Detroit Lions: Why Ryan Broyles Is the Key in 2012 and Beyond

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Detroit Lions: Why Ryan Broyles Is the Key in 2012 and Beyond
Brett Deering/Getty Images
Ryan Broyles, #84, Detroit Lions

A lot has been made of the Lions running game this offseason in the media. Their lack of a ground game and how they are doomed without more balance on offense has been the constant cry of football analysts.

I won't lie to you, there is some legitimacy to that statement. A running game that is more effective would do wonders to help bring safeties into the box and thus open up Calvin Johnson and Titus Young deep downfield. A healthy Mikel LeShoure combined with Kevin Smith (and maybe Jahvid Best) should help with that.

But let's be honest, short of having the reincarnation of Barry Sanders behind this offensive line the running game is never going to be the strength of this offense. The likes of Stephen Peterman, Dom Raiola and Rob Sims aren't blowing anyone off the ball on a consistent basis. Hell, Brandon Pettigrew may be the team’s best run blocker and he's a TE.

It's my opinion, though, that the Lions don't need a running game.

The explosiveness of this offense is pretty apparent: fourth in points per game at 29.6 and fifth in yards per game at 396.1. These numbers are only going to continue to get better as Stafford continues to grow as a QB.

For all of the offense’s explosiveness it was lacking in efficiency last season. The Lions were tied for 18th in the league in third down percentage, converting only 36% of the time. Expectedly, they were also 18th in the league in time of possession at 30:09 per game. 

To prove that offensive efficiency is important in terms of offensive, defensive and team success let’s look at some numbers for the other four members of the top five offenses in the league.

Team

Pts/G

3rd%

ToP

Points Allowed Per/G

Overall Record

NO

34.2

57

31m 59s

21.2

13-3

GB

35

48

30m 29s

22.4

15-1

NE

32.1

46

28m 47s

21.4

13-3

DET

29.6

36

30m 09s

24.2

10-6

CAR

25.4

40

30m 16s

26.8

6-10

Everyone that has taken a statistics course knows that correlation does not equal causation, but it’s hard to ignore that the top three offenses in the league had a higher third down conversion percentage than the “big play” Lions and Panthers.

Lost in all of this is that scoring defense was improved based on the criteria we’re considering. It makes sense: If your offense is on the field more not only does it wear out the opposing teams defense, but it gives yours time to rest. Again, defensive talent, turnovers, etc. come into play, but it’s hard to overlook the part that offensive efficiency and consistency play in improving defense.

The Lions converting more than one third of the time on third down and having the ball on average for more than half the game may seem pretty good, but let’s dig a little deeper.

TEAM

3rd %

ToP (DET)

SF

13

30 m 21 s

ATL

8

25 m 03 s

CHI

23

30 m 54 s

GB

50

30 m 48 s

NO

18

35 m 06 s

GB

36

28 m 20 s

AVG

24.6666667

30 m 05 s

 

This makeshift table shows the Lions third down conversion rate and time of possession in each of their six losses last season.

 

The best example of how lack of third down success and thus a shorter time of possession leads to losses is the Atlanta game. The Lions converted just one third down (out of 12) the entire game and only scored a TD because of a 57-yard bomb to Calvin Johnson.

There are obviously some outliers in this group, though. In exactly zero of the Lions losses last year did they have a third down percentage better than 50%. In the one game that the Lions reached 50% at home against Green Bay, three Stafford interceptions and 11 Detroit penalties helped the Packers to victory and led the offense to score only 15 points.

Also, despite having the ball for over 35 minutes against the Saints, the Lions offense only put up 17 points. The explanation for this is likely their lack of success on third down combined with 11 penalties for over 100 yards.

To demonstrate that third-down conversion rates and time of possession make a difference, let’s compare those same stats in games in which the Lions won.

Team

3rd%

ToP (DET)

TB

18

36 m 25 s

KC

33

32 m 24 s

MIN

41

34 m 09 s

DAL

30

23 m 21 s

CHI

45

20 m 57 s

DEN

33

28 m 34 s

CAR

54

33 m 07 s

MIN

50

31 m 14 s

OAK

11

31 m 33 s

SD

69

32 m 31 s

AVG

38.4

30 m 26 s

 

It’s clear that the Lions had more success as a team when they were more efficient on third down and didn’t have to rely on big plays alone to score points. While it’s a modest increase in terms of time of possession, there are once again outliers that skew the results.

For instance, in the win against Chicago it’s pretty clear that the Lions won on big plays based on their time of possession (and wasn’t it sweet to watch Jahvid outrun and Calvin stiff-arm players on the way to their respective long TDs?). Additionally, I think everyone remembers Megatron’s two big touchdowns in both the Tampa Bay and Oakland games.

As a side note, the offense played pretty poorly in those two games, especially in terms of efficiency. That shows the true value of having a Calvin Johnson on your team.

I digress. The point is that the Lions have overcome their lack of efficiency and consistency on offense by scoring on big plays. This, Lions faithful, is where Broyles will show his true value.

Detroit has lacked someone who is effective at working the middle of the field for quite some time. Burleson has not proven to be the “Black Wes Welker,” that he proclaimed to be last season. Additionally, as much as I love Pettigrew, Linehan has never used him as much more than protection blanket for Stafford. Frankly, the 3-5 yard curl isn’t helping the offense much on third down.

Broyles, the all-time leading receiver in FBS history has all the necessary tools to be a dangerous slot receiver. Broyles is a good route runner, he is quick enough to separate from coverage and maybe most importantly has a great understanding of finding the soft spots in zone coverage.

Don't believe me? Ask Scott Linehan: “His average per catch for a guy that spent a lot of his college career inside in the slot was pretty lethal,” (over 13 yards per reception) and “Personally, I thought he had the best understanding and feeling of the middle of the field as a receiver that I’ve seen in a long time.” (Props to Tim Twentyman at Detroitlions.com for the quotes).

Though much maligned for his pick of Broyles over the likes of OC Peter Konz and DBs Trumaine Johnson and Josh Robinson, it appears to this blogger that he may have been able to help both the offense AND defense through the pick of Ryan Broyles.  

We may not see Broyles have a ton of production this year in a crowded WR group, but I’d be willing to bet that a number of his catches come on third down where the Detroit Lions need him the most. 

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