Lions-Giants key PFF stats: Detroit’s defense helps Lions escape from New York

Pride of Detroit

In three weeks, the Detroit Lions have won three football games, their first such streak since the 2017 season when they finished 9-7—which was also the last time this franchise had a winning record. And while things are a bit different between this team and the one led by Jim Caldwell in 2017, the optimism surrounding the direction of the Lions under Dan Campbell hasn’t been this tangible.

Sure, the Lions became an interesting case study for the public who tuned into HBO’s “Hard Knocksthis offseason, and they earned the attention from national media outlets looking for the next “worst to first” story in the NFL.

Through seven games, that narrative was put to rest, lit on fire, and the ashes swept under the rug when the Lions started 1-6. The Minnesota Vikings were flying high atop the division, the Green Bay Packers were trying to find their footing, and the Chicago Bears, along with their franchise quarterback Justin Fields, all provided much more intrigue than Detroit losing game after game.

At 4-6, the Lions and their fans have reasons to believe things are headed in the right direction. You can point to the defense and the way they’re making plays to get off the field, including seven turnovers over the past three weeks. You can point to the resurgence of the offense over the past two weeks, putting up 55 points and making key plays on third down. It isn’t just hope that’s carrying the good vibes around this team; plays are being made on the field and this team is taking the steps everyone was waiting for them to take in Year 2.

As we do every week for this Detroit Lions team, we have some data courtesy of Pro Football Focus that can help us better understand the football the Lions have played thus far—and how they’ll continue to play from here on out. Let’s take a closer look at the Lions by the numbers after their win over the New York Giants in Week 11.

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19.0

Alim McNeill was an absolute game-wrecker against the New York Giants on Sunday. Prior to this season, when the staff was busy making predictions for the season, I chose McNeill to be the Lions’ defensive player of the year for this season. The transition from being a true nose tackle to playing more three-tech has limited his statistical output, but against the Giants, McNeill spilled ink all over the stat sheet.

As we covered yesterday, McNeill set a record for a 320-pound player in the PFF era: no player as big as McNeill had ever registered 10 pressures in a single game, but the Lions former third-round pick tallied a sack, two quarterback hits, and seven hurries against the Giants in Week 11. On top of that, McNeill recorded four defensive stops and was a key factor in shutting down Saquon Barkley—McNeill’s average depth of tackle (AVDT) in run defense was 0.7 yards.

But I don’t want to qualify McNeill’s game solely based on him being a big human being. Instead, of any pass rusher in the league last week with at least 19 pass rush snaps, McNeill was second in PFF’s pass rushing productivity—a measure of pressure created on a per-snap basis with weighting toward sacks—with a score of 19.0, just behind Dallas Cowboys defender Micah Parsons (19.6). An incredibly disruptive afternoon for McNeill who ended up being named PFF’s defensive player of the week for Week 11.

100.0

Detroit’s work in the trenches wasn’t reserved for just the defensive side of the ball. Protecting Jared Goff and giving him enough time to throw against a Giants defense led by the most blitz-happy coordinator in the NFL coming into this game seemed like a daunting task, but the Lions were up for it.

Taylor Decker posted a perfect 100.0 pass-blocking efficiency number against the Giants, not relinquishing a single pressure over 27 opportunities on Sunday. Also along the offensive line, Evan Brown posted a perfect pass-blocking efficiency score across seven opportunities before he was taken out of the game with an injury.

But let’s not leave out some of the part-time contributors in pass protection, namely the tight ends and the running backs. Jamaal Williams, Justin Jackson, and Jason Cabinda all combined for a 100.0 pass-blocking efficiency grade on 12 combined opportunities while James Mitchell and Brock Wright also posted a perfect mark on eight opportunities all together.

In total, the Lions only allowed nine pressures on Sunday, well below the Giants average of 16.4 pressures they were generating per game coming into Week 11.

5.11

Detroit’s early-season success on the ground was largely a product of D’Andre Swift breaking off explosive plays for huge gains. Since he’s been limited by a shoulder and ankle injury, the Lions run game has cooled down considerably. Jamaal Williams has proved capable of shouldering the load as a No. 1 running back, but what’s been missing from the Lions rushing attack since Swift’s injury has been someone who can make splash plays on a limited workload.

Justin Jackson was initially released by the Lions when they cut their roster down to 53 players but signed back with their practice squad shortly after. He hadn’t been much of a factor outside of contributions on special teams and a handful of carries here or there, but when Craig Reynolds was placed on IR after Week 9, Jackson assumed the RB3 job. With Swift still hampered by injuries, he very well may be the Lions RB2 after his performance against the Giants.

Jackson averaged 5.11 yards after contact against the Giants on Sunday on his biggest workload of the season—nine carries for 66 yards. His 5.11 yards after contact per attempt was the highest average of any running back with at least five carries in Week 11, but he made his presence felt in a number of ways. Jackson made a catch for 11 yards in the red zone to set up the Lions first touchdown (seen above), and when he returned the second half kickoff 36 yards to Detroit’s 44-yard line, it jumpstarted a Lions drive that eventually led to a touchdown.

14.3, 11.1, 8.3

Three for the price of one, but I wanted to add some context to show just how effective all three levels were in limiting Saquon Barkley to just 22 yards on 15 carries. While the linebackers are still a work-in-progress when it comes to getting the middle of the field figured out from a coverage standpoint, Derrick Barnes stepped up for this group in run defense, earning a 14.3 stop percentage against the Giants. Barnes had 14 snaps in run defense, tallied two defensive stops and seven total tackles. Barnes stopped Barkley on three occasions for gains of two yards—twice—and four yards.

Along the defensive front, John Cominsky was an unsung hero from this game. His 11.1 stop percentage only tells part of the story, but when you tackle Barkley for a 3-yard loss on the Giants first play from scrimmage, that helped set the tone. Cominsky would go on to record four total pressures including a sack on the final play before the half to end the Giants chances of getting some points before the break.

And finally, the Lions called on Will Harris to be the team’s starting nickel corner and he answered the bell. Harris earned the Lions’ highest grade in run defense (86.9), tallied two defensive stops—two stops of Barkley for 1 yard and no gain—and posted an 8.3 stop percentage. Harris also made a game-changing play when he forced a fumble in the fourth quarter, effectively ending any chance of a Giants comeback.

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