Statistics are a funny thing. After a win, they can make you feel a lot better. After a loss... they usually don't.
So this may not be a joyous article full of happy times. It's going to be tough, just like it was tough to watch the Detroit Lions suffer their first loss to the same team as last year.
But we're talking about statistics, and the first thing I can tell you about that is that losses happen. Sometimes they're ugly. Sometimes teams lose by 40 points. But no matter how bad it gets, it counts as one in the standings. As of now, the Lions are in a four-way tie in the NFC North at 1-1.
Losing isn't fun, but it happens. It has happened to every team in the NFC North equally as much as winning has.
So don't think of this as an epitaph for the Lions' 2012 season. Think of it as a new perspective on a bad day, and a road map for where the Lions can improve.
Same as last week, all stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference
The Run/Pass Balance
Well, give the Lions credit. They remained committed to the run against the most stout run defense in football.
At certain points, they even made that look like a good idea. But it ultimately led the team to 296 total yards of offense and an average of over 4.9 yards per offensive play.
Take away Joique Bell's 50-yard catch-and-run which happened during garbage time, and that number plummets to under 4.2 yards per play.
Doesn't sound too bad, but the commitment to the rushing attack dragged that average down far more than it needed to. The Lions ran the ball 26 times for 82 yards, less than 3.1 yards per carry.
By contrast, the Lions dropped back to pass 34 times, and even including the lost yardage from two sacks, the Lions gained an average of about 6.3 yards per pass play, and 11.3 yards per completion.
To be fair, Stafford was erratic all day, and there is no particular guarantee that passing the ball more would have helped. I don't even fault the Lions for trying to commit to the run for more than the first two drives. The Lions threw the ball 50 times against the 49ers in 2011, but only earned a net of 30 more yards on 16 more passing attempts.
It's also worth noting that last year, when the Lions went pass-happy, the 49ers notched five sacks for 49 yards, as compared to two sacks for 14 yards last week.
But the Lions generally perform best when they leave a 50/50 run/pass split in the rear-view mirror. In this instance, they didn't (43 percent rush, 57 percent pass), and it seemed to hamstring the offense.
Fix One Leak, Spring Another
Last year, it was possible to sum up why the Lions lost to the 49ers in two words: Frank Gore.
Gore ran for 141 yards on 15 carries last season, and while he was still highly effective in this game, the Lions actually did a descent job of bottling him up, limiting him to 89 yards on 17 carries. Sure, that's still 5.2 yards per carry, but it's also a lot more manageable than the 9.2 yards per carry he put up last season.
So in a way, you could argue that the Frank Gore problem was solved. At the very least, he wasn't the reason the Lions lost the game.
No, the man that beat the Lions in this game was Alex Smith, just as I said the Lions should dare him to.
Smith played an exceptionally efficient game, a sharp contrast to last season. Smith went 17-for-32 in 2011 for 125 yards, a touchdown and an interception. In 2012, he had more completions (20) in less attempts (31) for 100 more yards (226) and two touchdowns with no turnovers.
Did Smith shred the Lions for 400 yards and five touchdowns? No, but he didn't need to. That's not the kind of quarterback he is, or the kind of team the 49ers are. They needed Smith to slow the tempo down, move the ball and prevent turnovers, and he did that to the tune of about 7.3 yards per passing attempt on about a 65 percent completion rate.
It seems that anytime a quarterback is not the most talented player in his offense, he is accused of being a game manager. A week ago, I would have levied the same criticism on Smith, but then he converted three critical 3rd-and-long situations to Michael Crabtree late in the game.
That's not a trait of a game-managing quarterback. That's the trait of a quarterback who can be trusted with the game on the line.
Titus Young Watch:
Through two games, the Lions' biggest 2012 breakout candidate is, as a net measure, worthless as a wide receiver.
I'm not being mean, here. This is statistically proven.
In two games, Young has two receptions for 25 yards. In those same two games, Young has taken two penalties for 25 yards.
That means Young's net effect on the passing game so far is zero yards.
If this truly is to be a breakout season for Young, somebody should probably remind him that the season started two weeks ago.
- 4—Point differential for the Lions through two games in 2012
+ 52—Point differential for the Lions through two games in 2011
- 3—Turnover margin for the Lions at this point in 2012
+ 6—Turnover margin for the Lions at this point in 2011
65.2—Stafford's completion percentage after two games in 2011
63.8—Stafford's completion percentage after two games in 2012
2—Number of pass deflections by the Detroit Lions secondary this season (both by Drayton Florence)
2—Number of pass deflections by Stephen Tulloch this season
29.5—Average yards gained per Joique Bell reception
2—Number of Joique Bell receptions this season
1—Difference all of that makes in win count differential over last year
0—Amount of remaining controversy from "Handshake-Gate"
0—Amount of controversy there should have been in the first place