Well, we knew the Chargers-Lions game was probably going to be a slog and it certainly was.
Let’s review some statistics from this game and see what conclusions we can draw from them.
Above is a plot of which team is most likely to win. I labeled some of the most influential plays in the game for context.
Looking at this, it matches how the game felt. The Chargers had control for a good portion of the game. Watching it live, it felt like the game hinged on the red zone fumble that followed the two touchdowns called back by penalty. In reality, the Chargers had control of the game until the second missed field goal. That missed field goal, in addition to missing out on points, lead to a short field and a subsequent touchdown for the Lions. We’ll take a look at that touchdown and plays like it for the Lions further down in the article. But first, I want to get you familiar with a few metrics.
Reviewing the Chargers Offense
Here we have a box score with a few statistics that might not be familiar to most fans. EPA stands for Expected Points Added. Expected Points is a measurement of down, distance, and field position for future points. For Example, 1st and Goal on the 1 is approximately worth 6 EP and 3rd and 20 at your own 1 is about -2. EPA is the measure of the EP before and after a play. For example, Austin Ekeler’s goal line fumble resulted in about -5.28 EP. It wasn’t the full 6 since the Lions recovered it at their own 3 yard line and you don’t get the full -2 points since 1st and 10 aren’t as likely to result in a safety as 3rd and 20.
In fact, that goal line fumble accounts for the majority of the difference in rushing performance between Ekeler and Jackson despite the higher success rate for Ekeler. Mike Williams proves to be the most valuable receiver this week despite two incomplete passes in the endzone. Last week he was third behind Ekeler and Hunter Henry. So far this season, he has proven to be the go to player when the Offense needs a big play. Keenan Allen was mostly a positive, but gets pushed down since he was the intended target of the interception to close out the game. It gave him close to -2.7 EPA by itself. Without it, he would have been even higher than Mike Williams.
On the other side of the ledger is Travis Benjamin who made the team less likely to score points every time he was targeted. He wasn’t nearly as bad last week, though still negative, with a score of -0.11 EPA/play.
Detroit’s Passing game
Above we have the receiving number for each of the Lions pass catchers. It isn’t in as nice of a format since I wanted to dive into the code and analyze some data. mean_epa is the same as EPA/play above and the NA that shows up here are scrambles and throwaway passes. Kerryon Johnson has the highest score, but that is most likely due to the limited targets and that one resulted in a long touchdown run. In case you were wondering about his rushing output, Johnson and C.J. Anderson were actually both negative. Proving that the complaints about tackling and run defense are really just holdover complaints about last week.
We see that Golladay was the most targeted and that confidence in him paid off with a positive EPA/play. Just like Keenan Allen, he had an interception in the end zone where Casey Hayward showed off just how good his concentration is. So let’s see how Detroit’s receivers did without the 2 interceptions by Hayward and Rayshawn Jenkins.
Golladay gets a significant bump and Marvin Jones gets a modest one of his own. As the most targeted receiver Golladay’s high number is particularly troubling. Despite the injuries, it shouldn’t be that easy to move the ball through the air against this team. Let’s see if we can find any trends in the description of each of his targets.
Finding the weak point
One thing is immediately apparent looking at this. On at least 6 of the 10 targets Brandon Facyson was the one making the tackle after a Golladay catch. The touchdown and the interception were actually both with Hayward in coverage, but despite that, for a good portion of the day the Lions were targeting the Facyson and performing well doing it. There is one tackle by Thomas Davis, but that makes sense with how Gus Bradley relies on his LBs to be able to cover. There’s a reason they prefer Safeties and former Safeties in their Linebacker core. In fact, of Stafford’s 22 completions, 13 were targeting either Facyson or a Linebacker.
Wrapping it all up
It looks like the least injured of the Chargers stars made plays, but they didn’t get much help from the players around them. The second missed field goal and the final interception in the 4th quarter were the biggest plays that swung the game towards the Lions.
The Lions also had, by far, the most success targeting Facyson with one of their top players. It’s lucky they didn’t take more advantage of that match-up and instead tried to run it against a surprisingly effective Chargers Run Defense or check down to test the Linebackers.