Vikings at Lions Week Four Sabermetrics

By Donovan Powell

Week 3 Review

In what will certainly qualify as one of the most exciting games of the season the Lions were on the wrong-end of a frustrating overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans this past Sunday. The Lions managed to score 14 points in the final 18 seconds of the game to send it to an improbable overtime situation. However, Ill-time penalties, inefficiencies in the red zone, dropped passes (here’s looking at you Pettigrew) and poor play on special teams led to the Lions second consecutive defeat.

Looking Forward

In Week 4 the Lions head back to the friendlier confines of Ford Field for a match-up with the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings are off to a surprise 2-1 start thanks in large part to the improvement of second-year quarterback Christian Ponder. The Lions find themselves with some early season desperation after a disappointing start that has some questioning what seemed like a promising season. I’ll be in attendance for Sunday’s game, so let’s hope they give us all something to cheer about (that doesn’t involve onside kicks or Hail Mary passes). Let’s take a look at the metric for Week 4.

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

The Lions offense improved mightily in their Week 3 performance against the Titans. Before leaving with injury, Matthew Stafford was 33/42 for 278 yards and a touchdown; a respectable stat line that far surpassed his Week’s 1 and 2 output. We also witnessed what we’ve been missing in the backfield with the introduction of Mikel Leshoure. Leshoure finished the game with 100 yards on 26 carries and showed how effective a powerful back can be. Detroit still had numerous failures in the red zone but managed to significantly improve their offensive DVOA with a solid effort. It’s safe to say the offense wasn’t the major contributor of the disappointing loss (more on what was later).

The surprising start of the Minnesota Vikings has hinged largely on the arm and legs of Christian Ponder. He came up big in his Week 3 performance against the San Francisco 49ers (a team the Lions struggled mightily with) making strides to subdue his skeptics. The Vikings currently rank as the 11th most efficient offense in the league in terms of DVOA with an 8.8% metric. While impressive, the Lions still boast a more potent offense registering a 21.4% metric.

Advantage: Lions +2

Team Defense

In Week 3 the Lions continued their poor play on defense surrendering big plays in the secondary. They again were very efficient in stopping the run but were plagued by a lack of talent on the back-end. The Lions lack of capable personnel in the secondary paired with our linebackers’ weakness in coverage will haunt Detroit for the entirety of the season. Through four weeks they have the 23rd ranked team defense with a 10.6% DVOA.

The Vikings have fielded a very competitive defensive unit in 2013. Their secondary has improved vastly from a 2011 squad that ranked last in the NFL in pass defense and has done a respectable job in containing the run. They currently rank as the NFL’s 13th most efficient defense with a -7.3% DVOA. I will note that the Vikings defense has yet to face a potent offense through the first three weeks of the season and with much of the same personnel as last year’s less efficient defense I presume they’ll slip in the coming weeks.

Advantage: Vikings +2

Special Teams

The Lions special teams performed quite well through the first three weeks of the season but that all came crashing down when Detroit gave up two touchdowns to the Titan’s return unit – a 65-yard punt return from cornerback Tommie Campbell and a 105-yard kickoff return from Darius Reynaud. These mishaps put the Lions in a hole they were struggling to climb out for the entire game. This performance dropped our special teams to a -6.6% DVOA and solidified this unit as one of the worst in football. This ranking is more representative of our actual unit than the one we saw the first three weeks. Detroit registered one of the worst special teams units throughout the 2011 season, and though I wouldn’t expect an effort as poor as the one we saw against the Titans, I believe our expectations should remain minimal going forward.

Thus far the Vikings have an average special teams unit registering at 15th in the NFL. This is an improvement over the 2011 metrics which saw a below average unit that ranked 27th in the league.

Advantage: Vikings +1

Health

The two biggest Week 4 injury concerns are Matthew Stafford (hip) and Louis Delmas (knee) neither of whom have participated in practice this week. However, Stafford has indicated that he likely is a go for this weekend. There is no indication on the status of Delmas, but I would again assume he won’t suit up relegating us to backups John Wendling and Amari Speivey.

Mikel Leshoure, Tony Sheffler, Corey Williams, and Titus Young were all limited in practice this week but are expected to play.

For the Vikings, Linebacker Erin Henderson (concussion) and Mistral Raymond (ankle) hasn’t participated in practice this week and aren’t expected to play. It will be a large test for a young Vikings secondary that will now have to rely on backup Chris Cook in Raymond’s starting position. Kyle Rudolph (quadriceps) also hasn’t participated in practice but is expected to play Sunday.

Advantage:
Push (If Stafford is unavailable to play the advantage will shift to the Vikings)

Home-Field Advantage

Advantage: Lions +1

Prediction

Our Week 4 metric comes out to a draw indicating this will be an extremely close match-up. This game will hinge upon the Lions defensive front helping out their secondary by applying pressure on Christian Ponder and containing game-changing special team’s plays. The Lions offense will continue its ascension against a weak Vikings secondary and the defense and special teams will do just enough to limit the big plays that have plagued Detroit thus far.

Detroit Lions: 30
Minnesota Vikings: 29


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