5 Things Detroit's Offense Must Change To Make 2014 Playoffs
By Scott McMahon
The Detroit Lions offense was a bit of a mystery last season -- a group that began the year by putting up at least 27 points in five of their first eight games ended the season doing so just twice in the second half. The team’s first half of the season was more than good enough to warrant playoff hype, but the team obviously failed down the stretch. A new coaching staff and offensive playbook later, the Lions appear poised (again) to make a playoff run. If they want to solidify themselves as a legitimate Super Bowl threat, though, the Lions offense will have to do a few things differently in 2014.
1. Catch The Football
You would think that this would be rather obvious, but apparently the Lions didn’t get the memo in 2013. The Lions led the NFL with 44 drops last season, as well as drop percentage at 7.1 percent. Receivers can’t catch everything, but there’s absolutely no way to justify dropping nearly three passes per game. And maybe it was just me, but did it seem like the majority of the team’s drops came either on third down or late in the fourth quarter?
Analysts, including myself, talk about regression to the mean frequently when discussing a player or team “coming down to earth.” One would imagine that the same could be said for the Lions receiving corps in 2014 -- especially with the addition of WR Golden Tate.
2. Hang Onto The Football
Again, does this really need saying? Along with the dropped passes, the Lions couldn’t seem to keep their hands on the ball. Detroit ranked only behind the Denver Broncos in fumbles lost last season, and put the ball on the ground 28 times -- good for third worst in the league. RB Reggie Bush took a lot of the blame and attention for the team’s fumble issues, and not completely for unjust reasons, but the fumble bug hit everyone from QB Matthew Stafford to WR Calvin Johnson.
Again, this can’t continue for another season. Bush has made it a focus of his to fix his fumble problem, and with a higher octane offense, I would imagine that most of the rest of the team would want to do the same. They’d better if they want to make a run at the division title next year.
3. Grow Fourth Quarter Confidence
Stafford imploded in the second half of the season, especially in the fourth quarter. By the end of the Lions freefall, Stafford had his lowest completion percentage (54.1) and quarterback rating (81.5), along with his highest interception total (six) among all four quarters. With Stafford’s less-than-ideal quality of play, the overall confidence that the team exhibited in the final frame diminished significantly. In the Lions last four games -- all of which were losses -- the offense put up just 26 points combined in the fourth quarter. While that may not be terrible, keep in mind that Detroit only held the lead in one of those four games (Week 14 at Philadelphia), meaning the offense did next to nothing to get themselves back in the game.
The new coaching staff has spent the entire offseason changing the culture in Detroit from the late-season collapse mindset to the confident attitude of the Week 8 game against the Dallas Cowboys. With the Lions new offense and the potential for several high-scoring games in 2014, the hopes here are that the team won’t need to rely on too many come-from-behind wins. However, if a game comes down to Stafford completing a late comeback, fans will be looking for something more than what the Lions delivered down the stretch in 2013.
4. Rely Less On Calvin Johnson
This one shouldn’t be too hard as long as everyone stays healthy. Megatron has obviously been the biggest part of the Lions offense the last two seasons, amassing almost 3,500 yards and reeling in 16 TDs. There’s a reason he was just voted the No. 2 overall player in the NFL by his peers recently. However, the Lions offense became too predictable at times, especially when other key cogs of the offense were injured.
This upcoming season, GM Martin Mayhew took the necessary steps to take the pressure off of Johnson by signing Tate and drafting TE Eric Ebron. The idea is that if one goes down, another steps in and has the capability to still provide Stafford with viable options through the air.
5. Run More Often
Bush and Joique Bell may have been the first running back duo ever to accumulate 500 rushing and receiving yards apiece in a single season, but the Lions ranked just 17th in the NFL in rushing yards per game last season. Stafford has made a name for himself throwing the ball more than almost any other quarterback, so maybe taking a little stress off of his right shoulder would be a wise idea for Detroit. Besides, with a duo like Bush and Bell, the Lions shouldn’t have to rely so much on the aerial attack.
The Lions certainly improved on their offense from 2013, and should hopefully reap the benefits early and often. Much like last year though, Stafford and the Lions offense will have to keep it up over the course of a full season, not just the first eight games.