(Photo Credit: Zuma Press/Icon SMI)
On paper, the Lions looked like a team that should have made the playoffs based on the team they fielded in the 2013 preseason, as well as the final numbers that were posted during the course of the season. However, when push came to shove, the Lions couldn’t win when they had to, and missed making the playoffs for the second season in a row, finishing 7-9. As a result, the Lions fired head coach Jim Schwartz and hired Jim Caldwell. In a tough NFC North, the Lions will look to post a winning record and get back to the playoffs in 2014.
Even though quarterback Matt Stafford had a bounce back season, finishing with 4,650 yards passing for the No. 3 passing offense and 29 touchdowns for the No. 8 scoring passing offense, he could do better. The Lions could use another high ceiling, wide receiver to compliment all-pro Calvin Johnson. The reality is if the Lions had two, even three effective receivers opponents had to contend with, the Lions offense would be even better. The signing of Golden Tate helps, as the team moves on from long time veteran Nate Burleson. But, it would not surprise if the Lions add another receiver in the draft.
Likewise, despite adding running back Reggie Bush, who helped the Lions improve the team’s 2012 rushing numbers, from twenty-third to seventeen, the Lions running backs can do better too. With a better passing game, both Bush and Joique Bell should post another good season on the gridiron. In 2013, the Lions were tenth in rushing touchdowns.
The offensive minded Jim Caldwell should be able to help Matt Stafford & Co. as he did Peyton Manning and the Colts, and Joe Flacco and the Ravens. Caldwell helped each team win a Super Bowl during his tenure as a coach with each team. On both teams, tight ends were a sizeable part of the offense. Either Brandon Pettigrew or Joseph Fauria, or both, could benefit.
The Lions offensive line did a good job in pass protection, allowing the second least sacks (23) and the fifth least quarterback smacks. The Lions will need to add depth along the line, however.
On defense, the Lions rush defense was stout, allowing the sixth least rush yards per game (99.8), and the sixth least rushing touchdowns (10). So, pat the defensive line on the back for their effort. However, the unit does need to work on pressuring the quarterback on passing downs. The Lions had the fifth least sacks (28) and allowed the tenth most pass yards per game (246.9). Expect the Lions to address the secondary and the linebacker group. At this juncture, with just three free agent signings, it looks like the Lions will look to the draft to help their defense.
New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin spent time as a defensive backs coach for the Cardinals and Ravens, and has college experience as a defensive coordinator. He’s perfect for a team that needs help in pass defense.
In terms of personnel, the Lions are close to having the right players in the right places. The rest is up to them. Much of their success will likely depend on how the team does in the upcoming draft.
Free agents include (15 total): QB Shaun Hill, TE Brandon Pettigrew, TE Tony Scheffler, OL Dominic Raiola, DE Israel Idonije, DE Willie Young, CB Rashean Mathis, and K David Akers.
Cap Casualties: FS Louis Delmas, WR Nate Burleson, and G LeRoy Harris.
For more free agents and cap casualties, see Lions depth chart here.
Top-Positional Needs: WR, S, LB, CB, DE, T, G/C, WR