In 2012, the Lions were a statistically impressive team.
They broken some records and led the league in some key areas. They also finished 4-12, largely due to injuries and a lack of balance.
The Lions can't really do anything about those injuries (other than improve their depth), so what's left is to become more balanced. And since it was partially imbalance that brought such huge statistical numbers last season, it stands to reason that some of those numbers will have to decline for the Lions to play better as a team and become more balanced.
Of course, that doesn't mean these guys are going to play worse. It just means their individual stats won't pop off the charts because their teammates are picking up the slack, which is a good thing. So, don't think this is a prediction of five players' falls from grace. In many cases, it's a discussion of who can play more efficiently.
Here are the five players who must be less impressive in stats for the Lions to become more impressive in record.
All stats used courtesy of NFL.com, unless otherwise indicated.
Teams don't like to pass that much because it puts their quarterbacks at risk, and it makes offenses predictable because they're winging the ball around all the time.
As a result of Stafford's insane number of pass attempts, he has averaged over 5,000 passing yards per season. That's really great and all, but he needs to scale back. Stafford passes for a lot of yards, but it isn't efficient.
Case in point: Stafford was second in passing yards and 18th in completion percentage among all quarterbacks in 2012 en route to throwing more passes than anyone ever. The Lions wouldn't mind one bit if Stafford could bring his attempts and yards numbers down and improve upon his completion percentage.
Neither would Stafford's right arm.
I'm lumping both of these players together because they both fall under the same category of players who can help the Lions improve simply by not playing as much.
Don't get me wrong, I pull for both safeties. Don Carey has proven to be a solid player, and Ricardo Silva is a lot better than your average undrafted free agent. But last season, they were eighth and sixth respectively in overall team tackles.
There are a bunch of things wrong with this, not the least of which is the fact that there are entirely too many plays making it into the second level. But more importantly, neither Carey nor Silva began the season as a starting safety. They were barely supposed to play at all.
If either guy replicates his (admittedly modest) 2012 numbers, it probably means Louis Delmas is injured again. And if the Lions are going to build a solid secondary, they are going to need their Delmas/Glover Quin tandem to play at least a majority of their games together, which means less time for Carey and Silva.
I know what you're thinking, and I'll be the first to tell you you're right: Joique Bell played good football for the Lions last season, and he doesn't deserve to get buried on the depth chart.
Absolutely true. But had Jahvid Best been available to play in 2012, Bell would never have gotten as many opportunities. Now the Lions have Reggie Bush, who will ultimately serve the same role.
As with the other players on this list, I don't mean to suggest that Bell won't be an important part of the team, because he will be. But his role should be far more situational than it was in 2012. Bush and Mikel Leshoure should soak up the majority of the touches in the offense under normal circumstances.
Bell could come in on some third downs, in passing sets with two running backs, to spell Bush or Leshoure, and he could possibly be used as a late-game closer, as he often was in 2012.
There are a number of situations in which Bell will get touches in important moments. I'm just not sure they will be consistent enough for him to replicate the 899 yards from scrimmage he had in 2012, especially if he ends up in a kick return role, which the Lions' official website reports he has inquired about.
By most accounts, Jonte Green earned some respect in 2012.
It's not often a sixth-round rookie cornerback gets tossed into the starting lineup midway through his first year, but that's what happened with Green, and he performed admirably for a rookie, with 29 tackles and an interception.
Of course, the reason Green was forced to start so early is that the legion of cornerbacks in front of him on the roster ended up injured. Any two players between Chris Houston, Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood, Ron Bartell and potentially even Darius Slay could keep Green off the field.
This is, of course, premature. Green could grow immensely from his experience in 2012 and come out of training camp as the Lions' second-best cornerback. We don't know for sure.
But for now, assume that Green getting a bunch of playing time means lots of injuries or a total lack of development from the Lions' other cornerbacks. Either one is a bad thing.
Nobody wants to hear this, but if Calvin Johnson shoots for 2,000 yards receiving again this year, it probably means the Lions are in trouble.
And that's not just because the Lions pass too much (we covered that on the Matthew Stafford slide). Balance isn't just about running the ball versus passing the ball. It's also about spreading the ball around to different targets.
Johnson led the team in 2012 with 122 receptions for 1,964 yards in 2012, but who came in second?
That would be Brandon Pettigrew, with a pedestrian 59 receptions for 567 yards. Pettigrew is followed by Joique Bell, Tony Scheffler, and Mikel Leshoure. In other words, the Lions' top five passing targets are Johnson, two running backs and two tight ends.
Where are the rest of the wide receivers? You know, the ones whose biggest job it is to catch footballs?
Titus Young, Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles round out the top eight for Lions receptions in 2012 in sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively. Granted, none of those players finished the season for one reason or another, but they still played a fair amount.
To be exact, here are the trio's combined stats in 2012: 26 games played, 82 receptions, 933 yards.
Back in the 1990s, the Lions had a No. 2 receiver in Johnnie Morton, who was a lock to go for 1,000 yards almost every season. Two decades later, they have the best No. 1 receiver in the game (maybe ever), but they can't hit 1,000 yards with the next three guys combined.
The Lions are trying to build a full complement of wide receivers, but it doesn't mean anything if they don't get open or get any targets. Adhering to the "one ball" theory, more targets for the other receivers means fewer targets for Johnson. And that's better for everybody.