After some discussion with my editors, it was decided that it’s important for our readers to understand why the Lions’ – or any team’s – tendencies in power-eligible situations matter. The data in and of itself is interesting, but it may not be meaningful without context and interpretation. So, I’d like to clarify why I believe the data is significant. Most of the ideas herein are fairly intuitive, but merit some explanation.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand what a critical short-yardage situation like a 3rd & 2 really is – an ultimatum. When a team is confronted with such a situation, it usually comes down to converting, settling for a field go, or worst of all, punting. And if it’s a 4th & 1, then it’s truly do-or-die. I won’t condescend by explaining down and distance in American football, but it is worth noting both the run and the pass are viable in such situations. And unless they’re on the goal line – when the playing field is seriously constricted and bodies are packed tightly together – the whole playbook is at their disposal. When they are on the goal line, they’re playing for six. So, it comes down to this –
How are you going to get it done?
A Team Shows Its True Colors In Power Situations
In this sense, I believe that these situations can help define both a team’s identity. That is, what they’re good at, and how they do it. Do they like to spread the field and attack defenses through the air? Or maybe they’re a line-em-up and knock-em-down kind of team? Are they a balanced team, or do they favor the run or the pass?
Do they go to one of their bread-and-butter plays, or do they have an ace in the hole? Do they believe in what they do and simply trust their guys to execute?
By the same token, it can also be a measure of the players themselves. Are your guys better than their guys? Are they good enough that the coaches can telegraph what they’re doing and dare the other team to stop them, or do they have to scheme around weaknesses?
You can glance at a team’s general run-pass splits, but that may not tell the whole story. For example, if a team is down early and often, their splits will be skewed because they’ll be forced to pass more. So, I believe that when a drive is on the line is when a team show its true colors.
So, What About the Lions?
For the Lions, that meant spreading the field out and attempting to get their playmakers the ball in space. Unsurprisingly, they still favored the pass heavily. Despite a first down or touchdown being just two or fewer yards away, they still ran the ball just 40% of the time. And when they did, they used six offensive linemen with 21 personnel (two RBs, one TE) or 22 personnel (two RBs, two TEs) 33% of the time, which suggests a lack of faith in run blocking.
It’s well-understood that Detroit is a pass-first team that has had well-documented struggles on the ground, so these findings would corroborate the ‘eye test.’ Therefore, it is my belief that the data I’ve collected can be reasonably extrapolated to understand the team’s offense better, and I will continue to explore these findings throughout the season.