Cold Hard Autopsy: The Detroit Lions
by Justin Henry
Cold Hard Football Facts' Dr. Death (@jrhwriting)
Fitted at Thanksgiving in champion splendor
Detroit celebrated turkey day with scoring bender
The NFC North seemed theirs to be taken
That win, however, appeared to be their last
Three December losses ravaged them fast
Another miserable year for Team Forsaken
So it's a day late. Bah humbug! This coroner was so full of Christmas spirit (read: collecting items for displaced Raiders fans, an annual tradition), that he forgot to send in the Lions autopsy, which was written Monday afternoon.
Like the Lions, the coroner "missed it by THAT much". His work continues....
TIME OF DEATH: 7:40 PM EST, Sunday, December 22, 2013 (by overtime loss to New York)
You don't know 'winter's discontent' until you watch a team's season begin to disintegrate under the
spiraling flakes of a Philadelphia blizzard. Ten days earlier, the Detroit Lions moved to 7-5 following their largest win over the Packers in forty years, crushing them 40-10 on Thanksgiving afternoon. At that point, Detroit had a half-game lead on Chicago (with a tiebreaker sweep), and were up one and a half on the ailing Packers. It seemed as though the football Gods, for once, were smiling down on the unlucky Motor City.
Ten days after giving thanks for their bountiful circumstances, the Lions found themselves up 14-0 over the Eagles in wintry Philadelphia. That was before a fourth quarter filled with LeSean McCoy 10K runs, and a meme-worthy Matthew Stafford botched snap, snowed in the Lions. So much for streaking toward the postseason.
While Green Bay and Chicago trudged ahead, the Lions lost to a Ravens team that couldn't score touchdowns, needing to rely on Justin Tucker's shoe six times (the death blow, an upright-kissing 61-yarder). A week later, with the season on the line, the Lions gave away a fourth quarter lead to the Giants, and were outpunched in overtime. Detroit's had many lousy seasons, but it hurts more to miss out when you've come within striking distance.
1. Turnovers, Failure to Cash In
Matthew Stafford's girlfriend took to Twitter to rip on Lions fans who booed the team during their elimination game on Sunday. There's been plenty to boo, not so much because of demoralizing lack of quality, but in the mold of missed opportunities and careless mistakes.
Matthew Stafford's only been sacked 18 times this season, so it's either poor judgment or too many hurried throws that explains his 19 interceptions, tied with Joe Flacco for fourth most in the NFL. The Lions are second in most giveaways in the NFL with 34, a full seven behind the very Giants who eliminated them without malice or prejudice. Detroit is also second in fumbles (27) and fumbles lost (15).
Of the Lions' 34 turnovers, 21 have come in the last six games. Think about that; this comes after 13 giveaways across the first nine. Detroit is 3-5 on the year when turning the ball over three or more times, and 1-5 across those last six (each game had at least three turnovers).
Detroit is also responsible for giving away four touchdowns off turnovers: three pick-sixes from Stafford's hand, and a fumble-six to Green Bay on Thanksgiving. In two of the pick-six games, Detroit lost by three points to both Tampa Bay and New York (Stafford threw the pick to Will Hill with a seven point lead late). No errant throws, and Detroit is 9-6, already clinching the North.
Because of these turnovers, the Lions are 23rd in Scoreability, scoring a point every 15.77 yards gained. That's a touchdown every 110.39 yards, whereas most contending teams should be under 100, unless their defense can bail them out.
2. Pass Defense Not Always Consistent
The Lions defense can lay claim to the league's best third down percentage, barely allowing 30 percent to convert. On the sliding scale, their run defense is more than solid, allowing 3.98 YPA, good for 12th in the league.
It's the pass defense that gets a little murky. Detroit is 27th in Negative Pass Plays, with just 30 sacks and 14 picks. Especially troubling was Jim Schwartz's installation of Jim Washburn as a defensive assistant. Washburn's 'Wide-9' scheme, which fizzled during a disastrous 2012 for the Eagles, isn't getting the job done with this talented defensive line.
Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley have combined for nine sacks, and rookie Ezekiel Ansah has eight, but 30 sacks is pretty light. Only three teams have less, and not by much. Atlanta and Chicago are tied for last with 28.
The lack of pressure, both up front and in containment, leaves Detroit vulnerable. The Lions give up 6.64 Real Passing Yards Per Attempt, 11th most, while their 4010 passing yards allowed are eighth most.
The Lions' 85.65 Defensive Passer Rating is 13th worst, but comes with a caveat: six opponents have topped a 100.00 rating this year, and Detroit is 2-4 in those games. The two they won, over Dallas in October and Chicago in November, were by one and two points each.
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