2012 has been another surprising season for the Detroit Lions franchise. However, it's been more of a negative surprise as the Lions face a 1-3 record heading into their bye week.
A case of blame can be thrown in almost any direction to pinpoint the teams' struggles. The offense has been out of sync on all levels, the Lions defensively have been carved up against the run as well as the pass, and the special teams has surrendered four touchdown returns in the past two games.
While every player and coach has taken a step backwards, a few Lions deserve more credit than blame this season. Here are three Lions who you should refrain from blaming so far in 2012.
Rookie Bill Bentley is yet to live up to the preseason hype he received over the offseason. Bentley has gone through significant growing pains with injuries and foolish penalties in coverage. Last week, Bentley was flagged for two first-half pass interference penalties against Minnesota, as well as being beat by Jerome Simpson on a possession-extending fade late in the fourth quarter.
Even with Bentley's flaws and mistakes, people should remain very high on the young cornerback. Bentley has struggled with locating the ball in coverage. However, unlike many of the Lions' past or present defensive backs, Bentley is normally in position to make a play on the ball. Players like Jacob Lacey have found themselves five yards off the ball allowing plenty of yards after the catch. The fact that Bentley remains stride-for-stride with his receiver is enough reason to hold off on the blame.
Bentley is still a rookie coming from a small school in Lafayette Louisiana. His occasional mistakes will happen, but he shall continue to make strides. Bentley is a good tackler and a quality athlete with a bright future as the Lions' starting cornerback.
In all fairness, the Lions' franchise quarterback has not been himself this season. Matthew Stafford continues to mislead his receivers with passes behind or too far in front of his targets. Stafford also far too often scrambles around trying to be a hero looking for an open option to throw to. That wild style of football will get Stafford hurt and could result in ill-advised passes leading to turnovers.
With that said, Stafford's struggles aren't a direct reflection of his talent. The conservative play calling is what's most-baffling about the offense.
Stafford has completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,182 yards. However, the Lions have only averaged 6.8 yards per-completion. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has turned the Lions into a dink-and-dunk style, which doesn't fit the explosive weapons on Detroit's roster.
Defenses have played the Lions with two-deep safeties in attempt to take away the deep ball. Linehan hasn't made adjustments and constantly settles for underneath throws. Along with the change-in-style, the Lions are currently first in dropped passes.
These changes don't result to blame in Stafford. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew and receiver Titus Young have been a disappointment this season, and Linehan has taken this offense down a path which won't end in success. Stafford has done what he can and should hopefully regain his composure after the bye week.
The Detroit Lions have been without safety and leader Louis Delmas due to knee surgery this offseason. Throughout his absence, the Lions have surrendered a 66 percent passing completion rate against their opponents.
With Delmas gone, it would be easy to look at his replacements as the blame. However, safety Erik Coleman has been one of the biggest surprises this season.
Coleman has 20 tackles and has been a solid filler at safety for Detroit. Despite the troubles on defense, it hasn't been from the effect of the safeties.
Opponents have figured out a way to take out the Lions biggest strength on defense, their defensive line. Detroit has struggled against the run, and have been picked apart through short passes making the defensive line ineffective.
Coleman and the safeties have done their job without getting beat deep and tackling the opposition. The troubles on defense come from a lack of adjustments and blitzing with the Wide-Nine scheme. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham must find a way to adjust on defense, especially with a strong schedule coming up.