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.

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Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker

tailALDLAND’s weekly football roundup is back following week three of college football and week two of the NFL.

College Football

Pregame:

  • I caught snippets of ESPN College Gameday and Fox Sports 1’s college football pregame shows. Gameday remains the leader of the pack, but I’d like more time to see how FS1’s show develops. In the meantime, I’ll join FS1’s Joel Klatt in sending good wishes to the folks in Colorado dealing with major flooding right now.

The games — excitement building:

  • With a couple East Carolina fans in town, we watched the Pirates hang with Virginia Tech for about three quarters. The Hokies did all they could, including badly missing a bunch of close kicks, to hand ECU the game. Frank Beamer looked like he wanted to puke, but his team managed to hold it together in the end. Virginia Tech 15, East Carolina 10.
  • We were flipping between that game and UCLA-Nebraska. When I first checked in on this one, Nebraska had a 21-3 lead, and it looked like the best early game of the day would not materialize into a competitive affair. That turned out to be sort of true, but not in the way I expected. UCLA scored thirty-eight unanswered points to beat the now-mythological blackshirt defense in Lincoln 41-21.
  • The game of the day belonged to Alabama and Texas A&M, and it lived up to the hype. Johnny Manziel and the Aggies started very hot, jumping out to a 14-0 lead and choking the Tide’s early drives. A&M scored touchdowns on its first two drives, which averaged 71.5 yards and 2:06 off the clock. Alabama responded, though, methodically amassing thirty-five temporarily unanswered points and carried a 42-21 lead into the fourth quarter. The Aggie defense had yielded to The System, but Manziel wasn’t through, although twenty-one fourth-quarter points wouldn’t be enough to top Alabama. The Crimson Tide remain undefeated, winning 49-42, but Manziel unequivocally proved that he is must-see football every time he plays, and his cohort, receiver Mike Evans, deserves some credit too.     Continue reading

The Truth: What really happened in the murder trial of Ray Lewis, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting (via Atlanta Magazine)

“When was the last time a high-profile case in Atlanta ended in acquittal?” Bruce Harvey asks. “For a criminal defense lawyer, it doesn’t get any better. It ain’t never gonna be no sweeter than this.”

The colorful, ponytailed defense lawyer smiles broadly, sitting behind his paper-strewn desk in a loft near the Tabernacle club downtown. Behind him, the wall is dominated by a framed photo and signature of legendary lawyer Clarence Darrow. Harvey’s Harley-Davidson motorcycle is parked in the lobby downstairs. “Not guiltynot guiltynot guilty,” he almost whispers. “You know, this was the right verdict. In that way, justice and the system was vindicated. When it works the way it’s supposed to work, our justice system is a glorious thing. The trial wasn’t the problem, the problem was that this case ever made it to trial. That was the disgrace.”

The Ray Lewis Murder Trial, beyond attracting more national attention than any courthouse drama to unfold here in more than 20 years, became a morality play for modern-day Atlanta. It had the intrigue of a well-crafted whodunit. The glitz and glamour of the Super Bowl. An NFL star accused of murder. The trappings of Buckhead. A setting outside a popular bar in which professional athletes partied in a VIP room. It had the street hustle of hip-hop. Young black men wearing mink coats and drinking $200 bottles of champagne with luscious gold-diggers hanging on each arm. It was the kind of trial that makes or breaks legal careers, that seals reputations. And it attracted the creme de la creme of Atlanta’s criminal defense lawyers.

“This was a defense lawyer’s dream,” says Harvey. “You had a high-profile, nationally significant case and an innocent client.”

The result was a stunning and humiliating defeat for Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. CNN legal analyst Roger Cossack went as far as to compare Howard’s performance to the bumbling Inspector Clouseau of the Pink Panther movies. “If they ever write a book listing the most inept prosecutions ever,” Cossack wrote in his online column, “this one will be highlighted as the standard by which all others are to be measured.”

In a series of interviews, both the defense team and Howard spoke candidly to Atlanta Magazine about the trial. Howard strenuously defended his handling of the case and his decision to enter the courtroom to personally prosecute after a nearly four-year hiatus from trial work. He described witnesses sabotaging the prosecution with organized silence. He answered criticism that he rushed the case to trial, maintaining that the case demanded aggressive prosecution.

Defense lawyers revealed how they shredded the prosecution case. They described political pressure from city officials that led to hastily drawn indictments. Some of the defense lawyers accused Howard of approaching ethical boundaries, even lying to them. (Howard denies all such allegations.) All the lawyers spoke openly of their behind-the-scenes disagreements, detailing awkward moments in coordinating a shared defense strategy. They told the inside story of Lewis’ dramatic 11th-hour plea agreement that gave the All-Pro Baltimore Ravens linebacker what he’d wanted all along: probation for a misdemeanor count of obstruction of justice. And they explained how they won the outright acquittals of co-defendants Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley on all charges.

Above all, they talked about the truths that were never revealed in the courtroom. They talked about what really happened that night when two men died in the middle of the street in the heart of Buckhead. … Read More

(via Atlanta Magazine)

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Super Bowl XLVII, brought to you by the AARP?

Super Bowl XLVII, brought to you by the AARP?

The NFL playoffs is down to its final four teams, and by Sunday night, we’ll know whether Baltimore or New England will be facing Atlanta or San Francisco in the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

lewis-gonzalez-moss

These playoffs have been a Rusty’s Last Call ride for Ray Lewis, whose Ravens somewhat improbably have advanced to the AFC championship game. While their opponent, the Patriots, is a perennial postseason favorite, the Ravens (and not, any longer, the Seahawks) are the hot team of this postseason, and it’s becoming difficult to bet against them– ESPN certainly isn’t. Lewis’ last dance may come Saturday. If not, it will come on Super Bowl Sunday.

If it does, Lewis will share the setting sun’s spotlight with one other notable retiree. If the NFC championship game goes according to the seeding, it will be longtime Chief and current Falcon Tony Gonzalez. The tight end, probably best known for popularizing the crossbar dunk TD celebration, says he’s 95% certain he’ll retire after this season, and while his final act has received markedly less than the gyrating, bionic-armed one of Lewis, the attention he has received has taken care to note just how impressive of a career he’s had.

If the NFC championship game follows the hot hand, as it sure seems like it may, Lewis’ possibly outgoing opponent will one whose superstardom has long since burned low. Randy Moss’ days as the league’s most dominant wide receiver are long gone. His days as an albatross– i.e., his days in Oakland and Nashville– seem to be in the past as well. He’s retired once, and he’s rapidly approaching the end of his one-year contract with San Francisco. There hasn’t been any retirement discussion from Moss (this ambiguous retweet aside), or really much discussion of him in the media at all. Moss’ numbers are way down from his peak-production years, though they’re up over his recent disaster years. It’s tough to know whether the 49ers or Moss will want to sign a new contract for next year– he started only two games this year, the fewest of any season in his career– or if this is it. The only sure bet looks to be that, if this Sunday or Super Bowl Sunday really is Moss’ last game, he’ll treat it a little differently than Lewis will handle his.

Narrow Margin Monday, take 2

We find ourselves late on a Monday after another weekend of close games. On Saturday, woefully underachieving Michigan State lost in overtime to Iowa as a result of what one local radio host called the worst coaching he had ever seen in his life, and the man is neither young nor inexperienced in the field. In a real upset, LSU threw a monkey wrench in the SEC East race and beat South Carolina 23-21, Kansas State escaped Ames with a 27-21 win over Iowa State, Notre Dame beat Stanford 20-13 in overtime, and Texas A&M squeaked by Louisiana Tech 59-57. Even the Florida-Vanderbilt game was close into the fourth quarter before the Gators and their quarterback ran away with it. More on that game later this week.

Saturday had its share of blowouts, naturally, and the notable ones included Alabama’s 42-10 win at Missouri, which remains winless in its new conference, Texas Tech’s 49-14 embarrassment of one-time national championship contender West Virginia, still-undefeated Oregon State’s 42-24 win over BYU, and Michigan’s 45-0 muddy execution of Illinois on Wolverine homecoming. Michigan hosts Michigan State in another ALDLAND outing, more on which toward the end of the week.

The NFL had its share of close contests too, including the Lions’ overtime win over hapless Philadelphia, Buffalo’s 19-16 overtime win over Arizona, whose kicker hit a 61-yarder to tie the game but subsequently missed a 30-something yard kick to win the game in the final seconds, the Seahawks 24-23 win over New England, Atlanta’s come-from-behind win over Oakland to become the league’s final undefeated team, Miami’s 17-14 victory over the Rams, and Baltimore’s 31-29 capitalization on the Dallas (ongoing) Disaster. Baltimore payed a long-term price for its win, though, sacrificing defenders Ray Lewis and Ladarius Webb at last to the football devil (no, not the commissioner– separate office) in payment for their past defensive successes. Lewis and Webb are out for the season. Other high-flying teams went down in spectacular fashion on Sunday, including San Francisco, 26-3 at the hands of the Giants, and Houston, 42-24 to Green Bay on Sunday night.

In off-field NFL news, Jonathan Vilma, the embattled New Orleans Saint, reportedly will be allowed to play as soon as this weekend, although it isn’t clear if he will. Vilma continues to maintain a defamation suit against Roger Goodell.

In baseball, the final four is set and in motion. Detroit seized a 2-0 lead over the Yankees as the series heads to Detroit with AL strikeout kings Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer yet to pitch for the Tigers. The other road team, St. Louis, has a 1-0 lead in the NLCS battle of the two most recent defending World Series champions, though the Cardinals are down 5-1 in the fourth as I write this.