Here Are Your 2013 Lion Kings
By Scott McMahon
It was no surprise when Peyton Manning took home both the Most Valuable Player trophy and the Offensive Player of the Year award—what else would you expect from the guy that set single-season records for passing yards and touchdowns? He may not have played like a five-time MVP in the Super Bowl, but there was no doubt that his regular-season play warranted the hardware that he got.
Joining Manning in receiving awards at the league’s third annual NFL Honors banquet were two coaches and 12 other players, including Detroit’s own Calvin Johnson. Megatron took home the Bridgestone Performance Play of the Year for his Week 7 touchdown catch in triple coverage against the Cincinnati Bengals. While snagging a ball in triple coverage is impressive in itself, keep in mind that Matthew Stafford was lit up just a split second after releasing the pass, and had to elude several Bengals pass rushers to even get to that point. In the end, I think the NFL got that one right.
With the NFL Honors in mind, I thought I would give out my own awards, but strictly within the Lions organization. I kept the MVP category but slightly changed the Offensive and Defensive Player(s) of the Year award. So without further ado, the Lions award winners for 2013:
Most Valuable Player: Calvin Johnson
Megatron consistently dominated opposing secondaries all season, registering 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns. Although his reception total (84) was his lowest since 2010, Johnson’s yards per catch (17.8) was a career high. He put together seven games of 100+ receiving yards in 2013, with five of those coming in an incredible six-week span. In those six weeks, Megatron totaled 962 yards and eight touchdowns, and also had one of the best individual games in NFL history for a wide receiver. Against Dallas, Johnson had 14 catches for 329 yards, coming just seven yards short of tying Flipper Anderson’s mark from 1989.
Johnson’s value was also evident when he was off the field, as the Lions struggled in the two games that he missed. The sample size may not be large, but it was clear in the Lions’ losses at Green Bay and Minnesota that the offense could not establish a legitimate passing attack. Much of that had to do with the absence of Megatron, and the opposing defenses’ shift of focus toward bottling up the Lions’ running backs.
With Stafford’s struggles in the second half of the season, the choice was fairly easy to give Johnson the Lions MVP.
Offensive Unit of the Year: Running backs
This award was originally going to just recognize an individual, but I felt that the tandem of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell deserved some special attention.
In the history of the NFL, no running back duo had ever achieved what Bush and Bell achieved in 2013. Both backs accumulated more than 500 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards, as the Lions finally had a ground game to add to their offense. The duo produced 2,709 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns for the season, doing most of their damage from the backfield. Both Bush and Bell were able to take advantage of the Lions’ other deep threats—as well as the great play by the offensive line—and exploit opposing defenses for open screen passes.
Individually, Bush secured his second career 1,000-yard season, and had his highest receiving total since his rookie season. Overall, Bush had more yards from scrimmage than in any other season in his career. Bush also gave the Lions a valuable and explosive weapon out of the backfield that transformed how defenses prepared to face them.
Bell came out of nowhere to put together a fine season as Bush’s backfield buddy, ranking second on the team in both rushing and receiving yards. The team would have functioned well without Bell’s emergence, but having Bell as a viable option out of the backfield took an enormous amount of pressure off of Bush and Stafford once Nate Burleson went down in September.
The unit still has some work to do to correct its fumble problem from last year, but if Bell and Bush can replicate their 2013 performances next season, the Lions will once again be a tough offense to contain.
Defensive Unit of the Year: Linebackers
Again, I felt the work that the linebacker corps did deserved special attention as a unit. Stephen Tulloch, Ashlee Palmer, and Pro Bowl snub DeAndre Levy put together an outstanding season in both pass and rush defense.
As a unit, the trio combined with the defensive line to produce one of the best run defenses in the NFL—the Lions run defense didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher until Week 14, and went 10 weeks without allowing a rushing touchdown until LeSean McCoy broke both of those streaks.
Tight ends caught an above-average amount of passes against the Lions defense, but only scored one touchdown for the season. Their yards per completion rate was also among the lowest in the league. Running backs had just 429 receiving yards and two touchdowns against the linebacker corps, numbers that Joique Bell eclipsed by himself on the other side of the ball.
Levy had himself a breakout season, intercepting six passes and holding the league lead late into the season. He finished second on the team in tackles (119) and passes defended (15), and also finished tied for first in tackles for loss (8).
Tulloch led the Lions in solo tackles (93), overall tackles (135), and tied with Levy for most tackles for loss (8). Tulloch served as an extremely valuable complement to one of the most dominating defensive lines in the NFL, and was a huge part of the Lions’ sixth-ranked rush defense.
Although the Lions failed to capitalize on an incredible opportunity to make a playoff run, there were still plenty of bright spots to be found. The Lions have plenty to build off of in 2014, and the team’s rising stars should keep improving with time.