Sometimes, certain statistics have a way of jumping out and bringing everything into complete focus.
Such was the case Wednsday when Eric Edholm of Yahoo! Sports penned a thought provoking piece in his Shutdown Corner blog about the shocking number of drops the Detroit Lions sustained in 2013.
Anyone who watched the games understood the damage of drops was bad, but they probably didn’t realize it was so comprehensive and glaring. As Edholm states, the Lions dropped 46 passes last season, which was a league-worst performance. The second team joining them in the category? The New England Patriots with 41.
Some other elements from the report that might surprise? The high drop percentage from Lions’ running backs, normally capable receivers. Reggie Bush dropped nine passes out of 8o, while Joique Bell dropped six of 69. Both are considered two of the better pass-catching backs in the league, and have figured into Detroit’s offense catching the football out of the backfield for scores.
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As Edholm also notes, the Lions and Patriots were similar in that they tried to force passes to both of their best receivers, Calvin Johnson and Julian Edelman respectively. The Patriots, Edholm says, seemed to be able to adapt better thanks to their running game, which aided in their advance to the AFC Championship game. Detroit, of course, didn’t have that to fall back on, and simply fell apart down the stretch.
So what was the best course of action for the Lions to help fix the mess? Add a few better pass catchers, of course. New wideout Golden Tate only dropped two passes thrown his way last year according to the same piece, and recent draft pick Eric Ebron is fairly sure-handed for a tight end as well, with a penchant for making the tougher catches over the middle of the field look routine.
More than adding new guys, though, the Lions simply need to focus and make more routine plays. Like Edhom states, imagine what one or two more clutch catches a game could have done for Detroit last season. Considering the amount of close losses the Lions sustained down the stretch, it could have meant making the playoffs, saving the jobs of the coaching staff or, at the very least, two more wins and a much more respectable record.
This season, count on Joe Lombardi to emphasize the importance of receiving fundamentals: keeping eyes on the ball, catching the ball with the body when possible and not trying to turn up field before firmly having the ball within grasp. Perhaps quarterback Matthew Stafford is spoken to as well about adding more touch and throwing fewer fastballs over the middle. Such simplistic elements could make a major difference for the Lions this coming season.
The numbers say Detroit was historically bad last season at catching the football, which is ironic considering their pass-first mentality and high-powered offense still did damage. The good news for Lions’ fans? Things have a way of evening themselves out and coming back to the mean. Plus, for as good as the Lions were, they could have been even more lethal.
If the Lions are able to cut their drops in half, it will likely make a big difference in the health of the offense and the success of the entire team.