Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Lions regular-season wrap-up
By Kevin Seifert
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.
Final Power Ranking: 24 Preseason Power Ranking: 28
Ndamukong Suh is one of two rookies ever to have a double-digit sack total.
Biggest surprise: By the end of November, the Lions appeared headed for an unceremonious conclusion to another lost season. They had given up 28 consecutive points to lose a Thanksgiving Day game to the New England Patriots, and afterward it appeared the inevitable finger pointing had begun. But against all indications, coach Jim Schwartz rallied the Lions for a competitive game the following week against the Chicago Bears and then concluded the season with the franchise's first four-game winning streak since 1999. In the moments after that Thanksgiving Day loss, few people saw it coming.
Biggest disappointment: Quarterback Matthew Stafford played only one full game, a Week 8 victory over the Washington Redskins. A recurring separated shoulder knocked him out of starts in Week 1 and Week 9, and the latter cost him the remainder of the season. As we noted in November, Stafford demonstrated some progress during his short stint. But none of it matters if he can't stay on the field. In two NFL seasons, Stafford has missed more games (19) than he has played (13). There are no magic elixirs for staying healthy as an NFL quarterback. The Lions are left to hope that Stafford has encountered an unlucky stretch rather than proved to be fragile. More than anything, Stafford needs an uninterrupted streak of starts to become the quarterback the Lions need him to be.
Biggest need: The Lions have whittled their needs from "everything" to something a bit more manageable. Because they have one building block at cornerback (Chris Houston) and safety (Louis Delmas), I'll say their biggest need is outside linebacker. Veteran Julian Peterson isn't expected to return and starter Zack Follett suffered a serious neck injury in Week 6 and might not play again. There really aren't any young players waiting in the wings to take over for either player. You could argue that outside linebackers are a luxury in a 4-3 scheme, but it's the most barren position on the Lions' roster.
Team MVP: In training camp, defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch was sprinting 20 yards downfield to make sure he touched the ball carrier in team drills. In Week 1, he totaled a stunning 10 solo tackles in a 19-14 loss to the Bears. If any one player deserves credit for changing the mindset of a previously moribund defense, it's Vanden Bosch. His early-season intensity set a tone for dominant defensive line play even after a neck injury ended his season. The Lions' defensive line was every bit as good and frenetic as hoped, an attitude that rubbed off on the entire defense and helped improve its ranking from last in the NFL to No. 21.
Best addition: Vanden Bosch's intensity aside, no Lions player matched the 16-game production of rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. He finished with 10 sacks, one of two rookies ever to have a double-digit sack total since the NFL started tracking the stat in 1982. Dana Stubblefield is the other. Suh gets the nod over receiver Nate Burleson, who caught 55 passes as a legitimate No. 2 threat next to receiver Calvin Johnson, and tailback Jahvid Best, who finished with 1,042 all-purpose yards.