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Notes: Lions are primed to be a personnel-diverse offense in 2023

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NFL: Preseason-New York Giants at Detroit Lions
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Tej Seth thinks Detroit is one of six teams ready to give opposing defenses preparation headaches.

In an interesting article titled “A Look Into Offensive Personnel Diversity” posted to Sumer Sports on Thursday, Tej Seth offered a quantitative analysis of 2022 NFL data to argue that forcing opposing defenses to deal with a more varied offensive attack really helps.

While it may seem obvious that playing personnel matchup games should provide advantages, it’s always nice to see conventional wisdom confirmed with actual data. In this case, Seth plotted expected points added per play (a widely-used advanced stats metric used to judge how successful an offense is compared to what they are expected to achieve in a particular situation) against the number of different personnel groupings used by offenses in 2022 regular season games.

Side note: What’s the 12* personnel in the chart above? The asterisk means there was an extra offensive lineman on the field. When you see the Lions way above the league average for 12*, it means they went super heavy way more than the rest of the league with bonus beef up front to run over lighter defenses.

When aggregated across all snaps for the entire season, Seth found “a slight trend between the number of different personnels a team uses at least 5% of the time and how well their offense performs.” Pointing out that the teams trying to be multiple in their attacks need to have rosters constructed the right way to do it plus an offensive coordinator/playcaller capable of operating such a varied attack, he then proceeded to check it out at the game level where “the impact of being personnel diverse becomes more evident.”

In a nutshell, it’s not just that teams that are personnel diverse play better than league-wide averages but that they are even better than their own typical performance in games where they are more personnel diverse. From Seth’s article (emphasis added): “Offenses that use 3 personnels in a game have a lower EPA/play, on average, than their season average, but those that use 4 or 5 personnels in a game see an increase over their offense’s baseline output.” When an offense has a game plan that is designed to throw more at the opponent’s defense, they tend to be more successful in the data. The next sentence in the article will be of interest to Lions fans: “Some of the best play callers in the league are leaning into this concept with Kyle Shanahan having 9 games last season using 4 or 5 personnels in a game (4th most) plus Ben Johnson having 8 games (6th most).”

With the general statistical result established, Seth then features six teams he believes are poised to be particularly personnel diverse in the upcoming NFL season. These are the six teams in the graphic he posted to Twitter: Atlanta, Buffalo, Cleveland, New York (Giants), San Francisco, and of course Detroit.

In the section on Detroit, he points out the additions of Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta as being pieces that can facilitate Ben Johnson’s continued break from the “11 personnel boom” of the present-day pro football landscape. Such dynamic weapons in the passing game at running back and tight end open up a ton of options for offensive variety.

Not that anybody needed more reasons to love Ben Johnson or to brew up pitchers of Honolulu Blue Kool-Aid, but this piece by Tej Seth is a terrific read. Check it out at Sumer Sports and bask in the glory of multiplicity that is the Detroit Lions offense. Now, on to the rest of your weekend Notes:

  • Pretty cool get from MLive’s Kory Woods:

  • A while back, Lions players were asked who would be a great golf caddy. This week they were asked which teammate would be the worst golf caddy to have.

Semi-relevant:

  • CJ Gardner-Johnson was out spreading a positive message with Detroit high school student-athletes last week (a couple of additional photos were up on Facebook from the team’s official account):

  • The worldwide leader published a paywalled article by Seth Walder attempting to model sack projections for 2023. Walder came up with a top 50 list, which put Aidan Hutchinson down in the middle of the pack at 23rd. The author acknowledges design limitations that influenced how low Hutchinson projected: “Part of it is sample size; even though Hutchinson played well, the model prefers players that have produced in consecutive years.” Obviously, as a rookie last year Hutch could not have had more than one good year of production. Also something of a factor pointed out by our fearless leader in Hutchinson’s 2023 preview:

And while the pass rushing win percentage for Hutchinson’s season (12.4%, 39th of 125 per PFF) may seem a little disappointing, it’s important to remember that Hutchinson was the extreme focus of the opposing offenses—catching double team rates more often that Micah Parsons.

Related: Brandon Thorn at Trench Warfare put out his list of the top 40 pass rushers (25 edge and 15 interior). No Lions were on either part of Thorn’s list.

  • This week’s episode of Twentyman in the Huddle featured guests Cam Sutton and Glover Quin to talk about the Lions’ defensive backfield. You can watch the entire 27-minute episode on YouTube.

Also to a former Lions quarterback whose film breakdowns we love:

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