Detroit Lions: 5 Ways NFL Experts Were Wrong About This Team
The Detroit Lions are turning heads and raising eyebrows around the NFL world. After a road game and a home game against teams coming off double-digit-win seasons, the Lions are 2-0 with an NFL-best plus-52 point differential.
Many thought the Lions could have a strong season after their 6-10 performance last year, and some even thought the Lions could contend for a Wild Card spot if the breaks went their way. However, one-eighth of the way into their season, the Lions look like one of the NFL's best teams.
Here are five ways the "experts" were wrong about the Lions...some of which may surprise you.
The Detroit Lions Pass Rush Will Be Unstoppable
Many thought the Lions' pass rush—spearheaded by Ndamukong Suh and the defensive line—would be unstoppable. The heavy pressure brought by the front four, many supposed, would take pressure off the much-maligned secondary.
That hasn't been the case. According to Pro Football Reference, the Lions' credited four sacks to date rank them 18th in the NFL, below the league average of 4.7. Granted, three of the four sacks came from Suh and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, but the Lions' pass rush has not hit home often.
Sacks aren't the only way a defense can pressure the quarterback. Pro Football Focus reviews game footage and grades individual performances, including QB hits and pressures. PFF's team pass rush grades, though, sync up perfectly with the official sack numbers: the Lions rank 16th in the NFL, and their plus-2.4 cumulative grade almost exactly matches the NFL average of plus-2.3 (the league-leading San Francisco 49ers grade out at plus-18.1).
The talent along the Lions front line is undeniable, and the Buccaneers and Chiefs doubtlessly game-planned to minimize the Lions pass rush. However, the results are clear: the Lions' pass rush has not been a major factor in their 2011 success.
The Detroit Lions Offensive Line Will Struggle to Run Block
The Lions offensive line has been in perpetual rebuilding mode since the tragic death of young All-Pro guard Eric Andolsek, and freak on-field paralysis of guard Mike Utley. In 2011, though, the Lions returned all five starters along the offensive line.
The line was rightly criticized for poor run blocking in 2010. According to Football Outsiders, the Lions ranked dead last in the NFL in Adjusted Line Yards (their run-blocking metric). Then-rookie tailback Jahvid Best routinely had little or no daylight to work with, and he struggled to make the explosive plays he made in college.
Though Football Outsiders has not calculated ALY for this season yet, Pro Football Focus grades the Lions as the NFL's 4th-best run-blocking team. The Lions' plus-4.1 run-block grade is well above the NFL average of minus-3.35. If this trend keeps up, Best will have much more space to explode through in 2011.
The Detroit Lions Offensive Line Will Struggle to Protect Matthew Stafford
In 2010's season opener, Chicago Bears DE Julius Peppers beat Jeff Backus cleanly around the corner and destroyed Matthew Stafford, almost literally. Stafford missed most of the season with a separated shoulder and missed the rest of it when he aggravated the injury.
The importance of Matthew Stafford's well-being has led many to criticize the Lions' pass protection, especially the play of left tackle Jeff Backus. Speculation that Backus would be better suited for guard has followed him since college. Legendary Lions left tackle Lomas Brown voiced that opinion in the wake of the 2011 NFL draft after the Lions failed to draft a replacement for Backus.
However, the Lions are No. 1 in the NFL at protecting the passer, according to Pro Football Focus's pass-block grades. They also sat atop the New York Life Protection Index after Week 1 (it hasn't been calculated for Week 2 yet).
Though many worried about the Lions offensive line keeping Matthew Stafford upright, he hasn't been sacked once.
The Detroit Lions Will Get No Help from Their 2011 Draft Class
The Lions' 2011 rookie draft class drew rave reviews for adding a superlative talent to an already-stocked defensive line and adding two skilled weapons to help the offense reach its potential.
When second-round pick RB Mikel Leshoure ruptured his Achilles tendon, though, the Lions lost the use of his talent for 2011—and possibly beyond. When No. 13 overall selection DT Nick Fairley had foot surgery in August, he was supposed to miss "three to four weeks," yet has not returned. When second-round choice WR Titus Young reported to camp with "leg stiffness"—a hamstring injury would sideline him for almost all of training camp—it was presumed he'd be too green to help the Lions this season.
In Week 2, Young caught five passes for 89 yards, including Young's spectacular 43-yard grab that converted a 3rd-and-28. Clearly, the lack of training camp reps didn't hurt Young's ability to stretch the field.
The Detroit Lions Defensive Backfield Will Struggle in Pass Coverage
Like the Lions offensive line, the Lions defensive backfield has been an annual merry-go-round. The Lions have signed or drafted at least two new starters almost every season for the last 10 years.
The only new starter this year was former Browns cornerback Eric Wright, who turned down a better contract to come to Detroit and reclaim his career. The Lions also re-signed cornerback Chris Houston, who surprisingly drew few nibbles while testing the free-agent waters.
After two games, the Lions are tied for second in the NFL with four interceptions, behind only the New York Jets' five. Houston has two of those picks, and Wright one of the others.
Safety Amari Spievey, drafted last season as a cornerback out of Iowa, picked off the fourth—showing how comfortable he's become in his new role helping Louis Delmas's prowl the middle of the field.
The Lions secondary, along with new linebackers Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant, currently grade out as the No. 1 pass coverage unit in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. Show me the expert who predicted that.