Posted on: December 11, 2009 11:32 am

Rush defence in Detroit

Last season the Lions were the worst team in the league agaisnt the run in virtually every statistical category - this season they rank 19th.  And there are signs that this improvement is starting to play dividends. But from the underlying stats it's easy to say that there are still specific areas that need work.

For reference they are rated 19th in the league in run defense with 113.4 yards per game (32nd, 172.1 ypg for 2008)

One of the first things that sticks out to me is that the Lions are pretty consistent in their ranking of what goes into a good run defence. They are:

  • 14th in the league with 19.9% of runs against leading to a first down of (32nd, 27.4% for 2008)
  • 15th in the league in rushing touchdowns against with 9 (projects to 12 total rushing TDs in 2009 verses 32nd, 31 in 2008)
  • 12th in per carry average against with opposing backs carrying for 4.1 yards per carry (32nd, 5.1 ypc in 2008)

The one place where they're weakest is in explosive runs - which are those runs where the secondary has to step in and make a tackle (and we all know how good the secondary is at run support). In 2009 they're ranked 29th in explosive runs with 13 runs over 20 yards, including 2 runs over 40 yards. By comparison though this too is a significant improvement as they allowed 26 20+ yard runs and 5 40+ yard runs a year ago.


So what does this all mean? It means that the Lions defense is better then last year when it comes to the running game... and worse against the pass. But it means hope - because the Lions clearly have solved some of their long term issues in the middle of the defence with 5 quality LBs (Ernie Sims, DeAndre Levy, Larry Foote, Jordon Dizon and Julian Peterson) all contributing and a young FS/DT combo in Louis Delmas and Sammie Lee Hill that helps to solidify the centre of the field (clearly the Lions on defence are building from the middle out, rather then from the trenches back - but both are quality ways of building a strong defence).

Going forward into the draft and 2010 offseason it gives them a view of what must be done: they need a CB that can keep Will James as the nickelback, they need the other half of their DT team and they need an edge rusher. Those have to be their priorities because they don't have the pieces on their roster right now to even potentially fix those issues (they do have potential solutions at SS in Ko Simpson, Marvin White, Daniel Bullocks, etc even though none of these young players have seized the role). Anything more is a bonus....

Posted on: September 22, 2009 11:04 am

Promising Signs in Blue and Silver..

There have been a number of promising signs this year for the Detroit Lions - despite their two losses to date:

The Lions have only given up three sacks so far. In order they were:
  1. An overload blitz by the Saints bringing 7 rushers, including 5 on the left side where Jonathan Vilma got home. This has to be recognized by Stafford and he has to get rid of the ball or find the check-down (easier said then done though...)
  2. An inexplicable assignment error by Jeff Backus where he didn't block Jared Allen (I still don't get it...)
  3. A four-man rush where Ray Edwards beat Gosder Cherilus (this will happen occasionally, but you hope not too often)
Considering they averaged 3.25 sacks a game in 2008 this is a vast improvement.

So far in 2009 the Lions have allowed an average of 134.5 yards and 0.5 TDs rushing per game. In 2008 the Lions allowed an average of 172.1 yards and nearly two rushing TDs a game (31 total). This isn't much - but it's enough to get them out of the bottom quarter of the league in rush defense.

Matthew Stafford is learning about what he can't do in the NFL. So far he's tried to push the ball too far down field when the defense is playing back which has resulted in 3 INTs (one intended for Calvin Johnson on a post route into bracket coverage with a safety over the top where there had to have been a better option underneath, one intended for CJ along the seam into zone coverage that rotated towards CJ, and one intended for Brandon Pettigrew where the LBs were deep trying to keep from giving up the big play), and he thrown the ball back across his body once. His fifth INT was the one pass that either sailed on him or was a communication issue on the receiver's route (likely the latter because there were two Lions receivers who ended up in the same area short of the pass).

None of these INTs were rookie mistakes where he was baited into throwing a ball or really mis-read a defense - they were all cases where he was trying to make a play. Because he understands what's gone wrong he's learning to trust what he sees on the field and he should be able to make the necessary adjustments. With that will come confidence and hopefully better play - but for now at least you can see his football intelligence in how he plays the game...

Category: NFL
Posted on: February 27, 2009 9:31 am

What to do with the #1 pick...

At #1, quite simply, I hope the Lions do the smart thing and open up contract talks with Aaron Curry, Jason Smith, BJ Raji and Matt Stafford.  The real point is that in making sure that their player is in the fold right away, the player has the best chance to succeed as a Lion.  That said, with the #1 overall pick you need a player that can help you - and I'm not sure that Stafford is that player yet - but the first 3 appear to fill important needs. 

Curry helps them at SLB, where they currently have an undersized marginal player in Ryan Nece. For one this would allow them to play alot of man under with his strength, opening up Ernie Sims on the other side and effectively boosting their size on defense.

Smith is a bit raw on technique because of his 2-point stance from college, but he has the build, strength and smarts to start out as a left-guard in year one and move to left tackle after learning about the speed and skills of the pro game.  Of course if he really shows well, the Lions could do a whole lot worse then Jeff Backus competing with Manny Ramierez for the left guard spot.

Raji fills a huge hole in the middle of the Lions defense where their top 1 technique DT is Chuck Darby, an undersized part-time player who is better suited in rotation as a 3rd down player.



Posted on: December 30, 2008 4:33 pm

The right man is Tom Cable and Raider musings...

At the moment, with Al Davis running the show, Tom Cable is the right man for the Raiders.  He's gotten the attention of the team and has had them playing the game the right way at the end of the season when there was nothing but pride to play for.  He's won the respect of Al Davis and has shown a willingness to work with him for the better of the team. As a result, he may get himself a player or two - but more importantly - there isn't a huge scism between the front office and the coaching staff right now. As important, due to both of these things he's collected Davis's staff pieces together into an actual coaching staff that will work together for the better of the team.  And with Cable calling the shots, there is a chance that both Shane Lechler and Nnamdi Asomugha will be willing to come back, something I don't see with any other head coach.

Going forward the Raiders need his mentality, and they need his expertise in the trenches to get better. If the Raiders do what most people think they should and beef up the offensive and defensive lines they will be better for it only if the players develop.  And who better to ensure that they develop then a man who has come from the trenches and knows how to make the most of what the team has there.

On defense, the pass rush was good but not great - tying for 12th in the league in sacks, and along with trouble on the back side (particularly early in the year) they gave up a lot more yards then expected ranking only 9th in the league in passing yards allowed despite the opposition throwing an average of 3.2 times less per game against the Raiders then the average team in the league.

On the line, Tommy Kelly wasn't great - but he's been paid and showed well enough that he can be expected to continue to develop inside. Along side that Trevor Scott showed well for a first year player and along with the arrival of Kalimba Edwards they provide some solid depth at defensive end. On the other hand, they need some support from the nose tackle and strong-side linebacker which both need to upgradeded.  Tardell Sands didn't play well enough inside to justify his contract and Gerard Warren is more a rotational player with how he's played - making him a solid backup, but not the guy you want starting. Ricky Brown is likewise a solid backup - but not starting material and the Raiders would be wise to look into competition in free agency or in the middle of the coming draft.  In the secondary, the Raiders appear to have found themselves a real football player in Gibril Wilson and if they can keep Nnamdi to go with the Chris Johnson/Standford Rout who have developed this season in the back line then perhaps they'll continue to improve back there.

On offense, the young talent that was marginalized under Kiffin is starting to show.  Michael Bush really lit things up in the season finale - and he'll make a push to get on the field with Darren McFadden.  If the coaching staff is paying attention to other teams in the league, they'll look at the Saints and Dolphins use of unorthidox two back sets and will get their best 11 on the field more often.  With Zach Miller continuing to develop into a weapon along the seams, Johnnie Lee Higgins starting to develop in the deep threat that he always looked like and Chaz Schilens showed in the last two games that he could provide a slot option for JaMarcus Russell.  That said, the receiving corps needs some help as Higgens, Schilens, Ashley Lelie, Ronald Curry and Javon Walker don't make a receiving corps that anyone will fear. But nothing will really matter until the edges of the offensive line improve. The Raiders struggled (to say the least) at both offensive tackle positions and didn't show much from either the FB or TE in terms of pass blocking skills. They need better overall play in protecting Russell or we'll continue to find check downs and short passes as the passing game options. The Raiders will get help at the FB position with players coming off of early season injuries - but the rest still needs to be addressed.

In the draft finding an offensive tackle, a wide receiver and a defensive lineman should be the priorities. But while those are the priorities a strong-side linebacker, a blocking tight end and further depth in the trenches and secondary should be a secondary focus.

In free agency, a veteran QB would be a good complement to this team as a backup/insurance policy on Russell.  And any players who would compete for jobs in the trenches should be given long and hard looks.
Category: NFL
Tags: Oakland, Raiders
Posted on: March 5, 2008 10:19 am

Raiders overpaid free agents

The Raiders are in trouble this offseason - and they know it.  And the over-paid free agent contracts that have resulted were an unfortunate necessity - but I worry if the Raiders are mortgaging their future to dig themselves out the hole they got into over the past few years. The team has been sapped of it's talent base by constant turn over in the coaching staff, a failed attempt to switch to a 3-4 defense, questionable drafting, and an unstable environment that has made it very difficult for the Raiders to keep their own talent and attract others.

Without DE/DT Tommy Kelly, S Gibril Wilson, WR Javon Walker and OT Kwame Harris the Raiders were screwed for next year and wouldn't have enough pieces to even help their younger talent develop.

If you disregard these signings they had a multitude of problems and only 5 draft picks (no 3rd or 5th round picks) to fill them. This problems included, but weren't limited to:
  1. An extremely thin crop of talent along the offensive and defensive lines
  2. A paper thin WR corps with only one player who's had more then 6 catches in his career
  3. A huge need on the backside of their defense where they haven't had a pair of safeties who could both be possibly counted on in years
Quite frankly the Raiders were backed into a corner and down on their luck.

Even if all their signings work out they still need to find 2 more defensive ends (they have only 6 defensive linemen including 2 defensive ends in Derrick Burgess and Jay Richardson under contract) and another WR to even have the minimum number of players necessary to play next year. They also probably could use a backup QB, a upgrade at SLB, OC (they've got Jake Grove and no one else who could play the position), another offensive lineman (Paul McQuistan is their backup OG and is at best a journeyman OT and Mario Henderson has never played at the pro level before), etc.

It's hard to see what the Raiders are going to do next - because they're in tough and no one knows if the pockets of talent they've got will be undermined by the weaknesses at key spots.  Here's hoping they get NY Giants lucky in the draft and hit on all their draft picks.
Category: NFL
Posted on: March 1, 2008 11:30 am

Tommy Kelly Contract

For all those who are complaining about the Tommy Kelly contract, perhaps some comparisons will help you understand why...

Last year Cory Redding was franchised as a DT who had been converted to the 3-technique from his DE spot. He got a 7-year, $49 million contract with $16 million guaranteed.

This year, Cleveland gave up their second round pick plus a 6-year, $38 million dollar contract with $18 million in guarantees to Corey Williams.

Tommy Kelly got a 7-year, $50.5 million contract with $18.125 million in guarantees. He's a home-grown player who knows the system, and the Raiders didn't have the ammunition to replace him if he got away because they're already without 3rd or 5th round draft picks.  They were also in a big pickle if they let him get away, because without him they wouldn't have anyone on the roster to (a) play the 1-technique DT position or (b) backup Jay Richardson if there's an injury there.

The Raiders had to have him, and he commanded a premium - but not as much as is being made out.....
Category: NFL
Posted on: February 28, 2008 1:03 pm

Salary Cap Numbers Updated...

With the latest estimates from on salary cap situations and a question about what the Lions could afford in free agency I came up with the following point, that I figured I'd post here as well for future reference:

The Lions have an estimated $17.84 million in cap space going into free agency of which they'll probably need about $6 million for their draft picks (Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley were drafted where the Lions top 2 picks will be and signed for a cap value of $2.81 million last year - which means the Lions top 2 picks will likely be signed for about $3 million this year if you consider a 8% premium).  That will leave about $11.84 million for FA acquisitions and player resigning. Of this number $1.825 million has already been allotted to Dwight Smith, meaning the Lions now have ~$10 million to play with...
Category: NFL
Posted on: February 22, 2008 11:17 am

Raiders to draft 4th

With the Raiders losing the coin toss, they will now be drafting 4th in the coming draft.

I think this will be a good thing because this shouldn't affect who they get with their first round pick as Atlanta seems very likely to pick their favorite QB from Matt Ryan or Brian Brohm to fill a huge need for their team (and it will even save them some money). It will however mean their 2nd round pick is earlier, as they'll be picking again at 34 rather then 37 (where Atlanta will be picking).
Category: NFL
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