At this point in the season, surely, the only number the Lions care about is 1-3.
That's understandable, both for the team itself and its fans. But, it's not like the 1-3 record got there on its own. Some things had to happen to get things to this point, and the stats help tell that story.
In previous weeks, I have pulled my stats from the fantastic Pro Football Reference, and that has worked out pretty well. But I've been playing around with NFL.com's Stats Lab this week, so I'm going to work in some graphics this week.
The first point of emphasis this week:
What's Wrong with the Lions' Passing Attack?
What you see here is a graph of the Lions' top three wide receivers: Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Titus Young. The white circle represents the league leaders in each respective stat, while the orange outline represents league averages.
Now, I shouldn't have to tell you that the big outline, the one that stretches well beyond the league average in most areas, is Johnson. But last year, the Lions made a living on big plays and touchdowns to Johnson. This year, opponents are neutralizing that.
All Lions receivers (but most notably Johnson) are below the league average in both 40-plus-yard receiving plays and receiving touchdowns.
This isn't just about Lions' opponents playing two high safeties to take away the deep pass because that type of coverage is just as likely to yield a big gain after a 10-yard route over the middle, presuming that receiver can make a man miss after the catch.
Similarly, this isn't about Matthew Stafford. Stafford had a shaky start to the season, particularly with his three-interception day against the Rams (which ironically is the Lions' only win this season), but he has thrown only one interception since that game.
Not too bad, other than a glaring lack of touchdown passes.
So where is the problem, exactly? Well, there are drops, of course. Brandon Pettigrew alone is on pace for eight drops of touchdown receptions this season.
But, the problem goes deeper than just dropped passes. Let's go back to that receiver graph but take Calvin Johnson out of the equation and replace him with, say, Ryan Broyles.
To be fair, Ryan Broyles actually doesn't have any stats on the season, and that's more or less expected at this point, given how far he is down the depth chart.
But look at Burleson and Young. Neither is even an average receiver in any statistical measure. Burleson comes close in receptions, but is well short in receiving yards.
A major part of the reason people expected the Lions offense to improve is that their focus on wide receivers would take some of the pressure off Johnson. But for that to happen, another receiver needs to prove that Johnson isn't the only deep threat (or threat, period) the Lions offense has.
Right now, teams are triple-covering Johnson and daring someone else to beat them, and nobody else has. In a nutshell, that's what's wrong with the passing game.
A Look at the Running Backs
At this point in the season, the Lions' rushing attack has been lackluster but promising in spurts.
The team clearly still misses Jahvid Best sorely, but of particular interest is how the Lions have filled that void. So, let's run down the Lions' top three running backs to this point in the season.
Smith has had a decent go of it, thus far...if you don't count the fact that he hasn't touched the ball in two games and is well below average in every category.
To be fair, Smith's average per game should really be twice what it is in this graph (so 58 yards per game), as the graph takes into account the last two games in which Smith was completely unused in the offense. But even still, Smith is clearly the weak link in the Lions backfield right now.
That said, at least he's well-rounded in his mediocrity.
It's more than fair to compare Leshoure's stats and Smith's stats side-by-side because they have (basically) both played in two games, with a game each against a weak (St. Louis, Tennessee) and strong (San Francisco, Minnesota) run defense.
And while it may not be by much, Leshoure has eclipsed Smith in every area. Yet still, Leshoure falls well short of league averages in every measure (including rushing average per game, the stat immune to his two-game suspension).
Granted, Leshoure has played in only two games, but he has turned in very different performances in those two games, and it remains to be seen which we can expect more of. At the very least, we can assume Leshoure won't be lacking in touches, as he's averaging 23.5 per game at this point.
Perhaps, the most surprising thing about Joique Bell to this point in the season is that the Lions appear to be using him in Jahvid Best's role.
Bell's rushing numbers are certainly nothing to fear, but he has emerged as a nice receiving target, especially late in games. The stats show that Bell is, believe it or not, one of the best receiving backs in the league right now. Go figure.
The funny thing is, while Bell appears to have taken on Best's role as running-back-who-is-actually-more-effective-as-a-receiver, their running styles are completely different.
While Bell may not be a bruiser with the ball in the same way Leshoure is, he is certainly difficult to bring down. Best is shifty and tends to avoid contact, while Bell has shown an ability to shake loose from it.
I hereby devote this "quick stats" section to helping point out an unlikely positive that hasn't gotten a lot of attention, thus far, this season—the defense.
4—Number of special teams touchdowns given up by the Lions this year
5—Number of special teams touchdowns given up by the other 31 NFL teams combined
0—Number of previous NFL teams in history to give up both a punt and kick return touchdown in consecutive weeks
28.5—Points allowed per game by the Lions (NFL rank: 26th)
18—Points allowed per game by Lions defense (would be NFL rank: seventh), factoring out defensive and special teams scores
213—Passing yards per game allowed by Lions defense (NFL rank: 10th)
34—Third-down conversion percentage allowed by Lions defense (NFL rank: 8th)
And as an unrelated aside, I would like to point out that the Green Bay Packers are currently the most penalized team in the league with 40 over four games.
The Lions are the 22rd-most penalized team with 23 charged penalties in four games. Do with that information what you will, but I found it interesting.
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