Lions a legit NFC challenger

Detroit is playing well but can still improve in several key areas

Updated: October 17, 2013, 1:11 PM ET
By KC Joyner | ESPN Insider

Reggie BushRon Schwane/USA TODAY SportsReggie Bush has been a terrific free-agent signing for Detroit.

There has been a changing of the guard at the top of each NFC division after six weeks of the 2013 NFL season. While it isn't surprising to see Dallas, New Orleans and Seattle, all of whom had a 7-9 record or better in 2012, occupying the top spot in their respective divisions, it is somewhat surprising to see the Detroit Lions -- a team that won four games last season -- in first place in the NFC North with a 4-2 mark.

Good early starts don't always turn into postseason finishes, so the question regarding the Lions is whether this quality start is for real and, if it is, whether Detroit can maintain this pace for the rest of the year.

A detailed analysis of metrics and game tapes indicates the start is for real. But what's more telling is that this team has multiple paths to significant improvement. The Lions' record isn't just what makes them a contender; it's that they haven't played as well as they should. If they do, the Lions are both a strong contender to win the NFC North and a dangerous playoff team.

Offense

With all due respect to Calvin Johnson, Detroit's best offensive player this year has to be Reggie Bush. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bush has averaged 127.4 yards per game on scrimmage plays, a total that ranks fourth in the league in that category.

Part of the reason for Bush's success is that the Lions' offensive blocking wall has posted a 53.2 percent mark in the good blocking rate metric, which gauges how often an offense gives its ball carriers good blocking (roughly defined as when the offense doesn't allow the defense to do anything to disrupt a rush attempt). The 50 percent level in GBR serves as the bar for upper-tier performance in this category, so the Lions are giving Bush and the rest of the team's ball carriers ample quality chances to gain yardage.


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