GOT NUMBERS? Analyzing the Detroit Lions vs. the Cleveland Browns


Ugh.  According to Advanced NFL Stats, the Browns are 32nd in total team efficiency and the Lions are 31st (Football Outsiders actually has the Lions 32nd, Raiders 31st, and the Browns 30th).  This will be a game played by two of the most terrible teams in the NFL.  Is this year's version of the Browns the worst in team history?  That sounds like a post I might write during the offseason.  For now, we get to preview an awful football game. 

I'll repeat my explanation from last week:

A quick note about the stats I'm going to use in this regular column.  The full explanation can be found here.  Basically, Football Outsiders uses the data from every play and finds the league average (adjusting for yards gained in the redzone, touchdowns scored, and the down and distance- so a 3 yard TD run on 3rd-and-1 from the 3 means a lot more than a 3 yard run on 3rd-and-15 from your own 20.)  Then it rates players and teams based on their relation to this league average.  The result is meaningful rate stats.  They are akin to league adjusted stats in baseball, like OPS+ and ERA+.  DVOA is the most common stat they use and 0.0 is exactly league average.  A 10.0% DVOA for a QB means a QB that is 10.0% better than average. -15.0% DVOA means 15% below average for a QB.  For defensive numbers they are reversed, so negative numbers are better.

Got all that?  No?  Well, then trust me when I say, higher positive numbers are good for offensive players and lower or negative numbers are good for defenses.  0.0% is always average.

Going forward, I'll just link the Football Outsiders explanation of their stats.  Also, see my waiver/caveat about using these stats here.

Now onto the Battle of Lake Erie: Regular Season Edition.

When you think of the 2009 Detroit Lions, you think of Calvin Johnson, a rookie QB, and a bunch of crap.  This makes me wonder, what do the Lion fans say about us?  Probably "Shaun Rogers, Josh Cribbs, and a bunch of crap."  Let's see what the numbers say.

Detroit is pretty awful on offense, their offensive efficiency is 30th in the league, with a DVOA of -29.0%.  They are really bad in the passing game (-36.2%, 30th in the league).  Matthew Stafford and his 6 TDs and 12 INTs are struggling through his rookie year (-33.1 DVOA, 36th among the 40 QBs with over 75 attempts.  In case you wondering Derek Anderson is 38th and Brady Quinn is 39th by this measure, only better than JaMarcus Russell). The bad QB play has meant a down year for star Detroit WR Calvin Johnson.  His 52% catch rate is very average and his DVOA is a really bad -21.2% or 69th among qualified WRs.  I do think that DVOA stats for WRs are skewed by the quality of QBs throwing these passes and I'm sure Johnson is getting safetys rolled his way and outright double teams pretty consistently.  But whether it is a failure of the coaching staff, the QB play, or Johnson himself, someone that talented needs to have more than 1 TD.  After a pretty solid week, the Browns defense now ranks 26th against the pass in DVOA at 20.3%.  However, we have struggled specifically in defending passes to TEs (31st in the league with a DVOA 36.2%.  So look out for TE Brandon Pettigrew, who doesn't have great numbers, but is a rookie who may be improving.  Just two weeks ago he had 7 receptions for 70 yds and a TD.  A weakness to exploit is getting to Stafford.  The Lions' allowed sack rate is 10%, 30th in the league.  The Browns are ok at getting to the QB (6.3% sack rate good for 21st in the league).

The Lions have fared a little better running the ball (-6.1% DVOA, 23rd). Still, Kevin Smith has taken a step back from his rookie year, where he ran for a league average-y 8 TDs, and 4.1 YPC and -0.5% DVOA.  This year he has just 3 TDs, 3.4 YPC and an awful -15.0% DVOA- 31st in the league.  The Browns have struggled against the run though (29th in the league at 12.5% DVOA) so, even a bad running game could find holes.  It seems like those holes are more apparent when the defense wears down after long drives and in the second half due to our offense's ineptitude.

Detroit's defense is bad.  They rank 30th in the NFL at 20.2% DVOA.  Their pass defense is the real problem, ranking 31st in the NFL at a very bad 34.5% DVOA.  However, they are actually better than average and, dare I say, good at defending passes to #1 WRs (11th in the league at -6.0%).  So I guess if the Browns are going to have success through the air (ha), it will probably be to Robiskie (!), Furrey, or the TEs/RBs/FBs.  Not that the Browns are good at doing any of that.  Though Brady Quinn did seem to have a little rapport with slot receiver Mike Furrey.  One thing though, Quinn should have a little more time to make decisions: The Lions rank 30th in adjusted sack rate at 4.5%. (The Browns pass protection is 22nd in the league).  The Lions are better against the run, -1.5% DVOA.  So Jamal Lewis' break out game will have to wait another week... or lifetime.

Special Teams.  After a bad week, the Browns fell to 2nd overall (to the Vikings) in special team efficiency.  Now without Zastudil and perhaps Cribbs, the strength of this team has turned into another big question mark.  The Browns are still 1st in punt returns and 4th in kickoff returns in DVOA.  The Lions are awful.  They are 30th overall and 31st in kick coverage.  So hopefully some good field position for our terrible offense is possible. 

It'll be an ugly game.  But it should be evenly matched.  Mangini needs some good news, and the Lions might be just what the doctor ordered.  But if the Browns lose, it could be the nail in his coffin.  If the Browns suck on offense, the calls for Daboll's head will reach new levels.

My prediction: Browns 17 Lions 9.  Most scoring will be set up by the defenses.  Quinn should have a little time and look better.  The defense has been playing pretty well, and should be able to shut down Stafford and Co.  Maybe they can even score a TD.

All DVOA numbers and rankings are thanks to Football Outsiders.

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