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.