Dissecting the Detroit Lions: Why So Bad in '08, and What To Expect in '09

mateus naegeleContributor IMay 5, 2009

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 28: Dan Orlovsky #6 of the Detroit Lions looses the ball after being tackled by Jason Hunter #57 and Brady Poppinga #51 of the Green Bay Packers on December 28, 2008 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Lions 31-21. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

It really worries me when a team goes 0-16 in the NFL for the first time in history and no big deal is made out of it. Of course, that team was the Detroit Lions - a rebuilding club since their last NFL title in 57 (as their own fans describe them).

How does a franchise reach that point? In this article I've tried to dig deep into those issues and look for improving areas for '09.

Well, since their defense was ranked dead last in the league in '08 in points allowed, let's start dissecting that segment.

When analysing their 27th pass defense, compared to their 32 rush defense, it becomes obvious the problem was on both aspects. If they allowed more than five yards a carry the whole season, why not to run? Chances are you are going to get a first down every two downs.

That itself opens up the passing game, which was so porous that every other team could establish a good distance on the scoreboard, leading to more pounding through ground.

Let's move on to personnel levels.

On passing defense, the problem didn't seem to be up front. Their two starting DE's plus a DT alone gave them 14.5 sacks, with rotational players and LBs adding 15.5 more to rank them 16th overall, way ahead of division rivals Bears and Packers.

How about back there? Well, they did rank dead last on Interceptions, with only four, 85 percent less than the leader Ravens, and less than half of Ed Reed by himself. (!) That said, only one interception came through the hands of a Defensive Back, with two picked up by D-linemen.

Apparently, someone else noticed that, and they made moves to get a good player in Phillip Buchanon (two ints last year) and Anthony Henry (one), besides drafting Louis Delmas, safety, who is drawing everyone's attention on minicamps.

Delmas is making plays everywhere on the field, jumping routes, really creating problems to rookie Matthew Stafford. After spending two first-round picks on Offense, the lions seem to have gotten it right with this one. Let's just hope that's not happening because of Sttaford's possible poor decision making.

Regarding rush defense, I'm not really sold into bad mouthing the D-linemen and Linebackers. Detroit Lions Defense ranked second overall in time on the field, what leads to yards and scores allowed.

The poor big guys were getting moderate to good pressure on the backfield, besides intercepting three of four balls. Tackling might be an issue, but what can one really do when you are the unit playing the whole game?

Let's just not pass over the fact yet that as I write, the Lions are reportedly pursuing former Steeler Linebacker Larry Foote. Moving on to next area, the Offense.

We know in offense things start up front. The Lions Offense surrendered 52 sacks last year, with an average of more than one sack in every 10 passing plays.

Gee, whether you are Dan Orlovsky, me or Tom Brady, how are you supposed to stay calm for you to do your job when you know chances are high that when the pigskin is in your hands you are gonna kiss the turf?

Of course, it really doesn't help when nearly half the balls that come out of your hand hit the ground, specially when you hit jackpot 0.5 times per game. Sorry, Orlovsky, that one's on you.

So all of a sudden, that first round pick used on offense, that initially didn't make much sense to me, nor for the several booing fans in Radio City, starts to make much more sense.

Matthew Stafford may need some maturing and tutoring, but QB Daunte Culpepper knows enough of what goes on around the big stage to keep the defense on the bench for a while for now.

Running Back Kevin Smith had impressed me before with his moves, but early on the season he didn't find much statistical success. Again, would you expect much from that porous O-line? When you run the ball, 11 people are willing to rip your head off. How about some blocking, guys? 

Later on the now sophomore out of Central Florida spiced up his game to close the season with a cool 4.1 yards per rush plus nearly 300 yards receiving.

I don't really need to talk about Calvin Johnson, the monster receiver that keeps scaring defenses and helping his quarterback catching the ball no matter how ugly they come.

Now with Brandon Pettigrew, the highest rated TE in this draft, this Offense not only got themselves another target on the passing game, but practically one more tackle for blocking for the run. Fans complained against the front office going again on offense on first round, but let's not forget the Packers admittedly thought about nabbing him at no.9.

I'm a huge fan of drafting talent over needs, yet seems like the Lions managed to give fair attention to their needs, with the exception of the O-line.

Besides adding a Tackle and a Guard on free agency, they only drafted one O-lineman, last minute on the seventh round. That seems to be the weakest link on their team in my analysis.

Not much of a Lions fan as much as appreciating the growth of the level of play throughout the league, I think this franchise has got a fair chance of start improving beginning this year.

After all, you just can't get much worse than 0-16. As for their fans, keep up the loyalty, wait to see how the moves develop onto the field, and let's all hope the coaching staff now knows their ways to the promised land, a.k.a the END ZONE.


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