2012 Record: 4-12
It might seem hard to find fault in an offense whose poster boy is the very Calvin Johnson who shattered Jerry Rice's receiving yards record (as well as the Madden Curse) with 1964 yards.
But Megatron seemed to be the only bright spot of the bunch.
Matthew Stafford regressed from his 2011 form, throwing almost as many picks (17) as touchdowns (20, down from 41).
Once again, he had to throw for nearly 5,000 yards, thanks to defensive ineptitude, and the near non-existence of the running game.
Perhaps the "non-existent" part is a bit harsh, considering Detroit topped 1,600 yards as a team, but they still ranked 23rd in the league.
Mikel LeShoure led the team with 798 yards, but averaged just 3.7 YPA. Joique Bell averaged 5.0 YPA, but had only 82 carries (414 yards).
Defense Not Aggressive Enough
The Lions gave up 27.3 PPG in 2012, good for sixth worst in the league. But it's odd: they ranked 14th in pass defense, and 16th in run defense. How could the Lions give up four more points than they scored on average, and lose 12 games?
One of the biggest knocks against the Lions' D is their lack of turnover creation. Detroit only had 17 takeaways, including 11 interceptions (tied for seventh lowest) and 6 fumble recoveries (tied for sixth lowest). There were six games in which the Lions didn't create a single turnover, of which they went 1-5.
In addition, their pass rushing took a bit of a tumble. After producing 41 sacks in 2011, the number dropped to 33 a season ago. A big part of that regression was the aging Kyle Vanden Bosch accumulating only 3.5 sacks, his lowest total since 2009.
2013 Projected Wins: 7
Top 3 Rookies
-Ezekiel Ansah, DE (1/5): Ghana native has thunderous strength that rocks linemen after the snap, and galloping strides that make it easier to chase down prey in the backfield.
-Darius Slay, CB (4/36): Sizable defensive back possesses intuitive recognition of routes, but generally lacks the physically to punish or intimidate would-be receivers.
-Larry Warford, G (3/65): Burly lineman takes up lots of horizontal space, and has exceptional balance for his size, but is considerably slow because of his girth.
In addition to bolstering the defensive line and secondary through April's Draft, the Lions went whole hog on day one of free agency. Versatile defensive tackle Jason Jones joins the team, having known Jim Schwartz and Jim Washburn from Tennessee. Former Texans safety Glover Quin also comes to the Motor City on a five-year deal.
In an attempt to give the Lions some kind of consistent, as well as less predictable, running attack, Reggie Bush was signed after two quality years as the Dolphins' starter. Mixing and matching with LeShoure and Bell could harken back to Bush's days in New Orleans' platoon. David Akers comes in as kicker, replacing the retired Jason Hanson.
The team parted ways with troubled receiver Titus Young (before his triumvirate of arrests in May), but re-signed, to considerable deals, cornerback Chris Houston, linebacker DeAndre Levy, and safety Louis Delmas (who was held out of OTAs as an injury risk).
Potential Starting Lineup
QB - Matthew Stafford
RB - Reggie Bush
WR - Calvin Johnson
WR - Nate Burleson
TE - Brandon Pettigrew
TE - Tony Scheffler
LT - Riley Reiff
LG - Rob Sims
C - Dominic Raiola
RG - Larry Warford
RT - Corey Hilliard
DE - Jason Jones
DT - Nick Fairley
DT - Ndamukong Suh
DE - Ezekiel Ansah
OLB - Ashlee Palmer
MLB - Stephen Tulloch
OLB - DeAndre Levy
CB - Chris Houston
CB - Darius Slay
FS - Glover Quin
SS - Louis Delmas
K - David Akers
P - Sam Martin
LS - Don Muhlbach
2013 at a Glance
It seems a bit perplexing that Schwartz, who spent eight years as the Titans' defensive coordinator, has been unable to assemble a consistently good defense in four years with Detroit.
Schwartz had some rough years in the mid-2000s, but by 2008, Tennessee allowed the second fewest points in football.
So what of the Lions' defenses? In Schwartz's last two seasons, they've been tenth and sixth from the bottom in points allowed.
In 2012, they learned they can't get away with that when Stafford doesn't have a Herculean year like he did in 2011.
Five of Detroit's final eight losses were by a touchdown or less, indicating that the defense couldn't stand pat with a slim lead, and that the offense feverishly had to undo damage already done to them.
Incredibly, other than adding the abrasive Washburn as a defensive assistant, and letting co-secondary coach Tim Walton jump to St. Louis, the defensive staff remains the same.
Instead, it's the offensive cabinet that got slashed and burned. Scott Linehan remains coordinator, but there are changes to the running backs, receivers, tight ends, and offensive line positions.
In some ways, the Lions seem more like a team rebuilding from failures as opposed to a contender that simply had a down year. But that didn't stop defensive tackle Nick Fairley from predicting a Super Bowl run for this season.
An offensive coaching staff that needs to gel, a defense that has to stop giving up points, and an offense that looked mostly mortal outside of Megatron's pantheon year. Does that look like a contender to you?
But in the NFL, the damnedest things can be possible.
Three of Detroit's first four draft picks were defensive, including DEs Ansah and Devin Taylor, whose particular combinations of speed and strength make them Wide-9 ready. Ndamukong Suh remains an anchoring presence in the middle along with Fairley.
It's a younger defense, especially with Vanden Bosch and Drayton Florence gone. Losses in Justin Durant and Cliff Avril, however, will be harder to replace outright.
As for the offense, Stafford's the tipping point. If he turns into the sharpshooter that he was in 2011 (especially with less pressure from a more consistent defense), what were close losses in 2012 become narrow and/or convincing wins in 2013.
Stafford will, however, have to create a new star with Young gone and Johnson sure to draw more coverage. Nate Burleson does come back healthy, however.
Schwartz's seat is rising in temperature after the tumultuous way that 2012 ended. Sure, he got them to their first playoff run in 12 years the previous season, but another consecutive bad season, with no improvement in their glaring weaknesses, could cost him.
Of their 12 losses in 2012, 6 came in the NFC North, blanked by the Packers, Vikings, and Bears. None of those teams looks particularly weak headed into 2013, so it's going to be extremely difficult for Detroit to force their way into the thick of things.