The Lions are ranked third in the NFL with an average of 405.3 yards a game. They are third in passing yardage (292.4 yards a game) and 18th in rushing (112.9). Detroit is ninth in the league in scoring with an average of 25.9 points per game. The Lions are fourth in the NFL with a 62.7 touchdown percentage inside their opponents’ 20-yard line (32 touchdowns in 51 opportunities). They have 31 turnovers, the NFL’s second-highest total after the Giants’ 39.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford, the first overall selection of the 2009 NFL Draft, has thrown 28 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions. He has a strong arm and solid instincts. Stafford is particularly adept at dropping his arm angle to get the ball past rushing linemen and linebackers, though it doesn’t always work out to his benefit – witness his sidearm throw Monday night that was picked off by Daryl Smith. Stafford has the arm strength to throw the ball deep and the accuracy to complete passes into tight windows. His backup is 12-year veteran Shaun Hill.
They do, however, have a pair of outstanding tight ends in Brandon Pettigrew and rookie Joseph Fauria. Pettigrew, a 6-5, 265-pounder, has outstanding blocking skills and is a big receiving target with long arms and strong hands. He is third on the team with 41 catches. Fauria, who was signed as a free agent out of UCLA, leads all NFL rookies with seven touchdowns – on just 12 receptions, including a score on an outstanding catch Monday night. Fauria aligns all over the formation, he has excellent body control and he’s become a go-to weapon for Stafford in the red zone. Dorin Dickerson has played in the last four games.
Calvin Johnson - Megatron – might well be the NFL’s best wide receiver. The second overall selection in the 2007 draft, Johnson is second in the NFL in both receiving yards (1,449) and touchdown catches (12, tied with San Francisco’s Vernon Davis). He has 81 receptions. Johnson has rare size (6-5, 236), speed, strength and playmaking ability. He is a game-changer, though Johnson a) has fought persistent right knee pain this season, and b) his drops have been an issue. Nate Burleson missed seven games after breaking his forearm in a traffic accident, but started three of the last four contests. The savvy veteran is a reliable possession receiver who will catch contested balls over the middle. Kris Durham has a large catch radius and is second among the wideouts with 36 receptions. Kevin Ogletree was signed in October and has averaged 15.8 yards on his six receptions. Jeremy Ross, who began the season with Green Bay and was signed off the Lions’ practice squad on Oct. 19, is a quick slot receiver who has made several big plays.
Four of the Lions’ offensive linemen have started every game – left tackle Riley Reiff, left guard Rob Sims, center Dominic Raiola and right guard Larry Warford. LaAdrian Waddle has started the last seven games at right tackle. Reiff, a 2012 first round draft choice, has been Detroit’s most consistent lineman. He is strong, smart and aware. Waddle is a rookie free agent who has yet to allow a sack and is improving each week. Sims has started 72 consecutive games. He is a cagey veteran who quickly gets his hands on defenders and is strong on contact. Warford is a short area mauler with a powerful upper body. Raiola is a 13-year veteran who uses all the tricks of the trade. He is a solid run blocker and a no-look shotgun snapper. Jason Fox is a swing tackle and Dylan Gandy lines up as an extra lineman.
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Detroit is ranked 16th in the NFL in defense, allowing 351.6 yards a game. They are fourth against the run (98.6) and 23rd vs. the pass (252.9). The Lions are ninth in the league in scoring defense, giving up 24.2 points a game. They are first in the NFL in both defensive third down efficiency (their opponents have converted only 30.1 percent of their opportunities, 55 of 183) and red zone efficiency, allowing opposing teams to score 14 touchdowns in 38 trips inside their 20-yard line, or 36.8 percent. Detroit is among the league leaders in defensive penalties, including offside and pass interference.
Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch makes the calls in the huddle and leads the Lions with 115 tackles (81 solo). He is an attacker who shocks ballcarriers on contact. On the outside, DeAndre Levy is having a breakout season. He is second on the team with 104 tackles (74 solo) and his six interceptions make him the rare linebacker who is tied for the league-lead in picks. He is an athletic, competitive player with a high pursuit effort. Strongside backer Ashlee Palmer is a sturdy run defender and core special teams player who is removed in the sub defenses. Veteran Rocky McIntosh is used in the 4-4 and goal line defenses.
The secondary is not considered to be as strong as the front seven. Rashean Mathis is Detroit’s top cornerback. He sometimes exclusively covers the opposition’s top wide receiver. Mathis has good ball awareness and leads the team with 16 passes defensed. The other starter, Chris Houston, missed two of the last three games with turf toe. Jonte Green had limited playing time this season until he started Monday night vs. Baltimore. Green is best in press coverage. The nickel back is Bill Bentley, who has good awareness in all coverages and is exceptional defending underneath routes. Safeties Louis Delmas and Glover Quin are interchangeable. Delmas is listed as the free safety and is Detroit’s best defensive back. He is aggressive in coverage and against the run. Quin plays more often in the box, where he is quick to diagnose the play and has good speed. Don Carey saw a lot of action on first and second down vs. the Ravens. He is a jack of all trades in the secondary.
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Jeremy Ross has become one of the league’s most productive kickoff and punt returners. He ran back a kickoff 98 yards for a score and a punt 58 yards for another touchdown in the snow in Philadelphia. For the season, he is averaging 26.1 yards on 17 kickoff returns and 14.6 yards on 14 punt returns. Kicker David Akers has hit 16 of 21 field goal attempts this season, with all five of his misses between 31 and 47 yards, including one that was blocked. He made both of his tries from beyond 50 yards. Akers has had eight field goal attempts or PATs blocked in the last three years. Rookie punter Sam Martin is seventh in the NFL with 40.7-yard net average. He also has 38 touchbacks as the team’s kickoff specialist. In 2012, the Lions allowed two touchdowns apiece via punt and kickoff returns, an NFL high. This season, their improved coverage teams have given up none. The punt team has allowed an average return of 5.8 yards, third-best in the league. John Wendling, one of the NFL’s elite special teams players, leads the team with 11 teams tackles (seven solo).
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