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17 Nov 2015

Any Given Sunday: Lions Over Packers

by Andrew Healy

The Lions' win on Sunday broke some of the basic rules of the big NFL upset.

First Rule of Big NFL Upsets: The big underdog should not lose the turnover battle.

After the Lions' win, double-digit underdogs have won 19 times since 2010. Sunday's game marked just the second time that a team pulled the big upset despite having more turnovers than takeaways.

Second Rule of Big NFL Upsets: The big favorite should not get 19 lives at the end of the game.

The game appeared to be over after a Lions' touchdown to make it 18-10 inside the two-minute warning. Enter Matt Prater. His second missed extra point gave the Packers hope. Then on the next drive, James Starks appeared to fumble to end the game but the call was overturned (correctly). After the inevitable Green Bay touchdown to make it 18-16, the Packers missed the two-point conversion. The Packers then got yet another life when Calvin Johnson did his best Brandon Bostick impersonation on the ensuing onside kick. It seemed almost inevitable that Mason Crosby's shank on the 52-yard field goal attempt at the buzzer would be followed by the announcement that the Lions had lined up in the neutral zone to give Crosby another chance, but the music finally stopped there.

Third Rule of Big NFL Upsets: The Lions don't win them.

The Lions' 24-game losing streak at Lambeau wasn't the only streak that bit the dust on Sunday. From 2008 through Sunday, Detroit had lost 23 straight as a double-digit underdog. By way of comparison, Denver has only played seven games as a double-digit underdog since 1979.

It's the violation of those first two rules that could potentially worry Packer backers. The Lions were less lucky than the Packers were ineffective on offense. Facing the No. 31 defense entering the game, the Packers did something they had never done with Aaron Rodgers as the starter: they punted nine times. From the 8:20 mark of the first quarter to the 13:10 mark of the fourth, all nine Packers drives ended in a Tim Masthay punt. (This does not include a 12-second not-quite-a-drive that ended the first half.)

Getting dominated by the Broncos two weeks ago is much less concerning than getting stopped by a Lions' secondary that ranks with the league's worst. Detroit entered the game as the worst team in the league against opponents' No. 2 receivers. The Lions have accumulated their awful record in large part against No. 2 receivers who play the slot while we classify Davante Adams, who plays mostly outside, as the Packers' No. 2 receiver. Nevertheless, Adams will have few more favorable matchups than he had against the Lions.

And the Packers sure did try to take advantage of Adams' matchup. Rodgers threw Adams' way 21 times, more than he has ever targeted Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, or any Packers receiver in a single game. It was the 46th time since 1992 that a receiver got at least 20 targets in a game. Most of the time, a receiver is getting that many targets because the team is going back to a matchup that is working. Not so on Sunday. No receiver in the 20-target group put up fewer yards than the 79 that Adams posted against the Lions.

That Adams put up just 79 yards on 21 targets against weak competition attests to the separation he failed to create, continuing a season-long pattern. Even on the back-shoulder throws that have been so unstoppable in the past with Jordy Nelson -- and that don't require much separation -- the timing continued to be off with Adams.

Rodgers has had success with a range of receivers, but his lack of success with Adams has extended throughout the receiver's two seasons. In 2014, Adams had a couple of big games but posted the lowest DVOA of any Green Bay wideout since 2010 (minimum 40 targets). This year, he's gone even lower, posting by far the worst DVOA of any Packers receiver of the last six years.

Aaron Rodgers' Wide Receivers: 2010-2015
Year Receiver Targets DYAR DVOA
2011 87-J.Nelson 98 530 54.1%
2015 89-J.Jones 40 180 48.9%
2011 89-J.Jones 57 239 42.4%
2014 18-R.Cobb 128 479 35.7%
2012 87-J.Nelson 75 292 30.8%
2014 87-J.Nelson 157 482 26.8%
2013 87-J.Nelson 128 402 26.7%
2012 18-R.Cobb 105 357 24.1%
2012 89-J.Jones 100 318 22.6%
2011 85-G.Jennings 106 287 21.9%
2013 18-R.Cobb 47 121 21.1%
2010 85-G.Jennings 127 328 19.4%
Year Receiver Targets DYAR DVOA
2011 80-D.Driver 58 136 18.1%
2010 87-J.Nelson 64 113 9.5%
2013 11-J.Boykin 85 146 9.3%
2013 89-J.Jones 95 110 2.1%
2015 82-R.Rodgers 50 20 -1.5%
2010 89-J.Jones 87 63 -3.4%
2015 18-R.Cobb 78 48 -4.5%
2012 85-G.Jennings 63 37 -5.2%
2010 80-D.Driver 85 33 -7.8%
2014 17-D.Adams 66 19 -9.0%
2015 17-D.Adams 49 -48 -25.5%

Some of Adams' competition here did not have Rodgers for a full season, either. While Adams has been injured this year and is still a month away from turning 23, the Packers may need improvement from him this year for the offense to return to its hyper-efficient ways. Nelson didn't just post big advanced stats himself in recent years. His effectiveness on the outside opened up space for Cobb to operate. Adams' slow start has brought down Cobb's productivity, too.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that everyone should R-E-L-A-X about the Packers' offense after the Broncos snuffed out all their oxygen. Given how much we've seen from Aaron Rodgers over the years, even now might be too soon to get antsy. But with a defense as bad as Detroit's forcing the Packers to punt on nine consecutive possessions, it's surprisingly time to get prepared to shift that DEFCON meter if the passing game struggles one more week.

Lovestruck Roy McAvoy, Packers Kicker

However much the Packers deserved to lose, the game was still available as Mason Crosby lined up to kick the potential game-winning 52-yard field goal. His kick looked like it had to be blocked, but it turned out to be just a clean shank that swerved hard right, like a Roy McAvoy duck off the car on the driving range.

Tin Cup was a rom-com, so McAvoy's case of the shanks came from the right woman throwing off his balance. Crosby's shank is more concerning since it's hard not to think choke with such a disaster in such a huge spot. Clutch versus not-so-clutch is so often overblown, but even if it's often hard to find in the numbers, anybody who has played even a little bit of sports gets that it exists in some form. And it might be a problem for Mason Crosby. Though there's not enough evidence to make any clear conclusions, Crosby is now 0-for-4 in his career from 50-plus yards out on kicks that could swing the game in the last minute of the fourth quarter or overtime.

Mason Crosby Under 1:00 Left in Fourth Quarter, Game Within Three Points
Date Opp Qtr Time Score After Kick Distance Result
9/9/07 PHI 4 0:06 16-13 42 Good
11/9/08 MIN 4 0:31 27-28 52 No Good
12/22/08 CHI 4 0:25 17-17 38 Blocked
10/10/10 WAS 4 0:07 13-13 53 No Good
12/4/11 NYG 4 0:03 38-35 31 Good
10/7/12 IND 4 0:08 27-30 51 No Good
11/18/12 DET 4 0:24 24-20 39 Good
11/24/13 MIN 4 0:50 23-23 27 Good
11/24/13 MIN OT 10:28 26-23 20 Good
11/15/15 DET 4 0:05 16-18 52 No Good

For now, let's just say you're suspect, Mason Crosby.

By the VOA

Special teams provided almost all of the Lions' winning margin according to DVOA. Other than the field goal and extra point attempts, the big special teams play was Ameer Abdullah's 104-yard kickoff return to set Detroit up on the Packers' 1-yard line to start the second half.

DVOA (Opponent adjustments included)
DET -16.4% -14.4% 29.1% 27.1%
GB -2.3% -0.7% -20.8% -22.5%
VOA (No opponent adjustments)
DET -15.9% -1.7% 29.1% 14.8%
GB 6.5% -16.6% -20.8% 2.3%

The Packers' offensive DVOA gets a big boost from turning it on in the fourth quarter with the two long touchdown drives. Through three quarters, the Packers' offense had posted a -26.8% DVOA.

The Keep Looking At Wins Stat of the Week

After a relatively wild Week 2, I defined Surprise Score to capture how upset-y an NFL week is. That week ranked in the top ten according to Surprise Score (which went back to 1979). But Week 2 had nothing on Week 10. With the Texans' upset of the Bengals, Week 10 goes down as the second-most upset-happy week in the NFL in the last 36 years, trailing only that crazy Week 6 from 2001.

Week 10 Surprise Score
Underdog Favorite Result Line Score
DET GB W 18-16 +10.5 0.565
HOU CIN W 10-6 +10 0.543
CHI STL W 37-13 +7 0.397
CLE PIT L 9-30 +7 0.000
NYG NE L 27-26 +7 0.000
MIA PHI W 20-19 +6 0.344
JAC BAL W 22-20 +5 0.290
TEN CAR L 10-27 +3.5 0.000
KC DEN W 29-13 +3.5 0.205
MIN OAK W 30-14 +3 0.177
ARI SEA W 39-32 +3 0.177
BUF NYJ W 22-17 +2.5 0.147
TB DAL W 10-6 +1 0.059
WAS NO W 47-14 +1 0.059

Total: 2.964

The lines I'm using here have the Cowboys closing as a one-point favorite, making it 11 wins in 14 games for underdogs in Week 10, including the two biggest underdogs in the Lions and Texans. Down is up (ask Kirk Cousins), up is down (ask Peyton Manning), and the big upsets keep coming.

Posted by: Andrew Healy on 17 Nov 2015

27 comments, Last at 29 Feb 2016, 7:25am by Kuttu.das.1992


by Nevic :: Tue, 11/17/2015 - 2:30pm

No comment on how at least 3 of the passes Adams didn't catch were clearly uncalled PI? Somewhat comically, there were two uncalled PIs in a row on 2nd and 5 and 3rd and 5 late in the game, then Adams got an unsportsmanlike conduct for basically complaining to the ref (I know he lightly shoved another player, but that same move goes uncalled 90% of the time unless the ref already has a beef with you).

As has been the formula for beating GB for years, it seems the Lions decided to be really physical with the WRs and got an official crew allergic to calling PI.

by ZDNeal :: Tue, 11/17/2015 - 3:14pm

It was obviously the Refs fault. GB is always getting screwed by the refs.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Tue, 11/17/2015 - 3:58pm

As expected of a 1-7 team with less than -30% DVOA, the Lions played godawful in this game, and were foiled in their own best efforts to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. If the only thing between the Packers and a home victory against that kind of team is 3 missed PI calls, then the Packers have some major problems that go deepr than "being physical with the WRs".

by jonsilver :: Thu, 11/19/2015 - 1:51am


Jon Silverberg

by LionInAZ :: Thu, 11/19/2015 - 6:41pm

Adams might have gotten some of the calls if he hadn't been so focused on trying to push off and initiating contact with the defender.

On the other side, Caraun Reid made a great play to take down Starks on a run outside in the 1st Q that could have gone for big gain. He did it despite the clear fact that Sitton had a fistful of his jersey that went uncalled. So the argument can go both ways.

Addendum To FO: I don't understand why I had to go through Captcha to edit my own post...

by poplar cove :: Tue, 11/17/2015 - 3:37pm

HAHA.........no kidding. Last thing a Packers fan should ever do is complain about not getting calls especially against the Lions, the team with the least referee respect in the league. Still loved how Rodgers stepped on Suh last season and didn't get called for it. This one was on the weak Packers WR who couldn't get separation then complained about it out of frustration, too funny.

by jonsilver :: Thu, 11/19/2015 - 2:02am

We need a weekly chart updating "referee respect" throughout the season. Lions #32 since 1963? (Yes, I know there haven't been 32 teams for all that time.)

Jon Silverberg

by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 11/17/2015 - 3:56pm

Lions would not have won if haughty packkers traded for a receiver. "Oh no, we r too good for that. we save our drfat picks. no way do we want vet receiver."

should've traded for veteran. didn;'t they do that with rison in 96? or was that a signiong of a waived player? not reclalign exactly. maybe it was trade. bucky brooks going the other way> ehh, somebody can look it up.

thought GB could have acquird steve smith. of course, he is on IR now but maybe he would not have blown out Achilles in plaing in a different staidmu that day. can't assume he would jhavbe gotten hurt on gb too. Or some other WR could have been had. maybe a guy like Nate Washington. just somebody older to stabilize receiving corps. "No, adams will come back and be next Fred Biletnikoff. No, abbrederis golden. Jeff Janis spectacular. Ricjhard Rodgers fabulous. We have no probs, man."

by duh :: Tue, 11/17/2015 - 4:16pm

Jags cut him. Seems he didn't get along well with Coach Coughlin.

by ammek :: Tue, 11/17/2015 - 5:14pm

I'm not sure what the purpose of this column is any more. At one point it used to suggest and examine possible explanations for the upset. Now it seems to be a collection of quirky stats plus some references I don't get. There is only one sentence to indicate the writer has watched the game. The Mason Crosby graphic is interesting, and the DVOA breakdown is always useful, but other than that there's nothing here I didn't know already: The Packers lost because they punted a lot because their receivers didn't get separation. The Lions won because ...???

The Davante Adams section makes me long for Film Room or Every Play Counts. The banality of the conclusion – "the Packers may need improvement from him this year for the offense to return to its hyper-efficient ways" – might have tipped you off that this was not the most penetrating analysis. I don't know whether Adams is going to be a good player, but comparing his first two years with DYAR by established receivers is misleading. (And why is Richard Rodgers in the table, but not Finley?) The Packers knew Adams was a project when they drafted him; and there's a pattern to how the Packers develop their receivers, as a more useful list would have shown:

Packers' receivers in their first two seasons under McCarthy (DYAR, DVOA):

2006 Jennings -97, -24.2%
2007 Jennings 292, 30.0%

2007 Jones 13, -10.7%
2008 Jones* 72, 18.0%

2008 Nelson 42, -2.2%
2009 Nelson* 130, 41.1%

2011 Cobb* 127, 42.1%
2012 Cobb 300, 24.0%

2008 Finley* -17, -25.3%
2009 Finley 164, 25.6%

2014 Adams 19, -9.0%

*fewer than 40 targets

Adams' first season looks very much like the others'. His second season, so far, does not. That's the story here. There are plenty of possible explanations, if we are still interested in those, but I would underline the fact that last season the Packers got enormously lucky at the receiving positions. Having said goodbye to Jennings in 2012, lost Finley to injury during 2013, and lost Jones after the 2013 season, the Packers found themselves desperately thin at WR and TE. They survived in 2014 only by being perfectly healthy. The thinness has been waiting to bite them on the butt for a while. Raiderjoe's "haughty" comment is really not that far off the mark. If rumors of Rodgers' frustration are accurate, he's probably been watching film of Amendola, Sanders and Olsen and wondering why he can't have a veteran to play with.

by Andrew Healy :: Wed, 11/18/2015 - 2:02pm

Most of the comments here are thoughtful. I don't think I've responded to one of these kinds of comments before and I don't anticipate doing so again. But do try to remember that these are actual human beings writing. I put 10-15 hours into these columns every week despite other obligations. I love doing this, but it's largely fun on the thought someone will appreciate it.

So it is frustrating to have to read nastiness. It doesn't deserve a point-by-point rebuttal, but briefly: Not everyone watched Sunday's game. It was important to describe how the Lions did not get lucky. The breakdown of Adams and Crosby helped show important aspects of the Packers' prospects going forward (and your breakdown is not particularly useful since Rodgers wasn't beyond his first season for both years in the comparison except for Cobb, who goes to prove my point).

And maybe you think Surprise Score is silly. I don't think it tells us about the Lions or Packers going forward, but well it's fun. This stuff is supposed to be fun.

by ammek :: Wed, 11/18/2015 - 3:44pm

I'm sorry. And I like Surprise Score.

by bravehoptoad :: Thu, 11/19/2015 - 12:18pm

For what it's worth, I didn't think this was a nasty comment so much as a critical one. My first reaction was that this is just the kind of beefy, opinionated, fiesty comment that really gets these threads rolling. Some of the best pages I've read on this site have started with a criticism (usually intelligent) of a stat or an article, and before you know it, there's 60 comments of pro and con.

I suppose ammek's tone could have been kinder while conveying the same points. It is easy on the internets to forget sometimes there's an actual person reading what you're saying.

I also greatly enjoy AGS. My knowledge of football and statistics both are usually inadequate to contribute much to these threads, or this is one I'd be pitching in much more frequently.

by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 11/19/2015 - 4:01pm

yes, it is good place to discuss football things. there is occasional creepster here and there butu is thankfully not a regular feature here liek on espn message board or team message boards and the like.

by rationem :: Wed, 11/18/2015 - 4:20pm


There are definitely a ton of weekly readers that enjoy these columns - even if we don't necessarily comment. Keep 'em coming - they're a ton of fun to read!

by Raiderfan :: Thu, 11/19/2015 - 2:02pm


by Andrew Healy :: Thu, 11/19/2015 - 3:58pm

Just wanted to say thanks for these comments. Much appreciated. And it's awesome when the discussions get flowing, so that's always fantastic.

by Grendel13G :: Thu, 11/19/2015 - 1:16am

Was there something in the water in Denver when the Packers played the Broncos? Maybe some kind of offense-destroying virus? Two 6-0 contenders entered, but now we're left with two highly suspect teams that seem to want to win a "more punts than points" secret weekly contest. WTH?

by mehllageman56 :: Thu, 11/19/2015 - 1:14pm

The offense-destroying virus must be the Denver offense, because it's been eating points off scoreboards since the beginning of the season. The Packers playing two brutally tough defenses in a row might have something to do with it, but the Lions game was an inexplicable loss to me. Andrew does as good as job as anyone could figuring out why; the Packers wasted too many plays on Adams.

by Grendel13G :: Thu, 11/19/2015 - 9:28pm

Unfortunately, the offense-eating virus that is the Broncos offense could only be sustained as long as the defense was scoring points of their own. Sorry, Packers fans! Next time maybe wear protection.

by LionInAZ :: Thu, 11/19/2015 - 10:49pm

Wearing cheese heads isn't good enough? They seem sufficiently repellent.

by LionInAZ :: Thu, 11/19/2015 - 6:36pm

The big unanswered question in this analysis is where James Jones disappeared to during the game. Did he get any targets?

by Andrew Healy :: Fri, 11/20/2015 - 1:44pm

He played 99% of the snaps and was targeted twice (no receptions). When I watched him run routes, he seemed to never be open. Like Adams and, more surprisingly, like Cobb. So why target Adams so much more if they're both covered? They may be trying to maximize their upside by seeing what they can get from Adams, knowing there would be some growing pains compared to a more veteran receiver. But, as raiderjoe and ammek said, maybe veteran receiving depth is something they should have done more to address, too.

by LionInAZ :: Thu, 11/26/2015 - 6:07pm

Thoughtful response. I watched the game but the TV coverage failed to talk about Jones, despite his early production.

by hanza23 :: Mon, 12/21/2015 - 5:25am

For what it's worth, I didn't think this was a nasty comment so much as a critical one. My first reaction was that this is just the kind of beefy, opinionated, fiesty comment that really gets these threads rolling. Some of the best pages I've read on this site have started with a criticism (usually intelligent) of a stat or an article, and before you know it, there's 60 comments of pro and con.

I suppose ammek's tone could have been kinder while conveying the same points. It is easy on the internets to forget sometimes there's an actual person reading what you're saying.

I also greatly enjoy AGS. My knowledge of football and statistics both are usually inadequate to contribute much to these threads, or this is one I'd be pitching in much more frequently.

by Melanie :: Sat, 01/23/2016 - 11:04pm
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