The 2013 Football Outsiders Almanac was recently released, and it's filled with lots of great information about the NFL and college football. If you're looking for something to get you ready for the 2013 season, it's a great read, especially the chapter about the Detroit Lions. Speaking of which, we recently had a chance to do a Q&A on the Lions with Football Outsiders' Rivers McCown, and you can check it out below.
1. The Lions don't exactly have an ideal salary cap situation thanks mainly to the old system of paying top draft picks. This puts even more importance on drafting well. How would you rate the job Martin Mayhew has done in that department in recent years?
I don't necessarily blame Mayhew for what has happened. The reality of the situation is that the players he has picked have been calculated risks and he has rolled a lot of snake eyes. Could you have expected Jahvid Best's concussion problems to continue? Sure. Ryan Broyles tearing another ACL? Sure. But Titus Young going off the reservation (partially) because of concussion problems? That's not really a predictable thing. Neither were Amari Spievey's concussion problems. There's some element of risk involved in every pick after the first round, and the Lions haven't done well enough, but that doesn't mean that their picks weren't rational at the time.
2. Despite going 4-12, the Lions had 7.6 estimated wins and 6.4 Pythagorean wins in 2012. In other words, statistically speaking, they weren't quite as bad as their record suggested. Should Lions fans take this as a positive sign going into the 2013 season?
Of course. The Lions suffered from a lot of passing-game maladies in 2012, particularly injuries to the wide receivers and defensive backs, that probably won't happen again in 2013. There's no guarantee that they'll have a better record than they did last season, but they start with much more talent than the typical 4-12 team.
3. The Lions got off to a lot of slow starts in 2012, as evidenced by their offense's DVOA being ranked 19th before halftime, second after halftime and first in the fourth quarter. Did anything stand out to you as the cause of these slow starts, or did the Lions just simply play better from behind?
The easy answer? The Lions didn't have a problem "playing from behind," they just couldn't run the ball effectively at all last season. Once they lost the incentive to do that and focused on throwing the ball in the general vicinity of Calvin Johnson, they did much better. We charted the Lions with just 23 percent of their plays as runs when they were behind in the second half. That was the fourth-lowest rate in the league.
4. Replacing three starters on the offensive line in one offseason isn't going to be the easiest thing in the world for the Lions. However, given the play of Jeff Backus, Stephen Peterman and Gosder Cherilus over the years, do you think the Lions could actually see an upgrade in the overall play of their O-line once they get past the growing pains of having three new starters?
I think that's asking a bit much in year one. Over the long term, I think Riley Reiff and Larry Warford can adequately replace one of the tackle spots and right guard. I'm not sure Reiff fits best at left tackle, though, and I don't think the plan was for him to have to do that. A camp battle between Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox for the right tackle spot is proof that the salary cap situation in Detroit means Cash Rules Everything Around Them Entirely - they are trying to CREATE something that isn't there. Offensive tackle doesn't have to be an all-encompassing emphasis, especially with Stafford at the trigger, but it's hard to have a good team and completely ignore them.
5. If the Lions want to get back to being in the mix for the playoffs, what stands out to you as the one area where improvement from 2012 to 2013 is most important?
The pass defense has to rebound to where it was in 2011. That means that Ezekiel Ansah, Jason Jones, and Israel Idonije need to get more pressure than Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril found in 2012. It also means that Louis Delmas has to stay healthy, and that the Lions have to find adequate play from Darius Slay and Bill Bentley. While I like Detroit's general emphasis on the areas, and think it will pay off in the long term, the long term may not be this year.