Wednesday, February 1, 2017

3 Trades to Fix the Pistons

What happened to that team we had last year? Stan Van Gundy was pushing the youth movement, the chains were off Andre Drummond (the "chains" being shackled to Greg Monroe and Josh Smith) and he had his first All Star appearance (nearly by popular vote), Reggie Jackson was in his first full year as starting PG and was 10th in the AS Backcourt voting. Marcus Morris was having a career resurgence, and KCP and Tobias Harris looked like solid pieces going forward. Stanley Johnson also had the appearance of the SF of the future, if he could cut down on the mental mistakes and tweak his shot.

So far this season, the good feeling is gone. Reggie Jackson came back from injury as Bad Kobe, pounding the air out of the ball and jacking up a ton of ill-advised shots. Marcus Morris is another black hole, and has regressed as a 3pt shooter and as an individual defender. Andre Drummond remains a mediocre team defender, and while his FT shooting has improved incrementally, almost every other area of his game is worse and the Pistons score at a better rate with him on the bench. Stanley Johnson has seen a drastic reduction in his minutes, due to his inability to produce anything on the court much of the time.

This team is ill. Not good ill. Bad ill.

To be honest, I think the team was built on the false premise that Andre Drummond can be the foundation of a contending team, and that Reggie Jackson can be the starting PG on a contending team. Once I thought that at least part 1 of that equation was true and part 2 was possible, even probable. No longer. There are two ways out of this mess. Either trade one or both of them away (I think Drummond at least is still salvageable, he just shouldn't be the focal point), or ride out on the wave of mediocrity for the next 4 years. Obviously the 2nd option is a nightmare, so I'm going to present 3 different trade scenarios that offer a ray of hope.

Trade Scenario #1
Detroit-Lakers-Philly 3-team trade
Detroit gets: D'Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor, Timofey Mozgov, Gerald Henderson, and LA's 2019 1st round pick
LA gets: Andre Drummond and Nerlens Noel.
Philly gets: Reggie Jackson, Aron Baynes, and Nick Young.

The Pistons get the biggest haul, as they should shipping out the most talent. Adding in the pick might be a bit much, but they really are helping the Lakers out here. They NEED to get rid of D'Angelo Russell. The Lakers already are paying Clarkson like their PG of the future, and Russell alienated the locker room last year by accidentally publicly outing Nick Young's infidelity. The Lakers also signed Mozgov to a RIDICULOUS deal last summer at $16M/yr. This trade allows LA to shed that deal and add a franchise center that they've desperately been looking for. They also get Noel, a pretty good backup and a guy you could conceivably pair with Drummond to wreak defensive havoc all over the place. Losing Nick Young might hurt a bit, but they've got a better SG coming off the bench right now, and Young is a bit of a headcase. Also, it removes the other piece of that kerfuffle from last year.

Philly needs a PG. They might get one in the draft, but that player will be 3 years away from making a difference, and Embiid looks ready right now. Reggie could bridge the gap. He's also more of a combo-guard than a true PG, which is good for when Ben Simmons gets healthy and starts running the Point Forward position. They also need a decent 2-guard, and so far only Stauskas and Henderson have been filling that role. So they upgrade at PG and at SG, and it only costs them two guys they want to get rid of anyway (Okafor and Noel), and they get a decent backup C in return. The Pistons might need to throw in a pick of some kind to sweeten the deal, but I think Philly would bite.

I really like this deal for the Pistons. D'Angelo Russell looks like he'll be a pretty good player in a few years. He's a good defender at the point, something we haven't had since Chauncey was traded. His shot is coming along and he's learning the game a bit, but he's still on his rookie deal too. Okafor has some of the same flaws as Drummond, but overall I think he's a better defender. He's not as good a rebounder, but he's far better offensively. Mozgov is a decent backup, although he'd be getting paid as a starter (in this scenario, we could either try to trade him at a later date or just play him for a couple of years and then cut our losses). Gerald Henderson would be a decent 3 & D backup for KCP, which we don't currently have. He's shooting the best 3P% of his career, so I'd expect that to come down, but he'd still be an upgrade over Bullock/Hilliard. Henderson also represents $9M coming off the books in 2018. This would allow the Pistons to rebuild without taking a big step back.

Trade Scenario #2

Detroit gets: Rajon Rondo + 2017 1st rd pick (either Chicago's or Sacramento's)
Chicago gets: Reggie Jackson

This is a straight headache for headache trade. The Bulls need to win now and can't do it with Rondo. Reggie can score, but plays hero ball far too often and can't defend. Rondo isn't a huge "get" for us, but he's a couple mil cheaper and comes off the books 2 years earlier. Chicago owns Sacramento's 1st round pick if it falls between 11-30 (currently they'd be in the 8th slot, if the draft lottery was tonight), so this trade gives Detroit the option of taking the better pick, Sacramento's or Chicago's. This is a pretty good PG draft, btw. Anyway, this is a classic "punt the season" trade right here.

Trade Scenario #3
Detroit gets: DeMarcus Cousins, Ben McLemore, Rajon Rondo + option of Chi/Sac 2017 pick (owned by Chicago)
Sacramento gets: Andre Drummond + Detroit's 2017 pick & future 2nd rounder
Chicago gets: Reggie Jackson

This trade reunites Cousins and Rondo, who reportedly got along pretty well last year. Sacramento gets Drummond and some picks, Chicago gets Reggie. Picks are exchanged all around, and really the only team not guaranteed to have a pick this year is Chicago. Ben McLemore was a throw-in to make the salaries work, but he was a highly regarded prospect who might just need a change of scenery and a more stable coaching situation. I think I like this deal the best. It's the most likely to please all parties involved.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Lions 2016 Review Pt 2 - Defense

The Lions defense this past season was, in a word, embarrassing. We were ranked 30th out of the 32 NFL defenses by Pro Football Focus, and that feels about right. They were terrible on all levels. They allowed opposing QBs to complete passes at a rate of 73%, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt (for reference, no starting QB averaged better than 71.6% completions for the season). In terms of rushing defense, Detroit was in the middle of the pack, allowing 106 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry, but when it comes to short yardage situations...

Defensive line - it was bad. BAD. I was mentioning short yardage situations? Football Outsiders rates defensive lines on a number of factors. When it comes to Power Success - that is, how easy it was for opponents to rush for a 1st down or TD in short yardage situations - the Lions ranked 31st. They also rate a lines ability to stuff a play at or behind the line of scrimmage. The Lions ranked 29th there. We were 25th in adjusted sack rate, and I'm not sure where the Lions would've fallen if they factored in QB pressures, but it would've been LOW. We didn't stop the run and we didn't rush the passer.
Ziggy Ansah had a bad year, and was either out or playing with a nagging leg injury. He started to come on in the last few games and look like the guy we had last year, so I'm not worried about him. Kerry Hyder continued his preseason dominance, and led the team in sacks (in case you didn't know...). I was surprised to find early on in the season that we basically didn't have a pass rush if he wasn't on the field. A'Shawn Robinson had a very good rookie showing, and I think he'll be a top DT in a couple of years. Everybody else has serious concerns.

Ngata is all but done. He's still better than the rest of our DTs, but he gets pushed off the ball in a way that he never did, and he just doesn't make plays on a regular basis. A'Shawn Robinson is a work in progress, and all the other DTs are playing at replacement level or worse. Devin Taylor is DONE, so the Lions really need to get another pass rushing DE or 2. That means DRAFT (I am NOT in the "back the truck up for JPP" camp). They should cover this position in rounds 1 or 2.

Linebacker might be a position of need higher than DE. DeAndre Levy missed most of the season with an undisclosed injury, and he's made public comments that have made me wonder if he's done with football. His career timeline goes like this: Got drafted by the Lions in 2009, became one of the NFL's best kept secrets by 2011, broke out in 2013 with 6 INTs & 85 tackles, got snubbed for the Pro Bowl in 2015 with 121 tackles, signed a big contract extension in 2016, promptly got injured, and since has played in 6 out of a possible 33 games and recorded a total of 16 tackles... He's signed through the end of 2019 and there's no way he's just going to retire, since the Lions owe him roughly $26M on the remainder of his contract. If he's just perpetually injured, the Lions are going to have to cut their losses. It's a shame, because Levy was one of the players that made the Lions' defense really special, back when they were good.

Unfortunately, the news doesn't get better. Tahir Whitehead was a disaster this season, as PFF's bottom-ranked starting LB. He couldn't cover, and he routinely got caught in the wash on running plays. Some of that is on the DTs for getting pushed off the ball, but he also let himself get blocked A LOT. Josh Bynes has been a decent band-aid, so I expect the Lions will re-up with him on another 1- or 2-year deal, but more has to be done. Levy cannot be counted on to even play at all, so I expect Quinn to go after a FA like Dont'a Hightower AND address the position in the draft, hopefully by the end of round 3.

Cornerback has been a perpetual need for the Lions. I can remember 1 season when we had 2 decent CBs, and the next year we let one of the guys sign somewhere else. Martin Mayhew and Millen were allergic to drafting defensive backs. Well, this year was no exception. Slay was decent, but definitely a step back from last year. Nobody else on the roster deserves to line up as anything higher than a nickle or dime corner. Lawson, Bademosi, Crezdon Butler, and whoever else lined up on the other side of Slay was in over their heads. Fortunately, there are a number of decent corners that should be available in FA and this is a really good draft for corners. I'd like to see the Lions use a 1st or 2nd rd pick on this position.

Safety was easily our best position, defensively. But both starting guys are going into a contract year, and I expect Tavon Wilson to take a step back next year. Miles Killebrew look very good in special teams and when he got a chance to play with the starting D, so the Lions might look to work him in more, but they'll need to bolster this position SOON. A wise move would be to draft a safety in the 2017 draft and groom him to start in 2018, but the Lions have too many needs elsewhere to do this unless a value pick falls to them.

I thought Bob Quinn did an ok job in getting cheap, decent players to fill in. He had a solid 2016 draft (as far as we can tell). This will be an interesting offseason. We're coming off of a playoff appearance, but we have a ton of holes to fill and a decent amount of cap space. Will he get greedy and try to shortcut the process, or will he go the Patriot way by cutting players when they cost more than they can produce anymore, signing overlooked players that turn out pretty good, and drafting smart?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Lions 2016 Review, Pt. 1 - Offense

To quote the very quotable Denny Green, THEY WERE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE! Going into the season, I thought we had a very mediocre Lions team on our hands. I figured we were looking at a 7-9 team, unless we were very fortunate. Well, we were kind of fortunate. The Lions were a 7-9 team in a 9-7 team's body. The pythagorean win expectation was 7.7W and 8.3L, so basically 8-8. Additionally, the Lions had a weaker schedule, so the win total was inflated a bit. The Lions were at 9-4 with 3 games remaining, needing one to clinch a home playoff game. Going winless would likely keep the Lions out of the playoffs and put Jim Caldwell on the hot seat, if not cost him his job outright. Fortunately for him, Washington lost 2 out of their last 3 and gifted Detroit a playoff spot.

The playoffs were really pointless, though. Stafford was still at less than 100% with his finger issue, a number of key players were missing, and the receivers left their hands on the plane. Every pass catcher had at least 1 drop, many of which essentially traded 1st & 10 for a punt. As a team, the Lions had the 3rd most dropped passes in the NFL and were 5th in drop %. This confuses me. Other than Ebron, the rest of our receiving corps had a sure-handed rep. The playoff loss was a pretty typical Lions performance - they dropped a bunch of passes, committed some crucial roughness penalties that either stalled offensive drives (thanks, Boldin) or gifted a TD to the opponent.

I say "typical Lions" because this is what I've come to expect after decades of Lions fandom, but it was actually atypical of the year they'd been having. At least until the last 4 games, when they played some real teams.

One of the better stats for evaluating the actual quality of a team is Toxic Differential, which is a ratio that measures a team's tendency to give up big plays and turnovers vs. their ability to create big plays and turnovers. A positive number would mean the Lions had more big plays and turnovers than their opponents did, a negative number would mean the opposite. The Lions, being the Lions, spent almost the entirety of the 2000s in the negative, managing only a meager +8 in 2011 (finished 10-6, got bounced by the Saints in the first round of the playoffs) and a solid +28 in 2014 (finished 11-5, lost a heartbreaker in Dallas). So what was the toxic differential this year? The Lions finished with a -9. Lower than the 7-9 2013 Lions and only slightly better than the 2010 team that finished 6-10. That -9 ties them with the Vikings and the Texans at 22nd in the league, and behind the Eagles, Chargers and Bengals. All this to say that the Lions may have made the playoffs, but they were more like a bottom-third team.

So, what is the state of this team? What's next? 

Starting at the top, Caldwell is keeping his job through the end of his contract, which expires next year. This was disappointing, but inevitable. He did enough not to get fired. He's not a good coach. It looks like he's breathing, but it's really his coordinators that are maintaining his life functions. Without JB Cooter and Teryl Austin, Caldwell is flatlined. We know Martha Ford loves Caldwell, but I remain skeptical as to whether or not GM Bob Quinn will keep him on unless something miraculous happens next season.

Stafford was having a Pro Bowl year, until the last 5 games, when he hurt his finger (and started playing much better teams). His completion % plummeted from 67% to a mediocre 59%, he doubled his INTs while only producing 3 TD passes, and of course barely managed a single win against the lowly Bears. We could chalk this up to injury, or perhaps the competition suddenly became legit (except vs. the Bears) and Stafford's record vs. winning teams is well-known. But the reality is the Lions are in a position where they will probably have to pay him in the neighborhood of $25M/yr, making Matt Stafford, a QB that I wouldn't rank in the top 10 in the NFL at this point, the highest paid player in the NFL.

Is he worth it? Well, no. But the problem is this - what do you do if you don't sign him? It's too late in the game to trade him, so you'd have to buy a band-aid in free agency and hope you net a decent replacement in the draft... The problem is you can't just pick up a decent QB in FA, and the draft is such a crapshoot even if you have a top pick (and Stafford was the #1 overall pick, remember). To give you an idea, the QBs available in FA in 2018 are Brees, Kaepernick, Bradford, McCown, Henne, Stanton, Derek Anderson, Brandon Weeden, Nick Foles... Basically you've got Brees, who will be 39 and likely wants to retire in New Orleans, and a bunch of career backups who are backups for a very good reason. You might be able to wring a decent season out of one of them with the right supporting cast, but the Lions don't have the right supporting cast.

So you keep him, pay him $3M more per year than you're paying him now, and you get cheaper elsewhere. Keep in mind that Riley Rieff, Ezekiel Ansah, Glover Quinn, Haloti Ngata, and almost the entire rest of the offense AND defense have to either be extended or replaced in the next two years. 

On a side note, I'm not exactly sure how to separate JB Cooter and Stafford in my evaluations, so I'll just throw this in here. I thought the play-calling was better than under Lombardi, but still left much to be desired. I also thought that Cooter tended to stick too closely to the original game plan and didn't vary up the running game or take shots downfield when it started to open up. If the plan is to be a slightly lesser version of Tom Brady, Cooter needs to know when to take his shots.

Last thing I'll say before I move on - Stafford used his feet better in 2016 than he ever had before in his career. He extended plays, avoided sacks, and rushed for first downs when in the past he'd have thrown it away (or thrown a pick), or spun directly into a sack. He's not one of the top rushing QBs - for one thing, the Lions almost never call his number on a running play unless it's short yardage - but he ran for about 13 yards a game, good for 9th in the NFL among QBs, behind Russell Wilson who ran for 16 ypg and ahead of Tannehill, who ran for 12.

Running backs... This was a problem area once again, this year due to injuries across the board. Honestly, I think we're ok here and can't see the rationale in spending at this position. If healthy, Abdullah, Riddick, Washington and Zenner should prove to be a decent stable of backs. Riddick is the best receiving RB in football, and Abdullah looked like he was going to provide the Lions with some semblance of a running game, before he went down. Washington was decent as a backup and a returner, and even Zenner had a couple of nice games. Now, RB is in fact considered a "position of need", but it's not as high a need as anything on the defensive side, or any of the receiving positions. Also, and I'd forgotten this, Ameer Abdullah was a pretty good kick returner. 

Which brings us to the receiving corps. Going into the 2016 season, I predicted a deeper position group than Stafford had ever had. Not as star-studded, obviously, but Tate-Jones-Boldin-Roberts was definitely more diversely talented than the next best group Stafford ever threw to, which consisted of CJ, Tate, and a bunch of scrubs. Yes, they were better, so let's get that out of the way. It's still an area that needs improvement. Tate is getting on in years, and there's no real #1 option on this team. Jones was supposed to grow into that role, but he finished the year as a bit of a disappointment. Boldin was a solid pickup that reminded me of something that the Patriots might do. Now, these guys had a lot more drops, and that's troubling. I expect that should improve as the newer additions get more familiar with Stafford. Anyway, WR remains a need for next year, and I'm hoping for another Boldin-like signing, and maybe take a couple flyers late in the draft.

I won't spend much time on TE. Ebron took a big step forward this year, although his blocking and his hands remain unreliable. We'll say goodbye to Pettigrew, and I'm hoping we can bolster this position on the cheap.

Lastly, the O-line. I figured this position group would start out a bit rocky and improve as the year went on. Largely, that was the case. The run blocking isn't there yet but it's improving, and having the top backs healthy would help as well. This is a really young group of linemen, and they were pretty banged up this year, but Pro Football Focus ranked them 19th overall. Taylor Decker struggled earlier in the season, as expected from a rookie starting at LT, but overall had a pretty strong year (again, PFF liked him). The Lions will need to re-up with Riley Rieff this offseason, but other than that they shouldn't need to make any major moves other than adding depth.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

This has been a crazy Lions season. Expect more of the same.

I've got no idea what is going on with the Lions this year. Trying to predict what is going to happen next is EXTREMELY frustrating. I had them pegged for a 7-9 record. After the loss to the Bears, I thought I might've overshot. But they keep figuring out how to win these crazy games, and now the Lions are 8-4 and in position to win the division and host a playoff game. WHAT?

Sorry about the "slowlights", but that's the best I can do since the NFL doesn't like embedding. Anyway, the Lions were rolling into New Orleans, one of the best passing offenses in the league, and they shut it down. The Lions defense is one of those things that makes no sense to me. They haven't had their best LB all year, the rest of the LB corps and secondary are all banged up, and they're getting a down year from Ziggy Ansah (14.5 sacks last year, 0 this year). In fact, if you had told me in preseason that they'd be down Levy, Ameer Abdullah, a handful of others in the RB, LB, and secondary, and Ansah would have zero sacks through week 13, I'd have said we'd be lucky to have 4 wins. We have 8.

The defense, somehow, has been pretty ok. They're middle of the pack when it comes to yards allowed, HORRIBLE when it comes to QB completion %, upper third when it comes to points allowed, and practically dead last when it comes to defensive efficiency. This doesn't make them look like world-beaters, but essentially their role has been to keep the game within reach in the 4th quarter, and Stafford/Prater will come back in win it probably. The Lions trailed in the 4th quarter in 7 of their 8 wins this season, and in 6 of their wins the go-ahead points were scored with less than 2 minutes left in the game or in OT.

Not this game. The Lions pretty much controlled the game from start to finish. They had problems getting into the endzone, but they moved the ball well, owned the clock, and put points on the board. Stafford looked like Aaron Rodgers in the pocket, as far as moving around and running for first downs. Tate had a really good game. And the defense kept NOLA's receivers in front and picked Brees off three times. This was the first complete game the Lions have played all year, they did it against a halfway decent team, and it felt pretty good.


Looking ahead (which I am loath to do but feel I must), the Lions' schedule gets a bit harder. They get the 3-9 Bears first, which is by far their easiest opponent.

Then on 12/18, the Lions go to the Meadowlands to see a very tough (currently) 8-4 Giants team, and the following week they'll go to Dallas to see the 
(currently) 11-1 Cowboys. The season finale will be played vs. the (currently but playing better lately) 6-6 Packers (at Ford Field, fortunately, and not in Lambeau). The Lions will not be favored in any of these games, and the season really could come down to that last game against Green Bay.

I'm saying don't go buying your playoff tickets yet. I like what I see, especially from Stafford. I loved the complete effort on Sunday. But the Lions need to take care of business against Chicago and GB if this is going to happen. In my opinion, the only way to make the playoffs without beating the Packers is if the Lions win their next 3 games.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Somehow the Lions are 4-3

Their best receiver retired, their best RB is basically out for the season, their 2 next best RBs have missed the past 3-4 games, their best LB has barely played, their best DT has missed about 4 weeks, their best DE has missed at least 3 weeks, and their best CB is out. I have no idea how they can show up and beat a legitimate team like Washington or Philly.

Oh wait. I do. It's Matt Stafford (yes, THAT Matt Stafford). 

By many measures, Stafford is having a better season than he did in 2011, when he threw for over 5,038 yards and 401 TDs. Up until now, that 2011 campaign has been his high watermark. Well, this year his completion %, yards per attempt, QBR, and passer rating are all higher. He's already rushed for more yards than he did in 2011, adding a dynamic to his game that wasn't there before. All 4 of the Lions' wins have been due to scoring drives that ended with less than 2 minutes left in the game. I'd like to underscore the fact that the Lions have a WEAK team this year, as opposed to the 2011 squad, which had prime Calvin Johnson, 50% of a healthy Jahvid Best, a pretty good line, receiving corps, and a great defense. It was basically the opposite of this season, personnel-wise.

There is some debate whether Stafford is solely responsible for this, or whether he's entirely OC Jim Bob Cooter's creation. NFL Network Analyst (and sideline guy for the Lions games that have been on Fox) Pete Schrager made the case for Stafford as a top QB in the league. I don't know about all that. Stafford's definitely top 10, maybe even top 5 guy, but Schrager was saying #1... Anyway, there's no doubt that Stafford is buying into whatever Jim Bob is selling, and it's working. He's finally managed to make his receivers better, something that was a long criticism of his play. He doesn't fold into sacks like he used to, opting to run it more often when the pocket collapses. He seems pretty comfortable in those late game situations and seems to be running a pretty tight ship.

It's helped that the O-line play has improved the past couple of weeks. Taylor Decker played his best game as a pro vs. Washington, and the line as a whole seems to be gelling now. They look especially good in space on screens. Ebron, Riddick, Ngata, and Washington all seem to be ready to go vs. Houston this week, although Levy and Slay are still out. Stafford is going to need a little more help this week. Houston is another legit team, and the Lions will have to show up if they're to have a chance.


So, if the Lions are getting all this stellar play from Stafford, why didn't they beat the pathetic Bears (1-6) or the merely bad Titans (3-4)? Well, as I've pointed out already, Stafford isn't getting a lot of help (especially from his defense), and this results in a phenomenon that virtually cancels out the Super Stafford effect.

Opposing QBs are MURDERING the Lions.

Let's look at this week by week. What have opposing QBs done to the Lions' D that they haven't done vs. the rest of their schedule to date?

Week 1 - Andrew Luck
vs. Lions: 31-47, 385 yds, 4 TD, 0 INT, 88.4 QBR, 119.5 Rtg
AVG vs. Rest: 25-38,  282 yds, 1.7 TD, 0.7 INT, 73.3 QBR*, 98.3 Rtg* 
*QBR & Rtg include stats vs Lions

Luck is a pretty good QB so his numbers vs. the rest of the league are still pretty good. But he did get a boost playing the Leos.

Week 2 - Marcus Mariota
vs. Lions: 25-33, 238 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 67.4 QBR, 102.8 Rtg
AVG vs. Rest: 19-32,  228 yds, 1.7 TD, 0.8 INT, 55.0 QBR*, 89.5 Rtg* 
*QBR & Rtg include stats vs Lions

Mariota is less good. He didn't get a ton of yards against us, but he was pretty effective, completing roughly 76% of his passes.

Week 3 - Aaron Rodgers
vs. Lions: 15-24, 205 yds, 4 TD, 0 INT, 99.1 QBR, 129.3 Rtg
AVG vs. Rest: 27-43,  258 yds, 1.8 TD, 0.8 INT, 73.2 QBR*, 91.7 Rtg* 
*QBR & Rtg include stats vs Lions

We all know who Rodgers is, but he's on a down year. Additionally, he didn't have to air it out too often vs. Detroit (hence the low number off attempts and yards). But looking past the raw numbers, this was probably Rodgers' best game of the year. 4 TDs, and a near-max QBR and passer rating.

Week 4 - Brian Hoyer
vs. Lions: 28-36, 302 yds, 2 TD, 0 INT, 89.3 QBR, 120.1 Rtg
AVG vs. Rest: 21-33,  229 yds, 0.6 TD, 0 INT, 65.2 QBR*, 98.0 Rtg* 
*QBR & Rtg include stats vs Lions

Hoyer was in the middle of a hot streak when the Lions caught him, but they're also partially responsible for said hot streak. His averages kind of lie, since two of his games were limited - week 1 was as a replacement for Cutler, and then he got injured in the 2nd quarter. In actuality, Hoyer's stats vs. the Lions are pretty representative of what he did to everyone else, except that it's Hoyer... Hoyer is a game manager at best. Anyway, the completion % vs. the Lions still stands out a bit.

Week 5 - Carson Wentz
vs. Lions: 25-33, 238 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 58.9 QBR, 102.8 Rtg
AVG vs. Rest: 19-30,  217 yds, 1.2 TD, 0.4 INT, 50.8 QBR*, 92.7 Rtg* 
*QBR & Rtg include stats vs Lions

The Lions DID get the first pick on Wentz in his NFL career, which happened to clinch the game, but he was still remarkably effective. Again, look at the COMP%, QBR, and Rtg.

Week 6 - Case Keenum
vs. Lions: 27-32, 321 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT, 87.3 QBR, 126.7 Rtg
AVG vs. Rest: 20-34,  231 yds, 0.8 TD, 1.5 INT, 41.9 QBR*, 77.5 Rtg* 
*QBR & Rtg include stats vs Lions

Case Keenum is Patient Zero in this analysis. The dude couldn't miss, he got gobs of yards, found the end zone thrice, and vs. the rest of the league he played at replacement level. I still can't fathom how the Lions managed to win that game. Oh yeah, Stafford. And they picked Keenum right at the end.

Week 7 - Kirk Cousins
vs. Lions: 30-39, 301 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT, 82.6 QBR, 106.9 Rtg
AVG vs. Rest: 25-38,  283 yds, 1.5 TD, 1 INT, 61.0 QBR*, 92.3 Rtg* 
*QBR & Rtg include stats vs Lions

Cousins is better than a replacement-level guy, but not by a lot. He's a solid NFL starter, nothing special. Except when he faced the Lions. 

The Lions are near the bottom of the league in passing defense (currently the bottom-ranked defense on Football Outsiders). They don't pressure the QB much, outside of Slay (currently injured) they can't cover anybody, and their LBs are especially terrible in coverage. They get killed by opposing TEs as well, although I'm not going to take the time to break that down. They just dumped LB Kyle Van Noy, a 2nd round Mayhew pick that you could smell the failure on a mile away. It wasn't that he didn't look like a good player, he looked ok. But the Lions' defensive scheme didn't match his skill set (I'd like to add that Mayhew TRADED UP to take Van Noy, a player who obviously didn't fit). He's a pass rushing OLB, and the Lions tried to put him in coverage. He stunk at it. So, Quinn swung a trade that sent him to New England (happy trails & good luck) for a couple of LATE picks. They signed Josh Bynes to take his place in the lineup, a guy I was perfectly happy with last year.

I'm hoping the switch to Bynes boosts our D. With Ngata coming back it should already be a little better, although Slay's absence hurts. Houston's QB Osweiler is yet another middlin' guy who will probably carve us up, but what we really need to worry about is their run game. Lamar Miller has been no joke. The Lions will need to get out to a lead and put Houston in a position where they have to throw it. Osweiler threw it more than 40 times in each of their losses, and under 40 in all 4 of their wins.

Currently the line on this game is Houston -2.5. I think they're probably going to win by 3, so that line is spot on. The Lions could pull this out, but even going into the bye at 4-4 would be an accomplishment, what with all the injuries they've had. A 5-3 record, certainly possible, and would give them a window into the playoffs. I think going 6-2 in their second half would be very difficult, unless they get Levy and Slay back in time for week 10.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Lions Still Are Who I Thought They Were

The Lions posted back-to-back-to-back losses, and each loss was a special, unique snowflake, if snowflakes were depressing dumpster fire horror-shows. First, they lost to Tennessee (a team they should've beaten), by committing roughly a thousand penalties and losing a bajillion yards and having multiple TDs taken off the board (exaggerating about everything but the TDs). Some of those penalties were legit, some were just the result of a crew that seemed a little too flag-happy. For example, one of the TDs that was disallowed was the result of a phantom Eric Ebron offensive pass interference. Anyway, 17 penalties for 138 yards probably cost them the game, without even getting into player performance. It was absolutely a game they should've won, but they shot themselves in the foot.

The next week the Lions lost no time in playing themselves out of the game. They were facing the Packers at Lambeau, so no small task there, and they had a number of injuries to overcome. I had switched the game off before the end of the half (when it was 31-3) for medicinal purposes and was pleasantly surprised to see that they had actually scored some and were only a couple of TDs away from a tie. They of course blew the endgame, since their defense couldn't stop Green Bay's running game despite the fact that everyone KNEW GB had to run it. Anyway, clock ran out, Lions lost down by 1 TD.

I considered the Bears one of the bottom 3 teams in the NFL, so week 3 should've been a gimme. It wasn't. Still pretty banged up on defense (no Levy, Ansah, and weak in general at LB), the Lions surrendered 300+ yds to Chicago's anemic passing attack and allowed a 100+ yd rusher, despite the fact that Chicago was missing it's top RB and 2 offensive lineman. The offense was... thinking of synonyms for putrid... ghastly. The only touchdown was scored by Andre Roberts on an 85-yd punt return. Stafford threw 2 picks in the red zone that likely took points off the board for the Lions. With that, the total lack of a running game (66 total rushing yards) and lack of sustained drives (6 of their 9 possessions were 5 plays or less), the offense flat-out failed to show up for this one. And the defense was little better. The family was travelling back home from my cousin's wedding on the east coast, so I mercifully missed this game entirely.

In one loss, the Lions had the lead and played their way out of the game. In the next, the Lions decided they were going to lose early on, then changed their mind but it was too late. In the third, they decided not to show up entirely. Two of those games were against opponents most expected the Lions to handle. So, facing the 3-0 Eagles, the Lions seemed to be on their way to four straight losses, a 1-4 record, virtual playoff elimination (needing to finish 9-2 to have a shot), and a dead-in-the-water head coach.

Well, the Lions came out firing. They scored TDs on their first three possessions, and the defense managed to hold the Eagles to 10 points in the first half. Unfortunately, the script flipped in the second half. Philly scored a TD on the opening possession, then Stafford fumbled the ball without being touched, giving Philly the ball on our 16 yard line. The defense managed to hold them to a FG, preserving the lead by 1 point. 

At some point after this, one of the commentators, Charles Davis, suggested the Lions employ a run-out-the clock type of strategy. They had a 1-point lead and all of the 4th quarter still to go. I'd like to point out that Charles Davis was actually getting paid by Fox for his supposedly informed football opinion. After that statement, I thought Fox might have a case for taking him to court so they could get their money back.

Naturally, Philly kicked a FG on their next drive and the Lions were behind and squeezed for time. They mounted a majestic 3-yd drive, and I figured the game was probably over. Philly managed to bail us out. Darius Slay forced a fumble, Detroit recovered, and after a long review (during which I was SURE the officials were going to screw us, as they have been wont to do in moments like that), the Lions got the ball back in Eagles territory. Unfortunately, the Lions couldn't punch it in, but they managed to hit the FG after Stafford took the sack (with Jones and Boldin open in the end zone) on 3rd & goal. 

Philly had no timeouts but a decent amount of time to get in FG range, but Wentz got greedy and threw his first pick of the season. Darius Slay (definitely Player of the Game) got in phenomenal position, ran the receiver's route for him, got a nice over the shoulder catch, and ran it back a bit before sliding to avoid a potential fumble. A couple of kneel downs sealed the victory.

This was not a pretty game by any means. The running game hasn't been adequate since Abdullah went down, and the passing game hasn't been lit for 2 straight weeks now. The Lions are still really banged up. They should be getting Ansah back, but now Ngata is down for 3-4 weeks. They added Justin Forsett to boost the running game, but that offense is pretty banged up. The injury list includes Abdullah, Washington, Boldin, Ebron, Riddick, and Laken Tomlinson. That's like ALL our RBs, half our receivers, and our sort of starting LG. The defense is little better, with Levy and Ngata out of course, Ansah is still limited, and Ngata's most capable replacement on the starting line, A'Shawn Robinson, was limited as well. The Rams are a very beatable team, but the Lions might be too banged up to take advantage.

Looking ahead, that's kind of my prognosis for the season. We took 2 really big hits when Levy & Ansah went down, and then our offense lost all pretense of a running game when Abdullah went down as well. This is pretty close to the worst-case scenario I outlined at the start of the season. On the plus side, I expect our offensive line to improve as the year goes on, so we should start looking a lot better in the last few games. It just won't be soon enough to make the playoffs, or probably even finish with a winning record.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Lions Recap and Look Ahead

The Lions game was an interesting experience this past weekend. The family was just arriving home from the Wheatland Music Festival as the game started, so the game was playing in the background as we unloaded the car. Then I needed to get ready for a 10 mile run (prepping for a half marathon this weekend), so I watched most of the remaining 1st half and went on my run. Finished my run (1:39:55 later), stretched a bit, and turned the tv on JUST as the Colts scored the tying TD, with the XP putting them up by one with 37 sec left in the game.

To sum up, the Lions get the ball on the 25 with all of their timeouts (more on this in a second), run 3 plays that get them in FG range, run an additional time-wasting play, drill the 43-yd game-winner, and then watch Indy fiddle the ensuing kickoff away into a safety. At no point did the Lions clock the ball (spike it to stop the clock), and they only ran one play toward the sideline (not counting the wasted play), during which the receiver inexplicably neglected to get out of bounds. It was intense yet somehow methodical & easy, and after the fact I wondered why I was so stressed (answer: it's the Lions, and anything can and will go wrong).

Anyway, to the timeout thing. NFL common sense says when your opponent is running out the clock with the lead or on their way to getting the lead, you use your timeouts to extend the game. The rationale is to use your timeouts when your opponent has the ball because they control the clock. You control the clock when you have the ball, so you can run sideline plays or spike the ball to stop the clock. Caldwell didn't do this, either because he didn't think Indy was going to score, or he had other plans for those timeouts.

First, how much time would really have been saved? The average NFL play takes 5-7 seconds of clock. The Colts got the ball at the 4:04 mark. If the Lions had used their 3 timeouts immediately, they would've saved about 1:30. With all the extra time, the Colts don't use their 2nd timeout, they could run off an additional 40 sec up to the 2min warning. All told, the Lions probably get an extra minute out of using their timeouts when the Colts had the ball. However, they lose the ability to use the middle of the field and probably over half the plays in their 2-min offense playbook. Or you play with fire, run up and spike the ball after any play that doesn't stop the clock. Since that takes at least 15 seconds to pull off, you might say the Lions would've had a net gain of 15 seconds had they followed conventional NFL wisdom.

I'm not going to kill Caldwell over costing the Lions 15 seconds. In my opinion, adding several pages of the playbook outweighs the advantage of 15 extra seconds. Plus, you've got the added benefit of not having to rush your linemen to the line to clock the ball all the time, you can get plays in more easily and with less confusion, etc. There are a lot of benefits to keeping your timeouts.

However (there's always a however), the last 2 plays were a bit of a cluster. First, Marvin Jones catches the ball at the sideline AND DOESN'T GET OUT, forcing the Lions to use their last timeout with 12 sec left. For some reason, Caldwell opts to run another play before kicking the FG. WHY? If he wanted to run clock, a better way would be to have waited to call the TO after the Marvin Jones play. The idea that anything positive was going to come out of this play is ludicrous. The only possible place to go is toward the sideline, which the Colts would've been covering like crazy. They tried a 5-yd out to Tate and Stafford threw it away. The best positive outcome was Tate catching it and instantly going out of bounds, giving Prater a 38-yd FG instead of a 43-yarder. Great. The next best outcome was what happened, incomplete pass. The other possible outcomes were all negative:
  1. Tate catches the ball but gets tackled in-bounds. Result: Game over, Colts win.
  2. Stafford gets sacked. Result: Game over, Colts win.
  3. The offense commits a penalty, leading to a 10 sec runoff.  Result: Game over, Colts win.
  4. Tate fumbles, doesn't matter who recovers.  Result: Game over, Colts win.
  5. Stafford fumbles, doesn't matter who recovers.  Result: Game over, Colts win.
  6. Stafford throws a pick.  Result: Game over, Colts win.
Out of 8 possible outcomes, 1 marginally increases the Lions' odds, 1 is neutral, and 6 essentially ensure their defeat. Running that play was STUPID. No excuse.

The Game

I missed about half of it, so I'll have to base my half-baked analysis off of what I did see, along with stuff like box scores and what other people are saying. Not super in-depth, sorry.

First, the rushing attack... Ok, we're not the '72 Dolphins, but the NFL doesn't run like that anymore either. 116 rushing yards was good enough for 11th in the league, and 4.8 yards per attempt was good enough for 9th. We only averaged 83 rushing yards per game last year, so 116 would be a big improvement, if we can keep it up. The Colts were pretty banged up, and aren't a good defensive team in general.

Second, pass protect... 1 sack, 6 QB hits is decent, not great. And of course, this was the Colts. Tennessee has a stouter D line, so this next game will be more of a challenge. Still, when Stafford puts out a performance like he did, some credit has to go to the line.

Third, speaking of Stafford... #4 in Total QBR, #2 in Passer Rating, and as for FootballOutsiders... Well, they really liked him:

He didn't go down field much, which resulted in a ridiculously high completion %. As they mentioned, he used his RBs REALLY well in the passing game. Riddick and Abdullah are pretty good multi-purpose backs, totalling 10 catches on 10 targets for 120 yards and 2 TDs between the two. He spread it around pretty well too, targeting Marvin Jones 10 times, Tate 7, Ebron 5 and Boldin 3. I'd like to see him look for Boldin more. Jones had the worst catch rate, and that's probably in part due to the fact that Stafford often was trying to force something there when Boldin was open on a shorter route.

All told, I think this could be a pretty good offense. Stafford looks like he's still figuring out who to throw to, but that should start to smooth out as the season moves on. He'll have to face tougher defenses down the road, but it's really hard to take away 4 credible receiving threats AND stop a less-than-anemic running game. The defense gave up a bunch of yards and points, which isn't ideal. I didn't see a lot of pressure being put on Luck, which is a huge red flag. When Preseason Stud Kerry Hyder wasn't in the game (2 sacks, 2 QB hits), the Lions managed only 3 QB hits and 0 sacks. That needs to get better if they're going to compete for a playoff spot.

Next Game

The Lions face the Titans. QB Marcus Mariota had a mediocre game vs. the Vikings in week 1. He's a running QB who can throw, although he still makes some rookie-level mistakes with the ball (1 fumble, 1 BAD interception). The Lions will need to both pressure him AND contain him in the pocket, no easy charge. DeMarco Murray is Tennessee's only other "name" on offense, but he didn't get much on the ground in week 1. They really don't have a lot of weapons.

Their defense is a bit stouter than the offense. They managed to shut down Minnesota's running game (to the chagrin of my fantasy team), but they still lost. Now the Vikes are no great shakes either, with Bridgewater's injury basically leaving them one-dimensional on offense, and they really only managed the win thanks to the 2 defensive TDs.

Initially I had the Lions penciled in for a Loss in week 1, and they nearly complied. However, they might be a bit better than I expected, and the Colts might be a bit worse. The Titans are definitely a bad team, although I don't expect them to be a walkover.

Prediction: Lions, by less than a TD.