It’s hard to imagine that only a couple of weeks ago the Detroit Lions were 7-5 and appeared to be in control of their inconsistent division. Although the Lions suffered tough losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers beforehand, their explosive offense was doing just enough to allow them to overcome their high turnover rate. Unfortunately, the Lions brief period of division supremacy has all but dissipated as the Lions lost a sloppy game at home to the surging Baltimore Ravens. Simply put, the Lions fall from grace has been predicated on one fundamental flaw that has done this team in time and time again; careless turnovers.
Despite having one of the most prolific passing games in the league in terms of passing yards (Stafford throws for 292.4 yards per game, 3rd in the NFL), Matthew Stafford’s lack of ball security skills have made his passing prowess all but obsolete. This season, Stafford has fumbled the ball eight times as a rusher, which is more than the number of fumbles he has allowed in his entire career (before this season, Stafford committed only six rushing fumbles in three seasons). While Stafford’s interception count as always been moderately high, at his best, Stafford was able to overcome these mistakes by throwing several touchdowns per game coupled with a solid completion percentage (he threw for 41 TD’s and 16 INT’s while completing 63.5% of his passes in 2011). However, Stafford’s careless ways have finally caught up with him in the last couple of years, as he has been unable to eclipse his superstar numbers from the 2011 season. Not only has Stafford’s completion percentage dropped from 63.5% to 58% this year, his interception count is on pace to either match or overcome the 20 picks he threw during his rookie season in 2009 (he has thrown 17 INT’s this year).
While the onus of the Lions turnover issues can be attributed to Stafford’s overzealous passing attempts, the Lions unbalanced defense hasn’t helped the Lions strive for success either. Although the Lions have one of the best defensive fronts in the game as they only allow 98.6 rushing yards per game (4th in the NFL), their secondary has been inconsistent all season long. Even in their valiant victories, this Lions secondary is still prone to giving up thirty points or more per game, forcing Stafford and the Lions already worn down offense to make a big play at the last second. Ultimately, some of Stafford’s haphazard ways can be at least partially attributed to the Lions secondary giving up large chunks of yardage down the stretch. As a result, Stafford is forced to make a play that may not be there in order to give his team a chance at winning a tight game. While the Lions secondary was able to keep the Ravens out of the end zone on Monday Night Football, they ended up relinquishing several key drives thanks to several critical turnovers and egregious penalties that the Lions could have avoided.
Although the Lions have been the cause of their own demise this season, they have the potential to be one of the best teams in the NFC. Between having one of the best receivers in the league in Calvin Johnson and a well-developed defensive front, the Lions could have been a dream team worth remembering. However, as close as the Lions have come to being supremely successful, they have cost themselves the glory and prestige that many believe they rightly deserve because of the ill-advised mistakes they make week in and week out. While the Lions may have a plethora of offensive weapons and a quarterback with the potential to be a gifted passer, they lack one crucial element that is essential for a team to be a dominant playoff contender, patients and discipline. The absence of both of these coveted intangibles has prevented the Lions from taking the next key step to being a winning franchise, which has to happen if this team wants to be taken seriously.
In the end, the Lions have most likely given up their only chance at making the post season thanks to their most recent debacle against the Ravens. While every team goes through their moments of inexplicable meltdowns, the Lions have become a team that loses because of the mistakes they make themselves rather than the perseverance from the opposition. While the Lions aren’t mathematically out of the post-season bubble, their self-damaging ways will undoubtedly prevent them from overcoming the adversity that they have created.