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10 Oct 2016

Any Given Sunday: Lions Over Eagles

by Rivers McCown

Philadelphia's defense was one of the dominant units of the league over the first three weeks of the season. After their Week 4 bye, they came into Week 5 second in defensive DVOA, and first in pass defense DVOA. And while Detroit's offense had been fine up to this point, at 10th in offensive DVOA, there were reasons to believe that Philadelphia would have a bigger edge. For one thing, Marvin Jones missed much of practice this week due to a foot injury. Tight end Eric Ebron did not play. Golden Tate has spent the first month of the season going incognito. And with Ameer Abdullah already gone to IR, and first-choice backup Dwayne Washington also an inactive, the Lions didn't seem likely to move the ball easily on the ground either.

So naturally, the Lions scored touchdowns on their first three drives of the game, gashing a defense that had been great up until that point. Things slowed down in the second half, with only a short-field drive for a Matt Prater field goal, but by that point the damage had already been done.

The major weapons for Detroit were Theo Riddick, Philadelphia penalties, and a bold call. Swing tackle Corey Robinson came off the bench for the Lions to be a sixth lineman often over the first three drives. Public perception coming into this game said that the sustaining back on this roster would be Zach Zenner, a heralded undrafted free agent by football minds like Matt Waldman. But Zenner was able to string together just 2 yards on four carries on the second drive. Instead, it was Riddick who was getting to the edge and hitting the hole with speed.

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It was pretty much a given that Riddick would be a good NFL passing-down back -- he was mostly a receiver coming out of Notre Dame. But the major surprise of this game was how the Lions were able to sustain the running game early with him.

Then, up 14-7, the Lions did a curious thing. On fourth-and-1 from their own 47, they went for it. This play had all the hallmarks of a lightning rod to fire the head coach if it went wrong: the Lions were leading, they were on their own side of the field, and it was an unusually aggressive play call. On the other hand, despite what your perception might be of Jim Caldwell, his team went for it on fourth down more than any other team in 2014. And since all Stafford had to do was sneak it, which should be a guaranteed conversion most of the time, the embattled Caldwell gets to keep his job for another week.

Oh, and penalties? The Eagles had three defensive penalties on the second drive alone. This was en route to a 14-penalty day for the Eagles, compared to just two for the Lions. Home cookin', gotta love it.

The Eagles eventually were able to shut down the Detroit offense as they should have on paper, but spotting them 21 points on the first three drives was too much to overcome.

By the VOA

DET 3.5% -0.6% 2.3% 6.4%
PHI -12.5% -10.5% 3.3% 1.2%
DET -11.5% 6.0% 2.3% -15.2%
PHI -1.7% -8.1% 3.3% 9.7%

Note that without opponent adjustments, our ratings have Philadelphia as the better team in all three phases on Sunday. Of course, as we've stated, penalties were a major swing factor. Philly outgained Detroit by 1.7 yards per play. All three of Detroit's touchdown drives started inside its own 25 as well.

But by losing the turnover battle, getting heavily penalized, and settling for field goals (see below), Philly came up just short of a win.

Failed Four-Point Plays

One specific "stat" that I think makes a lot of sense has been bandied about this year by former Patriots/Browns/Raiders front office head Michael Lombardi. This is the idea of the four-point play: a third-down stop in or near the red zone that forces a field goal attempt. The more of these an offense fails, naturally, the harder it is to win.

The Eagles kicked three field goals on Sunday and lost by a single point. I'm going to throw out their end-of-half field goal, because I don't think it's reasonable to expect a team to convert third-and-36. (I told you, those penalties were pretty special.)

But let's look at the other two plays that led to field goals.

The major gaffe came after a Stafford strip-sack set the Eagles up deep in Detroit territory. An incomplete pass on a corner route to Nelson Agholor and a 2-yard run set up third-and-8 from the Detroit 14. Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz went back shoulder to Dorial Green-Beckham, and Green-Beckham figuratively pooped himself.

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If Green-Beckham catches this easy ball, it's first-and-goal. Instead, the Eagles settled for a field goal and continued to trail.

Two drives later, the Eagles found themselves moving at the Detroit 31. After a long Ryan Mathews run was called back on holding, the Eagles found themselves with third-and-5. Carson Wentz targeted Nelson Agholor on the outside, and star corner Darius Slay broke on a ball behind Agholor and stopped it.

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The Eagles didn't lose the game because of these two plays alone. Mathews' late fumble ruined another drive, and Wentz's late interception to Slay put the nail in the coffin. But they had opportunities to put this game in a much more favorable position, and not taking advantage of them was a major reason they weren't able to fight back from the hot Detroit start.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 10 Oct 2016

9 comments, Last at 14 Oct 2016, 11:02am by Tomlin_Is_Infallible


by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Mon, 10/10/2016 - 3:47pm

If that was a "back shoulder" throw, it sure was a crappy one. DGB wasn't the only one pooping themselves if so.

The standard is the standard!

by LyleNM :: Mon, 10/10/2016 - 11:48pm

TiI is right on this one. That definitely didn't make it anywhere close to his back shoulder.

by ChrisS :: Tue, 10/11/2016 - 12:45pm

It looks to me like an OK-ish pass given that DGB was not open and throwing behind him was the only possible place to put it to get a reception. DGB does miss the ball with his hands, while turning/twisting back for the pass so not easy. When the ball gets to his body Lawson has his hand in there to help dislodge it.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Tue, 10/11/2016 - 1:04pm


Compare it to this.

The standard is the standard!

by Ryan :: Tue, 10/11/2016 - 2:19pm

Not sure it's fair to compare a rookie (or just about anyone, really) to Peyton Manning on the back shoulder/end zone fade. (Never mind that his coach recently did it.)

by whateverdude :: Tue, 10/11/2016 - 2:15pm

Yeah, I really disagree that that was an "easy ball". It may be easy for guys that specialize in contested catches (Brandon Marshall, Jimmy Graham, etc) but for an average NFL receiver I'd say it's a 50/50 ball at best. Honestly, this throw reminds me of Ryan Fitzpatrick (not a compliment). Just chuck it up and hope the receiver makes a play.

by bingo762 :: Mon, 10/10/2016 - 4:22pm

"but spotting them 21 points on the first three drives was too much to overcome."

No it wasn't

by Subrata Sircar :: Thu, 10/13/2016 - 4:42am

The DB actually breaks up the pass; watch the end-zone shot of the gif and pause when DGB tries to catch the ball. That pink blur on his chest is the defender's left hand, which comes down and appears to rake the ball out as DGB's foot hits the ground.

In fact, it looks like the defender's hand might contact the ball before it hits the receiver's arms. In either case it is by no means an easy catch on which the receiver pooped himself, figuratively or otherwise.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Fri, 10/14/2016 - 11:02am

"by jtr :: Wed, 10/12/2016 - 11:11am

I really appreciate that the FO staff takes the time to respond to questions in the comment threads


The standard is the standard!