The 2022 season for the Detroit Lions was really a tale of two halves.
There was the 1-6 start marred by poor defensive play and some costly turnovers by the offense. Then there was the 8-2 finish where the defense improved their play and the offense continued to move the ball, score points and do a much better job limiting turnovers. Those last 10 games of the season the Lions played some good complementary football and finished just a game short of qualifying for the playoffs.
The Lions hope to pick up where they left off last season. In order to do that they will have to clean up a few areas in particular and be much more consistent overall week to week than they were a season ago. Most of the coaching staff from last year is intact and there's a nice young core with a good mix of veterans on the roster. This team expects to win now.
Here are 5 numbers that need to change this upcoming season for that to happen:
1. Number: 45.1
What it means: Opponent third-down conversion rate last season
NFL rank: 30th
Twentyman: This number is one of the big reasons why general manager Brad Holmes overhauled the secondary this offseason with the additions of Cam Sutton, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Emmanuel Moseley and Brian Branch.
Only Chicago (49.0) and Atlanta (45.9) had a worse third-down percentage than the Lions last season. Detroit allowed teams to convert over 50 percent of third downs ranging from four to six yards (ranked 30th) and 25 percent of their attempts at 10-plus yards on third down (29th).
The Lions feel like they can get after the passer with a deep edge group. They needed more talent in the back end and used considerable resources to get it. We'll see if the moves to improve the secondary result in getting off the field on third down at a higher clip in 2023.
2. Number: 82
What it means: Opponent plays of 20-plus yards
NFL rank: 32nd
Twentyman: Big plays are going to happen in this league. The talent on offense, especially in the passing game, is just too good. But good defenses find a way to limit the back-breaking big plays. Philadelphia and Kansas City, who matched up in the Super Bowl earlier this year, both ranked in the top five in the NFL limiting big plays.
Detroit's defense allowed 22 runs of 20-plus yards (ranked 32nd) and 60 passes of 20-plus yards (30th) last season, and 11 of those went for touchdowns.
Opposing passers had a 114.0 passer rating against Detroit on attempted passes where the ball traveled at least 21 yards in the air. Detroit has to find a way to better limit the big plays on defense.
3. Number: 5.7
What it means: Percentage of catchable passes dropped by Lions
NFL rank: 21st
Twentyman: There weren't a lot of things the offense didn't do well but this number is likely a point of emphasis for wide receivers coach Antwaan Randle El and tight ends coach Steve Heiden in particular. Detroit's 23 total drops were the 11th most in the league last season. There were some noticeable drops this spring in OTAs and minicamp, so let's hope this doesn't linger.
4. Number: 404
What it means: Total points allowed by Lions' defense
NFL rank: 30th
Twentyman: There are a lot of numbers that ultimately impact a football game but the ones that really matter at the end of the day are points scored and points allowed. The 404 points allowed by Detroit's defense last season was only surpassed by the 435 allowed by both Arizona and Chicago.
To be fair, the Lions were much better in this regard the second half of the season. Over the first eight weeks they were allowing just over 32 points per game, last in the NFL. That number dropped to just a little over 20 per game the last 10 games of the season, which ranked 11th.
Here's where this number becomes significant. The average points allowed for playoff teams last year was 341. That's a good place to start in terms of how much better the Lions have to be in 2023.
View photos from Day 7 of Detroit Lions OTA practice on Monday, June 12, 2023 in Allen Park, Mich.
5. Number: 22
What it means: Total number of takeaways forced by Lions
NFL rank: 17th
Twentyman: Ranking 17th in takeaways certainly isn't terrible, but I included it here because the expectation is for this number to improve in 2023. To put that number in a little bit of perspective: The Cowboys led the NFL last season with 33 takeaways, and eight of the top 10 teams in this category qualified for the playoffs.
Turnovers are the most important statistic in football. Detroit's offense did a great job last season limiting turnovers, especially the last 10 games of the season. Adding players like Gardner-Johnson, who tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions last year, should help the defense try to crack the top 10 in takeaways and vastly improve their playoff odds.