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2011 Was a Deceiving Season for the Detroit Lions Offense

The Detroit Lions went 10-6 in their first winning season in forever. They made the play-offs and lost to the New Orleans Saints, who was a front runner to win the Superbowl at the time. Matthew Stafford played a full season and threw for over 5,000 yards. Most fans are happy with how the season went. It seems most fans see a defense that needs to be addressed and are happy with the offense. Most fans are being deceived.

In the ten wins of 2011, how many teams with winning records did the Lions beat? ... None! Not once did they beat a team that was better than average. The average record of the teams they beat? 6-10.

Well maybe the Lions played well and just barely lost to the better teams, right? Not so fast. In the Lions six losses, they were outscored 188 to 121. That averages out to be 31 to 20 per game. And that is including the 41 to 45 debacle in Green Bay to end the season. Take that game away and they were outscored 143 to 80 in the other five games. That averages to be 28 to 16 per game. In fact, the 41 points they scored in Green Bay was the only loss in which they scored more than 19 points. Their lowest opponents score was 23.

Now just stop and think about what this is saying. Look at the entire picture here for the Lions offense. Matthew Stafford had possibly the 5th best season for a quarterback in NFL history. He had the 5th all-time yards, 5th in completions, 3rd in attempts, and 7th all-time in touchdowns. Calvin Johnson's season was the 7th best in yards for a receiver in NFL history and his 16 TD's was 14th best. Brandon Pettigrew had the third most receptions for Tight Ends in 2011. How do you have those kind of players and have such a bad offense every time you play a decent team?

I went through the season looking for how many good solid drives the offense put together for a touchdown. This only includes drives starting in their own territory and the TD did not come on a big play. These are solid, consistent, play by the offense type of drives. There were only 6 games where the Lions had more than 2 good drives. Three times they had less than 2 good drives. A good offense should be able to put together at least two good drives a game.

In a 16 game schedule there are 64 quarters of play. The Lions had 29 quarters (45%) with no touchdowns. They had 13 quarters (20%) where they scored more than 1 TD. A total of 28 TDs. Think on that for a moment.... 56% of the Offense's touchdowns came inside of only 20% of the quarters they played! To put it in perspective, the Lions big time offense did most of their scoring inside of only 13 quarters while that same offense had no touchdowns in 29 quarters. To put it even clearer, they had this inconsistent and bad output on a season they played 10 games against opponents with 8-8 or worse records.

In the large picture, these are not horrible numbers, but they are far from being the numbers of a good offense. The Detroit Lions offense that sports the likes of Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and Brandon Pettigrew, surrounded by other good receivers, should be more consistent than this. That offense should not disappear when they face a decent team. They had far too many games where the offense was non-existent for half of the game. 8 games where they only scored 1 TD or less in the entire first half! Why?

The first answer off most fans lips will be there was no running game. And they would be right. But why was there no running game? That is a two part answer.

1) Running Back issues - The Lions RBs were nothing special, and definitely nothing to fear. Maurice Morris looks to have finally hit his end. Smith had one good game against the worst run defense in the NFL, other than that he is mediocre at best. Jahvid Best cannot stay healthy. The truth is, the Lions have average running backs and nothing more. But even with average running backs, they should still have an average running game wouldn't you say? The Lions running game was Horrible with a Capital "H"! That leads to the second part.

2) Scheme - Far too often the RBs were asked to carry the ball on delayed hand-offs as they used the Draw Play out of the shotgun. There will never be a good running game that thrives from the shotgun scheme. But not only did they have to run from the shotgun half the time, but when they were under conventional sets, the running backs never had a lead blocker.

Single back running games are meant for running backs like Barry Sanders or Chris Johnson. They are meant for players that are so quick and shifty and have such good vision the defense cannot pin them down. You put in average to decent running backs in a single back style, and they will not make a good living.

Yet the Lions Offensive Coordinator, Scott Linehan insists on running a shotgun set and even when he comes out of the shotgun, he stays in the single back set. When he wants more blocking, he uses two tight ends. Now that might work to some degree, IF the running plays were called to the outside more often. But to have a two TE set and run inside most of the time where those TE's have no effect? Ridiculous! Then to run inside so often, not only with a single back set and average running backs, but to do it behind an underpowered Center? Pure foolishness.

The Lions offense this season was a big inconsistent problem when you really get down and look past the total points and passing yards. That problem was not due to a lack of talent so much as a coordinator who refused to adapt to what talent he had. He had great passing talent and stuck with that. He had mediocre running talent and was not willing to adapt his scheme to help it.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, sounds like an educated coucher. The fact that the NYG's won the Superbowl with a 9-7 record jsut deflates this argument. They lost every meaningful game, until it counted. I will note the obvious, our offense and defense need to get better. I think it is more timing than talent or play calling. Again, obvious, both need to improve. However I will take a playoff game, ten win season over a finally tuned offense that gets bounced in a division game that keeps them from the playoffs. Give our team credit for improving.