Stafford at the century mark, in context

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The 2016 Detroit Lions are doing kind of okay! Week Seven is in the books, and they’re 4-3, including a win over the probably good Eagles. In a week of very bad professional football, the Lions’ game-winning drive provided a rare highlight on Sunday. I insist you enjoy it again:

Because the NFL media corps is an insatiable monster, Sunday and Monday found everyone except Skip Bayless launching the Matthew Stafford MVP campaign:

Sunday was Stafford’s 100th NFL game, leading one writer to tabulate a long thread of historical statistical notes, the catchiest of which is the list of quarterbacks’ passing yards through their first one-hundred career games:

  1. Stafford: 27,890
  2. Dan Marino: 27,064
  3. Kurt Warner: 26,097
  4. Peyton Manning: 26,008
  5. Aaron Rodgers: 25,616

Not unimpressive company. As with Carson Palmer’s headline-grabbing passing milestone last month, though, this accumulative distinction requires some context, Continue reading

The Lions could have the best rush defense in the NFL…

…ever.

The award for the fewest rushing yards allowed by a team in a regular season goes to the 2000 Ravens* anchored by linebacker Ray Lewis. The Ravens allowed a paltry 970 yards on the ground to pick up an impressive 12-4 regular season record. Oh, and this same defense went on to win Super Bowl XXXV as well.

The Lions are nearly on track to break this record.

Let’s take a look at the numbers. Through 13 games, the Lions have allowed 817 yards on the ground. The three remaining regular season games are against repeat foes; in fact, they are against all of the other teams in the NFC North.

The last time the Lions played the Vikings, Bears, and Packers, Detroit’s defense gave up a meager 69, 13, and 76 yards respectively. If we can expect a repeat performance then the Lions are set for 975 allowed rushing yards on the season – just five more than the NFL-best 2000 Ravens.

Of course, teams change throughout the season. Let’s look at some trends. The Lions do better at home than away: about 25% better than average when home and 25% worse than average when away. This isn’t too surprising. We can also look at how the Lions defense has done lately. In the last three games (Patriots, Bears, Bucs) the Lions have done better than their average, even when accounting for the fact that two of those games were in Detroit. On the other hand, all three of the latest teams rank in the bottom half of the NFL in rushing production this year, coming in 21st, 26th, and 31st, respectively, so perhaps a slight boost in recent statistics shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

On the other side, Minnesota has been doing worse than average rushing the ball lately (7% off their season average in their last three games), Chicago has been doing much worse (in part due to the Lions of course) (47% off their season average in their last three games), and the Packers have been up lately (35% over their season average in their last three games).

Could the Lions do it? Maybe. It looks like they will be about right on track. I would probably estimate a little bit more than 970 yards allowed on the ground.

And who knows, maybe Rodgers takes a knee on the last play of the Lions regular season (hopefully because the Lions are already up by 28) and that takes Detroit to 969 rushing yards allowed.

*Other teams have allowed fewer rushing yards in a season, but since the move to a standard 14 game season in 1961, no team has done better per game than the 2000 Ravens.

Drew Brees is the farmer in the dell?

Drew Brees broke Dan Marino’s 27-year-old single-season passing record last night with a game and a quarter to spare. This morning, ESPN.com lead with “[The] Brees Stands Alone.” Hi-ho the dairy-o. In the words of Horatio Sanz (as Joe Bouchard), what does that mean?

With the obvious allusion to “The Farmer in the Dell,” one would assume that Brees, the new record-holder, would play the role of the farmer, but that only leads to more questions. When “the farmer takes a wife,” is that a reference to Brees breaking the record and making Marino his wife? (If so, I’d hate to read the feminist critique, as authored by Marino.)

I’m no Aesop, but I have written about the overlap between sports and folk songs before, and I think that this means what it says: Brees is the cheese.

Fine, but what’s the cheese? Simple. The cheese is an obvious reference to Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who, before Green Bay lost its first game of the season last week, was the unquestionable choice for league MVP. All of that is up for grabs now, though, because the Packers lost to the Chiefs and Brees seized maybe the most important passing record in the NFL. And Brees is no Case Keenum. His Saints are 12-3 and have to be considered one of the favorites to win it all. If Rodgers is the cheese, and ESPN wrote that “[The] Brees Stands Alone,” what they plainly mean is that Brees has supplanted Rodgers and stands alone as the best quarterback in the NFL.

A Thanksgiving tradition for over 70 years

The Detroit Lions have been playing football on Thanksgiving day since 1934. From the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s account:

When it comes to Thanksgiving Day football, NFL style, most fans first think of the Lions and the tradition that was started in 1934. It was their first year in Detroit after a local radio executive, George A. Richards, had purchased the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans and moved the team to Detroit. The Spartans were members of the NFL from 1930 to 1933.With the Spartans, not only was Richards bringing a proven, quality team to Detroit, he was also bringing at least one super-star, Earl “Dutch” Clark, one of the most versatile backs ever to play the game. Clark had an outstanding supporting cast in the Detroit backfield with a big, talented line anchored by Frank Christiansen.

Even though he knew there was some risk in scheduling a game on Thanksgiving Day, Richards also recognized that his Lions were taking a back seat to the baseball Tigers on the sports pages. So as one way of attracting Motor City fans during the team’s first season, he opted for the Thanksgiving Day contest.

The matchup between the Lions and the World Champion Chicago Bears proved to be an all-time classic. The 1934 Lions had not allowed a touchdown until their eighth game and entered the game with the Bears with a 10-1 record. But with 11 straight wins, Chicago had an even better record. Still a win would put the Lions into a first-place tie with the Bears with only a game left, a repeat clash with the Bears in Chicago, just three days later on December 2.

The 26,000 tickets for the Turkey Day clash in the University of Detroit Stadium, were sold out two weeks in advance of the game. It was estimated that another 25,000 would have attended had there been seats available.

The Bears edged out the Lions 19-16 in the classic holiday struggle and then prevailed 10-7 three days later to clinch the NFL Western Division crown.

Not despondent over the last two losses, Richards reasoned that his team had done well in its first year in Detroit. His confidence was rewarded the next year when the Lions won the 1935 NFL Championship. The key game in the title drive came on Thanksgiving Day, when the Lions defeated the Bears 14-2 to clinch the West championship.

Thus the football-on-Thanksgiving tradition became firmly established in Detroit. With the exception of a six-season gap from 1939 to 1944, the Thanksgiving Day game has been played with no interruptions.

In recent years, the Lions’ poor performance led many to question their entitlement to the Thanksgiving game year-in and year-out and even call for their removal from the game. To take from a team that had so little going for it that one special thing it did have seemed pretty heartless, even by NFL standards. Even in its worst years (and even if they didn’t win), the team seemed to rise to the occasion, playing tough to preserve legacy and pride on what was likely to be their only nationally televised game of the season. Our family went to one of these games, when the Lions hosted the Bears at the Silverdome in the 90s. I can’t remember which year it was, but after reviewing the old schedules and doing some mental math, I’m going to go with the 1997 meeting, a 55-20 Detroit victory over Chicago.

This year’s meeting, at the Lions’ Ford Field against the undefeated Packers is a critical matchup for two teams with playoff aspirations. On both sides of the ball, the run game will be important to Detroit’s chances for victory. If resurgent Kevin Smith continues to act like old Kevin Smith and the Lions’ defense suddenly discovers a way to stop the run, they could hand the Packers their first loss of the season. Knocking Aaron Rodgers unconscious would help too.