SCOREBOARD 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 PLAYOFF FINISH --- --- WC --- --- REGULAR SEASON W-L 7-9 4-12 10-6 6-10 2-14 POINTS PER GAME 24.7 23.3 29.6 22.6 16.4 POINTS ALLOWED PER GAME 23.5 27.3 24.2 23.1 30.9 YARDS PER GAME 392 409 396 339 299 YARDS ALLOWED PER GAME 347 341 368 344 392 TURNOVERS 34 33 23 25 41 TAKEAWAYS 22 17 34 29 23 Key Additions: S James Ihedigbo, WR Golden Tate Key Subtractions: WR Nate Burleson, QB Shaun Hill, DE Willie Young Rookies: TE Eric Ebron, LB Kyle Van Noy, C Travis Swanson, CB Nevin Lawson, DE Larry Webster, DT Caraun Reid, WR T.J. Jones, K Nate Freese Matthew Stafford LEON HALIP/GETTY IMAGES SPORT as the offense. With players like Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley anchoring the line, the Lions have a talented core that could potentially develop into a dominant defense. However, there are also problems in the defense that have to be addressed and a history of meltdowns that needs to stop. Suh is perhaps the best representation of what is both right and wrong with the Lions. Suh is a very talented defensive tackle, good at both stuffing the run and rushing the passer, but has also developed a reputation for emotional meltdowns and cheap shots. The same can be said of teammate Nick Fairley, who was penalized three times for unnecessary roughness last season. Suh seemed to be unmotivated as the season progressed, failing to record a single sack in the month of December. When Suh is on his game, he can be a dominant inside force. What the Lions need is to back him up with a strong secondary. Passing defense has been a problem in Detroit for a very long time now, and the team didn’t do much to address this problem in the offseason. The Lions signed safety James Ihedigbo to replace Louis Delmas, who signed with Miami as a free agent. Ihedigbo is a smart player but not as physically talented as Delmas, and shouldn’t be considered an upgrade. Otherwise, the team will rely on Darius Slay, Rashean Mathis, and Glover Quin to cover receivers downfield. None of these players have shown consistency in pass coverage; the Lions will need at least one of them to step up if they want their defense to rise above league-average. The good news is that with Suh, Fairley, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah and rookie linebacker Kyle Van Noy, Detroit should have a stronger pass rush than the unit that produced just 33 sacks last season. DeAndre Levy is a solid coverage linebacker and Stephen Tulloch is a capable and well-rounded middle linebacker. The front seven is strong, but with the secondary remaining a weakness, it’s likely that Detroit’s defense will be roughly average in 2014. Defensive Player to Watch On a team with pass defense issues and two noisemakers on the line of scrimmage, it’s easy to overlook the man in the middle, Tulloch. As much as Detroit struggled to defend the pass at times, their run defense was outstanding. Suh and Fairley certainly deserve credit for this, but so does Tulloch, who made 93 tackles and almost always takes the right approach to tackling a ball carrier. Tulloch is also a solid coverage linebacker, great at finishing tackles, and chips in with some pass rushing prowess as well. In other words, Tulloch can do anything his team asks him to do at the linebacker position. On a team with a reputation for being undisciplined, Tulloch rarely misses a tackle or finds himself out of position. He may not be the flashiest player or receive the most attention, but Tulloch is probably the single most valuable player on the Lions’ defense. Lions Special Teams Last season, the Lions brought in veteran kicker David Akers to replace longtime veteran Jason Hanson. Akers’ performance was adequate but not particularly inspiring. He made 19 of 24 field goals and struggled on kickoffs. The Lions parted with Akers in the offseason, choosing to spend their seventh round draft pick on Nate Freese. Freese made all 20 of his field goal attempts at Boston College last year and will compete with Giorgio Tavecchio for the job. Jeremy Ross will handle return duties after impressing in that role last season. In a blizzard against Philadelphia, Ross scored two return touchdowns, one on a kickoff return and one on a punt return. Overall, Ross averaged 24.5 yards per kickoff return and 15.5 yards per punt return. The punting duties will be handled by Sam Martin, a second-year player who averaged 47.2 yards per punt in his rookie season. Prediction The Lions will have no problem putting points on the board due to continued dominance from Calvin Johnson and the addition of new weapons in the offense. However, unless the team improves greatly at limiting turnovers under Jim Caldwell, the defense won’t be strong enough to prevent this team from losing shootouts. Expect seven or eight wins on the season.
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