- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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This week, during Detroit’s bye, we’ll take a look at each position group at the half way point of the season.
What has worked: He struggled at times early this season, but for the most part, Brandon Pettigrew has been a reliable, capable option for Matthew Stafford. He is dropping one pass per every three games and is on pace to have his fewest drops since his rookie season, when he had six.
Pettigrew hasn’t been targeted as much as he has been in previous years, but that has as much to do with the addition of Reggie Bush and emergence of Kris Durham as it does to Pettigrew’s play. Stafford has long said he feels comfortable with Pettigrew as a passer and he is a fairly good blocker for a tight end. He won’t wow you like a Jimmy Graham -- he’s not that kind of player -- but he is a decent dual-purpose tight end.
The Lions’ discovery of Joseph Fauria has also been a big high point this season. He has five touchdown catches and has become a legitimate red zone threat whenever Detroit is in the area. He also gives Stafford another tall target with good leaping ability to go with Calvin Johnson.
What has not: Much like Detroit’s running backs, drops are a major issue for the Lions tight ends. They are second in the league in drop rate at 9.2 percent, behind only Miami. To be fair, much of those drops came from a tight end no longer on the roster, Tony Scheffler, but it is still been an issue for a position used in the short and intermediate passing game. He dropped three of the 12 passes thrown his way -- third among tight ends in drop percentage.
Speaking of Scheffler, the concussion he suffered against Green Bay in October effectively ended his tenure with the Lions, leaving the team with just two tight ends, Pettigrew and Fauria. Both are good receiving options and Pettigrew is a good blocker, but Fauria still needs to come a long way in that area to become even close to a more complete tight end.
Fauria’s consistency has also been an issue. Some of it is predicated on game plan -- he is the second tight end and as long as his blocking is a question, he won’t move past Pettigrew -- but his production vacillates from a red zone touchdown machine to no targets and no receptions in a game. He needs to find some more consistency, which he should as he continues to grow into his role throughout his rookie year. He has a ton of potential and has shown flashes of it.
Prognosis: This is questionable. Once Nate Burleson returns, it is easy to envision a lot of situations where Detroit would use three wide receiver sets, meaning less opportunities for two tight end sets and chances for Fauria to continue his torrid touchdown pace. Fauria has the potential to be a game-changing tight end, but needs to find some more consistent playing time and production first.
But Pettigrew is having a quietly consistent season. He’s caught 10 passes for first downs this year and has three or more receptions in the past five games. He isn’t being used as a downfield threat, but expect him to continue to be a guy Stafford looks to on short-to-medium range passes the rest of the season.