Thursday, December 5, 2013
Detroit Lions still leading NFL in drops
By Michael Rothstein
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Practice ended Thursday, and while most of the Detroit Lions players went through a hallway to the locker room, the wide receivers assembled in the indoor practice facility.
There, receivers took turns catching passes after having what appeared to be a screen blocking their vision at first. The screen would then be pulled down by an assistant and the ball would already be on its way.
The receiver, obviously, would have to catch it. Considering some of Detroit's issues there this season, this is an important drill to be working on.
Reggie Bush is averaging nearly 10 yards per catch on his 45 receptions, but his eight dropped passes are part of an ongoing issue for the Lions.
Detroit’s drop numbers are interesting. The Lions have more drops, 37, than any other team in the league. But they also have the second-most passing attempts in the NFL, with 500.
Where it evens out -- and where Detroit’s drop struggles become more evident throughout the season -- is in drop percentage. The Lions are tied with the Rams for the league’s worst drop rate at 7.6 percent of Matthew Stafford's passes.
And it hasn’t gotten better for the Lions in the second half of the season. Detroit has 14 drops in the past four games at a drop rate of nine percent, both numbers that are worst in the NFL.
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan explained away the drops as a function of Detroit’s passing offense.
“We throw the ball a lot, so some teams don’t throw the ball as much, so they aren’t going to have as many when it comes to the amount of throws,” Linehan said. “I think guys really worked hard at catching it. I thought the last game they caught it really well.
“Great catches that weren’t routine. I don’t think that’s necessarily indicative of us versus anybody else.”
The drops, though, haven’t been quarantined to one game or one player. Ten of the 14 Lions players who have caught passes this season have also dropped at least one pass.
The four Detroit players who haven’t been credited with a drop by ESPN Stats and Information are tight ends Joseph Fauria and Dorin Dickerson, and wide receivers Kevin Ogletree and Patrick Edwards, who is now on the practice squad.
The most guilty Lion of dropping passes? Running back Reggie Bush, who has eight drops this season and is dropping passes at a rate of 12.3 percent -- second-highest in the NFL among qualifying players behind Pittsburgh’s Le'Veon Bell (13.3 percent).
Combine Bush’s drops with his fumble issues -- he’s been big on working on ball security this week -- and bad hands would be a potential concern for the Lions’ starting running back.
Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, though, is not concerned. He noted Bush’s drops earlier in the season as a reason for his high percentage.
“That’ll get your numbers up,” Schwartz said. “He also made an over-the-shoulder catch last week, too.”
This isn’t to say Bush isn’t a talented player -- he is a gifted runner and receiver -- but he has also dropped passes on screens and in the flat that could have been large gains if he held on to the ball.
After Bush is Johnson with seven drops (5.3 percent), Durham with four (5.8 percent), Bell with four (8.9 percent) and Pettigrew with four (7.0 percent). Beyond them are players who are either no longer on the Lions, on injured reserve or have limited roles.
Running back Theo Riddick, who plays sparingly, has one drop.
Of all the players listed, Johnson’s drops might be the most understandable. His seven drops are one off a career-worst set last season, but he has been targeted 131 times, more than any other receiver in the league.
Despite the drops from his pass-catchers, Stafford is having a good season. He has still completed 59.2 percent of his passes (296 of 500), thrown for 27 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and 3,825 yards.
But as the weather gets colder and situations become more intense for the Lions as they make a playoff push and a potential appearance in the postseason, how Detroit’s pass-catchers handle what Stafford throws at them will be paramount for any future Lions success.