Third and one: Lions

After Detroit’s 37-23 loss to Chicago, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:

  1. The Lions hired two well-respected defensive minds last winter in head coach Jim Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. But in the end, opponents gashed them at nearly the same rate as they did last season. After the Bears put up 418 total yards Sunday, the Lions once again finished last in the NFL in yards allowed (392.1) and points (30.9) per game. Their run defense actually improved slightly, moving up from No. 32 to No. 25, but their pass defense plummeted to No. 32. Opposing quarterbacks had an incredible 107 passer rating. Of all the players directly involved in pass defense this season, only one stood out as a long-term keeper: Rookie safety Louis Delmas. The Lions have a long way to go on that side of the ball.

  2. The most positive aspect of the Lions’ season was the emergence of multiple members of their draft class, with Delmas at the top of the list. Delmas, linebacker DeAndre Levy, quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill all figure as starters in 2010. The same goes for tight end Brandon Pettigrew when he returns from knee surgery. But the Lions’ talent pool is so thin that it will take several years of similar drafts to pull its roster to NFL standards.

  3. Backup tailback Maurice Morris rushed for 228 yards in three starts after Kevin Smith was lost for the season, including 65 yards Sunday against the Bears. That represented an uptick from Smith’s 13-game production, but it’s still hard to avoid the conclusion that the Lions must address their offensive line more seriously in future offseasons. Their decision to mostly stand pat last winter was not rewarded. Perhaps this is the year they find a replacement for left tackle Jeff Backus, who could then move to left guard.

And here is one question I’m still asking:

What kind of season would the Lions have had if they didn’t finish the year with 17 players on injured reserve? That list includes significant contributors like Stafford, Pettigrew, Smith, right guard Stephen Peterman and cornerback Eric King. Linebacker Ernie Sims, receiver Calvin Johnson and cornerback Phillip Buchanon were also limited by injuries for much of the season. From the first day of training camp, the Lions were the most hobbled team in the NFC North. I imagine the Lions will spend a good part of their offseason evaluating their training, strength and conditioning practices.