By Carmen Vitali
FOX Sports NFC North Writer
The Lions are averaging a league-leading 35 points per game. They lead the NFL in total yards per game (436.8) and yards per play (6.49). Their 5.86 rushing yards per play average is tops in the league, too. They’re protecting quarterback Jared Goff with a second-ranked sack rate of 3.29%, allowing him to wheel and deal to those aforementioned 35 points.
The Lions are 1-3.
Insert the stick-figure gif poking the Lions’ defense. “C’mon. Do something.”
The Lions have just a -0.3 point differential per game. They are so close. If the defense was marginally better, the team could be sitting at 3-1 instead. The only game in which Detroit hasn’t scored at least 35 points was against the Vikings in Week 3, where the Lions only scored 28.
Against the Seahawks this past Sunday, the Lions gave up 555 yards of offense. They allowed Seattle to convert nine of 12 third downs for a 75% average. The Seahawks also had a 75% success rate in the red zone and a 100% success rate in goal-to-go situations.
Seattle also gashed Detroit in the run game, tallying 235 rushing yards on 33 carries. There wasn’t a pass rush to speak of, either. According to Next Gen Stats, the closest defender to Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith at the time of throw was Aidan Hutchinson, who was an average of 4.75 yards away. The league average is 4.53. It means that Smith was throwing the ball without a whole lot of pressure. Smith was also able to take advantage of wide-open space in front of him on more than one occasion, running it himself for a first down (and even a touchdown). Smith also helped himself to a 23-of-30 performance, piling up 320 yards and two passing touchdowns.
“I think when you really watch it, the theme that – and I told these guys this, that shows up over and over is that it’s a snowball effect,” said head coach Dan Campbell on the defense. “And we have a guy that doesn’t do the right thing, and then a guy who knows what to do is trying to overcompensate for it, and then that’s costing him a step behind his job. And then, this guy is trying to cover for him and then the next play they don’t trust that their teammate’s going to be there and it’s just – we’re in this vicious cycle right now.”
The Lions’ offense is stuck in that cycle, too. They had to constantly chase points, never holding a lead on Sunday at home against Seattle. Each time they’d get within a score, the defense failed to get a stop. With 5:26 left in the fourth quarter, the Lions pulled within three, 41-38, which was the smallest gap of the afternoon. Yet, Seattle piled up 75 yards on seven plays, including a 41-yard touchdown run by Rashad Penny to put the game out of reach yet again.
It was extremely frustrating for a home crowd, especially one that had hung in there with the team the entire afternoon, riding the hope rollercoaster every time Goff engineered one of his seven scoring drives.
“I know we’re going to need to move some personnel around,” said Campbell on Monday. “That’ll be one part of it, and then certainly look at calming things down and simplifying schematically. Those will be two of the biggest changes that I think that we’re going to need to make.”
Again, the Lions are so close. One less point. One less first down. One less explosive play. That’s all it would take for one more win.
Other NFC North Notes
— Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields had his most passing yards on Sunday against the New York Giants, completing 11 of 22 passes for 174 yards. But he took six sacks. He pulled the ball and ran before getting all the way through his reads. He missed a wide-open Darnell Mooney in the end zone in favor of running it for a first down. Without their leading rusher in David Montgomery, the Bears’ ground game suffered, though it still went over 100 yards thanks to Fields putting up 52 of his own. He’s still trying to do too much.
After the game, Fields was asked about why the passing game wasn’t working. His response? “Who says the passing game isn’t working?” He went on to say that the stats don’t matter, which begs the question: what does? Just five players caught passes from Fields on Sunday. Only three of those players caught multiple passes. Just six of the 16 first downs the Bears had came on passing plays.
And if you want to go off ‘feel,’ there’s not much to go on there either. Brad Spielberger of PFF threw up a graph on Twitter that may perfectly encapsulate this offense.
Fields is essentially trying to find receivers who aren’t open while almost constantly dealing with pressure. That doesn’t seem like it’s working to me.
— Packers outside linebacker Rashan Gary has as legitimate a case as any player through four weeks of the season for Defensive Player of the Year. He is an absolute menace to opposing quarterbacks and now has at least one sack in every game this season. He had two against the Patriots on Sunday. His average separation from the quarterback at the time of throw or sack is an average of just 3.55 yards. As noted above, league average is 4.53, according to Next Gen Stats.
— Gary has tallied five tackles for loss this season. He forced his first fumble of the year on a strip-sack Sunday. And he’s doing it all on a rotation. He was in the game for 74% of the team’s defensive snaps against New England, which might have been his most productive game yet. The tandem of Gary and Preston Smith on the outside of Green Bay’s defensive line is a scary duo and they are showing no signs of slowing down.
— Speaking of not slowing down, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was able to give himself one heck of a pep talk at halftime on Sunday. Rodgers went into halftime with a passer rating of 11.2. He had thrown just the fourth pick six of his career. Green Bay had converted one of five third-down attempts. But that all changed at the half. The Packers came storming back to take the lead on the first drive of the second half and then hung in there the rest of the way to force overtime.
— Rodgers finished the day completing 21 of 35 pass attempts for 251 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. That, along with Green Bay’s now ever-present running game, gave the Packers 443 total yards of offense as they now sit tied for first in the NFC North.
Are the Packers legit contenders?
Colin Cowherd says not so fast and breaks down why he ‘does not see Green Bay’ as a Top 10 team.
— Green Bay is tied with the Vikings for control over the division. Minnesota kicked Sunday off to a topsy-turvy start in London, beating the Saints thanks to a last-second field goal. It wasn’t a pretty win at all, but it was a win nonetheless. And if Minnesota can do that while making as many mistakes as they did, they’ll be a dangerous team if they play a clean game one of these weeks.
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
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