The Detroit Lions are heading into their bye week a disappointing 1-3. After high expectations, their inconsistent play has left fans around the Motor City bewildered just a bit. Naturally, there's several questions swirling in everyone's mind. We'll attempt to answer 10 of those as the Lions get set to try and regroup for a mid-season run.
1. What's Wrong With Matthew Stafford? After a season which saw Stafford throw for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns, 2012 has seen a much slower start. Stafford isn't even on pace to come close to those numbers, let alone duplicate them. He's been done in by the lack of a running game, yes. The two most telling statistics, however, may be the nine sacks the Lions have already allowed and Stafford's four interceptions. Last season, Detroit only surrendered 36 sacks and Stafford only tossed 16 picks. Those two stats go hand in hand with the play of the offensive line. If this year's pace keeps up, both numbers will be higher, which doesn't help the passing game. Stafford also has been felled by some shocking drops, unusual for a sticky handed group of wide outs.
2. Why Can't The Running Game Produce? Injuries, mostly. Jahvid Best is still on the sidelines fighting off last season's concussion. Mikel Leshoure showed glimpses of how effective he can be against Tennessee, but was slowed first by suspension and then by another groin injury. Counting on Joique Bell, Kevin Smith and Keiland Williams to be difference makers every week is tough. The Lions need to heal Leshoure up during the bye and, as Jim Schwartz alluded to on Monday, recommit to the run. That will drastically help the passing game.
3. Is The Defensive Line Overrated? Because it's a matter of perception, yes and no. Early in the season, the defensive line started hot led by Ndamukong Suh, but against Minnesota, things took a definite step backward. That was a match up they should have owned. Nine sacks on the year isn't bad through three games, but the Lions need to turn some of those sacks into big plays like they did last season. Be it through strip fumbles, interceptions or fumble recoveries, the pressure in the backfield has to translate into a momentum changing moment which can turn the tide in a game. We haven't seen that thus far in 2012, making the defensive line's play seem very ordinary by last year's lofty standards.
4. Is The Secondary Actually Awful? There hasn't been one single interception this year, and last season, the Lions were already off and running by this point with the picks. The Lions might miss Eric Wright more than they're letting on. He did well opposite Chris Houston last fall. Again, injuries could be a big reason for this trouble. Louis Delmas is still nursing a knee problem, Houston was hurt and Bill Bentley has been dinged up at times as well. Any time you're playing third stringers or practice squad players with a rookie, there's going to be a drop off. The Lions actually rate ninth in pass defense, which is a sign of hope moving forward. As Bentley learns his way, the injuries slow down and the defensive line gets their edge back, you'll begin to see the unit come together more.
5. Why Aren't The Special Teams, Well, Special? I believe that problem is schematic, and actually dates back to last year. The Lions weren't particularly adept at covering during key moments last season, but that was covered up due to their high powered offense and defense. Now, the touchdowns on special teams are helping Detroit lose close games. It's not just tackling; when opponents hit the same creases and gaps for big gains, clearly there's a problem with the x's and o's. This needs to be addressed most during the bye.
6. Your Honest Assessment Of The First Three Picks Of The 2012 Draft Class? Schwartz was asked this on Monday and sounded pretty defensive when giving the answer that it's too early to tell. I have to agree with him. Riley Reiff wasn't expected to see much action as a rookie, Ryan Broyles is still being eased into the game after knee surgery and Bentley is learning on the job. Fans don't have the immediate numbers to say that the class was a smashing success, but that doesn't mean they should give up on it, either. There's time for Broyles and Reiff to see action, and time for Bentley to improve. The former two do need to be worked in more, however. Wait until the season's over to vent your frustrations with this particular draft.
7. Who's Been The Best Player? Statistically, you don't want me to answer that question, because through the first three games, it's obviously Jason Hanson. However, I've liked what I've seen from Mikel Leshoure in limited duty. If he is able to use the bye week to rest up and get healthy, he could give the Lions' running game a major boost the rest of the year, which will make Stafford very happy.
8. Any Problems With The Coaching Staff So Far? Outside Schwartz's decision to try and draw the Titans offside in week three and everything Danny Crossman has done with special teams, things are alright. The offense needs to wake up, refocus and make some big plays. The defense needs to do the same thing. Scheme can only take you so far in those instances. Consider last year at this time, both Scott Linehan and Gunther Cunningham looked like evil geniuses. Most of this year's early drop off is on the players.
9. Can The Lions Dig Out Of The Hole? With the next two games on the road in Philadelphia and Chicago, two places Detroit usually goes to die, it will be very tough. After that, the Lions play some teams they should beat in Seattle, Jacksonville and Minnesota. It's never wise to completely give up on a team, but the Lions will have to show better in these next two contests to have a chance later. The schedule doesn't get any easier through December, either.
10. How Big Is The Next Game? If the Minnesota game was important, the eventual outcome of that one makes next Sunday's game against the Eagles vital. The Lions need to play much better, if not win, in order to have a chance in 2012. If so, game on. If not, it could be a long final three months of the season.
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