It's been a frustrating season for Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions.
By all accounts, the 2012 Detroit Lions are, at least statistically, almost similar to the team that stormed into the playoffs with a 10-6 record last year. But this season, Detroit is a disappointing 4-8 and occupies the cellar of the NFC North, a position that no one in the Motor City expected amidst a season that has brought about more questions concerning the team's future.
This team is mostly unchanged from last year, save for a few pieces on offense and defense that have contributed well in 2012. But why then, have they regressed to such a point that the playoffs are now a distant memory?
Maybe Detroit was never really as good as we thought they were. Since starting 5-0 in 2011, the Lions are just 9-15 (including the playoffs), a dismal mark for a team with so much talent. Why can't Detroit seem to put together a solid four or five-week stretch of good football?
There are many reasons, and there are no quick fixes. It all comes down to execution and discipline, two things the Lions have lacked all year.
The Lions have turned the ball over a bunch, but it's the inability to take it back that has really hampered their efforts.
Turnovers are the most important and unpredictable part of football, and the Lions have shown how directly the give/take category relates to winning games.
In 2011, the Lions were fourth in the NFL with a plus-11 turnover rating. Matthew Stafford threw a bunch of interceptions, but the defense forced 34 takeaways and helped offset some of the offense's tendencies. The turnovers allowed for better field position and more opportunities for points.
Fast forward to 2012, where the Lions rank 20th in the league with a minus-five turnover differential. In a game of inches, a single interception can change the outcome of a matchup in multiple ways. But the Lions have only forced 15 total turnovers and have shown that their overall success is probably attributed to their inability to keep the ball as well as take it away.
Whenever a team experiences a sudden increase or decrease in wins, the first place to look is turnover differential. If that team had a bad turnover differential and a bad record the season before their success, chances are high that their success is due to a positive turnover rating.
Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford have had great seasons statistically in every category—except for touchdowns.
Is it harsh to deem the Stafford-Johnson connection "demised?" After all, Stafford is on pace for almost 5,000 yards and Johnson is on track to obliterate the all-time single-season receiving yardage record.
The answer is no, it is not harsh. The numbers are historic, but they are historic in every category except that one that really matters—touchdowns, which the duo has inexplicably hooked up for only five of in 12 games.
There's really no explanation. The yards are there, but the scores simply aren't. The two teamed up for 16 scores last year in one of the most dynamic seasons a quarterback/wide receiver combo has ever had.
Johnson hasn't been nearly as effective in the red zone as last season and only had one touchdown in his first eight games, something that is nearly unthinkable for a player of his caliber.
Ultimately, it comes down to the Lions' inability to get the ball to him consistently at the beginning of the year. In fact, 44 percent of Johnson's total receptions have come in his last four games, which have fueled his separation from the rest of the league statistically. If the Lions had been able to get him the ball more often early on, we could be looking at a team with a few more wins than their currently have.
The duo is still arguably the best in the league, but it will be for naught if they continue to struggle scoring touchdowns.
Matthew Stafford leads the league in yards and attempts, and the Lions don't run the ball at all, even when they run it effectively.
All you need to know about the Lions' offense is this: when they run the ball, they generally run it pretty effectively. But they never run the ball. Instead, they opt to throw it more than any team in the league—by far. Matt Stafford has thrown the ball 534 times in 2012, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer are a distant second at 503.
It's been the death knell for the Lions in some of their games. It's not like the Lions can't run the ball, it's that they choose not to. In last week's loss to the Colts, the Lions could have run the ball on their final drives but instead threw it, allowing Luck enough time to mount a comeback.
The Lions throw the ball pretty well and if any team is justified in passing 45 times per game, it's Detroit. But they have lost several games in 2012 as a direct result of not controlling the clock at the end of the game.
It doesn't matter how effectively Matt Stafford can sling it, if the Lions and can't ground-and-pound to close out wins, they'll never gain any ground on the three teams ahead of them in the NFC North.
The Lions' defense isn't terrible, but it gives up way to many points for Detroit to have any realistic shot at winning consistently.
Any team that gives up 26 points per game will never amount to anything special, and the Lions can't get out of their own way. Their inability to force turnovers has led to teams rolling up and down the field against them, often scoring at will. In their last four games alone, all losses, Detroit is allowing 31.2 points, a mark that simply cannot be tolerated.
The Lions aren't miserable at anything, but they aren't good at anything either. Detroit's defense is the definition of "below average" and there doesn't seem to be any hope on the horizon. In fact, in a rather depressing statistic, if the Lions' 19th-ranked defense held up for the rest of the season, it would be the franchise's highest ranking in total defense in a decade. Going back to 2002, Detroit has finished 23rd, 21st, 32nd, 32nd, 32nd, 28th, 20th, 22nd, 24th and 31st. That is futility of the highest order.
Detroit managed to win 10 games in 2011 because the offense was better than the defense was mediocre. That formula is failing miserably in 2012 and until the Lions can fix it, the boys from Motor City will face another run of frustrating irrelevance.