18 Nov Stromme’s Takes: Are the Detroit Lions on the Prowl?
By: Mike Stromme
The year is 2016. The Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions, Donald Trump is the next leader of the free world, the city of Cleveland nearly had not one, not two, but three championships (shoutout UFC Heavyweight Champion Stipe Miocic) within six months of each other and entering the Week 11 of the NFL season, the Detroit Lions lead the perennially vaunted NFC North division. Your local seven-day weather forecast calls for airborne swine and a 75% chance of frost in Hell.
Nevermind the former three topics, they’ve been beaten to death by just about every pundit, talking head, hot-take spewer, megaphone wielder and soapbox stepper in social media, mainstream media, alternative media and corner pub in the continent (yes, Canadians are watching too). Nevermind Mexican walls, NAFTA, tax returns, LeBron James, Kris Bryant or giant “W’s” blowing majestically in a city world-renowned for their gusty metropolis streets… How in the name of Matt Miller are the Detroit “Motor City” Lions leading the NFC North just days away from Thanksgiving?
Now granted, the lead is merely based upon a tiebreaker that stems from an overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings; the Lions and Vikings have identical records. But were rolling with this, god dammit! The Lions are in first place, baby!
Is this lead a sustainable one? Well, let’s dive into a few aspects that may deviate this 2016 Lions squad from the same ol’ Lions of yesteryear.
Matthew Stafford is a different quarterback.
Who would a thought that the subtraction of one of the greatest wide receivers in Calvin “Megatron” Johnson would be the best thing for Matthew Stafford’s career? But again it’s 2016, I guess anything is possible.
During Johnson’s time with Stafford as a full-time starter (2011-2015), he was targeted 10.6 times per game. Stafford completed 61.7% of his passes and never had a sub-2.0 INT %. While feeding Golden Tate 8.2 targets per game and Marvin Jones 7.1, Stafford’s completion percentage has rose to an impressive 67.3%, is and his 5 total INT in 2016 have finally kept him INT% below 2.0 (1.6) for the first time since 2010; he played just three games to start the season before torn AC joint in his shoulder ended his season.
Not only is Stafford having his most statistically mature season to date, he’s winning games for his football team. The perpetual rhetoric surrounding Stafford was that he was a better fantasy QB than in reality; he could put up the stats
but couldn’t beat good teams or win when it counts. Well, he’s doing his best to change that narrative over the last 18 months or so.
From 2009-2014, the Detroit Lions were 3-32 against teams with a winning record under Matthew Stafford.
From 2015-Week 10 of 2016, the Lions are 5-5 in games against teams with a winning record.
Since Jim Bob Cooter took over as Offensive Coordinator following the Lions’ 2015 bye, Stafford is 5-2 in such contests.
Stafford and the Lions lead the NFL in 4th quarter comebacks/game-winning drive with five. All of their wins this season have been on the back of Matthew Stafford leading this team down the stretch.
Stafford is 4th in the league in TD passes (18)
Dak Presscott, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr, Tyrod Taylor, Andy Dalton and Matt Ryan are the only QBs in the NFL who have started 9+ games and have a lower INT% than Matthew Stafford.
Don’t look now, but Matthew Stafford might be a “winner”. How’s that for a hot take, Skip!?
The Defense will get better:
If there’s one aspect of the game that’s holding this team, it’s their defense; specifically their secondary. The Lions have allowed a league-worst completion percentage (74.1%) and opposing passer rating (112.4), all while making just 4 interceptions in 9 games. Against the run, they have room for improvement as well. They’ve allowed 963 total rushing yards (16th) and 4.3 yards/run (20th).
That being said, t
his is a defense that bends but does not break. Detroit has allowed just FOUR rushing touchdowns to opposing ball carriers and is middle of the pack in total points allowed (15th) despite allowing 20 passing touchdowns this season.
Injuries are mu
ch to blame for these struggles, three of their best defensive players have been battling injuries all season.Top CB Darius Slay has missed two games total, but has been dealing with a nagging hamstring injury all season. LB DeAndre Levy has been sidelined since Week 1 with a quad/knee injury, but is participating in practice.
And, the team’s top pass-rusher, Ezekiel Ansah, has played just six games this season; he’s currently dealing with an ankle injury. While all three have not been the model of consistency from a health standpoint, I expect them to come back at some point this season. If they all get healthy at the same time, watch out. With the way that this offense has been competing, an average defense would be substantial to this team’s success going forward.
The Lions have been the steadiest team in the NFC North in 2016:
The Minnesota Vikings were the final team to lose this season, they’ve lost four in a row since. The Green Bay Packers have failed to impress in every chance they get and have lost four of their last five games, the last two were decisive defeats to the Indianapolis Colts (at home) and in Tennessee.
The Lions have been a different story, they’ve been a (shockingly) consistent ball club. Week 1, they beat Indianapolis on the road, lost their next three games by a combined 11 points only to win four of their next five heading into the bye.
If I were given those three narratives blindly and was told to pick a team to win this division going forward, I would take what Detroit has done in a heartbeat.
Each of these teams play each other once more this season, including a pivotal Lions-Vikings matchup on Thanksgiving.
This will get interesting down the stretch:
Based on Pro Football Reference’s simple rating system (SRS), the Vikings have the easiest remaining schedule based on the average SRS of their remaining opponents with -13.6. The Lions have the next easiest at -6.9 and the Packers have the hardest remaining slate with an average SRS of -2.2. Each team has a 1-1 record against the other two teams with a rematch pending.
In a race that appears to be tight down to the very end, I’ll gladly take the team that’s been the model of consistency among the three in the Detroit Lions. In my eyes, they’re the favourite to take this division. Hey it’s 2016, seemingly anything is possible.