Detroit Lions 2014 Season Review: All the Right Moves
Even though their season was cut short in the playoffs one one of may questionable (non) calls that riddled the postseason, the Detroit Lions are trending upward in the NFL.
According to our advanced metrics -- primarily Net Expected Points (NEP) -- the Lions improved in every area of the ball on offense and defense, and that helped them reach the postseason for just the second time since 1999.
We all know how things shook out for them, especially if you're a Detroit fan, in the playoffs, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism in the Motor City after this promising 2014 season.
What Went Well
In short, a lot went well for the Lions this year.
Before getting into any individual performances, we should look at the team's successes as a whole. Here are their metrics compared to last year. These are adjusted for schedule strength and broken down per play.
|Season||nERD||Adj NEP/P||Adj Pass NEP/P||Adj Rush NEP/P||Adj D NEP/P||Adj D Pass NEP/P||Adj D Rush NEP/P|
First thing's first: negative NEP scores are good on defense. That would indicate that the team actually denied opponents points that average teams would have allowed. This year, the Lions were one of just four teams to post an Adjusted Defensive NEP per play better than zero. A large part of that is due to their league-best Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play of -0.19. That was 0.08 points better than the Ravens (-0.11), who were in second place. That 0.08-point difference was about the same lead the Ravens had over the 12th-place 49ers.
Oh, and it happened to be the third-best per-play run defense since 2000.
Second thing's second: that nERD score. nERD, in football terms, indicates the expected point differential of a team if it was to play a league-average team on a neutral field. Naturally, zero is the average, so in 2013, the Lions were slightly better than average, per our metrics.
The Lions improved upon that and finished this year with a nERD of 4.24, meaning they'd beat an average team by about four points. I know that'll mean more with context. Just know that the Lions, since 2000, have had only three seasons with a positive nERD score: these past two and 2011 (when it was 6.91).
So, according to our math, this is a high point for the Lions, especially when considering their per-play NEP on both offense and defense improved from what was then their second-best season in franchise history since 2000.
I've kind of run out of space for individual dap, but the Lions joined the Broncos and Packers with two receivers inside the top 12 in Reception NEP (Calvin Johnson (105.04) and Golden Tate (104.80) finished 11th and 12th, respectively, this season.
That helped Matthew Stafford finish ninth in Passing NEP at 65.38 -- but roughly 34 points behind eighth-place Joe Flacco, which has more or less been the case with Stafford's place as a fringe top-10 quarterback.
What Went Wrong
Well, I know he was still the 11th-best receiver in the league, but with a team this good and solid all-around, we have to point out some things that were less-than-stellar. Calvin's injuries caused him to post his third-worst Reception NEP in his career (105.04). His two seasons lower than that were 63.10 in his rookie year (2007) and 80.59 in 2009.
From 2010 to 2013, Johnson was at 118.69 or better. Even still, Johnson topped 100.00 Reception NEP despite just 71 receptions. Of the 205 players who had a Reception NEP past the century mark in the last 15 years, only 13 players got there with fewer than 71 receptions. So that's good.
However, his Reception NEP per target was 0.82, 83rd out of the 205-player group. If he wasn't Megatron, that would be pretty impressive, but he's had three years inside the top 60 in Reception NEP per play among guys with marks over 100, so it's clear that things were a little off -- even though he was still one of the best receivers in football.
Somewhat similarly, Bush was banged up this year and ended the season with just 76 carries. He posted a Rushing NEP of -3.92, 20th out of the 41 backs to see between 50 and 150 carries. On a per-carry basis, he was worse, ranking 22nd. Bush also posted his third-worst Reception NEP per target this year, too.
Joique Bell saw 224 carries this year but finished just 12th out of the 17 200-plus carry backs in Rushing NEP at -7.53. Bell was actually 13th on a per-carry basis (-0.03).
There are pretty much countless reasons for optimism for the Lions going forward, as their team improved in every area of the game and finished as the seventh-best team overall in the league according to our metrics.
Their running backs weren't overly efficient -- though they were admittedly not free from injury -- and performed below expectation. Still, the Lions were a better rushing team overall than they were in 2013.
Plus, they just recorded some of the stingiest run defense metrics the league has seen for the last 15 years, and their defense overall was a top-four unit. No matter how unfortunately the season ended, this was one of the best Lions squads of the last 15 years and one of the best in the league this year. It sure seems that fate isn't on the side of the Lions, but the numbers sure are.