MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S MONDAY COUNTDOWN: Takeaways from 2016 season

Posted Jan 9, 2017

In this week's Monday Countdown, Mike O'Hara gives his takeaways and evaluations of the 2016 season.

What the Detroit Lions have done lately – and what they did late in Saturday night’s playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks – is the image that they will carry in this offseason.

Last impressions are lasting, and the last impression the Lions made is that they did not perform to the level of a team that made the playoffs with a 9-7 won-loss record.

Their flaws were revealed as they closed out the regular season with three straight losses, and those same trouble spots were highlighted in the 26-6 loss to the Seahawks – who had flaws of their own but were able to put a coat of gloss on them against a Lions team that was overmatched.

This week’s Monday Countdown includes takeaways and evaluations of the 2016 season – from start to finish – and with a look ahead to areas Bob Quinn is most likely to address in his second season as general manager.

Obviously, it is weighted to the end of the season, but how the Lions got to 9-4 and made the playoffs cannot be discounted. There are stats on the team’s weakest link, fingering the problem on Matthew Stafford’s stats decline, a review of Quinn’s first draft and a look at how he might re-stock the roster further in 2017, and a personnel stat that tells a lot about how he never rested in attempting to improve the roster.

We start with the last impression:

1. Run game – offense: In a SiriusXM interview last week, Quinn targeted running back as one of the positions that needs upgrading. It’s likely that his focus is on the entire running game, not just the running back position.

There is a mountain of statistics to show that it is a weakness Quinn inherited. At the top: The Lions have gone more than three full seasons without an individual 100-yard rushing game. Only twice in the last two seasons has a running back had consecutive games of at least 60 yards rushing.

Losing starting tailback Ameer Abdullah for the season to a foot injury in the first half of the second game took away the Lions’ best pure tailback. And not having Theo Riddick in the stretch and in the playoff loss left the Lions without one of the top pass-catching tailbacks in the league.

But regardless of manpower, the offense could not sustain a running game.

Sad stat: In the second halves of the last three regular-season games and the playoffs, the Lions’ tailbacks combined to gain 48 yards on 25 carries.

2. Run game – defense: A disappointment for the defense was its inability to defend the run late in the season. The Lions gave up 431 yards on the ground in the last three games to the Giants (114), Cowboys (164) and Packers (153). The Seahawks, who averaged a little more than 99 yards on the ground in the regular season, strafed the Lions for 177, with Thomas Rawls gaining 161 on his own.

On a second-quarter drive to their first touchdown and a 7-0 lead, the Seahawks ran 11 of the 14 plays, including the first nine. Basically, Seattle was challenging the Lions to stop their run game – and they couldn’t.

3. The start - 9-4: That’s what carried them to the playoffs, and when they got to that 9-4 record they had the possibility of being a No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff field, with a first-round bye and home-field advantage to start the postseason. Of course, they didn’t hold that position and were a sixth seed when the postseason started.

One man’s opinion: The Lions went into the season with .500 talent and overachieved by winning eight out of nine after a 1-3 start. They got to 9-4 on Matthew Stafford’s arm generating eight game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime, and Matt Prater’s clutch field goals.

In the clutch, the welcome Matt was out. They both delivered – over and over and over.

4. The finish – 0-4: The Lions finished the season against four of the five top teams in the NFC. The Giants (11-5), Cowboys (13-3), Packers (10-6) and Seahawks (10-5-1) had a combined 44-19-1 record going into the postseason. The only home game for the Lions in that quartet was against the Packers, and they had a five-game winning streak that they extended to six.

5. Stafford’s finger, future: He injured the middle finger on his right (passing) hand early in the Lions’ Week 14 win at home over Chicago and played through it the rest of the season.

Regardless of how he consistently downplayed the effect of the injury, the stats are what they are.

Counting the Chicago game and the playoff game, Stafford had three TD passes and five interceptions in the last five games. He had 21 TD passes and five interceptions in the first 12 games. That’s when the Lions were on the way to their 9-4 start, and Stafford was mentioned frequently as a top five candidate for the MVP award.

6. Playoff berth – bottom line: The Lions deserved to make the playoffs because their record was good enough. There’s no other way to cut it, and no reason to apologize for getting in.

The notion of “backing in” because they lost to the Packers in the final game is a popular refrain, but other teams had their chances over the 16-game schedule and failed to take advantage. One of those teams was the Washington Redskins. They backed out because they lost their final game, at home, to a Giants team that was locked into a wild-card berth and No. 5 seed with nothing to play for.

7. Quinn’s first draft: Quinn said before and after the draft that he believes games are won in the trenches, and that’s what he targeted. Overall, it was a solid rookie crop, with contributions from top to bottom.

First-round pick Taylor Decker started every game at offensive left tackle. Defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, a second-round pick, was a starter by midseason.

Third-round pick Graham Glasgow might have the most difficult assignment of all. Including the playoffs, he started 12 games at left guard and center and handled both positions well. That’s not easy for anyone, especially a rookie. A case could be made for Glasgow to be the Lions’ rookie MVP.

Overall, it was a good mix of starters and rookies who added depth and can develop.

8. Quinn’s second draft: Barring a trade, the Lions will draft 21st overall. Whether it’s in the draft or free agency, I’d expect Quinn to add playmaking and speed on both sides of the ball. That could be a running back or receiver for the offense, and a pass-rusher for the front seven or a safety with speed and range on the back end.

9. Roster shuffle – more to come: Quinn churned the roster in an effort to upgrade the talent at every level. In the month of December alone, there were 17 separate transactions involving players on the 53-man roster. That includes promotions from the practice squad to the active roster – such as receiver Jace Billingsley – but does not include players signed to the practice squad.

The previous regime also was active in making roster moves, but not to the same degree as Quinn. He did not stand pat, from first game to the last – when veteran offensive lineman Garrett Reynolds was signed for emergency depth because of an injury to starting right tackle Riley Reiff.

10. Jim Caldwell: Here are comparative stats to consider for Caldwell’s first three seasons as head coach of the Lions: His won-loss records are 11-5, 7-9 and 9-7, for an overall record of 27-21.

That compares to 5-11, 11-5 and 9-7 for another noted head coach’s first three seasons who, like Caldwell, was with his second team as a head coach. That’s an overall record of 25-23 with one playoff appearance.

That was the record of Bill Belichick in his first three seasons. His one playoff appearance was in his second season, and the 2001 team won the Super Bowl. The 2002 team missed the playoffs on a wild-card tiebreaker.

Since that 2002 season, the Patriots have posted 14 consecutive seasons with double-digit win totals.

We’ll check back – (maybe?) – in 2030.