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Lions at 49’ers Week Two Sabermetrics

By Donovan F. Powell
Week 1 Review

Well, we got a victory. Despite nearly losing the game, the Lions played fairly well. On paper Detroit looked dominant out-gaining St. Louis 429 total yards to the Rams 251. In terms of my Week 1 prognostication the Lions held a distinct advantage in both Team Offense and Team Defense. This came to pass as Detroit enjoyed a dominant offensive and defensive DVOA metric against St. Louis. It was the play of Matthew Stafford throwing three ill-advised interceptions that kept this game close. That the Lions were able to overcome the turnovers had everything to do with the Rams continued poor play on offense. Their -15% DVOA was among the worst Week 1 offensive outputs.  They simply could not generate enough offense to take advantage of the Lions miscues. We’ll consider ourselves fortunate and look to improve in Week 2.

Looking Forward
The Detroit Lions head to San Francisco looking for retribution for the Week 6 loss suffered during the 2011 season. The Lions entered the game as 5-0 NFL darlings.  After succumbing to their first defeat, the often-talked about “handshake incident” followed.  This will make for an electric environment on Sunday night; let’s take a look at how our Week 2 metric comes out!

DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) is a method of evaluating teams, units, or players. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation. DVOA measures not just yardage, but yardage towards a first down: Five yards on third-and-4 are worth more than five yards on first-and-10 and much more than five yards on third-and-12. Red zone plays are worth more than other plays. Performance is also adjusted for the quality of the opponent. DVOA is a percentage, so a team with a DVOA of 10.0% is 10 percent better than the average team, and a quarterback with a DVOA of -20.0% is 20 percent worse than the average quarterback. Because DVOA measures scoring, defenses are better when they are negative. Special teams are also accounted for with a positive percentage representing an above-average unit versus a negative percentage representing a below-average unit. This system was created by the Football Outsiders, a group which focuses on advanced statistical analysis in the NFL. For a more advanced explanation of DVOA click here

Team Offense

If we look at the Week 1 Offensive DVOA we’ll see that Detroit was quite average in terms of production. They were able to move the ball but failed at key junctures. They registered at a 0.2% metric which places them right at the league average. The average metric was a result of the Lions failures in the red zone. A review of the 2011 offensive DVOA shows us that Detroit enjoyed one of the most efficient offenses in the league. Their 7.1% DVOA ranked them as a top ten offensive unit. While Stafford made some poor plays on Sunday it’s not time to panic. In terms of efficiency the offensive unit will resemble more of what we saw in 2011 than the Week 1 performance indicated.

In 2011 the 49ers offense registered a -3.9% DVOA indicating a below-average unit. Alex Smith was competent recording a 3.1% DVOA; however, the primary emphasis of the 49ers offense was on the rushing attack, which was also very average. This made San Francisco’s Week 1 offensive output a surprise. The team’s offensive efficiency rating came in at 35.6%, the sixth best in the league after Week 1. The 49ers did add a few offensive pieces in the off-season (Randy Moss and Mario Manningham), but a jump this drastic makes me hold pause. I believe the San Francisco offense is somewhere in between the average unit we saw last year and the offensive frontrunner we saw in Week 1. The coming weeks will give us a better indication of this.
Advantage: Detroit +2 (for a review of the rating system click here)

Team Defense

The 2011 Lions defense was a formidable unit placing in the top ten in terms of DVOA. They continued their strong play in Week 1 posting a -13.1% against a weak St. Louis offense. The Lions defensive line was dominant in stretches. Ndamukong Suh, Corey William, Nick Fairley and Cliff Avril all recorded sacks. Steven Jackson was bottled up gaining only 53 yards on 21 carries. The unit played well as a whole and I would expect similar production against lower-tiered offenses going forward.

We all know how the 49ers rode their dominant defense all the way to the NFC championship in 2011. In Week 1 they were dealt the dubious task of slowing down last year’s most potent offensive attack in Green Bay. Their defense remained exceptional getting important stops against Aaron Rodgers and company when they needed them most. Expect another elite performance from the San Francisco defensive unit in our Week 2 match up. While the Lions boast an above-average defensive unit, out metric indicates they’re a tier below the San Francisco unit.
Advantage: San Francisco +2

Special Teams

San Francisco fielded an elite special teams unit in 2011, trailing only the Chicago Bears in terms of DVOA, registering at 7.8%. The Lions found themselves on the other end of the spectrum with one of the worst special teams units in the NFL. Week 1 saw both teams execute at an above-average clip. A seemingly reinvigorated Stefan Logan helped the Lions special teams cause and the coverage units were solid. The 49ers special teams unit wasn’t as dominant as we saw last year (even allowing a Randall Cobb punt return touchdown) but still were effective. This being said, I believe we have enough data to tell us that the 49ers unit is closer to an elite status than they indicated in Week 1 and the Lions are probably somewhere in between the dismal unit represented last year and the above-average unit we saw in Week 1.

Advantage: San Francisco +1


The Lions banged-up secondary held up better than most would have suspected in Week 1. The lack of speed from the Rams wide receiver corps was a factor. Help is coming in the form of Chris Houston who’s been a limited participant in practice this week and is expected to play Sunday. However, Bill Bentley (concussion) and Louis Delmas (knee) are not expected to play on Sunday and the secondary will once again rely on backups. The running game will again rest solely on Kevin Smith’s shoulders as Mikel Leshoure will be serving the second game of his suspension.

For the 49ers both Ted Ginn (ankle) and Brandon Jacobs (knee) haven’t participated in practice this week. Ted Ginn is a potential game changer on special teams and Brandon Jacobs is a big body who could be useful on goal line plays. The real impact injury could come on the defensive side of the ball. Navorro Bowman (shoulder) has been a limited participant in practice and his status for Sunday is uncertain. The 49ers have a deep and talented roster with the depth to overcome all of these injuries.
Advantage: San Francisco +1

Home-Field Advantage 

Advantage: San Francisco +1


Our metric indicates that this will be a very close affair but gives San Francisco a +3 advantage. If Stafford and company can eliminate the mistakes that plagued them in Week 1 their offense will have the opportunity to assert a more dominant advantage and can make a play at an upset. This will be a difficult task on the road against a dominant defense and a depleted Lions secondary.

San Francisco 49ers:   27
Detroit Lions:              24

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