Found January 10, 2013 on Sports Junkie Online:
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1. How hot should Jim Schwartz's seat be in Detroit?After a breakout 2011 campaign which saw the Lions snap an eleven-season postseason drought by going 11-5, the team took a step back in 2012 by going 4-12. The struggles had a lot to do with Matthew Stafford's slow start to the season and a defense that struggled to force turnovers. Ultimately, for as much credit as Schwartz got for reaching the postseason last season, he equally deserves the same portion of blame. Schwartz has done a magnificent job of turning around a Lions organization that became the first team in NFL history to finish winless since the league went to a 16-game schedule when former head coach Rod Marinelli's crew did that in 2008. The team really began to show promise towards the end of the 2010 season, winning their final four games after the team had drafted impact players Matthew Stafford (#1 overall in 2009) and Ndamukong Suh (#3 overall in 2010). Ultimately, the team has enough talent on offense to compete with most teams on a week-to-week basis. The two biggest problems Schwartz must address are finding balance on offense, and improving a secondary that allowed 26 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions. Schwartz still has the ear of his team, but after raising expectations after a great 2011 campaign, the pressure is on to get the team to perform at that level on a regular basis.2. Who will emerge as the #2 receiver opposite Calvin Johnson?The Lions have arguably the most talented receiver in the league in sixth-year man Calvin Johnson. The Georgia Tech product has racked up 488 receptions, 7,836 yards and 54 touchdowns in just 93 career games, and also broke Jerry Rice's single-season receiving yardage record by totaling 1,964 yards in 2012. After Johnson, the second-highest yardage total on the team was by tight end Brandon Pettigrew (567). You'd have to go all the way down to fifth in yardage totals to find the next wide receiver on the list, where Titus Young accumulated 383 yards in 10 games. Young's off-field conduct has been worrisome, as he was suspended for allegedly sabotaging the Lions passing game in their week 11 game against the Packers.Rookie receiver Ryan Broyles played well when given the opportunity and has great short-area quickness, but his lack of prototypical size make him a better fit in the slot. Veteran Nate Burleson is a similar player to Broyles, as is 2012 acquisition Mike Thomas. The good news is that with a vertical threat like Johnson and the plethora of good slot receivers, that the team should be able to find open underneath routes while "Megatron" stretches the field vertically. I believe it's likely Detroit moves Titus Young this offseason, and Broyles eventually ends up as the team's #2 receiver in 2013.3. Will the Lions keep Cliff Avril?Avril was a Pro Bowler after a 2011 season in which he had 11 sacks and six forced fumbles, and after Avril and the team couldn't come to an agreement on a contract extension, was franchised by the organization. Avril had another solid season in 2012 (9.5 sacks), but will again have an opportunity to test the free agent market. The team has some depth at defensive end, but Kyle Vanden Bosch had a down season (3.5 sacks), and will be a free agent next season, and could also be getting towards the end of his prime. The team has a great pair of pass rushers in the middle as well, as Ndamukong Suh (8.0 sacks) and Nick Fairley (5.5 sacks) create havoc on the interior. If I had to hazard a guess, I believe the team will likely try to re-sign him once more, as to franchise tag him again would come with a 20% increase over last season. The team also has to worry about re-signing safety Louis Delmas and cornerback Chris Houston, so it'd be in both sides' best interests to work out a long-term deal for the 26-year old.4. Will the Lions find better offensive balance?On the season, the Lions had one of the biggest pass-run disparities in the league, as the team registered 349 more pass attempts (740) than rushing attempts (391). Some of that is a bi-product of trailing in a lot of games, the lack of balance puts more pressure on the offensive line, as defenses could simply pin their ears back and make things more difficult for the passing game.Second-year back Mikel Leshoure led Detroit in rushes (215) and yards (798), but only twice in his 14 games played did Leshoure total 20 or more rushes, and he only cracked 100 yards on the ground once. Joique Bell was the team's primary spell for Leshoure, and also found himself on the field a lot in third-down and end-of-game situations due to his blocking and pass-catching ability. On the season, Bell racked up a total of 899 yards from scrimmage (414 running, 485 receiving), and on a per-touch basis was definitely the Lions' best back.For the team to improve in 2013, they'll need to commit to the running game more, as the combination of Leshoure and Bell was actually fairly productive when given an opportunity. It all starts with play-calling, and the pressure will no doubt be on both head coach Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Matthew Stafford has the ability to put up a ton of yards (he's thrown for over 10,000 yards the past two seasons), but the team would be better served allowing the running game to do a little bit more work as well.
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