Evaluating all three phases of the Detroit Lions against the league

It’s true. Our Detroit Lions are 8-4 after 13 weeks of the NFL season, and also hold a two game lead over both the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings (which for all intents and purposes may as well be a three game lead due to two head to head victories).

Yes, that sounds all well and good. For a large number of us, it wouldn’t be fair to say we expected such a level of success this season, so it’s absolutely a breath of fresh air. But (yes, there’s always a but…), but, just how good has the team actually been compared to the rest of the league? Let’s dig in.


Thanks to our friends at Football Outsiders, we can track the efficiency of drives each team has across the league, both offensive and defensive.

Lions League Average
Yards Per Drive 35.60 (7th) 32.28
Points Per Drive 2.26 (11th) 2.00
Drive Success Rate 73.5% (7th) 68.3%
Points Per Game 22.91 (18th) 22.85
Rushing Yards Per Game 81.2 (29th) 106.7
Passing Yards Per Game 256.1 (15th) 246.1

The Lions average 35.60 yards per drive, which is the seventh highest mark in the league. The average for each team is 32.28 yards per drive, leaving the Lions a little more than three yards per drive above the league average. The team averages 2.26 points per drive, 11th highest in the league. The league average for points per drive is exactly two, showing that the team is above the average league mark in this category as well. Another insightful stat is “drive success rate”, or “DSR”, which measures the amount of drives that result in a first down or touchdown. The Lions have achieved a first down or touchdown on 73.5% of their drives this season, the seventh highest mark across the NFL.

Bottom Line: The Lions move the ball efficiently, but more through the air than on the ground (not surprising… right?). Despite their ineptitude in the run game, they find a way to score points at a higher than average clip, and are held to the dreaded “three and out” just about as sparsely as the best teams in the league (26.5% of drives). Offensively, the Lions are an above average team, but only because of quarterback/pass catchers. Where would this team be without Matthew Stafford?


Lions League Average
Yards Allowed Per Drive 36.63 (29th) 32.16
Points Allowed Per Drive 2.20 (25th) 2.00
Drive Success Rate Against 74.1% (29th) 70.4%
Sacks 21 (T-26th) 26
Interceptions 10 (15th) 9
Fumbles Recovered 4 (T-25th) 6.5
Points Allowed Per Game 20.91 (15th) 22.9

By the numbers, the Lions have a very pedestrian defense, although they have shown signs of improvement recently. On average, teams are able to move the ball with general ease against Detroit, they don’t get to the quarterback nearly enough, and they don’t force a lot of turnovers in comparison to the rest of the league. The amount of points they allow per drive doesn’t stack up well against the rest of the league, but their overall points allowed per game is average. This shows a propensity to allow touchdowns as opposed to field goals. They allow a first down or touchdown on 74.1% of drives against, which allow ranks towards the bottom of the league. The saving grace is that although they generally allow the ball to be moved against them, the field position that their special teams unit puts them in to begin drives is very good, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Jeff Okudah has promise for Detroit Lions fans

Bottom Line: The Lions need to get more pressure on the quarterback, and find a way to get the defense off the field quicker. Only 25.9% of their drives end in a three-and-out, which also ranks towards the bottom of the league. A return to health will help the Lions, but there is plenty of room for improvement defensively.


Field Goals Made Field Goals Missed Field Goal % PAT Made PAT Missed
Matt Prater 26 (T-4th) 3 89.7% (5th, minimum 20 attempts) 23 2


Punts Average Net Yards Returns Average Return Yards
Sam Martin 46 48.6 yards (3rd) 44.8 (2nd) 25 6.3 (7th)


Kickoff Returns Average Kickoff Return Punt Returns Average Punt Return
Andre Roberts 24 22.1 yards (T-10) 14 14.6 yards

Lost in the shuffle of a great season for Stafford is the efficiency of the special teams unit. Sam Martin and Matt Prater have combined to become one of the most reliable kicking units in the entire league. With the offense’s tendency to stall out in the red zone (or before), Prater’s efficiency has been of the utmost importance. Also, with the defense’s bend-but-don’t-break tendency, Martin’s ability has bailed the team out numerous times as well. Not only does Martin deserve a pat on the back, but the gunners on the kicking units as well (primarily Don Carey and Johnson Bademosi). Andre Roberts has been a middle of the pack (at best) return man. Although his average return numbers look rather enticing, those numbers are a bit skewed because of a couple of long returns.

Bottom Line: The special teams units have been just as important to the team’s success as the strong quarterback play, although they fly a little more under the radar. They force bad opposing starting field position, make their field goals, and have found a couple of very timely big returns.


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