By Tom Pollin
Cold, Hard Football Facts Motor City Madman

The Detroit Lions depart from their home on a trek to the Rocky Mountains and a meeting with Tim “Miracle Man” Tebow and his supporting cast, the Denver Broncos. A win puts Detroit back on the path to a playoff spot with a 6-2 record going into their bye week.
The Lions are limping into this game without Jahvid Best who is still recovering from his second concussion this season. Matthew Stafford practiced both Wednesday and Thursday as he recovers from a sprained ankle suffered on the last offensive play against Atlanta and is expected to be ready for Sunday.
Even after dropping the last two games to San Francisco and Atlanta the Lions are ranked third in the Quality Stat Power Rankings, dropping down one spot behind the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers. The Denver Broncos come into the week ranked 27th.
With the offense playing their worst game of the season last week the Lions still rank No. 4 in Scoreability, No. 6 in Real Quarterback Rating and No. 7 in Passer Rating Quality Stats. Even with their problems in the passing game the Lions are still No. 1 in not committing Negative Pass Plays (sacks and interceptions) against a defense that is No. 15 in causing them.
A lot of criticism has been leveled by the accepted football experts over the past week about the way the Lions have struggled with their passing attack their last two games, especially with Matthew Stafford’s performances. While Stafford finished with an 86.50 Passer Rating against San Francisco he only averaged 4.4 Real Passing Yards per Attempt in that game and 4.5 Real Passing Yards per Attempt last Sunday against Atlanta.

Most of the criticism focused on his accuracy. While there is always room for a young quarterback to improve, there are another set of numbers to take into consideration. Here’s a percentage breakdown of how Matthew Stafford has distributed his passing attempts so far this season:

Week Opponent Wide Receiver
Target %
Tight End
Target %
Running Back
Target %
1 Tampa Bay 56% 22% 22%
2 Kansas City 59% 20.5% 20.5%
3 Minnesota 46% 30% 24%
4 Dallas 55% 25% 20%
5 Chicago 54% 27% 19%
6 San Francisco 50% 31% 19%
7 Atlanta 53% 34% 13%

One slight hiccup in the numbers in Week 3 against Minnesota when Stafford looked to Brandon Pettigrew 13 times for 11 completions, but it’s a fairly even distribution through seven weeks of football, until Week 7 against Atlanta. With Jahvid Best sidelined due to the concussion he suffered against San Francisco, Stafford targeted Best’s replacement, Maurice Morris, four times, or 13% of his total attempts for two completions. The balance of the attempts shifted to the tight ends.

A lot of attention, and rightly so, has been paid to Detroit’s lack of production in the run game. The Lions are No. 22 with a 4.08 yards per attempt average. What hasn’t been publicized is Jahvid Best’s production as a receiver. Best has caught 27 of the 40 balls thrown his way for 287 yards which averages to 7.18 Real Reception Yards per Attempt (based on the Quality Stat of a similar name).
Best has been an integral part of the Lions’ offense with his work on screens or the ‘safety valve’ on pass plays. Stafford did have Best available for all but the last possession of the game against San Francisco but he was also playing a defense that was No. 1 in Bendability, No. 5 in Passer Rating Differential and No. 3 in the Defensive Hog Index. He also outplayed Alex Smith in all categories but the final score in that game.
Matthew Stafford does need to start connecting on more underneath routs to sustain longer scoring drives. He either needs to develop the same rapport with Maurice Morris he has developed with Best in advance of the game against Denver this Sunday or the Lions will have to make adjustments to their short passing game until they get Best back for their game against Chicago after the bye week.

Detroit will also need to take steps to address their special teams this week because when they drop back to punt they’ll be kicking to the No. 1 punt returner in the league in Eric Decker. Devin Hester has received the headlines for his punt return ability but Decker has been averaging over 10 yards per return better then Hester. Detroit has given up big punt returns that have cost them points the last two weeks and Decker has the ability to do the same thing this weekend.
On Defense, the Lions will face the same challenge that confronted them each of the three previous weeks, just not from the usual source. With Willis McGahee out because of a broken hand Tim Tebow becomes the rusher that the Lions will have to pay attention to this weekend.
Tim Tebow runs when he’s being rushed and he also runs by design, and very successfully too. Tebow has run for 102 yards so far this season for a 6.8 yards per attempt average.
Tebow saved hisQuarterback Rating with his play in the last five minutes of Denver’s game last weekend against Miami but he’s going up against a Detroit defense that is No. 3 in Real Passing Yards per Attempt and 3rd Down Percentage, No. 4 in Defensive Passer Rating and Passer Rating Differential and No. 5 in Real Quarterback Rating.
The Lions went 1-2 in their three game homestand at Ford Field but all three of those games have been against playoff caliber teams. Denver is going to be taking a step up in competition this week after facing a Miami that ranks in the bottom quarter of the league in almost every important Quality Stat category. A win sends Detroit into their bye week at 6-2 with their best first half record since 2007.