The Detroit Lions won just six games last year and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
Lions general manager Bob Quinn and second-year head coach Matt Patricia have talked this offseason about those results not being good enough. The expectations here in Allen Park are much greater heading into 2019.
There’s certainly room for improvement, so here’s a look at five numbers that need to change for the Lions to reach some of their goals in 2019:
1. Number: 14
What it means: Total number of takeaways registered by the Lions' defense in 2018
NFL rank: 31st in NFL
Twentyman: Only the San Francisco 49ers generated fewer turnovers last season (7) than the Lions. Detroit’s seven interceptions were tied for the second fewest in the league, and Detroit’s overall turnover differential of minus-five ranked 23rd in the league.
Turnovers are one of the most important statistics when it comes to winning and losing in the NFL. The top three teams in both the NFC (New Orleans, LA Rams & Chicago) and AFC (Kansas City, New England & Houston) ranked No. 1-No. 6 in the NFL in turnover differential. That’s not a coincidence.
Generating turnovers and winning that battle on a weekly basis is one of the big keys to winning in the NFL.
View the best photos from 2019 Detroit Lions minicamp.
2. Number: 78.4 and 111.9
What it means: Red zone passing rating, both for Lions and opposing passers
NFL rank: 30th and 28th
Twentyman: Quarterback Matthew Stafford’s red zone passing rating was actually lower (77.2) than the team rating because the team rating accounts for Matt Prater’s touchdown pass in Green Bay Week 17. Stafford threw 14 red zone touchdown passes, which ranked 20th, and had a completion percentage of 47.9 inside the 20-yard lines, which was good for 26th. Improving the red zone offense was one of the big goals for the Lions this offseason.
On defense, opposing passers had a rating of 111.9 in the red zone. Only Houston, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Arizona were worse. The 64.4 completion percentage in the red zone by opposing quarterbacks was the fifth best in the league, and the 19 touchdown passes allowed ranked in the top half of the league.
Scoring touchdowns in the red zone on offense and not settling for field goals, while forcing field goal tries on defense and not allowing touchdowns, is critical to success.
Those four points can often mean the difference in the game.
3. Number: 1-3
What it means: Detroit’s record in close games determined by three points or less last season
NFL rank: T-26th
Twentyman: Detroit was in a number of close games last season they finished on the wrong side of. Finding a way to win those close games needs to be part of the maturation for this team in 2019.
Losses to San Francisco (30-27), Dallas (26-24) and Buffalo (14-13) derailed the Lions’ chance at the playoffs last season. The one close game they won was Carolina, 20-19, in Week 11.
Finding a way to win those close games is what separates the playoff teams from the others.
4. Number: 54
What it means: Total number of 20-plus-yard plays for the Lions' offense
NFL rank: 26th
Twentyman: New offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell wants his offense to have a tough, hard-nosed running game, and he wants to be explosive in the passing game.
“When we throw the ball, we want to be able to throw it down the field and get big plays,” Bevell said this offseason.
That would be a bit of a change from what we saw last season, when Stafford’s yards-per-attempt average was the lowest (6.8) in his past six seasons, and his 44 pass completions of 20-plus yards ranked 17th among the league’s passers.
5. Number: 36.1
What it means: Detroit’s third-down conversion percentage on offense
NFL rank: 25th
Twentyman: Looking at the stat sheet after each game, the three most critical areas to winning and losing are turnovers, performance in the red zone and third down percentage.
Being good on third down means teams are extending drives, keeping their defense off the field, likely winning the field position battle and hopefully scoring a few points along the way.
Not one of the 12 teams with the worst third-down percentage in the league made the playoffs last season.