What did the Detroit Lions do wrong?
What did the Detroit Lions do wrong? It’s hard for a team to go from 10-6 including a Playoff appearance, back to the bottom of the NFC North, but before the blame game begins, be happy for what the current administration under Jim Schwartz has done so far.
Schwartz does not get enough credit for what he has accomplished with the Detroit Lions, since 2009. Detroit hasn’t had a lot of luck over the last few decades, not just with the auto industry, but the play of the football team as well. The Lions had their worst season in history in 2008, but also the worst season in the history of the NFL.
Schwartz inherited a football team, that went 0-16 in 2008 and the Lions were almost officially lambs. However what has been clear since Schwartz became the Head Coach of the Detroit Lions is that they are finally close to reaching their desired destination in the Super Bowl very soon. The first season under Schwartz, the Lions drafted Matthew Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew, Louis Delmas, and DeAndre Levy who all became starters for the Lions in the future. The Lions finished 2-14 that season, but an intriguing trend began to take hold. 2010 saw not only the Lions draft Ndamukong Suh, one of the most dominating defensive tackles in the NFL right now, but the Lions went 6-10 that season.
The 2011 season came to the fold and the Lions posted a 10-6 season into the Playoffs led by Matthew Stafford’s resurgence. Every year since 2010, Schwartz has aided in adding four wins a season and that is why 2012 shouldn’t be an omen for the future. A lot went wrong this season and for starters has to be the running game. You can’t coexist in the NFL without an average running game and the Lions have suffered from injuries the entire season. The most demoralizing loss is that of running back Jahvid Best.
Best showed flashes of brilliance in 2011, but he has been battling concussion injuries that may lead to the end of his career. We’ll see if Best recovers enough for resurgence in 2013, but it may not be in the cards. After Best is Mikel Leshoure who has been inconsistent, but Leshoure has proven that the offensive lines run blocking is the root cause of the debacle. Leshoure is a future bright spot for the team if Best is lost, but the Lions have to commit to running the football more if they want to take the next step in the future. Detroit was 25th in rushing attempts so far and that won’t cut it in the future.
The next place to look at for why the Lions failed in 2012 is play discipline. The most recent issue has been with wide receiver Titus Young. Young before he even came to the Lions was suspended for most of his sophomore season at Boise State for fighting. He sucker punched Louis Delmas during the 2012 offseason and the Lions did not allow Young to play in the annual Thanksgiving Day game due to conduct detrimental to the team. The Lions had a suitable replacement in Ryan Broyles, but he tore his ACL after his history of tearing his ACL in college as well.
However it’s not just Young, many of the players on the Lions have had player disciplinary problems including Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril and Nick Fairley to name a few. The aggressive play of the team causes penalties and penalties cost games. Some of that problem factors into the Lions not being able to close out tough contests. Out of the 8 losses the Lions have experienced, 7 were lost by 8 or more points. The most the Lions lost by in 2012 so far was 10 points against the Minnesota Vikings.
Imagine if those games went the other way? 6 of the games lost were by 7 or less. That’s one touchdown separating a tie with a chance to win. Those games were winnable, but the Lions couldn’t pull them out which brings us to the last reason for the Lions downfall in 2012. The regression of Matthew Stafford from 2011 to 2012 was stark in contrast.
Stafford’s QB rating dropped from 97.2 to 83.1, his completion percentage dropped from 63.5% to 60.5% and his touchdown totals are down from 2011 to 2012. Stafford was averaging about 2.6 touchdowns in 2011, but he is not averaging only 1.3 in 2012. That’s a huge drop off and the fact that the Lions lost by close to 1.3 touchdowns was the real difference. Calvin Johnson was still putting up great numbers, but they were off from last season. The Lions simply didn’t know how to win when the passing game didn’t hold up their end of the bargain on game day.
When you look at the Lions today, you see a missed opportunity. A team that if Stafford and the passing offense performed like it did in 2012, you would be seeing a team that would be easily 14-2. However there is hope on the horizon. The team is just going through some growing pains as most young teams do. The Lions will have another draft in 2013 to beef up positions, but the real problem areas are in the running game and defensive backs. If the Lions can make good decisions on draft day with solid free agent pickups, then the Lions will be roaring back onto the scene in 2013.
James Cobern is a Featured Journalist for TPF and can be contacted at JCobern@ThePenaltyFlagBlog.com.