Just How Disappointing Are the Detroit Lions?
It seems a yearly occurrence for the main question surrounding the Detroit Lions to be, "When will they finally break out?"
Once again, the answer is not this year.
According to our team rankings after Week 8, the Lions ranked 30th overall in terms of nERD based on our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics, which compare a team's performance to expectation-level. It seems every year that we want to buy-in to the chance that the Lions will improve, but instead, they find new ways to disappoint.
Already, the Lions have fired their offensive coordinator, and if not for having no coaches left to fill the void, they would have also gotten rid of their head coach, Jim Caldwell. They even fired their general manager and president, showing just how disappointing the team has performed for the past few years.
Off the field, responsibility starts at the top, as the recent moves display, and on the field is the same, as perennial breakout candidate Matthew Stafford still is not meeting the ever hopeful expectations set for him.
Passing Game Woes
This year, the Lions were expected to take a step forward because of the injury bug that bit them last year. Although he played in most games, Calvin Johnson struggled through injuries last year, and his return to health was among reasons people hoped to see the offense improve.
This could not be further from the truth right now though, as the Lions' pass offense ranks 17th with a 18.31 Adjusted Passing NEP.
Through Week 8 last year, Stafford was the 13th-ranked quarterback with a 35.50 Passing NEP, but now he holds a -8.18 Passing NEP, ranking him ahead of only one remaining starting quarterback in Nick Foles, the recently benched Colin Kaepernick, and the previously cut Ryan Mallett.
For someone supposedly a franchise quarterback, this is not close to ideal.
Stafford was in the middle of the pack for efficiency last year with a 0.11 Passing NEP per play. This year, he is ahead of only Foles as he has a -0.025 Passing NEP per play. Based on these numbers, Stafford no longer deserves talk as a potential breakout candidate, and his future is rightfully up in the air.
While Johnson sat out Weeks 6 through 8 last year, he also was ineffective for Weeks 4 and 5. Because of this, Golden Tate saw his role increase, and among wide receivers he held the fifth highest Reception NEP (64.69) after Week 8. Even with his missed time, Johnson sat 30th in the same category as he had a 35.30 Reception NEP. Both were efficient in their production as Johnson held a 0.95 Reception NEP per target, and Tate had a 0.81 Reception NEP per target, placing both of them inside the top 20 for receivers with at least 30 targets at this time last year.
Right now, Johnson is 13th with a Reception NEP of 51.64, while Tate (25.92) sits at 53rd. These two have combined to account for barely more than 75% of their Reception NEP from last year, and neither has missed a game unlike last season.
Additionally, their efficiency has completely dropped off, as neither are in the top-40 in terms of Reception NEP per target. Johnson (0.66) and Tate (0.38) lost at least 30% of their per-target efficiency from last year to now.
Nonexistent Run Game
When the Lions drafted Ameer Abdullah, the hope was that he would bring a spark to the run game. After Week 8 last year, the Lions were 21st with a -6.99 Adjusted Rushing NEP, and neither Reggie Bush nor Joique Bell were running the ball well.
Bush sat 33rd among running backs with at least 40 carries at this time last year as he posted a -3.85 Rushing NEP, and Bell (-9.05) was not far behind. Their inefficiency mirrored each other, as Bush posted a -0.08 Rushing NEP per play and Bell had a -0.09 Rushing NEP per play.
The Lions now rank 23rd with a -6.30 Adjusted Rushing NEP, and it looks like improvement will not happen anytime soon.
Bell has a -2.85 Rushing NEP that is better than last year (but it is still bad) because he has missed three games. His -0.09 Rushing NEP per play illustrates how he is just as bad as he was last year.
Theo Riddick and Abdullah are performing even worse than Bell. On just 17 carries, Riddick has a -5.02 Rushing NEP, earned through complete inefficiency with a -0.29 Rushing NEP per play. With 63 carries, Abdullah is producing a -6.96 Rushing NEP (-0.11 per play).
Because Abdullah is a rookie, there is hope for future success in the ground game, but based on our numbers, that should not be expected this year.
Last year, the Lions finished the league as the fourth ranked defense in terms of NEP finishing with an Adjusted Defensive NEP of -25.05, meaning they held roughly 25 points off the scoreboard that an average team would have allowed in the same situations they faced.
Through Week 8, they were the highest ranked defense with a -14.88 Adjusted Defensive NEP score. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley anchored the defense with strong play on the line that helped bring strong success against both the pass and run.
With the loss of both of those key players in free agency, and the loss of DeAndre Levy to injury, this defense has taken a complete 180-degree turn compared to last year. While the Lions brought in Haloti Ngata to attempt to fill the void Suh and Fairley left, that has failed miserably.
Right now the Lions sit at 30th with an 85.41 Adjusted Defensive NEP and are 23rd against the run and 31st against the pass.
This defense quickly went from a formidable force to a defense to pick on without hesitation, and there is no improvement in sight with the roster turnover that occurred.
Going forward, the Lions face many offenses that should have no problems feasting on their weak defense. Use your players when they play the Lions, as fantasy points should remain easy to earn against them.
Additionally, the Lions face a mix of stingy and easy defenses. At best their offensive players remain matchup dependent, and it is not wise to count on any of their running backs to produce this year.
The Lions may very well end up with the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft if they continue to play as bad as they have so far this year.
With no improvement in sight, that might just be all they have to look forward to right now.