Detroit Lions 2013 Season Preview
By Eric Redner, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Detroit Lions came into the 2012 season with high hopes as the team had put behind years of frustration in 2011 with a 10-6 record and their first playoff appearance since 1999.
The 2012 Lions, though, looked a lot like those futile teams that had plagued the Motor City in recent memory.
An eight-game losing streak capped a 4-12 season as the team fought through a tough campaign that saw bad decisions from both the coaches and players, along with plenty of undisciplined penalties.
Still, there were some positives to take away from last season as the team was close in most of its games as it lost just three by double-digits, suffered two losses in overtime and lost two contests by two points.
The highlight of the season was of course Calvin Johnson's record-setting campaign as he broke the single-season receiving yards record with 1,964 yards, breaking Jerry Rice's mark which had stood since 1995.
It's not all doom and gloom for the Lions, though, despite playing in a city that recently declared bankruptcy.
The team made a few splashes in the offseason, signing running back Reggie Bush from the Dolphins, and used the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft to take promising defensive end Ezekiel Ansah out of Brigham Young.
"You know, we feel good about our offseason acquisitions," said head coach Jim Schwartz. "We felt good about the players we brought back and the players we drafted."
Detroit, however, has a tough task to face as the team plays in a very strong NFC North and will have to be in top form if the team wants to post a winning record and shoot for a playoff spot.
2012 RECORD: 4-12 (4th, NFC North)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2011, lost to New Orleans Saints in NFC Wild Card Round
HEAD COACH (RECORD): Jim Schwartz (22-42-0 in four seasons)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Scott Linehan (fifth season)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Gunther Cunningham (fifth season)
KEY ADDITIONS: RB Reggie Bush (from Dolphins), S Glover Quin (from Texans), DE Jason Jones (from Seahawks), DE Ezekiel Ansah (1st round, BYU), David Akers (from 49ers), CB Darius Slay (2nd round, Mississippi State), G Larry Warford (3rd round, Kentucky), DE Jason Jones (from Seahawks), DE Israel Idonije (from Bears), WR Michael Spurlock (from Chargers)
KEY DEPARTURES: DE Cliff Avril (to Seahawks), DE Kyle Vanden Bosch (free agent), LB Justin Durant (to Cowboys), OT Gosder Cherilus (to Colts), DT Sammie Hill (to Titans), OT Jeff Backus (retired), K Jason Hanson (retired), G Stephen Peterman (to Jets)
QB: Matthew Stafford will be playing his fifth season in the NFL after the team took him with the top overall pick in 2009 out of Georgia. After a tough first two seasons saw him play just 13 games due to injury, Stafford has played in all 32 games the past two seasons and is on the cusp of turning into one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.
In 2011, Stafford passed for 5,038 yards and is only one of four quarterbacks to eclipse the mark, joining Drew Brees and Tom Brady, both of whom passed for over 5,000 yards in 2011, and Dan Marino, who had owned the single-season record of 5,084 yards in 1984 until it was broken in 2011. However, despite passing for 4,967 yards in 2012, the season saw Stafford regress a bit as his touchdown total fell from 41 in 2011 to just 20 in 2012 despite setting an NFL record with 727 pass attempts. He agreed to a three-year extension in July.
Backing up Stafford is Shaun Hill, who is a competent if not great quarterback and will be entering his fourth season with the Lions and 12th overall.
RB: Detroit got one of the best running back free agents this past offseason as the team signed Bush away from the Dolphins. Entering his eighth season in the NFL, Bush posted 986 yards on 227 carries with six touchdowns, and added 35 catches for 292 yards and a score.
He's not the only running threat on the team, either, as 2011 second-round pick Mikel Leshoure saw his first action last season after sitting out 2011 with a torn left Achilles tendon. He was suspended for the first two games of the season, but played the final 14 and notched 798 yards on 215 carries with nine touchdowns, along with 34 catches for 214 yards.
The two should prove to be a potent tandem out of the backfield both on the ground and catching the ball. In addition, the Lions have Joique Bell available as a threat to carry and catch. He averaged 5.0 yards on 82 carries with three touchdowns, and added 52 catches for 485 yards.
WR: If anything bad could be said about Calvin Johnson last season, it's that he only had five touchdown catches as he was tackled inside the 5-yard line eight times, six of which were inside the 2-yard line. Still, the 27-year-old Georgia Tech product is entering his seventh season and there is no reason to believe he won't continue the pace he's been on the past two seasons. As mentioned, he broke the single-season receiving record last year and over the past two campaigns, he has totaled 218 catches for 3,645 yards and 21 touchdowns.
"It's so impressive what he does, but it's more impressive the way he goes about his business, and that's what kind of sets him apart from a lot of other guys," said offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
Backing up Megatron are veteran Nate Burleson and second-year player Ryan Broyles. Both players missed significant time last year as Burleson broke his right leg in Week 7 at Chicago and missed the rest of the year, while Broyles tore his left ACL against the Colts on Dec. 2.
With Johnson garnering the bulk of the defense's attention, both receivers should see plenty of targets coming their way. 2011 second-round pick Titus Young was released in the offseason due to ongoing behavioral issues.
TE: At tight end the Lions have a pair of guys who can both produce in Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. However, Pettigrew is coming off a bad season as he totaled just 59 catches for 567 yards and three touchdowns. All three numbers were lower than the career-highs he produced in 2011, and he didn't help his cause any with several dropped passes throughout the season. Also, the former 2009 first-round pick fumbled the ball four times last season, losing two, after having just one fumble through his first three campaigns.
Scheffler saw his touchdowns drop for six in 2011 to just one in 2012, although he did catch more passes (42) for more yards (504) than in the 2011 campaign. Entering his eighth season, the former Denver Bronco will continue to be an important part of the offense.
Mike Williams, a seventh-round pick from Alabama, will be used as a blocker to take the role of Will Heller, who was not resigned in the offseason.
OL: This is the weak spot of the Detroit offense, and considering the line is where the play starts, it could wind up being a glaring problem for the team.
With the departure of tackles Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherlius, the team lost two veterans who will be replaced by players with limited experience. Detroit will turn to 2012 first-round pick Riley Reiff to play at left tackle and protect Stafford's blind side. The 24-year-old will have to develop quickly, as he has just one start in his career.
At the other tackle position should be Jason Fox, who is entering his fourth year, but has played in just five games. Another rookie on the line will be guard Larry Warford, who the Lions took in the third round of the 2013 draft. Considered to be one of the best guard prospects in the draft, the Kentucky product is looking to replace Peterman.
A pair of veterans returning to the line are Rob Sims as he has started at guard in every game the past three seasons for Detroit and center Dominic Raiola, who has missed just four games over his 12-year career with Detroit.
DL: While the offense is the strength of this team, the defensive line might be the most solid group of the entire squad. The strength of this line is tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, who will be entering their fourth and this seasons, respectively.
There is concern at the ends, though, as Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch left the team as free agents. However, the Lions addressed the need with the fifth overall pick in taking BYU standout Ziggy Ansah. Despite playing football for just three years in his life, the Ghana native is considered to be one of the best talents at defensive end in this year's draft class, and all signs point to him developing into a top-notch end.
Also, the team signed Israel Idonije and Jason Jones to take care of the end positions.
LB: The Lions have a glaring hole to fill at outside linebacker as veteran Justin Durant went to the Cowboys in the offseason. There is a battle underway between Ashlee Palmer, a four-year veteran who has played in 62 games over his career with nine starts, Travis Lewis and Tahir Whitehead, both of whom are entering their second season.
"They're battling, those three guys, Ashlee, Tahir and Travis," said defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. "They're all making plays and, you know, I always tell Matt Burke) (Detroit linebackers coach) it's about the trust. Who is going to make the most plays without messing one up. They're all really doing pretty well. I like what Matt's doing with them and each one of them has shown up for big plays."
Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch is back for his third year in the Motor City as he led the team with 112 tackles last season, while DeAndre Levy is entering his fifth season in the NFL, all with Detroit.
DB: If the secondary is to succeed for Detroit, it will need a healthy Louis Delmas back there. Entering his fifth season, Delmas has battled knee problems all of training camp, never practicing two days in a row, and has yet to play in the preseason.
"Obviously my knee isn't what it used to be when I was younger, so I have to take my time now," said Delmas. "Practice one day, take two days off. Practice another day, take two days off. Just trying to stick to the schedule to get back for the season."
When he does play, though, he is one of the better safeties in the league and his presence in the secondary would go a long way in keeping the opposing teams out of the end zone. To address any potential setbacks Delmas might have, the team signed Glover Quin from Houston in the offseason. The five-year pro spent four seasons with the Texans and started all 48 games the past three seasons. Last year, he had 84 tackles, 14 passes defensed and two interceptions.
Manning the corners will be Chris Houston, Ron Bartell, Bill Bentley and Darius Slay. Houston totaled 56 tackles, 11 passes defensed and two picks last season and is the top cornerback on the team.
Slay, a second-round draft pick out of Mississippi State, has been in competition with Bartell for the other starting job, and is being hinted at as the starter when the team begins its season against Minnesota.
SPECIAL TEAMS: He had to retire eventually, and it happened last season as long-time kicker Jason Hanson called it quits. A second-round pick out of Washington State in 1992, Hanson spent his entire career with Detroit and set an NFL record for most career games (327) and most seasons (21) with one team. He also holds the record for field goals of 40 yards or more (188) and 50 yards or more (51). Also, he is Detroit's point leader with 2,150 over his career, good for third all-time in the NFL.
To replace Hanson, the team wasted no time as it signed veteran David Akers the day after Hanson retired. Akers slumped last season as he made just 29- of-44 attempts and was released by the 49ers in the off-season. Over his 13- year career, the 38-year old has made 367-of-453 field goals and tied an NFL- record with a 63-yarder in 2011 with San Francisco. Also, he averaged 66.0 yards per kickoff.
Detroit hasn't finished higher than 24th in punting average the past four seasons, and were in last place in 2012 with a 37.1 yard average. To address the need, Detroit drafted Sam Martin out of Appalachian State in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. He averaged 45.9 yards in his senior year last year, and has been impressive in the preseason, which included a 54-yarder inside the Jets' 10-yard line on his first kick in Detroit's preseason opener.
The Lions signed return specialistMichael Spurlock in the offseason from the Chargers. The 30-year old had a kick return for a touchdown, along with a punt return for a touchdown. He averaged 25.7 yards per kick return, and 17.1 average per punt return. The Lions did not have a return for a touchdown last season, and average 20.0 per kick return, and 8.6 per punt return.
COACHING: Back for his fifth season as head coach of Detroit is Schwartz. After taking over following the dismal 0-16 season in 2008, his team improved over the next three seasons, including the 10-6 mark in 2011. However, his tenure in Detroit has seen the team constantly take undisciplined penalties, along with questionable calls from the sidelines.
His most glaring mistake of 2012 came on Thanksgiving against Houston, when he threw a challenge on a Justin Forsett touchdown. The score would have been called back had he not thrown the challenge, since all touchdowns are automatically reviewed, but in throwing the challenge he was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and the score was allowed to stand, eventually leading to a 34-31 loss in overtime.
If this team has another poor showing in 2013, it's a good bet that there will be some changes made on the bench. Back with Schwartz for their fifth seasons are Linehan and Cunningham.
THE SKINNY: As mentioned, the Lions play in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, and also have several tough games out of their division with road trips at Washington and Pittsburgh, along with a home contest against Baltimore in December.
If this team wants to get back to a winning season, let alone the playoffs, they will need more disciplined play, along with a more balanced offense and defense.
08/24 08:27:23 ET