Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

18 Oct 2011

ESPN AGS: 49ers over Lions

We look at two of the Lions' weaknesses that were exposed in their loss to San Francisco: an inability to stop big runs and a lack of a reliable second target next to Calvin Johnson.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 18 Oct 2011

10 comments, Last at 20 Oct 2011, 1:30pm by Vince Verhei


by zlionsfan :: Tue, 10/18/2011 - 4:41pm

The Lions didn't try to make Pettigrew a second threat on Sunday: they dumped the ball off to him. He's a threat when the line gives Stafford the time to make his reads, but there were a number of plays against San Francisco where Stafford's reaction was passrushpanicthrowtoTE. That's not at all the same as looking for him on seam routes (although he did have a couple of decent catches downfield IIRC).

I'll ask the same question that I've seen before: is this series no longer about surprising upsets? San Francisco was 2nd in DVOA prior to the Lions game. What about Tampa Bay over New Orleans or the Giants over the Bills?

by tuluse :: Tue, 10/18/2011 - 4:44pm

I'm going to guess that the Giants were favored by Vegas.

by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 10/18/2011 - 6:40pm

I've always thought AGS was more about wins surprising to common wisdom. That way, FO can use its advanced stats to look smart. Articles about DVOA upsets would have a much smaller readership. Example: "You may not believe it, but Minnesota was actually a very good team according to DVOA, so their blowout by Chicago is a big surprise, even though most of the world saw it coming." Yah -- not such an easy sell to a general readership.

The Lions did open as 6-point favorites, and it was supposedly the game of the week, so there's some justification for choosing it.

Neither quarterback looked very good in this game, did they? I'd say Detroit looked like a generally better team, but then the 49ers had 120 yards in penalties that likely wouldn't be repeated in a re-match. I also loved the way they called plays...toward the end of the game Suh was so confused about whether a play was a run or a pass that there were two clear passing plays in a row -- not play action -- where he stood at the line of scrimmage and made no attempt to rush. Not that Alex Smith was in form to take advantage of that. Both quarterbacks looked more nervous than they should have of those two D-lines, like they were playing against the reputation of the D-line instead of what was actually there.

I am NOT used to the 49ers being a decent team. I was so nervous watching this game I had to chug peptobismol halfway through to fight the stomach acid. I don't remember feeling this way in, say, 1994. Winning is going to take some practice.

by Tom Gower :: Tue, 10/18/2011 - 11:46pm

The only two Vegas underdogs to win Sunday were the 49ers and the Buccaneers, who were playing at home and finished +4 in turnover margin. The Giants were favored, playing at home, and Premium Picks picked them straight-up. AGS doesn't always end up being about the game I would have chosen (ESPN has their own preferences, and I'm not involved in the decision-making process), but this week I'd have picked SF-DET.

by Passing through (not verified) :: Tue, 10/18/2011 - 5:07pm

I second Vince's conclusion that the running game issues were not really the front seven's fault. Except for maybe 3 big runs, Frank Gore was smothered throughout that game. Kendall Hunter played pretty well. All in all I thought that Detroit did just as well as San Fran defending the median running play. The corners and secondary were totally useless when it came to doing their share in the running game. On the other hand, they did well enough in the passing game if you don't put it all on Alex Smith's suck. Spievey had a pick, I think.

On Detroit's offense, I think you've got to pin it on Stafford. Given how Vick and Romo tore the 49ers apart with deep routes, I don't see how Stafford and the Lions didn't go to Calvin Johnson over and over. With Aldon Smith getting more plays I guess the pass rush was pretty fierce... I feel like in that situation you need to keep the tight end in and air it out.

by Insancipitory :: Tue, 10/18/2011 - 6:28pm

Staford just didn't seem to be aware of what was happening near him, where he was on the field, and made a couple pretty poor choices. He also looked like he was wearing a little bit of lipstick. Not a flattering look for him, imho.

by Vincent Verhei :: Wed, 10/19/2011 - 1:24am

Like it or not, AGS is written for ESPN and their audience, and the Vegas lines are our guidelines. It was basically a coinflip between 49ers and Bucs, and the Lions defense was an easier story to tell.

by zlionsfan :: Wed, 10/19/2011 - 10:43am

Yeah, I keep forgetting that a) these articles are aimed at ESPN readers and b) ESPN readers are about like any other large audience on the internet, which is to say, not remotely like the crowd here. (Well, OK, some of us also read the ESPN content, but certainly the comments section doesn't look anything like even the worst comments section here.)

by drobviousso :: Thu, 10/20/2011 - 12:38pm

Well, I thought that this was a very well written article that does a good job of using statistics in an intuitive way within an overall narrative.

Quantitative rankings are great, but they aren't for the general population right now. Qualitative statistics that describe the way in which a team performed (stuffs + lots of open field yardage) absolutely have their place. I learned something I didn't know about the Lions.

by Vincent Verhei :: Thu, 10/20/2011 - 1:30pm

Thanks for the kind words! Gold star for drobviousso!