Sometimes, winning a football game doesn’t necessarily mean a team has improved. At least not statistically. The NFL is funny that way. The Detroit Lions won a very important game against the Washington Redskins, which sets up a showdown with the Chicago Bears next week for division supremacy.
It wasn’t what you would call an “ugly” win in Washington. The Lions certainly could have played better, but it wasn’t the mistake-filled mess the Lions posted against, say, the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1. They won the game pretty handily, never trailing from the second quarter on.
Still, what do the Lions’ NFL rankings say about their Week 3 performance?
Most of these rankings are still evening out from outlier performances in the first couple weeks of the season, so heavy fluctuation is typical. This week’s performance didn’t result in a total freefall across the board (like their performance against Arizona did), but the Lions still saw a slide toward the middle of the pack in several areas, particularly on defense.
However, the areas where the Lions have improved do a pretty good job of showing the team’s identity and the blueprint of how they win games. The Lions improved in total offense, passing offense, turnover margin and scoring defense. They have also maintained the league’s best third down defense, a testament to their dominant offense line that generates push on 3rd-and-short, and a dangerous pass rush on 3rd-and-long.
Meanwhile, the offense can still sling it around, seemingly at will. Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson both had 100-yard receiving games against the Redskins, the first time they’ve done that as teammates. Joique Bell was highly effective in relief of the injured Reggie Bush, but that didn’t help them improve their rushing totals on the season.
So all in all, the stats paint a picture of a team with a good passing offense, limited rushing attack, and an opportunistic —but not suffocating — defense. Does that sound like any team you know?
At this point, perhaps Joique Bell shouldn’t be a surprise anymore. Anyone who has watched the Lions’ first three games knows he can play. But the last half of the Arizona game might have been concerning to those wondering if Bell could be a legitimate starter.
It turns out he can. Bell’s numbers weren’t gaudy, with just over three yards per carry, but over 60 yards both rushing and receiving plus a rushing touchdown means that those who were brave enough to start him this week were rewarded with a Bush-like 19.2 points in standard formats.
Now is probably the time to cut loose with Brandon Pettigrew. If you, like me, decided to spend a mid- to late-round pick on Pettigrew with the thought that he could be a major target in the Lions’ offense, you can stop now. He has 38 receiving yards and a lost fumble all season, and was a non-factor against Washington. I’m no psychologist, but I’d guess after two weeks of chronic drops, Matthew Stafford has most likely lost some faith in his starting tight end.
Meanwhile, Joseph Fauria is emerging into a primary red-zone target (a position once filled by Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler), with two touchdowns in his first three career games.
Week 3 Sleeper
Like last week, Ryan Broyles remains a prime target for those needing some breakout potential on the bench. The second-year receiver finally made his way onto the field against Washington, and finished with a pedestrian, but encouraging, three catches for 34 yards. His impact now isn’t what it’s likely to be at the end of the season. This is the perfect time to buy on Broyles, as his role will only grow as he gains experience and puts his ACL injury in the rear-view mirror.
3-15 — combined records of the teams the Lions and Bears have played this season
1050 — Before last Sunday, days since Nate Burleson’s last 100-yard receiving game (11/07/10 vs. New York Jets)
25 — completions by Matthew Stafford
17 — completions by Matthew Stafford to wide receivers
2 — targets for Brandon Pettigrew vs. Washington (according to KFFL), on the way to his second career complete zero-catch game, and his first since his rookie year
2 — rushes by rookie Theo Riddick
-2 — rushing yards for rookie Theo Riddick
0 — rushes by Mikel Leshoure
119 — total rushing yards for Lions leading rusher Joique Bell
19 — receptions for Lions leading receiver Nate Burleson
10 — touchdowns for the Lions in 2013
5 — number of Lions players with a touchdown in 2013: Calvin Johnson (3 rec) Joique Bell (3 rush), Joseph Fauria (2 receiving), Reggie Bush (1 receiving), DeAndre Levy (1 INT return)
38/0 – receiving yardage/touchdowns for TE Brandon Pettigrew
75/1 — receiving yardage/touchdowns for LB DeAndre Levy