As a preview to a series I plan to do where we break down the difference between the 2013 Detroit Lions offense under Scott Linehan and the 2014 Detroit Lions offense under Joe Lombardi, I have decided to look at the common issue Detroit fans and media have raised. Almost universally, they feel like the Detroit Lions offense is playing poorly this year in comparison to last year. While there are some reasons to agree with this sentiment, there are also reasons to disagree. I will provide a more in depth breakdown with the series I plan to do, but for now, lets look at how both teams fared in the first 4 games of each season. As Pride of Detroit has pointed out, the Lions have an identical record this season when compared to last season. In fact, they have won games in the exact same weeks as last season which is a bit creepy.
The first part of the comparison I want to look at is the offensive line. The offensive line has been heavily criticized for allowing an alarming rate of sacks. This is, after all, the same 5 offensive linemen that played last season, although there were injury issues earlier this season causing LaAdrian Waddle to miss some time. This is also the same coach for the linemen. So the question here is, is the line really worse than last season? Through 4 games (only the month of September), last season they allowed 3 sacks. This season through 4 games, they have allowed 11 sacks. That is considerably worse. We wont get into why they are worse until the article series coming up so keep an eye out for it. So in summary, the offensive line is actually worse this year than last year.
As we look next as the quarterback play, we see something that really does not make much sense. There is a viewpoint out there that the Detroit pass attack is worse this season than last season. While there are two games that I have not analysed for this article which may support that viewpoint, looking simply at the month of September shows something much different. In 2013, Matthew Stafford had a 96.2 passer rating, completed 64% of his passes, threw for 1262 yards, and had 7 touchdown passes versus 3 interceptions. In 2014, Stafford has a 91.5 passer rating, completed 64% of his passes, threw for 1176 yards, and has 5 touchdown passes versus 3 interceptions. While the yards and touchdowns are lower this season versus last season, it is not by much.
Looking into the running game this season compared to last season, just in terms of the first four games of the season, we can see a decline in rush yards, but once again, it is not a dramatic decrease. In 2013, the Detroit Lions running backs combined for 383 yards rushing. In 2014, they have combined for 324 yards rushing. It is a noticeable difference in rush yards, but not necessarily a game defining difference.
In conclusion, we see that while the Lions are scoring less points and seemingly have a weaker offense than last season, the offense really is not too much different this season than last. It could be the early season kicking woes combined with the offensive line play that is leading to this perception of a stagnant offense. It could be the dramatically better defense that is leading to the perception of a stagnant offense. Either way you look at it though, the first 4 games of last season and this season show a similarly productive offense. When we breakdown the film in the coming series that focuses deeply on the offensive differences, we will then be able to determine why the offense appears worse this year than last year.