Are they who you thought they were? Have you predicted every game right? Am I beautiful? If you answered yes to these questions you are one smart cookie.
The Detroit Lions stand atop the NFC North at 5-3 entering the second half of their season. How have they gotten here? I am breaking down the Lions position-by-position:
Matthew Stafford is playing the best football of his career which is as a huge surprise to me. Last year Stafford flat-out missed on way too many pass attempts. From screens to the deep ball he just did not look like he had the stuff to be an accurate quarterback. In the preseason his struggles continued as the whole offense looked out of sync when he was behind center.
My have things changed. It turns out all he needs is a weapon or two outside of Calvin Johnson to find a groove. He has always been a streaky player, but that can play to his credit. Once Stafford hits on a big pass or two look out because his confidence will catch fire, and when it matters most the kid will show crazy moxy. Go back to Stafford’s last game against the Cowboys, and find him winning the game off a gutsy quarterback sneak that stunned us all, even his own offensive line. Stafford now has 10 career game-winning drives at 24-years-old.
Stafford is on pace for a career-high 5,234 passing yards and a career-low 12 interceptions, and he is doing all of this while winning games. Unlike last year’s gaudy junk yard sessions, Stafford is no longer passing near every play in efforts to come back from large deficits only to fall in the end. No, this year most of his yards are contributing to wins as his Total QBR is also at a career-high 66.2. On a side-note Stafford just reached 15,000 career passing yards (15,424) in his 53rd game becoming the fastest to do so in NFL history. The Lions just may have something here.
Midseason QB Grade: B+
The combination of pass-catching backs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush have acted as the primary decoys to Calvin Johnson. Bush’s 4.4 yards per carry helps sustains drives, while Bell’s tuck-and-plow ability has him on pace for eight rushing touchdowns. In addition to an effective ground game, the thunder-lightning duo has totaled 58 receptions. That is 11 more than Johnson’s total. The scary part is they are averaging a combined 10.9 yards per catch. To put that stat into perspective Chiefs running back and superstar Jamaal Charles averages only 8.3 yards per catch.
Anybody who can take pressure off of Megatron is key to this offense. These boys are doing that and then some.
Midseason RB Grade: B+
Calvin Johnson is the sun the rest of this offense revolves around. He is well on his way to another Hall of Fame type of season. Burleson looked solid before his injury, and will return this week. Kris Durham has emerged as a consistent target for Stafford. Ryan Broyles can’t catch a break as he will be forced to miss another season. Kevin Ogletree will likely get an increased look in the slot as he grows with the offense.
Durham and Burleson, while not electric, are sure-handed options behind the best offensive weapon in the game. Depth is an issue, but for now this group is elite.
Midseason WR Grade: A-
Joseph Fauria has danced his way into our hearts. Five touchdowns does not hurt either. Fauria is used to exploit certain defensive schemes in the red zone while he is totally neglected against others. Amazingly, he only has eight catches for 81 yards on the season.
Brandan Pettigrew had the third-worst drop percentage among NFL tight ends and fumbled four times in 2012. Other than one fumble he has not hurt the Lions this season nearly as much. Pettigrew’s blocking has always been superb, and he is a big reason for the success of the following unit.
Midseason TE Grade: C+
What many questioned to be the Lions greatest weakness has come together as a fantastic unit. Left tackle Riley Reiff has transitioned to his starting role with little turbulence. The former 1st rounder is using his quick feet to prevent edge rushers from coming near Stafford. Rookie guard Larry Warford was the steal of the 2013 NFL Draft. According to Profootballfocus.com he is ranked as the 6th best guard in all of the NFL. Not too bad for a third round draft pick. Rookie right tackle LaAdrian Waddle may be the gem of the undrafted free agents. He made his first start against the Cowboys and played flawlessly. Rob Sims continues to be a pillar of consistency, and Dominic Raiola is playing solid ball at the ripe age of 34.
The group is still not dominant in the run game, but its pass protection is stupendous. The offensive line has given up an NFL-low 10 sacks,
Midseason OL Grade: A-
Ndamukong Suh is anchoring this line with perhaps his most dominant season yet. He leads the team in sacks 3.5 and is credited with 40 total pressures which is one shy of last year’s Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. Nick Fairley has been a bit inconsistent, but really made his presence felt against Tony Romo.
The Lions rank tied at 29th in sacks with 13 on the year. That stat blows my mind. Rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah has slowed down recently with only half a sack in his last five games. Defensive end Willie Young is providing very nice pressure, but does not have plentiful sacks to show for it.
Midseason DL Grade: B+
DeAndre Levy has shocked me. His numbers and key plays suggest he is the most improved Lion. Stephen Tulloch continues to be a cog up the middle and sure-tackler. He leads the team in tackles with 65 and has two sacks after only having half of a sack last season.
Midseason LB Grade: B
This unit has been the most disappointing by far. Chris Houston looks worse than last season, but in all fairness he really should not be counted on as a number one cornerback. Dwight Bentley has been a liability far too often while rookie Darius Slay has had plenty of growing pains. The real bright spot has been veteran addition Rashean Mathis who already has eight pass deflections on the year. The former Pro-Bowler has only surpassed nine deflections three times in his career.
Midseason CB Grade: D
Louis Delmas continues to overshoot wide receivers and running backs, and his coverage skills are erratic. However, Delmas is still an enforcer and has made a number of impact plays. On the other hand, Glover Quinn has been solid ranking as a top-ten cover safety according to Pro Football Focus.
Midseason S Grade: B
-Kicker David Akers has been ok hitting 12 of 15 field goals.
-Rookie punter Sam Martin has been fantastic except for his game-losing punt against the Bengals.
-Kick returner Michael Spurlock did nothing special so now the spot is up in the air. Recent addition and former-Packer Jeremy Ross made his lone return count last week picking up 44 yards after the kick.
Midseason ST Grade: C
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