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Looking At Grades On Cowboys' Next Foe, The Lions

Dallas tries to keep its winning streak alive in Detroit. Here is a breakdown of how the Lions' players are grading out this season.

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Gregory Shamus

Last week, the Dallas Cowboys went on the road to play a team that had the same record and had faced five of the six opponents that Dallas had. This week, the Detroit Lions are the opponent, on the road, with the same 4-3 record the Cowboys have, and a lot of very similar stats. Detroit has scored 26.6 points a game, Dallas has scored 28.6. Detroit has given up 23.9 points a game, Dallas 22.1. Both have good quarterbacks (who wear number 9), a monster wide receiver, and one of the top defensive tackles in the league.

To try to find a bit more information on what will be waiting for Dallas, I have once again delved into Pro Football Focus to get some statistical background on the opponent.

One difference for the teams is that the Cowboys are trying to keep a two game winning streak going, where Detroit was edged by the Cincinnati Bengals in a back and forth battle. The Lions will be looking to rebound.

One note: I am looking again at the overall scores for the opponent. We are getting deep enough into the season that some things should become clear about teams.


Matthew Stafford lives in the same neighborhood as Tony Romo. He is seen as very talented and a competitor, but he has not won enough to have the real respect that comes to football royalty like Eli Manning. Which just goes to show that rings, or their lack of, can be deceiving, but I am letting my bias towards NFC East rivals distract me.

Stafford has played all the games this season for Detroit, which is certainly a different situation than the Cowboys faced last week against Nick Foles and Matt Barkley. Here are his numbers this season.

Snaps Attempts Completions Yards QBR PFF Overall
499 290 178 2129 95.3 +11.6

Something that PFF noted in their analysis of the last game is that Cincinnati brought pressure on 41.3% of the drops, which fits with some reports I've seen that Stafford is vulnerable to pressure up the middle. (Paging Mr. Hatcher. Paging highest-graded defensive tackle in the league Jason Hatcher.)

Skill Players

One word. Megatron.

Calvin Johnson is generally acknowledged to be the best wide receiver in the league. Dez Bryant made some comments that were intended to show he aspired to become a challenger to Johnson, and touched off a bit of controversy that the teams have been tamping down. But make no mistake, this guy is a true weapon. PFF described his most impressive play from last week:

It must be nice for the Lions to have an uncoverable athletic freak of nature, a player whom they can turn to in times of need. That's exactly what they did at 12:10 of the fourth quarter; down seven and facing a 3rd-and-18, Matt Stafford did what any sensible quarterback would do in that situation: chuck the ball 50 yards into triple coverage in the end zone. So Calvin Johnson rewarded him for that decision by making an unbelievable leaping catch between three defenders to tie the game.

Oh, and there are some other receivers on the team. Stafford does try to spread things around to his wide receivers and his tight ends. Here are the main ones so far this year, including one that might sound vaguely familiar.

Receiver PFF Rating
Calvin Johnson (WR) +9.0
Chris Durham (WR) +0.3
Ryan Broyles (WR)
Nate Burleson (WR)
Patrick Edwards (WR) -0.9
Kevin Ogletree (WR)
Brandon Pettigrew (TE) -5.4
Joseph Fauria (TE)

The Lions have two main running threats, Reggie Bush (+3.2) and Joique Bell. (+5.7). Bush is a threat to attack all over the field and presents some similar challenges to LeSean McCoy, but the Cowboys did well against McCoy. Additionally, they can study the Bengals' tape since they held him to 2.5 yards a carry. Bell is more a traditional power back although he is an effective receiver as well.

Offensive Line

Just as a reminder, there are other subcategories that are included in the total score, so the run and pass scores don't add up to the total. I just find them the most significant.

Reiff Sims Raiola Warford Hilliard

+1.2 -4.9 +6.6 +7.1 -1.3
Run Blocking
+2.1 -8.2 +1.0 +1.8 -5.9
Pass Protect
-2.2 -0.9 +2.6 +4.6 +1.6

The scores show a bit of a weakness on the left side, but this may not be all the story. Riley Reiff and Corey Hilliard are both fighting injury, so there could be opportunity on both ends of the line. If one or both are hobbled, look for DeMarcus Ware to be lobbying heavily to get back in the lineup. And hope that the coaching staff makes him wait until he is really ready to go, whenever that turns out to be.

One note to people who said that Larry Warford was a good guard prospect last draft: Looks like you were right.

Defensive Line

It is back to facing a 4-3 defense for the Cowboys. Tony Romo's best games this season have come against 4-3 schemes, while he seems to struggle against the 3-4. This should be a good game for him.

Well, except for Ndamukong Suh. While he is not having quite the season Hatcher is for the Cowboys, he is still one of the best interior linemen in the league. And, earned or not, he certainly has the reputation as the nastiest.

Young Suh Fairley Ansah Idonije Mosley Fluellen Taylor
Snap Count 343 409 294 331 180 165 55 63
Total Grade
+1.2 +16.7 -3.1 -4.3 -0.9 +5.8 +1.3 +3.4
Run Defense
+0.5 +3.2 -3.2 +1.5 -0.1 +4.8 +1.6 +1.5
Pass Rush
+3.8 +15.5 +2.4 -4.7 -0.6 -0.3 -0.5 +1.5

Overall, this is a deep and good line. They almost all do well against the run, and clearly Suh is the main source of pressure on the quarterback, although Ansah surprisingly has one more sack than he does with four.


In another similarity to the Cowboys, the Lions line up for the majority of snaps in the nickel, with DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch their main linebacking pair. Ashlee Palmer comes in when they go with a true 4-3 set.

Levy Tulloch Palmer

Snap Count 478 488 168
+5.6 +0.6 -0.8
Run Defense
-3.5 -2.6 +0.5
Pass Defense
+8.3 +2.5 -1.7

Much better against the pass than the run. And like Dallas, there is little depth here.


Very good safeties. Very vulnerable cornerbacks.

Houston Mathis Bentley Slay Delmas Quin
Snap Count 441 293 325 215 486 486
Total Grade
-5.2 0.3 -4.1 -5.3 +3.4 +4.5
Pass Coverage
-6.0 -0.5 -3.9 -4.1 +5.0 +5.7

Louis Delman and Glover Quin are out there for every play, while the team uses Darious Slay to fill as needed. The apparent move should be to attack the corners with Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams.

Special Teams

The ageless David Akers handles field goals and is still competent, making 11 of 14 so far this year. Punter Sam Martin handles kickoffs as well, and he is good at both. He is the sixth best punter and twelfth best at kickoffs in the league.

Returns and coverage are both fairly mediocre on the PFF grading system.


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