Detroit Lions: The 20-point riddle

The Detroit Lions offense had eight come from behind wins last year and they kept the Lions from winning the NFC North. Here's why.

TJ Lang commented this week about his line play and the ratings per player handed down by PFF, which is Pro Football Focus and their business is creating advanced analytics about every NFL play for every player and every team. In short, he wasn’t happy and doesn’t think much of their analytics. There are others like DVOA, which is Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. They do the same thing. You get the idea.

The Kiss Theory

Earlier this week I was chastised for being too simple. My analytics uses the Kiss Theory: “Keep It Simple Stupid”. Since I’ve been a life long “C” student, this was for me. All I use is the scoreboard. How I use it is where the debate began.

I’ve written before about how good a defense is based on whether or not they hold teams at or below 20 points. And it’s not just me, this 20 point threshold is well accepted. It was pointed out to me that I cannot simply determine the quality of a defense based on the scoreboard because of incidentals like say a special team that gives up a touchdown. I disagree because I know how to subtract. Take last weeks Lions game where Stafford threw an interception for a touchdown. The Lions won 35-23 but the Lions defense literally held the Cardinals to 16 points, not 23. Subtract Stafford’s pick six and the Lions defense only gave up 16 points. Simple.

But I took my criticism to heart and did some homework. As far as I know, this is not a measurable that has been accounted for within the NFL’s field of analytics because it’s never mentioned… but see what you think.

Twenty points or less

I took the 2016 regular season as an example and went through every team’s record and compiled the number of wins and losses for each team’s defense when holding their opponents to 20 points or less and came up with 162 wins and 44 losses. That works out to a 78.6 winning percentage.

But those numbers are skewed because of bad teams like Cleveland and San Francisco when combined they only won three games last year. So, I went with just the playoff teams, the good teams, to see if the numbers backed up what I considered common sense and here’s what I found.

If you were a playoff team in 2016, your chances of winning were 85.1 percent when holding teams to 20 points or less (80-14). Not unexpected. But when I looked at 21 points and over things changed dramatically. Now their chances of winning were only 53.6 percent (52-45). One game is left out, Seattle had a tie. So, even if you were a playoff team last year, your chances of winning where you gave up three touchdowns or more was virtually 50-50. There’s an old expression in sports: The scoreboard never lies.

Good defense or bad offense

This is where Detroit’s story is so telling. They held ten teams to 20 points or less last year. The only NFL team to surpass them were the New England Patriots (11). The problem wasn’t Detroit’s defense it was their offense. Of those ten opportunities, the Lions only won six of those games. That’s a 60 percent winning total, not the 85 percent the rest of the playoff teams logged.

There are more numbers that back this up. NFL Stats last year had the Lions 18th in total defense and 13th in scoring defense. The offense was 21st in total offense and 20th in scoring offense. Those numbers more than suggest the Lions defense outperformed the offense.

This simply verifies the quality of the Lions defense without all the analytics. So, here’s my question: Given all the accreditation advanced analytics receives, how is it teams who were graded higher didn’t make the playoffs? Stafford may have led the Lions to eight comeback wins last season but when the opportunity was there because of the defense it was the inconsistency of the offense that failed them.

Monday Night Football prediction

The New York Giants host the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football this week and there is great unrest in New York because of their horrid offensive line. But their defense racked up yet another game of 20 points or less holding the Cowboys to just 19. That’s the tenth time in their last 17 games they have not allowed a team to score three touchdowns or more. The Lions are no slouch because without Stafford’s pick six against the Cardinals, the Lions defense recorded their 11th game in their last 17 of 20 points or less.

The Lions need a running game, that’s all there is to it. Rookie wide receiver Kenny Golladay showed he can stretch the field with his diving 45-yard TD catch last week, which should get the Giants secondary to back off the box and hopefully open things up for Ameer Abdullah and the run game. Last year the Lions didn’t have Theo Riddick in New York and don’t forget Stafford only had nine fingers. It’s not December either. I had the Giants winning this game in my preseason picks, but I’ve changed my mind considering their anemic offense. First one to 20 wins.

Lions 23 Giants 17

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Chris Decker