For Detroit Lions fans 2015 was sort of a confusing year. The first half of the year the team was awful. They started the season 1-7, this was due mostly to the fact that the Lions looked lifeless on offense in a lot of those games. Then, before the Lions week 8 match-up against Kansas City in London, the team parted ways with offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter. The change obviously helped because the Lions went 6-2 during the final 8 games of the season. The Lions final record was 7-9, and although that isn’t great, after the awful first half of the season it definitely could have been a lot worse. In order for the Lions to improve in 2016 there are many areas of the game where they will have to be better. Three statistical areas the Lions must improve on are total rushing yards, 3rd down conversion percentage, and turnover differential.
First off, in 2015 the Detroit Lions finished dead last in the NFL in rushing yards with a total of 1,335 of them. Anybody who knows anything at all about football knows that is not good. It is tough to be a good offense when you have no ability to move the ball on the ground. It allows defenses to not worry about the run and focus solely on stopping the passing game. But the news is not all negative. As mentioned previously the Lions were a different team in the second half of the year than they were in the first. The first 8 games of the year the Lions rushed for a total of 557 yards. Then while the offense was under the control of Jim Bob Cooter in the final 8 games of the year the team gained 778 yards on the ground, which was a big step in the right direction for the team. Last years leading rusher, Ameer Abdullah, will hopefully show more of his potential during his second NFL season. The Lions cut last year’s second leading rusher Joique Bell. Bell will be replaced by 2nd year player Zach Zenner and rookie Dwayne Washington. Washington showed a lot of promise during the preseason, and looked like if he is given the opportunity to be second in command for carries he could be productive. As long as the team continues to do some of the the things they did during the second half of last season the Lions must improve their rushing yards in 2016. It is very hard to do worse than 32nd out of 32 teams.
Third Down Conversion Percentage
Next, the Detroit Lions must improve the rate at which they successfully convert a 3rd down. Last season the Lions ranked 24th in the league in 3rd down conversion percentage. They converted 75 of their 203 attempts, which comes out to be 36.9%. But much like their rushing yard total, and the ability to play football in general, the Lions did a better job of converting on 3rd down during the final 8 games of last year than they did during the first 8. The first half of the year the Lions converted on 36 of their 104 3rd down attempt, which is 34.6%. And the second half of the year they successfully converted on 36 of their 99 attempts, which comes out to 39.4%. So once again, as long as the Lions grow on what they did under Cooter last year the Lions should be able convert on a higher percentage of 3rd downs than their total last year. Also working in the Lions favor is the signing of Anquan Boldin, who will be a guy who can line up in the slot on 3rd down and be a guy that Stafford can count on to make tough catches.
Lastly, the Detroit Lions must improve their turnover differential this season. Detroit was 26th in the league last season, with a turnover differential of -6. They ended the season with 24 giveaways and 18 takeaways. Ideally teams want to have more takeaways than giveaways, which would mean having a positive turnover differential. And at this point of the article it should be no surprise to find out the Lions also did much better with their turnover differential during the second half of the year. The first half of the year the Lions turnover differential was an awful -9 (20 giveaways and 11 takeaways). During the second half of the year the Lions actually created less takeaways, with 8 of them, but the team only gave the football away 4 times. The reason for the improvement was Matthew Stafford, who performed much more efficiently in Cooter’s offense. During the first 8 games of last season Stafford threw 11 interceptions, but he only threw 2 of them during the final 8 games. If Stafford can perform like he did during the final half of last year the Lions will have no problem improving their turnover differential.