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Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Lions slide thanks to their giving spirit

By John McTigue

Elsa/Getty ImagesTurnovers have been especially costly recently for Matthew Stafford and the Lions.
After a 21-19 victory over the Chicago Bears in Week 10, the Detroit Lions improved to 6-3, ascended to No. 9 in the weekly ESPN.com NFL Power Rankings and had sole possession of the NFC North lead.

The Lions have gone 1-3 since then, currently sit at 12th in the rankings and are even in the loss column with the Bears and Packers, who have both been playing with backup quarterbacks.

Despite averaging 27.0 points per game over the last four games (26.4 the first nine games), the Lions have found themselves losing due to an excess of turnovers and miscues.

Turnover machines
Since the start of Week 11, the Lions have turned the ball over an NFL-high 15 times and have forced only four, giving them the worst turnover differential in the NFL (minus-11). The Lions committed 13 turnovers the first nine games of the season and had a plus-1 differential.

The three biggest culprits for the Lions have been Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.

Stafford has thrown seven interceptions and lost two fumbles the last four games. The seven interceptions doubled Stafford’s season total.

The increase in interceptions has come as a result of increased defensive attention on Calvin Johnson. Stafford has thrown four interceptions when targeting Johnson the last four games after throwing only four targeting Johnson the first nine games.

In the running game, Bush and Bell have had trouble holding onto the ball in recent weeks. Each has lost two fumbles the last four games, joining Stevan Ridley as the only backs with multiple lost fumbles in that stretch. Bush and Bell combined for two lost fumbles the first nine games of the season.

Cost of the turnovers
Turnovers can always be costly, but the Lions’ turnovers have been extra painful.

Detroit's opponents have scored 40 points off 15 turnovers the last four games, which is worst in the NFL. The turnovers have led to opponent scores, but have also thwarted great scoring opportunities.

Of the 15 turnovers, eight have been within the opponent’s 30-yard line, including seven in the three losses. The Lions have lost their last three games by a combined 27 points.

The Lions have 11 such turnovers on the season, while no other team has more than six.

More miscues and poor play
The Lions have held a fourth-quarter lead in each of their last three losses. To say Stafford has struggled in the fourth quarter of those games might be an understatement. Stafford is 8-of-33 passing in the final quarter of the last four games, including an 0-for-10 effort in a Week 11 loss to the Steelers, and a 1-for-8 effort in Week 14’s loss to the Eagles.

Outside of Calvin Johnson, Stafford hasn’t had much help. The Lions have dropped an NFL-high 41 passes this season, 10 more than the next highest team (Rams). Even accounting for the volume of passes, the Lions have the highest drop percentage (8.1 percent).

Penalties have also been a problem in Detroit. Only the Rams have committed more defensive penalties than the Lions this season.