Here's the first installment of Lions 101's breakdown of the 2012 season.
In the middle of the season, we handed out some initial grades to the Detroit Lions. Now, we're going back and handing out grades to everyone, coaches and front office members included for their 2012 performance start to finish. Needless to say, there isn't many people passing or even making the grade thanks to a season of failed expectations.
It's obvious there's plenty of work to be done this offseason to make up for some of these putrid letter grades.
Defensive Line: B-. This group didn't have the impact that they had last season. They didn't get to the quarterback like they did in the past with big plays, and struggled with consistency again. Ndamukong Suh wasn't invisible this year, but Cliff Avril saw a drop in production, as did Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams. This unit wasn't what held the Lions back in 2012, but they didn't make the game breaking plays, either. They were simply solid, but not game changing as hoped.
Linebackers: C. Again, this group wasn't the problem, but they didn't make enough big plays either. Stephen Tulloch is an eraser along with DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant as far as tackles are concerned, but once again, teams ran right up the middle unabated. There wasn't excellent depth here, and rarely did a linebacker make a big play on defense or hassle the quarterback. This position was simply alright, but not exceptional, hence their middling grade.
Defensive Backs: Z. Because there wasn't any lower we could possibly go in the alphabet. It was that bad. In all seriousness, it's hard to give the backfield a grade given the numerous amount of injuries that occurred this season, but the replacements weren't good. Most of the time, the starters weren't either, with the exception of Chris Houston and occasionally Louis Delmas, who has his own problems most of the time. This group is the clear weakness on the defense and badly needs a complete offseason overhaul.
Quarterbacks: D+. Matthew Stafford regressed from his outstanding 2011, and made too many mistakes with regards to interceptions, fumbles and errant throws to be considered a strength. He was fighting plenty of injuries at receiver, but could never put things together in order to make plays to consistently win.
Running Backs: C+. Mikel Leshoure looks like he could develop into a solid option at running back given his nose for the end zone. Joique Bell was a nice find and is tough to bring down, especially in the passing game. Still, the backs aren't able to grind out consistent yardage to be considered a team strength. A complete overhaul up front with regard to run blocking is needed, and the Lions should probably look to add a reenforcement in the draft or free agency being that Jahvid Best might not return. The Lions need bigger things in 2013 out of the running game for the offense to be taken seriously.
Wide Receivers: B. Obviously, Calvin Johnson is the headliner here, and he saved the group from being totally inept. Injuries played a major role, with the loss of Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles. Titus Young's refusal to buy in hurt too. The Lions need to hope for health in the new year first here, and continue the development of the younger players like Broyles. If they're able to, the group will be more than fine going forward in 2013 and beyond.
Offensive Line: B+. For the past two seasons, the offensive line has gotten much better and become the clear strength of the Lions. As we've documented, they have cut back on the sacks and do a good job of playing together as a group. They're prone to some penalty mistakes and struggle with run blocking, but don't let that overshadow how the group has come along. Offensive line coach George Yarno was fired in a shocking move, making it obvious there might be a premium on new run blocking schemes.
Special Teams: D. Jason Hanson saves the group from completely failing with his solid kicking most of the year. Otherwise, the group struggled, with punting an issue thanks to injuries and bad play from Nick Harris and the return game set back by Stefan Logan's incompetence. This is one of the many areas which needs big changes in 2012, as Harris, Logan and others need to hit the road for good.
Jim Schwartz: D. From the mistake in Tennessee trying to draw the Titans offside to the mistake on Thanksgiving throwing the challenge flag, it was a very under whelming year for Schwartz as a whole, especially coming off a playoff appearance in 2011 where everything went right. He's on an extremely hot seat now thanks to all of 2012's highly publicized debacles, and he needs to make less emotional decisions on the sidelines and run a tighter ship with regards to penalties, off the field issues and team discipline.
Gunther Cunningham: D+. Don't give Cunningham a complete failing grade for the problems of the defense, rather, let him pass with the understanding things had better get much better in 2013 with health and upgrades. There were injury problems to contend with most of the year, but that doesn't cover for his problems mixing up coverage and coaching up the talent he was given on the team.
Scott Linehan: D-. A major step back for Linehan this season, who failed to mix his play calling properly to help his team have success. There was an over-reliance on a sputtering running game, and goal line offense as well as scoring was a struggle at times. Like Cunningham's group, there were problems with injuries, but that doesn't excuse plenty of poor play calling, which lost games against Green Bay and Houston during the middle of the season. Linehan should have lost his job this year as a result of these problems.
Front Office: D+. Martin Mayhew has to have a rebound season after his 2012 draft class fell apart and there were a lack of free agency moves to put capable depth on the team. With an abundance of homegrown free agents, plenty of holes to fill and a top five draft pick, Mayhew and company have to get creative this winter. There will be plenty of pressure in Detroit as well coming off a failed season, so there's plenty of heat on the general manager and his staff to make up for everything that went wrong.
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