The big story coming into the 2018 season for the Detroit Lions was the dawning of the Matt Patricia era, who after coordinating the New England defense for six years, finally got his shot at a head coaching gig.
After putting together three winning seasons out of the four under Jim Caldwell, the Lions took a major step back in ’18, going 6-10, and finishing last in the division. The Defense that was supposed to improve under Patricia finished 28th in efficiency (DVOA, Football Outsiders), while the offense wasn’t much better, ranking 23rd. Of the seasons that quarterback Matthew Stafford started all 16 games, this was statistically quite possibly his worst performance: throwing for only 3777 yards, with a near 1:1 TD to INT Ratio, and grading out at a 50.9 QBR – good for 24th in the NFL.
In summation, it wasn’t a good look for Patricia in year one, and the pressure is now on for this team to show some life and get back to where it was under Caldwell – a Playoff caliber team. According to BetOnline’s futures market, the Lions aren’t expected to do so, however, and with a season win total set at 7, another losing season is the expectation set for the Lions once again in 2019.
Will Patricia exceed expectations for improvement, using what was a highly active offseason to right the ship? Will Stafford get back to where he was just two seasons ago – as arguably a top-ten quarterback in the league? The Lions are, undoubtedly, a work in progress; but the question to consider for season win total bettors is: will any of this work pay off quickly enough to get this team back to .500 in 2019.
Super Bowl Odds: +6600
Odds to Win the NFC: +4000
Odds to Win the NFC North: +1000
Season Win Total: 7
(lines Weeks 2-16 from CG Technology as of May 16, 2019)
|6||@ Green Bay (MNF)||+7.5||.22|
|13||Chicago (Thanksgiving Day)||+3.5||.36|
|17||Green Bay||+1 (est)||.40|
Total Expected Wins: 5.97
Improving upon what was the second worst Pass Defense in the league last year (Football Outsiders DVOA), was the primary focus of the Lions’ offseason activity; and obviously, for good reason.
The biggest splash was made with the acquisition of Defensive End, Trey Flowers, who played for Patricia in New England, and graded out as Pro Football Focus’s sixth best edge rusher. Granted, they will have to fill the void left by the departure of Ezekiel Ansah, who left in free agency, but Flowers is an upgrade and should help the pass rush.
The other addition which should help patch hole in that leaky Lion Pass D is the cornerback Justin Coleman, who graded out as PFF’s 54th best Corner overall, but the 5th-best slot cornerback with the Seahawks last season.
On Offense, the void left by the midseason departure of Golden Tate was filled with the signing of Danny Amendola, who Patricia is also familiar with from his days in New England. Amendola caught 59 balls last year for Miami and should provide some relief for Stafford by finding holes in the middle of the field at his Slot Receiver position.
TE Jesse James and RB CJ Anderson were the other two editions and are another two weapons with which to surround Stafford within Jim Bob Cooter’s Offense.
The Lions likely got better this offseason, but good enough to get this team back to .500 or better? It’s hard to say.
The Lions made an interesting pick in round one of the draft; passing on Ed Oliver, the best available player left at that point, and going with Iowa TE, T.J. Hockenson, 8th overall. Interesting because taking a tight end as a 6-10 team is unexpected, but Hockenson is a rare talent: coming in 6’5’’ 251 lbs, and turning in a 4.7-40, he is already garnering comparisons to Gronk, and will likely start in game one.
Detroit did go defense in round 2; deciding on Hawaii LB Jahlani Tavai at 43rd overall. Many draft analysts considered getting Tavai this early to be a reach, especially considering that he was recovering from a shoulder injury and did not run or participate in drills at the combine. He did average about 10 tackles per game of the course of his collegiate career, but it’s also important to note that this was against Mountain West talent.
The next three picks were all defense: Boston College DB Will Harris (81st), Clemson DE Austin Bryant (117th), and Penn State CB Amani Oruwariye (146th). And therefore, is does appear that Patricia and GM Bob Quinn are looking to rebuild this defense from the ground up.
The question remains, however: will these later round draft picks pay dividends quickly enough to turn things around in 2019?
Jim Bob Cooter’s offense took a significant step back last year from its top 12 performance in 2017: finishing 23rd overall (DVOA) – 22nd in passing offense and 25th in rushing.
The first place to look when an Offense is struggling is to the quarterback position, and as mentioned in the introduction, Stafford had quite possibly the worst performance his career. The next place to look when a Quarterback is underperforming is at the Offensive Line, but Detroit’s wasn’t all that bad in 2018: finishing 12th in adjusted sack rate (FO), and 14th in Power Rank (FO). And finally, with two WR’s, Kenny Golladay (21st) and Marvin Jones (30th) ranking inside the top 30 in DYAR, it can’t be blamed on lack of weaponry either. Stafford was bad, and there aren’t any justifiable excuses for his inefficiency – save for injury.
At the time of writing this, it’s being reported that Stafford may have played some of 2018 with a broken back. Detroitlions.com writer, Mike O’Hara, states that Stafford reportedly broke bones in his back in Week 13, and thus played the final four games of the season with a broken back. Whether true or not, it does make some sense, and is something to consider in seeking to explain the outlier performance for Stafford.
Matt Patricia was expected to come into Detroit and, at the very least, have an impact on the Lion Defense which has been a bottom dweller in the NFL for much of the Jim Caldwell era.
However, the D actually regressed in 2018, finishing 27th in DVOA compared to 2017’s 19th overall finish. The Pass Defense was especially bad (31st), but as previously discussed, a majority of Detroit’s offseason acquisitions were geared toward addressing the pass defense.
DE Trey Flowers and slot corner Justin Coleman are proven commodities at their respective positions, while it remains to be seen what value they will get out of their late round defensive draft picks.
Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni’s defense should improve, and considering what Detroit fans have become accustomed to, even a mediocre defense would be welcomed.
Notes & Nuggets
The Lions are projected to be favorites in only three games this year, with two of these being less than field goal spreads.
The schedule is soft, featuring three out of the bottom four teams in efficiency last year, and not one pair of road games schedule back-to-back.
The under is the only way to look here, considering: the Lions could potentially only be favored in three games, and a calculation of expected win probabilities only gets them to six wins.
It’s only a lean for me, however, because last year was an anomaly compared to how Detroit has performed in recent years, and news that Stafford could’ve been seriously injured for a quarter of the season is a justifiable reason for the offensive struggle.
A solid offseason should also result in an improvement on the defensive side of the ball, and with seven games on the schedule that are essentially coin flips, it’s easy to contrive a scenario in which Detroit is back in the playoff hunt, and a winning team, once again.