By: Martin Weiss
When the clock hit triple zeros of the Lions’ first win on Thanksgiving in 9 years, Detroit completed 3/4ths of their season. With the fourth quarter on the horizon, what is in store for the NFC North leaders? Looking back on the season thus far, I’ve noticed a trend that I feel is the difference in wins and losses.
In 7 wins, the Lions turnover differential is zero. 16 turnovers for the offense, 16 takeaways for the defense. In 5 losses, that turnover/takeaway margin is 8-1. If you exclude the Dallas win, which was almost certainly a loss before a bonehead holding penalty stopped the Cowboys killing the clock, creating an extra Detroit possession, the TO differential in wins would be +4 (12-16), and -11 (12-1) in losses. Conventional thinking would suggest that the Lions have to stop turning the ball over to win games. However, in losses to Green Bay (with no Calvin Johnson, admittedly) and Cincinnati, Stafford and Co. didn’t turn the ball over once.
Offensively, there is no question they are one of the most talented teams in the league. Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush cause scheme and matchup nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators. Supplemented with the return of dependable No. 2 receiver Nate Burleson and the emergence as Kris Durham as a pair of steady hands, the Lions can put up gaudy offensive numbers on any defense. However 8 of Stafford’s 14 INTs have come when Calvin was the intended receiver and 3 turnovers are results of Reggie Bush fumbles. Long story short, 45% of Lions turnovers come when targeting their two best talents.
In my opinion, the key to Lions success in these next 4 games and potential playoff run lies on the defensive side of the ball. Matt Stafford is going to throw INTs trying to force the ball to Megatron, and Reggie hasn’t had a season with less than 4 fumbles since he became a full time player in his second year (excluding 2010, where he only played 8 games). The defense/special team units have to account for the slack, by forcing turnovers and giving the strength of the team, the offense, more possessions and opportunities to score.
The Lions need to go 3-1 in the next four games to ensure an NFC North division title. Only one team has a positive turnover differential: Philly at +7, in part to Nick Foles 19TDs/0INTs on the year. Baltimore, a middling team with wildcard hopes is -3, while the Giants (-11) and Vikings (-9) have combined records of 8-15-1. The Lions (-8) will be underdogs at the Eagles, but should be favored against the remainder of the schedule. Whether they win those games will be dependent on which defense shows up.