By Chris Morgan
In 2012, the Detroit Lions finished 4-12. This season, they finished 7-9. In the abstract, that may not seem so bad, but the NFL is not played in the abstract. At one point, the Lions were 6-3 and had the inside track to winning the NFC North. Then, the collapse came. They lost six of their last seven games, including their final four. Detroit missed the playoffs, will be drafting in the top 10 yet again, and head coach Jim Schwartz got fired the day after the season ended. It was very much a disappointing year for the Lions.
That is not to say everything was negative. For example, rookie Ziggy Ansah, who was expected to be a bit of a project, led the team with eight sacks. He has a bright future at defensive end. Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh both made the Pro Bowl. Megatron dealt with injury all year and even missed a couple games, but he still had almost 1,500 yards receiving. DeAndre Levy had a career year. Jeremy Ross gave the team a threat in the return game for the first time in years. The Lions undoubtedly have talent. This is part of the reason why so many were disappointed when they missed the playoffs, and why Schwartz got the axe for another losing year.
Of course, there were negatives. It feels necessary to start with Matthew Stafford. Early in the year, it seemed likely he would end up on the positive end of the spectrum. Then, his play fell apart down the stretch. He started throwing a ton of picks, and he ended up with 19. He also fumbled eight times, but was lucky enough to only lose two of them. Stafford is the franchise quarterback for the Lions. Their success lies largely with him. He needs to play better. He needs to avoid turnovers.
The pass defense for the Lions was also an issue. While Detroit was strong against the run, their secondary, particularly their cornerbacks, left a lot to be desired, especially rookie second round pick Darius Slay. The kicking game was a problem as well. With Jason Hanson having retired, the Lions turned to David Akers, who by some metrics was the worst kicker in the NFL this season. Detroit may have to go back to the drawing board already for next season. The stability of Hanson will be missed.
There is reason for optimism for 2014. As previously stated, this is a team with talent. It isn’t a big leap from 7-9 to 10-6 and the playoffs. They get a high draft pick to add talent to this roster. They could use a secondary wide receiver to pair with Johnson, as well as another cornerback. The hiring of the new head coach will be integral as well. If they hit here, they could find somebody who can really help this team take it to the next level. Maybe next year the Lions won’t be a major disappointment. Instead, they could end up being a pleasant surprise.
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