Lions-Cowboys key PFF stats: Detroit’s defense shows signs of life

One step forward, two steps back.

Such was the case for the Detroit Lions after their 24-6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon. As the defense showed some encouraging signs of improvement coming out of the bye, the offense, undermanned and overmatched for the vaunted Cowboys pass rush, looked incapable of getting out of its own way. A fumble on the 1-yard line and a couple of inexcusable interceptions put the proverbial nail in the coffin despite the defense having perhaps their best performance of the season.

As we do every week for this Detroit Lions team, we have some data courtesy of Pro Football Focus that can help us better understand the football the Lions have played thus far—and how they’ll continue to play from here on out. Let’s take a closer look at the Lions by the numbers after their loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7.

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10

Detroit managed to get a bit healthier over the bye week, but it wasn’t all good news heading into their matchup with Dallas. DJ Chark was placed on injured reserve on Saturday, sidelining him for a minimum of four weeks as he deals with an ankle injury. D’Andre Swift, questionable for this game, couldn’t get back out on the field after having some limited work in practice last week as he recovers from ankle and shoulder injuries.

They did, however, get top receiving threat Amon-Ra St. Brown back into the slot after healing up from an ankle injury he gutted through against New England… for just 10 snaps. st. Brown’s afternoon ended in the blink of an eye after he suffered a head injury in the first quarter and was forced out of the game.

Losing St. Brown put the Lions in a spot that was going to be tough for the offense to overcome. Josh Reynolds was playing through an injury as well, but behind him on the depth chart was Kalif Raymond, Tom Kennedy, and Maurice Alexander—a situation eerily reminiscent of the one Detroit faced during the first eight games of 2021.

Injuries to the skill positions and offensive line have made things tough for the Lions offense to find points, scoring just 6 points total in the past two games. Considering the pace at which they were scoring in the first four weeks, the Lions were bound to slow down, but things have essentially come to a screeching halt. If Detroit can’t get healthy and put players around Jared Goff, the Lions offense is going to be lean on points without their playmakers.

7

It’s not often you see a cornerback make such an impact in defending the run, but Jeff Okudah had the best game of his career against the Cowboys—and it all started with his physicality against a formidable Dallas ground game.

Earlier in the season, we saw Okudah be a force for Detroit’s run defense, recording nine tackles and registering one stop against the Philadelphia Eagles. Okudah took his game to another level in Week 7 by recording a career-high 15 tackles and seven stops against the Cowboys.

For reference, Okudah had six stops through the first five games of the season, and his seven stops against the Cowboys were tied for the highest total of the week with Green Bay Packers linebacker Quay Walker. Through seven weeks, Okudah is fourth among cornerbacks with 13 total stops—despite the Lions already having their bye week.

98.4

Heading into this game, the biggest challenge for the Lions was slowing down that Cowboys pass rush. A marquee matchup was Penei Sewell vs. Micah Parsons, a battle of 2021 first-round picks that Lions fans debated about heavily in the weeks leading up to that draft.

Sewell more than held his own against perhaps the best pass rusher in the NFL on Sunday. Pro Football Focus credited Sewell with a 98.4 pass blocking efficiency rating, the seventh-best mark in his young career. He allowed just one pressure on 33 pass blocking snaps per PFF.

2.2

This wasn’t Jared Goff’s best performance, and it certainly wasn’t one that helped people forget about his play against the Patriots before the bye. The Lions offense—and any good offense for that matter—needs to be diverse to keep a defense on its toes. The Lions have done a fair job of establishing the run, more so when D’Andre Swift was healthy and ripping off huge runs, but Jamaal Williams has done a fine job steering the ship during Swift’s absence.

The problem with the passing game has been blamed on a number of things and they’re all valid. It’s impossible to not see Goff’s lack of confidence in the Lions depth at wide receiver, and it’s hard to blame him when the team is, for a second year in a row, missing both their No. 1 and No. 2 options right after the start of the season. What also can’t be ignored are the turnovers and the turnover-worthy plays. Against the Cowboys, Goff had three turnover-worthy plays despite having four turnovers—two interceptions and two lost fumbles. Through Week 7, Goff has the highest average of turnover-worthy plays for quarterbacks (2.2) according to PFF.

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