A Off-Season Unit-By-Unit Analysis of the Detroit Lions.
Kitna became the first quarterback in Lions history to post back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons. He threw for 4,208 yards last season, second most in team history. He threw for 4,068 this season, third most in team history. He said the coaches consistently gave him high grades. But he should have thrown for a lot of yards as much as offensive coordinator Mike Martz passed the ball, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio was unimpressive again. It was 21-to-22 last season. It was 18-to-20 this year. More was expected, considering the additions of wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Shaun McDonald. Kitna continued to take a ton of sacks. He took 63 last season, 51 this season. A lot of that is on Martz's system and the offensive line. But some of that falls on him for not feeling the rush and getting rid of the ball quickly enough. His play fell off toward the end of the season. He is expected to return as the starter even though he is 35 and Martz is gone. Coach Rod Marinelli loves his leadership. But the Lions need to develop Stanton or Orlovsky. Stanton, a second-round pick last year, went on injured reserve early in training camp with a knee problem but is fine now. Orlovsky, a fifth-round pick in 2005, virtually hasn't played. O'Sullivan isn't expected to figure in the Lions' plans without Martz.
Last year, the Lions finished last in rushing. This year, they finished second to last. But that's more because Martz didn't run the ball than because the Lions couldn't run the ball. The Lions were at their best this season when they were balanced, like during their three-game winning streak and in their one-point loss to Dallas. Jones couldn't be more frustrated. He busted his behind all offseason to return from a serious foot injury, and he came back in Week 3, earlier than most people expected. But he didn't get the ball all that much. Then he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in December. He faces yet another long offseason of rehabilitation. Duckett was one of the biggest mysteries of the season. He seemed to run well whenever he ran the ball, but Martz gave him the ball hardly at all. Bell was acquired as an insurance policy for Jones. As Jones' role increased, Bell's role decreased. He asked for a trade -- and never saw the field again. The Lions plan to run the ball more with offensive line coach Jim Colletto taking over as offensive coordinator, but the Lions have issues at running back. Jones is hurt. Duckett's contract is up. He might consider re-signing now that Martz is gone. Cason was a favorite role player of Martz's and the Lions' plans for his future are unclear. Bell's contract is up, and he is not expected back. Calhoun, a surprise third-round pick in 2006, has struggled to find a role and stay healthy.
When Campbell went on injured reserve with an elbow injury, it was a bigger loss for the Lions than most people realized. Campbell showed last season he could make big catches as well as block effectively. Without him, the Lions lost a weapon downfield and stability on the right side of the line. Sean McHugh averaged 14.8 yards per catch, second only to Johnson's 15.8. But he caught only 17 passes. He was involved sporadically. Casey Fitzsimmons, more of a fullback, was involved even less. Neither blocked as well as Campbell could have. The only good thing about Campbell's injury was that he had most of the season to heal properly. He should be able to return next season at full strength. Bradley, a former defensive tackle, developed into a strong lead blocker and should have more of a role with more of a running game.
Williams led the NFC in receiving yards and Furrey led the conference in receptions last season. Their numbers were expected to decrease this season with the additions of Johnson and McDonald, and they did. Williams didn't get a chance to make as many big plays with defenses taking away the deep ball, and he suffered a knee injury in December. A lot of the balls that went to Furrey last season went to McDonald this season, and McDonald ended up leading the team in catches (79) and yards (943). Expectations were sky-high for Johnson after the Lions drafted him second overall, and he didn't live up to them. When the ball was in his hands, he made big plays. But sometimes Martz didn't throw to him, and other times he simply dropped the ball. A back injury bothered him most of the season, and he struggled with Martz's complex system at times. Now that Jim Colletto is the offensive coordinator, the Lions are expected to run the ball much more. But their strength is still their wide receivers, and they still need to stretch the field and be explosive. Williams and Johnson are the Lions' young guns -- big, dynamic threats on the outside. McDonald and Furrey are small, quick, veteran slot receivers. Walters and Middleton provide good depth. Not that there isn't room for improvement, though. Williams needs to study more and make fewer mental mistakes. Johnson also needs to absorb the offense better and stop dropping catchable balls with the game in the balance.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Jeff Backus, LG Edwin Mulitalo, C Dominic Raiola, RG Stephen Peterman, RT Damien Woody. Backups -- G Blaine Saipaia, G Manny Ramirez, G/T Barry Stokes, T George Foster. Injured reserve -- Frank Davis, Jonathan Scott.
Last year, the Lions allowed 63 sacks, most in the NFL. This year, they allowed 54, third most. Martz put a ton of pressure on the linemen. He didn't run the ball, allowing the opposing defensive line to tee off. He didn't give much help in pass protection, leaving linemen vulnerable. They weren't up to the task. Backus struggled while playing through injuries. Mulitalo dropped weight and played well. Raiola played consistently well. Woody dropped a lot of weight in the offseason and took a pay cut to stay in Detroit. Then he suffered a rib injury and lost the starting right guard job to Peterman. The coaches love Peterman's competitiveness, but he doesn't have Woody's athleticism. Foster was a major liability at right tackle, and the Lions couldn't find anyone to replace him -- Scott got hurt twice, Saipaia was overmatched -- until they tried Woody there. Woody, who hadn't played right tackle since high school, solidified the position. But it was too little, too late. Woody is set to be a free agent, and though he is open to returning, he wants to explore his options. If all is equal, he'll probably leave. The Lions need to shore up that spot. If the Lions become more of a physical running team next season, as expected, the line should at least look a little better. In theory.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- DLE Jared DeVries, UT Cory Redding, NT Shaun Rogers, DRE Dewayne White. Backups -- DE Kalimba Edwards, DE Ikaika Alama-Francis, DE Corey Smith, DT Shaun Cody, DT Langston Moore.
Marinelli said the defensive line needed to drive the franchise, and the Lions got off to a strong start. When the Lions were 6-2, they had 24 sacks, tied for fourth in the NFL. But during their six-game losing streak that eliminated them from the playoffs, they had only eight sacks. Rogers stood out during the first half of the season, but then he disappeared when the Lions needed him most. He was overweight and wore down over the course of the season. Redding always provided leadership and a full effort, but he didn't provide production. After racking up eight sacks in 11 games last season and landing a big contract, he had only one sack this season. White was a good free-agent pickup, and DeVries and Moore were valuable in their roles. But Edwards was a huge disappointment. He had only three sacks for the second straight season. He went from starting right end to out of uniform altogether. Cody hasn't developed as hoped, and Alama-Francis, a raw project, made virtually no impact as a rookie. Edwards is almost certainly gone. The big question mark is Rogers.
Sims is just what was advertised when the Lions drafted him ninth overall in 2006. He flies all over the field making tackles. The rest, though, needs to be stronger. Lenon is not the prototypical Tampa Two middle linebacker the Lions need and might move to the strong side. Bailey didn't seem to make enough plays. Lewis made more of an impact on special teams than on defense. Lehman was awfully quiet and hasn't been the same player since suffering a major foot injury. Davis, a first-day draft pick last year cut by Arizona before the season, is an intriguing prospect.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- RCB Fernando Bryant, LCB Travis Fisher, FS Gerald Alexander, SS Kenoy Kennedy. Backups -- CB Keith Smith, CB Ramzee Robinson, S Greg Blue, S Patrick Body, CB Dovonte Edwards. Injured reserve -- S Daniel Bullocks, CB Stanley Wilson, S Idrees Bashir, LaMarcus Hicks.
The Lions ranked second to last against the pass, and they allowed the biggest completion percentage against by far. Some of that is because the rush wasn't good enough. But a lot of it was because the coverage was poor. Like the defensive line, the secondary made big plays in the first half and then faded. When the Lions were 6-2, they led the league with 14 interceptions. During their six-game losing streak, they had only two. Bryant struggled with injuries again. He got through the season but expects to be gone, even though he has two years left on his contract. The Lions badly need help at corner. Wilson and Smith have not developed as hoped. Kennedy hasn't been the fierce hitter he was reputed to be when he left Denver, and his tackling was poor. Alexander struggled at times when pressed into service as a starter as a rookie. The Lions missed Bullocks, who should be back from a knee injury.
Hanson's season will be remembered for one kick -- the field-goal attempt he missed, at home, on turf, from just 35 yards, at crunch time against Dallas. That miss might have cost the Lions the game and a shot at the playoffs. Harris had an excellent season, with 26 punts downed inside the 20 and only five touchbacks. Cason returned kicks well. Walters was unspectacular on punt returns, but Marinelli wanted to play it safe. No one noticed snapper Don Muhlbach -- perfect.