Charting Cliff Avril's value to the Lions

We've all heard the question in one form of the other: Is Detroit Lions defensive end Cliff Avril really that good? Or is he a product of the attention drawn by his higher-profile defensive teammates?

Mike Tanier of Football Outsiders took a closer look at that question, charting each of Avril's sacks to document double-teams and the skill level of the right tackles he beat. A few interesting nuggets emerged:

  • All but one of Avril's sacks came on a four-man rush.

  • He was double-teamed on one of the 11 sacks.

  • Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was double-teamed on five of the 11 sacks.

  • Defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill was double-teamed on four of the sacks.

  • Six of the 11 sacks were of the "strip" variety, plays where Avril didn't bring down the quarterback but instead knocked the ball out of his hands, a play that is no less valuable in the grand scheme of things.

To me, and to Tanier, there are no smoking guns in this analysis and no reason to question why the Lions made him their franchise player. It would be one thing if Avril's sacks had come amid the chaos of six- or seven-man blitz packages. Lots of players can grab garbage sacks in those situations.

But as we've discussed many times, the Lions ran their defense last season based on a four-man pass rush to provide maximum personnel in coverage. A four-man rush can't have a weak link, and whether or not you think Avril is an elite player, he proved last season that he could consistently beat single blocks. When the Lions say that Avril is a good fit for their scheme, that's what they mean.