Wednesday, December 4, 2013
In goal-line scenarios, Lions are NFL's best
By Michael Rothstein
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions huddle up and even then, so close to the end zone, it isn’t explicitly verbalized. But the knowledge is there.
When they are within 10 yards of the end zone, the Lions feel they should score touchdowns. Pretty much every team feels that way. But this season, no team has been more efficient in scoring touchdowns from that distance than Detroit.
Detroit is the best in the NFL at scoring touchdowns when in goal-to-go situations. The Lions are also best in the NFL at preventing touchdowns when opponents are in the same situation.
Reggie Bush and the Lions' offense score touchdowns on 83.3 percent of their goal-to-go possessions.
In understanding why the Lions are in position to make a run to their first divisional title in 20 years, this might be one of the most important and overlooked numbers.
Yet when Lions offensive players were asked about their efficiency this week, most of them expressed surprise.
“I know the defense is great but I didn’t know that about us,” wide receiver Kris Durham said. “I think it’s just the weapons that we have and the way that [Scott] Linehan puts us in position and obviously, it’s just a combination of everything.
“Feel like the line is doing their job. Backs and receivers are doing their job. Matthew [Stafford]’s putting us in the right position and Linehan is calling good plays.”
Inside the red zone, the Lions' offense has been good. When it becomes goal-to-go, no team in the league has been better. Detroit has scored touchdowns on 83.3 percent of its goal-to-go possessions, the only team in the NFL to top 80 percent.
It is also over a 20 percent jump in efficiency from the Lions’ red zone efficiency, which stands at 61.7 percent. But getting so close, for Detroit, is part of why the Lions brought in some of the players they did.
“We’re kind of a hurry-up, we’re going to keep you spread out and basically going to play a numbers game,” running back Reggie Bush said. “If you put too many in the box, we’re going to throw the ball. If you try to double Calvin [Johnson], then we’re going to try and run the ball.
“And then we have Big Joe [Fauria], who is 6-foot-8, and Calvin on the other side. It’s kind of pick your poison.”
While the Detroit offense has the multitude of options to score, the defensive explanation is a bit more succinct. It’s all about the run. And how the Lions defend it.
The Lions are third in the league in red zone efficiency defense. But when it comes to goal-line defense, Detroit is the best team in the league, only allowing touchdowns 47.1 percent of the time.
The Lions have the third-best rushing defense in the league, allowing 82.67 yards a game.
“It’s crazy. I think we just practice so much, we situational practice so much with those situations and having the guys that are going to be around for a long time,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “That we trust and understand where they are going to be at and how their leverage is at and play within a defense.
“Guys play into what is going on and we can understand that this person is going to be there and I’m going to be here and as long as we play assignment football so teams can’t drive on us and score on us.”
Much of the reason for the defensive success comes from Detroit’s run defense. The Lions have the third-best rushing defense in the league, allowing 82.67 yards a game. But where the defense has been more impressive, and this ties into both the run defense and the goal-line defense, has been the lack of scoring from opponents on the ground.
Detroit has given up five rushing touchdowns this season, but all came in the first four games. The Lions have gone eight games without allowing a rushing touchdown. They have gone four games keeping teams under two yards a carry.
So it is all interrelated, but it starts there.
“We kind of just do what we do and it’s hard to run on us,” safety Glover Quin said. “A lot of times when you get down there, you have to be able to run the ball. It’s hard to throw the ball because [there's] not a lot of space.
“So if you can stop the run inside the 10s, you got a good chance of keeping them out of the end zone.”
And this season, no team has been better at stopping that on defense and converting those chances on offense than the Lions.
Goal-to-go efficiency ratings were culled from ESPN Stats & Information. Follow ESPN Stats & Information on Twitter @ESPNStatsInfo.