter because the opposing team is play prevent defense that typically lets anyone move the ball and score. I argued with him a few time about it but I am really beginning to believe that he might be right. Not that most offenses could do what we do in the forth, we still get deep against Defenses that are designed not to let you get deep, but it seems to me to be more of an issue of Stafford just not being able to read a real defense. When we get to the forth quarter and they start playing vanilla defenses as part of the prevent he lights it up but when he is facing the real complex defenses in the early quarters or when we are not yet behind by double digits he is just not seeing the field. What is your take?


Nick

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