It’s the midpoint season in the NFL for the Detroit Lions, having played 8 games. Lets take a look at how they’ve fared thus far.
By The Numbers
- Record: 6-2, 1st in the NFC North Division
- Offensive Ranks: 15th in Total Yards, 9th in Passing Yards per Game, 31st in Rushing Yards per game, 25th in Points per Game.
- Defensive Ranks: 7th in Total Yards Allowed, 1st in Yards Per Game, 5th in Passing Yards per game, 2nd in Rushing yards Per Game, 1st in Points per Game
- Special Teams: 29th in field goals made, 4th in field goals attempted, 4th in average punt yards, 4th in Net Average punt yards
We’ll start by taking a look at the positive part of the 2014 Detroit Lions. The defensive unit for Detroit has been, simply put, outstanding this year. The defensive ranks speak for themselves, and there is no doubt that the Lions would not be 6-2 at this point in the season if the Lions defense doesn’t play as well as it has. Many early season performances stick out: the eight sack performance against the Minnesota Vikings, holding a potent Green Bay Packers offense to just seven points and actually outscoring the Packers offense alone with 9 points of their own, or forcing Drew Brees to his worst statistical fourth quarter in his 14th season.
The secondary has been a bit of a surprise this year as well. Second year corner Darius Slay has performed well and looks to be making strides at fulfilling his tremendous potential. Veteran Rashean Mathis has shown that he still has some juice left in the tank. Meanwhile, free agent signing James Ihedigbo has been an improvement over last year’s mistake prone Louis Delmas. While the unit has been solid, there is no doubt that the reason the Lions defense has been as good as it has been is due to the Lions defensive line.
Defensive tackle Ndamakong Suh has been dominant, and both defensive tackles CJ Mosley and Nick Fairley have played well. Moving forward, it appears the Lions will be without the services of Nick Fairley, who suffered a knee injury against the Atlanta Falcons. Second year player Ezekiel Ansah has shown improvement as well, being named the NFC Defensive Player of the week once for his performance against the Vikings. Perhaps the most surprising performance thus far has been from NFL journeyman George Johnson, who is leading the Lions with 4 sacks and also has 22 tackles.
Finally, the linebackers for Detroit have been solid. Lead by Deandre Levy, the linebackers have been huge in stopping the run and shutting down screen plays. Since Stephen Tulloch injured himself against the Green Bay Packers, Tahir Whitehead and Josh Bynes have stepped in and stepped up. Whitehead is second on the team in tackles with 40, and second on the team in interceptions with two. The linebacking unit will gain some depth in the form of Kyle Van Noy, who will return from the short term injured reserve following the bye week.
There has been perhaps no more of surprising performance from a defensive unit this year. While most people anticipated the Lions defense being improved, not many thought the Lions would be top 5 in the league in most of the statistical categories on defense.
Here is where the Detroit Lions have struggled mightily this season. Detroit’s offense, to put it bluntly, has been abysmal this year. The running game, which put up an average of 117 yards per game last season, is ranked 31st in the league this season and only averaging 79.6 rushing yards per game. While there has been instability at the running back position due to injuries this year, the main problem with the offense this season is the offensive line.
Detroit’s offensive line has been very disappointing this season. High expectations were put on the unit following last year’s surprising performance. The Lions gave up the second least amount of sacks last year with 23, second only to the Denver Broncos. This season already, Detroit has given up 24 sacks. While some of that can be attributed to Matthew Stafford holding the ball too long, there have been countless plays this year in which Stafford had no chance to do anything with the ball. This unit is going to have to play better in the second half of the season if Detroit wants to make the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford is having a subpar season statistically. While he is on pace to throw 14 interceptions this year (down from 19 last year), he’s also on pace to throw less touchdowns. Overall, the thing I have liked about Stafford’s game thus far is that he isn’t making as many bad decisions despite the fact that he’s facing considerably more pressure. This bodes well for the Lions moving forward. However, Stafford needs to show improved accuracy and consistency. While quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Phillip Rivers are completing over 65 percent of their passes, Stafford is completing just 61 percent of his passes. At this point in his career, it’s safe to say that Matthew Stafford is who he’s going to be. He doesn’t have the mobility and accuracy of Rodgers, he doesn’t have the supreme touch of Manning, and he doesn’t have the tenacity of Brady. But, if Detroit can surround him with weapons and give him time, he can win the Lions games. All the Detroit Lions need this year to win is an average of 24 points, and they will come out victorious more times than not.
As far as the other aspects of the offense go, it’s tough to give a fair grade when there have been so many injuries. While Golden Tate has been a godsend for the Lions, it’s tough to say how good Detroit’s wide receivers are as a whole with Calvin Johnson missing several games. Reggie Bush appears to have lost a step, but he’s also been plagued with nagging injuries this year (something that isn’t exactly a new development). Players that have impressed me this year have been Theo Riddick and Corey Fuller. Riddick looks like a better version of Bush thus far, and Fuller has the height that Stafford needs at wide receiver to catch his errant throws. Moving forward, I expect the offense to improve as long as the Lions biggest offensive threats can stay on the field.
What To Expect In The Second Half
The second half of the season will look much different than the first half of the season for the Lions. Expect the offense to improve marginally in production with Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush, and all three of Detroit’s tight ends returning. Meanwhile, if Nick Fairley misses a significant amount of time, Detroit’s defense would be dealt a serious blow. CJ Mosley will take most of Fairley’s snaps, and he is a serviceable defensive tackle, but he is still not as good as Fairley has been this year. While the defense will still be good enough to win Detroit games, don’t expect them to be lights out like they were in the first half of the season. Overall, my season prediction before the year began of 11-5 is looking achievable and the Lions might just be in play for the NFC North Division Title at the end of the year with the Green Bay Packers.