Detroit Lions: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 16

Jeff Risdon@@JeffRisdonContributor IDecember 18, 2013

The Detroit Lions head into the final two weeks of the 2013 NFL season in desperate straits. Losers of four of their last five games, the Lions no longer control their own playoff destiny. 

Monday night's agonizing loss to the Baltimore Ravens drops the Lions to 7-7. After beginning Week 15 on top of the NFC North, Detroit now finds itself in third place.

TeamRecordPoints ForPoints AgainstDivision Record
Chicago Bears 8-6 406 391 2-3
Green Bay Packers7-6-1 

 353

 362 2-2-1
Detroit Lions 7-7 

 362

 339 4-1
Minnesota Vikings4-9-1  363 425

 1-3-1

Detroit's playoff hopes are down but far from out. The Chicago Bears travel to Philadelphia for a Sunday night date with the Eagles. The Lions can attest that going to Philadelphia is no picnic.

The Green Bay Packers host the dangerous Pittsburgh Steelers. With Aaron Rodgers' shoulder still questionable, the Packers are no safe bet. The Steelers are out of the playoff race but would love to play the role of spoiler. 

The Bears and Packers meet in Week 17, ensuring that one of them will pick up a seventh loss. A seven-loss Lions team would qualify for the playoffs if it ties with the Bears or Packers in the loss column.

The most likely path to the playoffs involves having either Green Bay or Chicago lose this week, and then having the team which loses in Week 16 winning over the other in Week 17. 

Of course, for that to mean anything for Detroit, the Lions must win both of their remaining games. 

Week 16 brings the New York Giants to Ford Field. New York has lost three of four, the most recent loss being a 23-0 home shutout at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.

In fact, the Giants are the only team in the NFL to be shut out this season. It's happened to them twice, last week against Seattle and a 38-0 shellacking at Carolina in Week 3. 

Here is how the teams match up statistically:

 RushingPassingRun AllowedPassing Allowed
Giants28th (NFL rank)19th13th12th
Lions18th3rd 

4th

23rd

Beyond their struggles on the stat sheet, two other figures stand out with the Giants:

  • They have turned the ball over a league-leading 39 times, including 26 interceptions. Five of those came last week.
  • Per Team Rankings, the Giants rank 30th in third-down conversions on offense at 33 percent. They also rank 30th over the last three games at 26.7 percent.

Meanwhile, the Lions continue to lead the league in third-down defense at 30 percent. That number drops to 23.8 percent at home. 

According to Covers.com, the Lions are early nine-point favorites against New York. 

 

Injury Update

Once again there is not a lot to report on the injury front. Between having a relatively healthy roster and a notoriously vague coach, the Lions look pretty strong.

PlayerPositionInjuryStatus
Chris HoustonCBFootWeek-to-week
Darius SlayCB

Knee

Week-to-week
Sam MartinP/KOS

Groin

Will play
Brandon PettigrewTEAnkleDay-to-day 

Coach Jim Schwartz gave very brief updates on those players during his weekly press conference, which you can watch here on the Lions' official website.  

According to Schwartz, Chris Houston is "a little closer" to returning than Darius Slay. Their availability will be based on their ability to practice this week.

Sam Martin "felt tight in his groin" in warm-ups, and that led to David Akers kicking off. Martin still punted reasonably well.

Brandon Pettigrew was injured on a tough catch in the fourth quarter. He is undergoing tests on Tuesday, but the Lions coach did not reveal any further information. 

 

What Needs to Improve

The cynical answer here is "everything," but that overstates what is really going on in Detroit.

Focusing strictly on the Giants, the Lions simply need to make fewer mistakes than New York. It's not that complicated. 

New York is the only team in the league with more giveaways than the Lions. This presents the defense with a chance to move the turnover margin back toward the positive numbers. 

Detroit is currently 30th in turnover margin at minus-13, according to Fox Sports. It has just five takeaways in the last eight games. 

Turnover Comparison
RatioGiveawaysTakeaways
Lions-133118
Giants-173922
Pro-Football-Reference

The lack of takeaways correlates to the lack of impact plays by the defensive front. Detroit has 28 sacks on the season, which ties for 28th through 14 games, as noted by Fox Sports.

New York ranks in the middle of the pack in sacks allowed with a 16th-ranked sack percentage of just under 7 percent. While that's not bad, the Giants are trending in the wrong direction. From Team Rankings, that percentage bumps to 8.65 percent over the last three weeks, which puts the Giants at 27th in that time frame. 

Detroit's defense played well against the Ravens, preventing a single touchdown. If that group can show just a little more opportunism, there is a great chance to capitalize on an error-plagued Giants offense. 

The pre-snap penalties must cease. Detroit had four more on Monday night, and according to NFL Penalties, the Lions now have 42 for the season. That ranks 30th in the league. 

Having some negative recourse and accountability for those pointless errors is something that just doesn't exist under Jim Schwartz. It's arguably his biggest failing as a coach, the lack of accountability he puts on his players when they repeat preventable errors.

The next time Nick Fairley jumps offside and allows a third-down conversion because of his impatience, Schwartz needs to yank him on the spot and not allow his return for a full quarter. 

It's that sort of real consequence and accountability that will foster change. It's clear that Schwartz's current penal system is ineffective. The inmates are still getting their drugs, and the guards are complicit. 

That same sense of accountability can also help on the turnover front. Schwartz could steal here from his Giants counterpart, Tom Coughlin.

When Tiki Barber played under Coughlin, he was a very talented running back with a very bad flaw: He fumbled—a lot. 

Coughlin showed real coaching aptitude by making Barber tote a football everywhere he went. Beyond the punitive humiliation, he also worked with Barber on how to properly protect the football. 

It worked, and Barber emerged as one of the best all-around backs of his era. Perhaps Schwartz can try to do that sort of thing with Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, both of whom have had issues with fumbles this year. 

Finally, the Lions must fight against "same old Lions" syndrome. Rather than accept the prevailing fate that the playoffs are a faded mirage, Detroit must plow through the desert of despair and keep chasing the dream.

This is a great test for the embattled coaching staff. If it can coax a strong performance out of a reeling team and posit the Lions right back in the mix with a bit of luck, Schwartz and his staff could conceivably salvage their jobs.

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