If you're been following me long enough, you know I love playing around with statistics and explaining things "by the numbers."
When a game ends, we look at some key stats: final score, passing yards, rushing and receiving leaders, turnovers and maybe something like sacks if they stand out. But what you don't see is how those stats fit into a larger league-wide or historical context.
Stats, of course, never tell the whole story, but they sometimes tell the most interesting and entertaining ones.
Those statistical "stories" are the rationale behind this article, and hopefully 15 or so to come in the weeks following if this one is well-received enough. This is my pet project for the season, so be forthcoming with your feedback (be it positive or negative) in the comments, and kick it around to your friends if you like it.
Basically, if this first one is successful, you'll see more of them. If it's not, you won't. So do with that information what you will.
And as you go through, keep in mind that I realize that one game is a small sample size. That makes this data less reliable as a predictor of future trends, but a whole lot of fun to talk about for now.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.
Matthew Stafford and a Tale of Two Halves
Obviously, one of the biggest stories of the week was that of Stafford's game. After three interceptions in the first half, his play stagnated throughout the third quarter. But in the fourth quarter, he guided a pair of comeback touchdown drives to lead the Lions to the win.
Perhaps the most shocking thing there is that Calvin Johnson did not catch a touchdown pass, and is only sixth in the league in receiving yardage with 111.
But not really (see the above disclaimer on small sample size). There is reason to believe this is more of an anomaly than a trend. It's not that Stafford hasn't had games with lots of interceptions, but he didn't throw his third interception last season until Week Four.
Of course, by that point, he had also thrown 11 touchdowns. Right now he stands at one. There is work to be done... but there's more to it than that.
The Running Game
The Lions scored three touchdowns against the Rams, and all three were scored by running backs. Two of those touchdown were even on running plays, and all of them were punched in from five yards or less away from the goal line.
So Stafford only had one touchdown pass, but it is perhaps more appropriate to say he only needed to throw one touchdown pass.
In fact, there were only two games last season in which Stafford did not throw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver. The Lions lost both of those games by a combined score of 68-30.
Against the Rams, the Lions scored two rushing touchdowns and a passing touchdown to a running back (Kevin Smith), and they won. It certainly wasn't an ideal win, but it had a semblance of offensive balance to it, especially in short-yardage situations.
And the effectiveness of the rushing attack wasn't just reflected in the scoring. Kevin Smith rushed for 62 yards in this game, averaging 4.8 yards per carry, a higher average than any Lions running back in the first four games of last season.
Jahvid Best's yards per carry was astronomical in the 2011 season's fifth game (Monday Night against Chicago) as a result of an 88-yard touchdown romp. Although Smith will never have that kind of explosiveness, he puts up workmanlike numbers and efficiency when healthy.
But don't get too excited just yet: Of 28 first downs for the Lions in this game, only five came on the ground.
The Other Side
The most stunning element of the Rams' performance against the Lions was the three first-half interceptions they grabbed off the arm of Matthew Stafford. It was the Rams' first game with three interceptions since October 31, 2010.
But despite a commanding advantage in the turnover game, the Rams couldn't put this one away. Why is that?
For starters, the Rams' offense was never in this game. Even superweapon Steven Jackson couldn't get it going, with only 53 yards on 21 carries. He also tacked on four receptions for 31 yards, and with those combined 25 touches, he earned three first downs, and no touchdowns.
Oddly enough, the Lions rushed for more total yards on less carries (83 yards on 18 carries) than the Rams did, even with Jackson leading the charge (78 yards on 27 carries).
Sam Bradford had a statistically efficient day, going 17-for-25 for 198 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers, but he did not complete a pass longer than 23 yards (that was the touchdown toss), which might have more to do with a lack of receiver talent than anything.
The Rams offense cracked the red zone only one time in this game, on a drive that started at the Lions' 44-yard line and ended with a field goal.
10—different receivers Stafford completed a pass to in this game
1—Stafford passes caught by Stafford himself
1—rushes, rushing yards, and touchdowns for Joique Bell on the season
14—receiving yards for breakout candidate Titus Young
15—penalty yards for breakout candidate Titus Young
96/1776—receptions/receiving yards Calvin Johnson is currently on pace for
32—pass completions for Stafford
25—passing attempts for Bradford
0—Rams with more total yards than Kevin Smith
3—sacks by Lions DTs in the game
0—sacks by other Lions players in the game
178—differential between Lions and Rams in total offensive yards
A Lot—extent to which turnovers affected this game