The Detroit Lions have been exposed.
2012 was a year for this team to rid the "same old Lions" label and establish a winning franchise. Instead of evolving, Detroit has regressed in drastic fashion.
Starting from the offseason arrests to the complete meltdown of wide receiver Titus Young, the Lions have been in disarray from the start. Their downfall this year has happened in a snowball-type fashion.
With a 4-9 record and no shot at the playoffs, all hopes are pointing towards next season and how this team plans on moving forward. Here are three changes that must occur for the Lions to progress.
Coming into 2012, Detroit's consistent strong point was supposed to be quarterback Matthew Stafford and the offense. The young, gunslinger has thrown for a meaningless 4,006 yards and only 17 touchdowns.
Stafford's wideouts haven't made life easier as they lead the league in dropped passes. Detroit is also without their top secondary receivers with Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles gone with injuries and Titus Young being placed on IR. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew has also underachieved immensely with a number of dropped passes and costly penalties.
The Lions have seen flashes from their running backs Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell, but the ground game isn't featured as often as one would hope with the team always playing from behind.
The only consistent highlight has been superstar Calvin Johnson, who leads the NFL in receiving yards with 1,546 off of 96 catches, tying his season high last year. Johnson started the season off slow in scoring and only has five touchdowns through 13 games.
A lot of blame for the offensive struggles can be placed on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. He's drawn up too many predictable plays, especially early on in games. The Lions have struggled to get Megatron open against the two-deep safety defense, taking away the big play downfield.
Stafford is also a prime suspect for the team's struggles. His regression this year is one of the worst in the league; to only throw for 17 touchdowns given his talent and weapons is inexcusable.
While Stafford remains on pace to throw for another 5,000 yards this year, passing yards are the most overrated stat in football and don't tell the entire story. Stafford needs to find his accuracy and a consistent sense of rhythm in order to lead the Lions moving forward.
General manager Martin Mayhew will be going into his fifth offseason as the Lions' lead-decision maker. This will without a doubt be the most vital offseason of his career.
Looking up and down the roster, Detroit has plenty of holes to fill. The holes only grow bigger once free agency hits during the offseason. The Lions have over 20 free agents of their own, with the majority of them being on defense.
Detroit will always take the "best available" draft strategy, but the best available at this point has to be on the defensive side of the ball. Outside of defensive tackle and middle linebacker, the Lions won't have any stability at any other position this offseason.
A lot of Mayhew's draft picks haven't panned out perfectly so far. Despite the flashes from rookies like Riley Reiff and Ryan Broyles, they haven't translated to full-time success or wins for the Lions.
Dealing with a rough salary cap, Mayhew must win big in the draft to save money. If the Lions don't land quality rookies to solidify some roster spots, Detroit will continue to regress.
More important than talent and capability, the Lions need to find a sense of leadership and accountability.
All the talent in the world won't get a team anywhere without discipline and maturity. The Lions can keep pace with anybody on the scoreboard, but they've cost themselves out of many victories this season with their own foolish mistakes.
It starts at the top with head coach Jim Schwartz. Dating back to the Lions getting in trouble over the summer, it was clear Schwartz didn't have a complete grasp of things. It's only continued as Titus Young has been banished and mistakes like the Thanksgiving Game show where the Lions are as a team.
It's also quite confusing the way Schwartz decides to address his players when they're at fault. Against Green Bay, running back Joique Bell drew a penalty for a multi-player touchdown celebration with tight end Tony Scheffler. Schwartz called out Bell, but excused penalties committed by tackle Ndamukong Suh and the poor play of quarterback Matthew Stafford (via mlive.com).
Exceptions can't occur with this team. When one person is at fault, the entire team is at fault. Schwartz will enter 2013 as a head coach on the hot seat. In order to get off that seat, he must finally gain control of his team.
If the Lions continue to get in trouble off the field or draw foolish penalties during the game, it's only a reflection of the coach's leadership. And so far, that's been the story in Detroit this season.