Detroit Lions 2013 Team Review: A Tale of Two Halves

Throwing side arm while off balance? Total frat move.

There is a lot of luck involved in life. For example, I was born with a ruggishly handsome features, beautiful eyes, and a strong jawline, while Jimmy Clausen looks like, well, Jimmy Clausen. DNA matters. Just ask Blue Ivy Carter or Honey Boo Boo. Fate is a wicked thing, especially if you were born in Detroit.

The first half of the season was fantastic for the Lions. They were 5-3 going into their bye, and with Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers both nursing significant injuries, they were in total control of the NFC North. But then they remembered the Lion way, finishing the season by losing six of seven when all they needed to do was go 2-5 to make the playoffs. Why do these things happen to the Lions? Because: Detroit.

Sure, your parents could have been from New England, Green Bay, or Pittsburgh. Instead, you are stuck being a Lions fan. It could always be worse; you could be from Canada (just kidding).

The Good

A tale of two halves is the central storyline to the Lions' season. To represent that, let’s take a look at how the Lion’s four biggest fantasy contributors fared in the good (first) half.

PlayerPass Yds/GameRush Yds/GameRec Yds/GameTotal TDInterceptionsFantasy Points/Game
Matt Stafford327N/AN/A16621
Reggie BushN/A7447.94N/A15.3
Joique BellN/A29.5374N/A9.4
Calvin JohnsonN/AN/A117.37N/A17.4

In 2011, Matthew Stafford finished as the season’s fifth-ranked fantasy quarterback, averaging a lofty 21.2 fantasy points per game. After a disappointing 2012 campaign, he came back with a vengeance in 2013, nearly matching his career best output the first eight games. With 2,617 yards, 16 touchdowns, and only six interceptions, Stafford was on pace for a career high in yards and a career low in interceptions. He was in the top three at his position, vastly outperforming his QB9 average draft position.

Reggie Bush was brought into the fold this past offseason to help add an element of explosiveness and balance to the most pass-heavy offense in the NFL. Their plan worked out for the first half, but not just because of the newly signed former first rounder.

Those who pay attention were already aware of Joique Bell (and numberFire’s adoration for him). Our metrics favored Bell over Bush coming into the year and nothing that happened in 2013 changed that. According to Net Expected Points (NEP), Bell was more efficient rushing and receiving this year. He also scored more fantasy points per touch (.74 versus .67). Yet the Wayne State product was difficult to plug and play, as a lack of week-to-week touches saw him fail to score as many six points on eight different occasions.

Unlike Bell, Bush received a steady diet of receptions and handoffs, logging 14 or more touches in all but one game. Following Stafford’s lead, he was also a first half dynamo, scoring 15.3 fantasy points per game, good enough for a mid-season top five rank. Had Bush stayed healthy and the Lions not fallen apart (lotta ifs here), it would have been interesting to see he fared.

Over the last three seasons, there have been few better, more consistent bets in fantasy than Calvin Johnson. For the first 13 weeks of the year, he once again asserted himself as the alpha male among wide receivers. Then the injury bug bit, slowing him to a paltry 19 total points over the last three games. Yet despite the end-of-the-season blues, he somewhat remarkably finished third overall in wide receiver scoring. He also ranked fifth in Reception NEP/Target.

Though the Lions are known for their explosive offense, the rush defense outperformed expectation as well this season. Of all 32 teams, Detroit finished second in the league against the run when adjusted for strength of schedule. Only the AFC Champion Denver Broncos were better.

The Bad

The second half was unkind in just about the worst way. Their star receiver was injured, their star running back missed time and was inconsistent when healthy, and their star quarterback threw for 600 less yards, three less touchdowns, and seven more interceptions than he did before their Week 9 bye. How bad did they slip? The following chart shows the increase/decline exhibited in second half versus their first half performance.

PlayerPass Yds/GameRush Yds/GameRec Yds/GameTotal TDInterceptionsFantasy Points/Game
Matt Stafford-73.2N/AN/A-37-7.5
Reggie BushN/A-4.3-23.5-1N/A-4.2
Joique BellN/A22.3-5.64N/A1.4
Calvin JohnsonN/AN/A-21.9-2N/A-3.6

Among players, Stafford is shouldering most of the blame for the Lions’ disintegration. I think that is fairly well deserved. With Calvin hurting, he was an abject disaster, throwing for two touchdowns against five interceptions the last three weeks. But the problems began before that with plummeting completion percentages and skyrocketing interceptions. As has been the story of his career, those problems can be traced directly to his lack of a discipline as a player. Much has been made about this by people much smarter than I, but after watching several hours of tape for this recap, I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment. Stafford simply needs to reel himself in at times if he ever hopes to reach a higher plane.

Speaking of a lack of discipline, Jim Schwartz’s tenure was marked with such accusations. Under Schwartz, the Lions have never finished lower than 13th in penalties, ranking third in 2011 and second in 2010. Another way to measure such things in in the giveaways department, a category Detroit ranked second this year. Whether this comes down to Schwartz, the players, or, both, the Lions were forced to fire their head coach following the season.

What Now?

While our previously published analysis of the hire gives a number of reasons why Jim Caldwell won’t work out in Detroit, I am not sure I entirely agree. Because this isn’t a coaching analysis column, I will limit my comments to say Caldwell has the right sort of coaching style (much more disciplined than the outgoing regime) for what this team needs.

In terms of free agents, Detroit is set to see a few key players hit the open market. Ardent fans will already know Dominic Raiola is the one guy they cannot afford to lose. The 35 year old isn’t exactly a youngster, but he was the anchor of one of the steadier offensive lines in the NFL.

For our purposes, Brandon Pettigrew is the biggest name among unrestricted free agents. Let’s see a show of hands for those who care?

Thought so.

But really, we should. He is a very good, very underrated pass blocker who, despite hands of stone, has very good athleticism. Bringing him back for 2014 won’t help fantasy owners much except in the small way that having quality players elevates an offense in general.

Joique Bell is restricted free agent who may garner some interest on the open market. But because of the state of contracts for non-elite running backs in the NFL, I’d find it hard to imagine anybody makes an offer so big that the Lions wouldn’t match; Bell is too much of a key to their offense.

What Detroit needs most is quality depth at wide receiver and something, anything really, in the secondary. Considering their cap strapped ways, it would be a surprise to see them make a big splash signing in free agency. But never say never, as there are a handful of wide receivers out there who would make a great addition. Instead, expect Detroit to do most of their work in the draft, where the majority of early mocks project them to grab a corner in the first round.

So I guess that means they will take another first-round receiver. Because (all together now): Detroit.