The 2013 season will ultimately go down as another one of disappointment in Detroit. There were some fantastic highs (such as Calvin Johnson’s sensational 329-yard performance against Dallas and the 40-10 Thanksgiving demolition of Green Bay), yet these were mixed in with some pretty depressing lows too.
Failure to advance to the playoffs from an NFC North division without a standout team was simply not good enough. The Lions went 1-6 over their last seven games to drop from first in the division to third place, including four straight defeats to end their campaign.
Any team that boasts the talents of Johnson, Matthew Stafford and Reggie Bush will be a threat offensively.
Stafford was solid, if unspectacular by the standards that modern NFL quarterbacks are judged by. He threw for 4650 yards and a 29-19 touchdown to interception ratio, resulting in a passer rating of 84.2.
Johnson’s production was lower than in 2012, but he still accounted for 1492 yards and 12 touchdowns from 84 receptions.
Free Agent pick up Bush managed 1006 yards on the ground at 4.5 yards per carry.
Joique Bell was another key member of the offense, accounting for 547 yards on 53 catches and 650 rushing yards at 3.9 yards per attempt. He will be missed if he leaves the team as a Free Agent this off season.
Aside from these four, few other skill players covered themselves in glory. Nate Burleson has already been cut following his lack of production (39 catches for 461 yards) and it would not be a surprise if tight end Brandon Pettigrew followed him out of Detroit.
Defensively, Detroit ended the season in the middle of the league; 16th in yards allowed and 18th in points allowed.
Rookie Ziggy Ansah made an immediate impact, recording eight sacks to lead the team. The dependable Ndamukong Sug added 5.5 and Nick Fairley 6. Stephen Tulloch (135) and DeAndre Levy (119) set the tone in terms of tackles; Levy also accounted for six picks (one of which he returned for a score) and 15 passes defended.
Jeremy Ross and Michael Spurlock shared returning duties. Ross had a kick off and punt return touchdown during the season, averaging 29.3 yards per kick return and 16.2 yards per punt return.
Despite more opportunities, Spurlock could not live with that standard. Punter Sam Martin averaged an impressive 47.2 yards on average whilst kicker David Akers will be disappointed as a successful Field Goal percentage of just 79.2% will leave him looking worryingly over his shoulder come draft day.
The poor end to the season cost Head Coach Jim Schwartz his job in Detroit.
Ultimately his failure to get a franchise with all the offensive talents that the Lions possess was unacceptable to the hierarchy in Detroit. He has been replaced by Jim Caldwell, who will be tasked with working very closely with Stafford to be able to get the best out of the former number one draft pick and ensure that the offence works effectively. His tenure depends entirely on how successfully he can improve the offence in Detroit.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
The Lions have already moved to secure the services of impressive center Dominic Raiola and cut high earners Nate Burleson and safety Louis Delmas to free up some cap space. As mentioned earlier, Joique Bell will be missed if he is not retained but many of the Lions’ Free Agents did not play major roles in 2013.
With Delmas released and cornerback Rashean Mathis another who could be lost, reinforcements in the secondary are essential. The Lions will be looking for some players who can make a big impact when defending the pass to try and improve on their relatively low total of just 15 interceptions. Whether through Free Agency or the draft, expect Caldwell to try to add at least one safety and cornerback; if not more.
With Burleson already cut the Lions will also be very keen to add at least one wide receiver to their ranks to give them a viable threat opposite Johnson. If Pettigrew also leaves then a replacement tight end will be brought in as well. Expect an interesting off season in the Motor City…