Four Detroit Lions statistics that help explain 4-12

Posted Jan 11, 2013 lead writer digs into four key statistics that show why the Detroit Lions went from 10-6 and a playoff berth to 4-12 in one year.

How can a team with a solid young nucleus of talent coming off a 10-win season and a trip to the playoffs finish with four wins and find itself with a top five draft pick the very next year?

It's a question Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz have been trying to figure out during personnel meetings over the last two weeks.

There is usually a long list of reasons why a team has such a falloff in production.

Injuries are normally the main culprit - and the Lions had their fair share of those - but here are four statistics in particular that help explain how a team goes from 10-6 to 4-12 in the matter of one calendar year.

1. In 2011, the Lions scored seven touchdowns on defense. This year, they had none (one safety). That's a 47-point swing and equal to 2.94 points per game.

Cliff AvrilCliff Avril became the first Detroit Lions player to record 10-plus sacks, one fumble return touchdown and one interception return touchdown in the same year in 2011. He was just one of a number of defensive players that helped the Lions to 10 wins in 2011 by converting turnovers to points.

"That's 49 points," Schwartz said of the lack of defensive touchdowns. "Our scoring was down about 100 points … that's seven more opportunities to be able to score and it's very easy to see how our scoring went down that way."

Chris Houston returned two interceptions for touchdowns, Bobby Carpenter had one and so did Alphonso Smith in 2011. Stephen Tulloch added another fumble-return score.

This season, the Lions failed to make impact plays on defense. And when 12 of their 16 contests ended in one-possession games, those plays are often the difference.

"That's one of the things that was key to our start - and also to coming back in a couple of those games - was getting defensive scores," Schwartz said of 2011.

"We wouldn't have won the Dallas game unless we got started with a couple defensive scores. We haven't done it this year. It's hard to have the pace that we had last year, but we also go from that to zero. That's certainly something that, I guess, 'surprising' is a good word for it."

2. The Detroit Lions finished fourth in the NFL in 2011 with a turnover differential of plus-11. This season that dropped to minus-16, third-worst in the NFL. That's a difference of 27 turnovers.

I think the last part of that statistic is important, so it deserves repeating. That's a difference of 27 turnovers.

Look at most NFL box scores and you will see that the team that wins the turnover battle most of the time wins the game.

"We need guys that can impact the game," Mayhew said after the season. "We've got a lot of guys that are good guys, they line up right, they know what their job is, but they don't impact the game.

"We need interceptors, we need guys that sack the quarterback, we need guys that cause fumbles, guys that make plays on third down. Those are the kind of guys that can change the game for us."

3. Points off turnovers. In 2011, the Detroit Lions turned their turnovers on defense into 139 points. With 17 fewer turnovers in 2012, they scored just 34 points off turnovers. That's a difference of 105 points.

Last year, the Lions defense was able to flip the field with turnovers, and when the defense wasn't scoring themselves, the offense was helping to finish the job.

That 105-point difference is an astonishingly high number and equates to more than 6.5 points per game over the course of the season.

4. As a team, the Detroit Lions scored 102 fewer points in 2012 vs. the previous year and gave up 50 points more.

That's not a great recipe for success.

The one area where that was most evident was in the dramatic drop in touchdown passes from 2011 to 2012. Stafford threw 41 touchdowns in 2011 to go along with 5,038 passing yards. His yardage total was nearly similar this season (4,967), but he threw less than half as many touchdowns (20).

"(It was) particularly turnovers in scoring position in the red zone," Schwartz said of the drop in scoring by over 100 points. "We had some of those opportunities.

"In the past, earlier this season, a lot of those turnovers came when we were in scoring position, whether it was in sort of an under-the-radar fourth-down attempt that's basically a turnover or an interception in the red zone or a fumble in plus territory. They took away from our ability to score."

Despite having the third-ranked offense in the league (408.8 ypg), the Lions ranked just 17th in points scored at 23.2 per game.

These four statistics certainly help to explain 4-12 and should be an eye opener for Mayhew and Co.

Now it's their job to figure out what pieces stay, what pieces go and what pieces to bring in to make the 2013 end-of-season statistics look a lot closer to 2011 and not the 2012 version.