Ebron Might Be Flashier, But The Lions Are Missing Pettigrew On Offense.
When Eric Ebron went down in week four he was on pace for 72 catches and about 840 yards. That would put him in the same statistical range as players like Zach Ertz, and Travis Kelce reached in 2015 statistically. Those two players were in the 2016 pro bowl. Eric Ebron was producing at a pro bowl level for a tight end.
Brandon Pettigrew on the other hand, had fewer receptions than games played in each of the past two seasons. Clearly, Ebron is the more valuable piece of the offensive puzzle. In terms of measurable statistics it is not possible to deny. The impact of a player goes farther than his effect on fantasy rosters however.
Ebron had four or five catches in each game and failed to reach a double digit average per reception only once. He was a consistent contributor, one of the few on the Lions offense. The offense with Ebron averaged around 57 more passing yards per game and seven more rushing yards per game. Ebron has been nonexistent in the red zone however with only one touchdown. Ebron proved definitively in 2016 that he is not a capable blocker. The Lions have scored more in the three weeks since Ebron’s injury but at a rate of only 1.25 points per game. That is not a statistically significant number, but the Lions average margin after seven weeks is zero. Ebron has been a match up nightmare receiver who is great on passing downs and a liability on running downs.
Why Pettigrew Matters More
The Lions have been bringing in their third offensive tackle to block a lot this season because Ebron cannot. When they do this, it is usually a running play. Those few times when it is a passing play, the extra lineman stays to block. I am against personnel packages that tip an offense’s hand, or make the defense’s job easier. In this formation, the Lions have run the ball 34 times and passed 14 times in 2016. The unfortunate thing is that both Cornelius Lucas and Corey Robinson are doing a poor job of run blocking. Both players have received poor grades from PFF, and I tend to agree with them in this case.
That’s a lot of talk about Players not named Pettigrew
Brandon Pettigrew is a blocking specialist. I do mean to be disrespectful when I say that. If you don’t think he is one of the best in the NFL at his craft, you don’t know what you are talking about. Everyone has an opinion, and some are simply wrong. The opinion among some Lions fans that he is not a great blocker for a tight end is one of those opinions. He was almost always in the game when the Lions ran the ball well. He also played more than half of the passing snaps. Pettigrew needs to be covered while an offensive tackle does not.
Brandon Pettigrew played more than 50% of the snaps in every game from week eight to twelve. During the Lions 1-7 start to 2015, Pettigrew played more than 50% of the snaps only one time and the Lions topped 100 yards rushing once. When Pettigrew was injured, the Lions topped 100 yards rushing in three straight games. The Lions managed to hit that mark only once in the final three games without him.
What Matters More
The Lions passing game has been fine without Ebron. The Lions running game has not been fine without Pettigrew. Ebron is coming back in week eight by all accounts, which gives Matthew Stafford yet another weapon to move the ball down the field. But what the Lions need is a boost in the running game to keep pass rushers off Stafford’s back. Ebron is not going to help in that regard. Brandon Pettigrew has been on the PUP list since the beginning of training camp and has not been talking to the media. Lions fans should be hoping that he makes his return while the team is still in a place to need a boost for the playoff run.