2013 NFL Preview: Detroit Lions

Lions Look to Erase a Heartbreaking 2012

The Lions lost 8 games by a TD or less in 2012.

The Lions lost 8 games by a TD or less in 2012. (Credit SixFourThree)

How does a team that ranks 3rd in the NFL in total offense and 13th in total defense end up going 4-12 in the 2013 NFL season? The Detroit Lions experienced one of the most agonizing seasons in recent memory for any NFL franchise, putting up all the statistics you’d expect from a high-flying NFC playoff team yet finishing tied for the worst record in the conference.

11 of the Lions’ 16 regular season games in 2012 were decided by a touchdown or less; Detroit ended up on the losing end of those contests 8 times. This included a brutal Weeks 10-12, where they lost to playoff-bound Green Bay, Houston and Indianapolis by a combined 9 points. It was a demoralizing stretch that helped the Lions, once 4-4, lose their last 8 games in a row to close out the season.

The precipitous drop-off and inability to win close games can be tied partially to untimely poor defense, but also to horrific bad luck inside the red zone. Lions receivers were tackled an unbelievable 23 times inside the 5-yard line; Calvin Johnson alone was tackled 8 times inside the 5 and five times at the 1-yard line. (Imagine how much more remarkable Megatron’s season would have been if his stat line was boosted to 1,969 yards receiving and 10 TDs.)

Of course, punching all those touchdowns into the end zone would still be for naught in 2013 if Detroit doesn’t cut down on its turnovers – their -16 give/take ratio was 3rd worst in the NFL. Still, in the NFC North, where the offensive lines have been shaky at best, the Lions’ front four will always give them a chance to succeed. Now, if only the Lions can stay on their feet inside the 5… anything could be possible.

Detroit Lions: 2012 team stats

Team record: 4-12 (4th in NFC North)

Total offensive rank: 3rd (2nd pass, 23rd rush)

Total defensive rank: 13th (14th pass, 16th rush)

2013 Detroit Lions: offensive preview

Matthew Stafford has thrown for 10,005 yards over his last two seasons, quietly asserting himself as one of the best downfield passers in the NFL. While interceptions are bound to be higher when you’re throwing 700 times a season, Stafford must improve on his propensity to be picked off (16 INTs in 2011, 17 in 2012). Detroit fans hope they don’t have to watch Stafford go through the gut-wrenching pain of seeing so many receivers tackled inside the 5 this year; it was a major reason #9 saw his touchdowns nosedive from 41 in 2011 to just 20 last season.

Calvin Johnson is the best WR in the National Football League, and we won’t waste any more of your time pretending to “evaluate” that statement. Johnson’s main counterparts at the WR position should be Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles, with Broyles emerging at camp to potentially take the #2 WR role. Reggie Bush joins the team from Miami, and should add a backfield element to an already dangerous passing attack.

The offensive line should be an interesting story in the 2013 NFL season. The widely under-appreciated Gosder Cherilus is gone, along with his superb pass-blocking skills. As a result, the Lions will shift Riley Reiff (who’s more a guard) to left tackle, leaving Rob Sims and Dylan Gandy at the tackles (3rd round rookie Larry Warford is not ready to start). Dominic Raiola is a strong veteran presence at center and should anchor a line that needs stability right now.

2013 Detroit Lions: defensive preview

Much of the blame for a Lions’ defensive unit that should be far better ought to go to defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, who remarkably still has his job after a highly mediocre last 3 seasons under head coach Jim Schwartz.

The Detroit Lions have a tremendous front four on paper, which makes it puzzling why they couldn’t get to opposing QBs more in 2012 (just 29.0 sacks, 24th in the NFL). Still, the defensive line is young, athletically gifted, and imposing. From left to right, the starters ought to be rookie Ziggy Ansah from BYU, Ndamukong Suh, 2nd-year DT Nick Fairley, and Jason Jones. Former Chicago Bears lineman Israel Idonije joins the Lions for depth at defensive end.

The linebackers in Detroit’s 4-3 scheme are a bit different from last season, with major contributor Justin Durant signing with the Cowboys in the offseason. Durant was 2nd on the Lions in total tackles, behind stout veteran MLB Stephen Tulloch, who is back for his 8th NFL season. In terms of the secondary, rookie Darius Slay has impressed coaches enough to be promoted to a starting CB role across from Chris Houston.

In an effort to add veteran depth to a surprisingly leaky defense, Detroit added players such as CB Rashean Mathis and DT Justin Bannan during the 2013 NFL preseason.

2013 Detroit Lions: clawing through the tough home schedule

The Detroit Lions have one of the toughest home schedules in the NFL in 2013. Seven of the 8 teams that visit Ford Field this year finished .500 or better in 2012, four made the playoffs, and the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens come to town. All told, the Lions’ 8 home opponents in 2013 finished last season with a combined 75-53 (58.6%) record.

The away schedule appears to be slightly easier, with trips to Arizona, Cleveland and Philadelphia – although each of those opponents expects better results this year. Trips to the Redskins and Steelers promise to be challenging, and of course the three road NFC North games will be no picnic. The Lions finished 0-6 vs. the NFC North last season – but 5 of those losses were by 7 points or less, and the other defeat was a 10-point loss to the Vikings. The Lions are close… but are they close enough to contend?

Here’s the 2013 Detroit Lions schedule, home and away, in chronological order:

Home: Minnesota, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Baltimore, NY Giants

Away: Arizona, Washington, Green Bay, Cleveland, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Minnesota

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