The Detroit Lions were a popular topic of conversation this offseason. Aside from the off-field troubles, there was plenty of discussion regarding the game-day performances of some players, especially quarterback Matthew Stafford.
A number of analysts passed questionable judgement to Stafford's 2011 season. NFL Network's Marshall Faulk wasn't impressed, and ESPN's Ron Jaworski placed Stafford at a puzzling ranking on his quarterback board.
Based on the start he and his team has gotten off to this season, the negative thoughts of Stafford have been validated to a degree. The Lions and their quarterback have gotten off to a slow start with a 1-3 record and a last place spot in the NFC North.
Stafford has been off the mark so far this year. He's only thrown three touchdowns through the first four games, along with four interceptions. His accuracy is a big concern considering how many times he's over and under-thrown his receivers, and he's also formed a habit of focusing too much on his favorite target, Calvin Johnson.
While still dealing with durability concerns, Stafford at times also extends plays too long trying to out-run defenders and make a play instead of throwing the ball away. Stafford took plenty of hits against Minnesota, and has already been banged up with a few injuries.
As the Lions struggle, it's easy to point at the franchise quarterback as the source of reason. However, Detroit's problems and losses this season are much bigger than just Stafford's performance.
Just last week, the Lions were first in the league for dropped passes. The timing of the drops have been particularly painful, with several of the Lions' receivers blowing big red-zone opportunities due to their inability to simply catch the football.
Potential breakout candidate Titus Young Sr. has been a disappointment this year. Outside of a Hail Mary miracle in Tennessee, Young hasn't given much hope to his preseason predictions.
Last year at this time, Calvin Johnson led the league with nine touchdown receptions. Megatron only has one touchdown thus far and has been held out of the end zone courtesy of defenses playing Cover 2 against the Lions. As opponents take away the Lions' best offensive weapon, Detroit has settled with underneath routes instead of stretching the field.
Coming into the season, one of Stafford's biggest areas of improvements was yards-per-completion. However, he has seen his 7.6 average from 2011 fall to 6.8 this year.
That disappointing statistic doesn't fall on the arm of Stafford, however. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has failed to make adjustments to the coverages of their opponents and has tried to stay content with a dink-and-dunk offensive pace. Cover 2 defenses welcomes the short-yardage completions, which are stopped quickly by the linebackers or defensive backs in position.
With a conservative offense and an alarming rate of dropped passes, Stafford hasn't been able to find a rhythm with any targets.
The Lions' passing game was expected to be the constant that kept this team in games, but even if Detroit was successful on offense, their defense remained a major concern, especially in the secondary.
The Lions have dealt with plenty of injuries in their secondary with safety Louis Delmas (knee) and cornerbacks Chris Houston (ankle), Drayton Florence (forearm) and Bill Bentley (concussion). Even with Houston and Bentley back in the lineup, the Lions have been picked apart by short, intermediate completions. Even Titans quarterback Jake Locker had a career day against Detroit, throwing for 378 yards and two touchdowns.
A big reason leading to the secondary's struggles has been the underachievement of the defensive line. Captain Kyle Vanden Bosch set a high bar for the Lions' front four that they are not coming close to achieving. Detroit is currently tied for 19th in the NFL with nine sacks.
A myriad of things can be said about the special teams as well. Allowing four returns for touchdowns in the past two games says a lot on its own.
So back to Stafford. Is he likely to spoil the Lions again with another 5,000-yard, 40-touchdown season in 2012? Doubtful. But outside of their quarterback, there are too many other bigger issues to worry about.
Right now, the Lions don't look like a team ready to take the next step. With plenty of holes on defense and questionable coaching, Detroit is falling well short of their expectations. Stafford gives the Lions the best chance to win, but his struggles alone aren't the reason why they're losing.
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