Another year, another season full of disappointment for the Detroit Lions.
Expectations were high for the Lions 2012 season, who were coming off their first winning season since 2000, and their first playoff berth since ’99. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was coming off a hugely successful 2011 year in which he threw 41 touchdown passes and was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award, and the team looked in prime position to improve on their most successful season in over 10 years.
Of course, as any sports fan knows, the difference between expectations and reality is often vast, and the 2012 Lions were the epitome of this discrepancy.
The Lions defensive line, which was widely considered one of the best in the league in 2011, failed to live up to the hype this year, as sacks were down and teams ran all over the Lions. The much maligned secondary was plagued with an off-season arrest to cornerback Aaron Berry, as well as injuries to corners Drayton Florence, Jacob Lacey, and Bill Bentley. The Lions’ secondary was a rotating cast of practice-squad quality talent, and it showed on the field, as the Lions allowed the fifth most points per game in the NFL.
But the defence cannot take sole responsibility for the disappointment of 2012 – the Lions offence sputtered as well. Detroit’s lack of a real running attack has caused opposing defences to zero in on the passing game, putting Stafford on pace for fewer than half the touchdowns he threw last year, even though he is on pace to shatter the record for most passing attempts in a season.
Offensive injuries to wide receivers Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles, as well as Jahvid Best’s lingering concussion have left Stafford with few options up front. Also, troubled young receiver Titus Young has been inactive for three straight weeks for conduct detrimental to the team.
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The troubles stretch to the coaching staff as well. Questionable play calling on both sides of the ball has been criticized by pundits across the country, and a now infamous illegal challenge by head coach Jim Schwartz played a large part in the Lions’ loss to the Houston Texans in week 12.
The lone bright spot for the Lions this year has been superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who is on pace to break Jerry Rice’s all-time record for receiving yards in a season – a record many believed would go unbroken.
With the 2012 playoffs far out of reach, the Lions must now turn to the future, and how to proceed from a massively disappointing season.
Coach Jim Schwartz was just signed to a multi-year extension with the team in the offseason, but management may be regretting that decision. The Lions were one of the most penalized teams in the NFL in 2012, something which falls squarely on the coach’s shoulders. Jim Schwartz’s seat has never been hotter, and the way the Lions end the season will likely determine whether the team chooses to go in a new direction next season.
The team will look to bolster their defence, namely their secondary, through the 2013 NFL draft, as it was the team’s Achilles heel all season long. An elite cornerback would do wonders for the Lions overall defence.
Running back Mikel Leshoure is reliable in short-yardage situations, but his lack of explosiveness has been a detriment to the Lions offence, and Jahvid Best’s concussion problems not likely to end anytime soon. The team will likely look to reinforce the running back core either through the draft or through free agency.
Ultimately, the culture around the Lions needs to change. Star players like Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley were both involved in off-season troubles with the law, and lack of discipline in players’ personal lives have a tendency to bleed onto the field. The Lions have superstar talent in players like Suh, Stafford and Calvin Johnson, but until the culture around the Lions changes, the team will continue to struggle with mediocrity, regardless of the talent they put onto the field.