How the Detroit Lions Can Salvage the 2012 Season
Sitting at 1-3 and entering the bye week, the Detroit Lions have no choice but to sit and stew on their miserable start to the 2012 NFL season. A quarter of the season is over and the outlook is bleak, but there is a lot of football left to play.
There's still time to turn the season around.
Obviously the Lions are one of the most disappointing teams of this young season. After the success of 2011, optimism was at an all-time high. That's why their subpar performance has been hard to swallow.
They were expected to do so much more.
Instead, they've underperformed and have been outplayed in each of their first four games. Honestly they're lucky to have one win.
The Lions don't look like the same team—in more ways than one. Their problems are numerous and might seem insurmountable.
Fear not. It's too early to write them off. Here's how the Lions can salvage their season.
6. Welcome Back Louis Delmas
Lions fans are used to hearing about how valuable Louis Delmas is to the defense.
Whether it's his attitude, leadership or his style of play, the Lions insist that they're a much better team when he's on the field.
The problem is that he's never on the field. He hasn't played a snap this season, and his ongoing health issues are beginning to outweigh his perceived benefits. According to the Detroit News, Delmas was back at practice on Wednesday, and there's a good chance that he'll be activated after the bye week.
In his absence, the Lions safeties have given up a number of big plays this season, and Delmas will be a welcomed addition.
How big of an impact he has remains to be seen. He's never been a ball hawk, but he's an upgrade over John Wendling and Eric Coleman for sure.
At the very least, he'll be a high-energy guy who might be the spark the defense needs to get its swagger back and take its game to the next level for the remainder of the season.
5. Catch the Darn Ball
Detroit's receiving corp was considered one of the best in the NFL last season.
That seems like an eternity ago. Defenses have been able to contain them this season.
While the Lions have the top passing offense in the NFL in terms of yardage, they're completing a mere 36 percent of their third-down attempts. Some of that falls on Matthew Stafford. He has not played his best—but he's played good enough.
With the Lions, the blame is on the receivers. Detroit is a pass-first team, so the biggest issue is dropped balls. The Lions receivers have developed hands of stone and they're letting defenses off the hook.
The biggest offender is Brandon Pettigrew. Jim Schwartz can stand behind him all he wants, but the truth is, Pettigrew drops a catchable ball every game.
Two of those drops should have been touchdowns: one against St. Louis and the other against the Vikings.
He's not alone. Calvin Johnson dropped passes against the Vikings, too, and Nate Burleson and Titus Young have been guilty in prior games.
Speaking of Young, when he's not dropping the ball, he's disappearing from the offense. As a result he's been a non-factor all year. If defenses are double- and triple-teaming Johnson, Young should be able to get himself open.
It's too early to call this group overrated, but unless things change, there's nothing else to call them.
4. Correct the Special Teams Issues
Many fans are calling for special teams coach Danny Crossman's job. Given his team's epic failure the last two weeks, a firing would be warranted.
He's not the one missing tackles on the field, though. Jim Schwartz echoed that sentiment on Sunday when he shot down the idea that Crossman's job was in jeopardy.
Schwartz was quoted on ESPN's NFC North Blog as saying:
If we were getting out-schemed, if we were making continual mistakes, there are physical plays that we have to make and we're professional athletes. We have to make them.
Schwartz might be sticking up for his buddy—or he might be full of hot air. However, there's evidence that the special teams' were out-schemed.
The Vikings planned for that coverage and the Lions were victimized for not making the necessary adjustments. That's on the coach.
A good argument can be made that the Lions' special teams failures were the only reason they lost both those games.
It's simple: Detroit won't go anywhere unless this unit gets it together and proves it can consistently stop somebody.
3. Light a Fire Under the Defensive Line
Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE
For all the talk about the Lions dominant defensive line, it's done little to prove it deserves any praise this season. The D-line might be ranked 14th in the NFL in sacks, but that means little if its not getting consistent pressure on the quarterback.
Particularly if the entire defense is predicated on the line doing so.
Instead quarterbacks like Sam Bradford, Jake Locker and Alex Smith have been given all the time in the world to pick the Lions apart.
This would not happen if the defensive line was truly dominant.
Perhaps everyone has simply overestimated the talent the Lions have assembled on this unit. It's beginning to look like that is the case. Perhaps it's simply a failure on Gunther Cunningham's part to adapt and change things up when things are not working.
Both are accurate descriptions of the Lions problems.
Having said all this, the pass rush did look better against the Vikings though. It was the key in limiting Minnesota's offense to only six points.
While improvement was noted, the fact is the defensive line needs to do better—particularly when it comes to rushing the passer. If not, the Lions well be hard pressed to stop anyone and climb out of the rut in which they currently find themselves.
2. Offensive Innovation
The Lions of 2011 were a dominant offensive team. That's easy to see when you look at their numbers. However—as is frequently the case—numbers can be misleading.
The Lions' offense was tremendously inconsistent last year, too. That's why it had to stage so many dramatic comebacks. Stafford and Co. stalled and struggled through many of those games—just like they're doing this year.
The difference is that last season they had a knack for getting hot and making big plays when they needed to. They're not doing that this season.
Why? It's not because Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford stopped being great. They still are. It's because defenses are refusing to allow those two to beat them.
Defenders are effectively taking away the deep ball. Johnson and Stafford are getting their yards, but that matters little because they're not scoring touchdowns at the same clip.
Offensive innovation is obviously needed and that is on the shoulders of Scott Linehan and Jim Schwartz. Stubbornly clinging to a year-old game plan is a one-way ticket out of the playoffs. Especially since opposing defenses are clearly wise to it.
The answer lies in flipping the script. If defenses are playing the Lions deep, then target the intermediate passing game. Run screen passes. Find a way to get Titus Young involved and work in Ryan Broyles, whom defenses haven't faced yet.
Better yet, run the hurry-up offense all game. The Lions were at their best when they ran it last season. After three quarters, defenses will be sucking wind and Stafford and Johnson might see some of those deep routes open up.
1. Clip the Eagles' Wings
What's the best way to climb out of a rut and stop a losing streak that threatens to derail a season?
Obviously, get a win.
Not just any win, though. The Lions need to go on the road, face a heavily favored team, and punch them in the mouth. That type of win is a momentum-shifter that can change the mood of an entire team.
The Lions need something like that. They're not where they thought they'd be, and the dark cloud of failure is hanging over their heads. They're frustrated and it's about time they take they're frustration out on somebody.
Luckily, the Philadelphia Eagles are right around the corner waiting to be the Lions punching bag. Detroit faces them in their first game back after the bye. They will be on the road and the Eagles will be the favorites. It's the perfect time for the Lions to get a statement win. Of course it won't be easy. The Eagles have a dangerous offense and a solid defense. Particularly against the pass.
However they are beatable.
Their weakness lies in their proclivity for turning the ball over. Michael Vick has thrown six interceptions, and he and LeSean McCoy have fumbled six times.
The Lions will need to play their best game of the year to have a chance. If they can do that and eke out a win in Philadelphia, they might just save their season.