O’HARA’S MONDAY COUNTDOWN: What having the lead has meant for Lions

The Detroit Lions have done a good job of getting the lead this season, but they haven’t been good at holding it.

They’ve had the lead in all 12 games, but it’s obvious in their 3-8-1 record that they haven’t been able to take advantage of it.

This week’s Monday Countdown includes a look at a statistic from the NFL’s official game book of how long a team has possession of the ball with the lead, and what it’s meant to the Lions. It’s one of those stats that’s more interesting than conclusive. You can make of it what you will.

As the Lions return from their mini-break from the Thanksgiving Day game with the Bears there are stats takeaways on offense, defense and special teams, who’s trending, and a flashback to a David Blough-like moment from long (that’s a hint) ago.

We start with possession time:

1. Possession time stat: The Lions’ Week 3 win over the Eagles gives a good example of how the statistic is compiled. It’s not strictly time of possession with the ball. It’s possession time with the lead. In other words, it’s what you do when you have the lead and the ball, and what you do to protect the lead when the opponent has it.

The Eagles had leads of 3-0 and 10-7, but the Lions scored on the next possession after both scores. The Eagles never had the ball with the lead.

2. Lions three wins:

Lions 13, Chargers 10: The Chargers had the ball with the lead for 19:25. The Lions had it for only 1:03 – when they ran out the clock after stopping the Chargers on their last possession on an interception by cornerback Darius Slay.

Lions 27, Eagles 24: The Lions had possession with the lead for 20:36. The Eagles never had possession with the lead. In another close game, the Lions protected the lead.

Lions 31, Giants 26: The Lions had possession with the lead for 24:55. The Giants never had possession with the lead. The Lions protected the lead against rookie quarterback Daniel Jones – who threw four TD passes.

3. Lions tie:

Lions 27, Cardinals 27: The Lions had possession with the lead for 23:53 and added to their lead until the disastrous fourth quarter, when the defense couldn’t hold an 18-point lead. The Cardinals had their only lead in overtime, but the Lions answered back with a field goal to tie it again. It was bad, but it would have been worse if the Lions hadn’t gotten that tying field goal.

4. Lions losses:

With eight losses, there’s a lot to choose from. Here are some key games:

Chiefs 34, Lions 30: The Lions had the lead with the ball for 7:32 to 4:03 for the Chiefs in a game that had seven lead changes. It changed for good for the Chiefs when they scored the winning TD with 20 seconds left. It was a tough, competitive game, and the Chiefs won.

Packers 23, Lions 22: The Lions had the ball and the lead for 21:03. The Packers never had possession with the lead. With the help of some questionable – at best -- officiating they won the game with a field goal on the last play. It was the only time they led.

The Lions could not hold an early 13-0 lead, or a 22-13 lead late in the fourth quarter.

No matter what else happened, they did not protect the lead.

Redskins 19, Lions 16: In the most winnable game on the schedule, the Lions didn’t get the lead until the fourth quarter, and they had the ball and the lead for only 3:19 of the last 12:01.

Bottom line: That’s a seven-game sample of a 12-game schedule. It’s representative of how the Lions’ season has gone. They’ve been close in every game – including the losses – but didn’t take full advantage of opportunities.

5. Stats takeaways, offense:

  • Wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. each have nine touchdown catches. Their combined total of 18 TD catches is 72 percent of the team total of 25.
  • With 25 touchdown passes, the Lions already have surpassed last year’s total of 22 for the full 16 games. With quarterback Matthew Stafford missing the last four games, Darrell Bevell obviously has had to tighten the reins somewhat, but the offense still has taken shots downfield – first with Jeff Driskel for three games and then Blough on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Stafford had 19 TD passes and 2,499 yards passing after eight games. Stafford’s average of 312.4 yards passing per game is still second to Dak Prescott (315.7), and his 8.7-yard average per attempt is tied with Kirk Cousins for second highest behind Patrick Mahomes (8.7).

6. Stats takeaways, defense:

  • Stopping the run is one area that has come around in the second half of the season. The Lions have held the opponent under 90 yards rushing in the last four games and in five of the last six. That’s an improvement over the start of the season, when the first six opponents rushed for more than 110 yards.
  • It’s been another lean year for interceptions for the Lions. Slay’s pick on Thanksgiving Day was his second of the season and the fifth for the Lions as a team. Only the Cowboys have fewer, with four. A strong pass rush helps produce sacks, and the Lions have struggled getting to the passer. They have 24 sacks – two per game – down from last year’s total of 43 and 2.7 per game. It makes a difference.

7. Stats takeaway, special teams:

  • Coverage looks like a tackle drill when Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Miles Killebrew and Dee Virgin converge on the return men. All three are among the league leaders in special-teams tackles. Reeves-Maybin and Killebrew have 12, and Virgin has nine.

8. Trending:

  • Up: Blough. He did enough in his NFL debut to warrant another chance, especially with Driskel on injured reserve. Of course, that’s unless Stafford returns.
  • Down: Finishing. Nothing has hurt the Lions more this season than failing to make defensive stops late in games.
  • Holding: Defensive end Trey Flowers. His holding pattern is a good one. He came back after missing a game with a concussion to get his sixth sack and his fifth in his last six games. In that span he’s also had six tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hits and a forced fumble.

9. Long shot: Lions fans were itching to see Chuck Long, but the quarterback they drafted 12th overall in 1986 out of Iowa was anchored to the sideline week after week.

Long finally got his shot in Game 12, with the Lions holding a 31-17 lead over the Bucs. Long floated a pass into the end zone, where Leonard Thompson caught it for a 34-yard touchdown with 1:43 left.

Players on the field and on the sideline erupted in a wild celebration. And Long went back to the bench, where he remained until starting the last two games.

Long started all 12 non-strike games in 1987. It was his only season as a full-time starter. He played only 23 games in five years as a Lion, and his career ended after the 1991 season.

For one throw, and one magic moment, he gave the Lions hope for the future.

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