Detroit Lions: Who Deserves the Most Blame for Season's Horrible Start?
After a stellar 2011 season in which the Detroit Lions went 10-6 and made the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, the team has all but fallen apart in 2012.
The Lions, after a 20-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at home, are now 1-3 and looking worse every week.
The franchise, which has won only one playoff game since 1957, looks like all the momentum coming out of 2011 is gone.
The Lions have now lost three straight, eclipsing their biggest losing streak of 2011, and several players must turn things around to get the team back in the win column.
So, who's to blame for the Lions' losing ways, so far? We take a look at five players who need to step up to get Detroit back in the playoff hunt.
Matthew Stafford Needs to Find the End Zone
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Matthew Stafford has racked up big yardage this year and continues to play efficient, if not spectacular, football.
However, he hasn't been nearly as solid in the red zone this year as last year, and he has only found the end zone three times in four games.
Stafford, who passed for over 5,000 yards last year and got the Lions to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, has been less clutch in 2012.
Stafford threw two picks in his first three trips into the red zone this season and has not done much better since.
His mechanics remain sound, and his pass protection is only fair, but he's missing that spark, that confidence that made him and Calvin Johnson the most exciting tandem in football last season.
The Lions are only as good as Stafford and can't win without him at the top of his game. Time for him to turn this season around.
Danny Crossman, Lions' Special Teams Coach
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On Sunday, the Lions became the first team since 1940 to give up a kickoff and a punt return for TDs in consecutive games, according to STATS LLC.
Percy Harvin returned the opening kickoff 105 yards Sunday, and Marcus Sherels returned a punt 77 yards in the third quarter to put Minnesota up by 14 points.
The team also gave up scores on both a kickoff and punt in last week's overtime loss to Tennessee.
The kickoff coverage has been abysmal, and that falls on the shoulders of special teams coach Danny Crossman.
Crossman needs to go, plain and simple. A bag of donuts could get more out of this squad than Crossman.
A Healthy, Aggresive Mikel Leshoure Is a Must
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Mikel Leshoure has been a non-factor in his two starts, hampered by a groin injury and likely a bit of rust.
He has gained 100 yards on 26 carries with a long of 15 yards and has shown little of the power and panache he promised coming out of Illinois.
He's been unimpressive against a Titans defense that was giving up north of 150 yards a game and a Vikings run defense that is solid but not stealthy.
No doubt, the Lions need Leshoure's power game to balance their finesse style of offense if they're going to make another run at the playoffs.
Ndamukong Suh Needs to Be More Consistent
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The Lions defense has looked shabby against some pretty pedestrian competition during its three-game skid, and at the center of that, is Detroit's most famous defensive tackle—Ndamukong Suh.
Suh and the Lions looked helpless against the mediocre Tennessee Titans, falling to pieces toward the end of the 44-41 overtime loss in Week 3. They looked better Sunday in the team's 20-13 loss to the Vikings.
Still, Suh has only eight tackles four weeks into the season and has been getting manhandled on the line.
He does have two and a half sacks, but he continues to lose the battle for leverage at the line, often standing too straight up and being pushed back.
He needs to improve his pass-rushing technique and become more consistent for the Lions to compete in the increasingly tough NFC North.
Head Coach Jim Swartz Needs to Shake His Team Up
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Remember how upset Jim Schwartz was with San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh for his aggressive handshake at the end of the Niners' Week 6 victory over Detroit last year?
Well, Schwartz could use a little of that fire right now.
His team has lost three in a row, his quarterback is looking a lot more like Matthew Broderick than Matthew Stafford and his star defensive tackle is averaging two takedowns a game.
Schwartz certainly shoulders much of the blame for the Lions' fall to 1-3.
He is suffering a bit of a sophomore jinx, or to be more specific, a postseason letdown that has now lingered all the way to Week 4.
Schwartz needs to set a fire in his quarterback and his leader on defense and get the Lions back to that 2011 form, back to being hungry, back to winning.
He has been uninspired, and his team has played as such.