Detroit Lions: 5 Biggest Improvements Since Last Season
Since their last playoff appearance in 1999, the Detroit Lions experienced the worst record in NFL history, going winless in 2008. Finally, in 2010, the Lions began to show some potential of being a good football team. As much as the team seemed better, they still had many things to work on before becoming a real contender.
One year later, the Detroit Lions are 6-2 and are one of the most exciting teams in the NFL. They are currently leading the race for the NFC Wildcard and have continually shown themselves to be legitimate playoff contenders.
As the second half of the season begins, Detroit has a chance to prove themselves as a team to be reckoned with. The Lions can finally close the losing chapter and show the world that they are a new team.
While we continue to see how the season plays out, we have the chance to reflect on how this team has been able to make such a big change. Here are five of the biggest improvements the Detroit Lions have shown since the 2010 season.
Throughout the 2010 season, injuries had a huge effect on the Detroit Lions. After missing games in 2009 due to injury, Matthew Stafford hurt his shoulder once again in Week 1 against the Chicago Bears. Stafford was able to start again in Week 8 but was forced to sit for the rest of the season after re-injuring his shoulder the next week.
Meanwhile, backup quarterback Shaun Hill faced an injury of his own in Week 12, which left Drew Stanton to lead Detroit under center.
This constant shuffling of quarterbacks prevented the Lions' offense from hitting its potential.
This year, however, Matthew Stafford has been able to start through all eight games, and it has caused a huge difference in the Lions' ability to throw the ball. Stafford has thrown for 2,179 yards and 19 touchdowns in eight games. The trio of Stafford, Hill and Stanton combined for just 3,810 yards and 26 touchdowns in all of 2010.
Stafford has done a great job finding the huge targets that make up the Lions' explosive offense. In addition, he has demonstrated his physical toughness this season. Stafford has faced two injuries but have not let them slow him down at all.
Last year, the Detroit Lions had a solid defense, albeit a one-dimensional one. The defensive line played exceptionally, as they were able to pressure the quarterback while the rest of the defense often struggled to slow down offenses.
During the offseason, the Lions were able to make great improvements to a weak linebacker unit. Detroit brought in middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch from the Titans and outside linebacker Justin Durant from the Jaguars.
Along with DeAndre Levy and Bobby Carpenter, this set of linebackers has stepped up in a big way this season. The four combined have 161 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and a touchdown.
The improvements at linebacker have added great depth to the defense and have helped move a team who was ranked 21st in total defense last year to the top 10 this year.
After finishing the 2010 season with 1,120 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns, Calvin Johnson was considered one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.
In 2011, Johnson has gone from good to great. Through just eight games, Megatron already has 804 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. He has been absolutely dominant in every game this season and is nearly impossible to shut down in the red zone.
With his rare combination of size, speed and skill, Johnson continues to improve every week and has become one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL.
His breakout season probably has a lot to do with the health of Matt Stafford. As long as these two stay on the field, the Detroit Lions will continue making big plays and frustrating defenses all year long.
To me, the Detroit Lions' secondary is the most improved unit on the field.
In 2010, these cornerbacks and safeties were constantly getting beat downfield for long plays. Their struggling play had a huge impact on Detroit's weak defensive performance and overall lack of success.
Coming into the 2011 season, many saw the secondary as the weakest part of the Detroit Lions and an area that greatly needed to be addressed.
After not drafting a cornerback in the 2011 NFL draft, the Lions signed Eric Wright, a cornerback from the Browns. Wright was overlooked during the offseason due to the availability of higher-profile defensive backs. His signing has had a huge impact on the Lions this year.
This season, Detroit has the sixth-best pass defense, allowing just 193.6 yards per game. The secondary has taken advantage of the overpowering quarterback pressure provided by the defensive line. Chris Houston has four interceptions this year, Amari Spievey has three and Eric Wright has two.
Unlike last season, this secondary is now a unit capable of shutting down quarterbacks and creating big plays that have led to Detroit Lions victories.
One of the most frustrating things for Detroit Lions fans last season was the Lions' inability to close out games. Seven of their 10 losses in 2010 were decided by a touchdown or less. Most of these losses were the result of the Lions playing strong for most of the game before collapsing in the end.
This year, however, has been a different story for the Detroit Lions. The Lions have become known around the NFL for their ability to make huge comebacks no matter how large of a deficit they must overcome. Their wins this season have been a result of making big plays when it counts most.
In 2011, the Detroit Lions have outscored opponents 146-49 in the second half. The only game that a team has scored more second half points than Detroit was Week 6 against San Francisco.
This strong second-half performance shows a huge change in the Detroit Lions' attitude. The Lions now have a confident and experienced team who knows they are capable of winning any game.
That attitude is the biggest change the Lions have shown since last year.