Lions' pass defense a complete mess

Eric Goska
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The Detroit Lions have a complete defense.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb races for a first down during a game against the Detroit Lions on Sept. 24 at Lambeau Field.

The Giants complete passes on them.

The Jaguars complete passes on them.

Everyone, it seems, completes passes against them.

Sound like a second-rate comedy routine? Well, the Lions aren’t laughing.

Detroit, which welcomes Green Bay to Ford Field on Sunday night, is attempting to achieve an NFL first. It seeks to become the first team to reach the playoffs despite allowing opponents to complete passes at a rate of 70 percent or more.

Before proceeding, know this: Rare is the defense that has allowed such air supremacy. Only three teams previously – the 2011 Colts (71.2), 2007 Lions (70.1) and 2015 Buccaneers (70.0) – yielded numbers in the 70s. All three had losing records.

None of those clubs, of course, made the playoffs. The team that allowed the highest completion percentage and still reached the postseason was the 2008 Colts (68.5). They lost in the first round.

Since statistics were first kept in the early 1930s, completion percentages have trended upward. The first playoff team to permit opponents a success rate of 40 percent was the 1937 Bears. Fifty percent was first brokered by the 1943 Giants.

Sixty percent took a while. The 1980 Browns were the first in that regard.

So what’s happening here is likely inevitable. Some team has to be the first to 70. It just might be the Lions.

Whether they reach the postseason or not, the Lions of 2016 are breaking new ground. They have overseen 372 completions in 510 attempts for a percentage of 72.9. Dallas, next on the list, is more than five points back at 67.5.

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Here’s what some quarterbacks have done at Detroit’s expense.

» In Week 2, Marcus Mariota of the Titans completed 25 of 33 passes (75.8) for 238 yards and two touchdowns.

» In Week 4, Brian Hoyer of the Bears hit on 28 of 36 passes (77.8) for 302 yards and two scores.

» The Rams’ Case Keenum (84.4) and the Vikings’ Sam Bradford (83.8) established career bests.

Ten teams have finished with completion percentages of 70 or more against the Lions this season. That’s an NFL record, one better than the previous mark of nine held jointly by the 2007 Lions and 2014 Buccaneers.

Opponents of Detroit have been so successful it makes sense to talk of how often they don’t hit the mark. The numbers are revealing.

Only once have Lions’ foes put together a string of more than three incompletions. Their lengthiest cold spell was five straight engineered by Eli Manning in the second half of the Giants’ 17-6 win on Dec. 18.

Aside from that, opponents have had to weather only eight instances of three consecutive incompletions. The Colts’ Andrew Luck was the only quarterback to endure two.

This means, then, that the vast majority of incompletions against the Lions have come in pairs or singletons. Three quarterbacks – Dak Prescott of Dallas, Bradford (in the Vikings' second meeting with Detroit) and Hoyer – never misfired on back-to-back throws.

While Detroit’s inability to limit completions in general is poor, it’s particularly ineffective at home. Visitors at Ford Field have completed 180 of 241 attempts for a success rate of 74.7 percent.

Opponents have completed better than 62 percent of their passes in 10 consecutive games in Detroit. That streak began on Thanksgiving Day 2015.

Detroit has struggled in this regard for some time. Over the last 10 seasons, no team has been more accommodating than the Lions. The success rate they have yielded (66.0) is nearly two points higher than any other team.

Completion percentage, of course, is one component of the passer rating formula. Higher completion percentages tend to drive ratings upward.

Here, too, the Lions are bottom heavy. Their defensive passer rating (DPR) this season is a league-worst 105.0.

As with completion percentage, 10 Detroit opponents have compiled passer ratings above 100. Prescott and his Cowboys posted a season-high 149.2 in their 42-21 win in Week 16.

No team with a DPR of 100 or more has made the playoffs. The Packers came closest in 2004 with a 99.1, but they, like the Colts of 2008, were one and done in the postseason.

For Detroit, nothing will be complete until they face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Their defense likely will come under siege again as Rodgers has completed passes at the rate of 71.4 percent during Green Bay’s five-game winning streak.

Extra point

Eli Manning, Sam Bradford (twice), Kirk Cousins and Case Keenum fashioned streaks of 10 or more completions in a row against the Lions. Keenum had the longest run at 19 straight, an all-time Rams record.

pro-football-reference.com was used as a reference for this article.

Regular-season series

Overall: Green Bay leads 97-68-7

At Ford Field: Packers lead 9-5

Starting quarterbacks

Packers: Aaron Rodgers (89-45 overall; 12-3 vs. Detroit)

Lions: Matthew Stafford (51-57; 3-9 vs. Green Bay)

Complete defenses

Teams that allowed the opposition to complete passes at a rate of 68.5 percent or better.

Pct.      Team               Record

72.9     2016 Lions      9-6

71.2     2011 Colts      2-14

70.1     2007 Lions      7-9

70.0     2015 Bucs       6-10

68.7     2014 Bucs       2-14

68.5     2008 Lions      0-16

68.5     2008 Colts      12-4

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