The Lions had the second-most penalized offense in the NFL during the 2011 regular season. They drew flags on 128 plays that cost them 1,075 penalty yards and the forfeiture of whatever gains occurred before some of those flags were tossed.
Detroit also had the third-most penalized defense in the league last season. Their 119 penalties gave opponents an additional 982 yards through 16 games.
The Lions scored only nine rushing touchdowns during the 2011 regular season, putting them in a tie for the 23rd least-feared ground game in the league.
On the bright side, Detroit scored 41 aerial touchdowns, ranking behind only Green Bay (51) and New Orleans (46). Matt Stafford became only the fifth quarterback in NFL history to pass for 5,000 yards in a single season.
Despite giving up the 10th-most total points per game in 2011, Detroit’s defense snatched 21 interceptions—the fifth-highest total in the NFL. Even better, the Lions returned five of those interceptions for touchdowns and led the league in that category.
Detroit fumbled the ball 20 times last year, losing possession seven times. Six of those fumbles happened on ground plays despite running the ball only 356 times all season. Only Tampa Bay ran the ball fewer times than the Lions, and Tampa managed to fumble eight times.
During the 2011 regular season, the Lions gained 3.3 times more yardage in the air than they did on the ground and took their 10-6 record into the playoffs. Detroit’s pass/run ratio reflects a growing trend in the NFL.
The 2011 Super Bowl champion Giants also established a 3.3 pass/run ratio during the regular season. Green Bay won the Lombardi Trophy in 2010 on the strength of a 2.6 pass/run ratio. The New Orleans Saints won it all in 2009 with a 2.1 ratio.
Among the 12 playoff teams last season, only Denver ran the ball more during the regular season than they tossed it. The Giants actually ranked dead last in regular-season rushing yardage last year. It’s clear that the roll of the running game in the NFL is changing, and the Lions are ahead of the curve.
Detroit will never neglect the running game but won’t rely on it to score anywhere near the majority of points necessary to win the 10 or more games a season that it will take to be a consistent playoff contender.