By Curt Macysyn
The last time the New York Giants visited Detroit, the G-men effectively ended the coaching era of Jim Schwartz by knocking the Lions out of NFL playoffs with a 23-20 overtime victory on December 22, 2013. Schwartz led the Lions to one playoff berth (2011) in his five-year tenure at the helm of Detroit, but his team stumbled badly down the stretch last year in losing its last four games, and he was fired at the end of last season. Ironically, both the Giants and the Lions finished with identical 7-9 records last season.
Despite the victory, the Giants had little room for gloating themselves, as New York suffered through its second non-playoff season in a row, after winning Super Bowl XLVI in 2012. Tom Coughlin’s troops will come to Ford Field with plenty of question marks, as they attempt to avoid a repeat of last season’s 0-6 start. The Lions’ new head coach, Jim Caldwell, brings a low key approach to the sidelines that contrasts with the fiery demeanor of the combustible Schwartz.
Teams cannot make the NFL playoffs in September, but as the Giants found out last season, they certainly can take themselves out of the playoff hunt with a slow start.
For all the complaints about the durability of quarterback Matthew Stafford, last season was the third straight season that the former Georgia Bulldog has played in all 16 games. In those three seasons, Stafford has also eclipsed 4,000 passing yards as well. Stafford does need to improve upon his completion percentage (58.5 percent), as well as cut down on the number of interceptions he throws (19 in 2013).
In Stafford’s defense, however, the Lions’ receiving corps has largely been a one-trick pony, with superstar Calvin Johnson and a revolving door of complimentary receivers. Johnson, affectionately called, Megatron, led Detroit in receiving for the sixth straight season. He had 84 catches for 1,492 receiving yards and 12 touchdown catches. The Giants’ new shut down corner, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, will be immediately put to the test by the big bodied and talented Johnson. Yet as good as Megatron has been, the Lions’ secondary receivers have been lacking in production. Lanky Kris Durham had 38 catches for 490 receiving yards, but only two touchdown catches last season and was surprisingly included in final cuts this past weekend.
Tight end Joseph Fauria had 18 catches all season in 2013, but incredibly seven of those catches went for touchdowns, while starting tight end Brandon Pettigrew had 41 catches, good for second on the team. And in addition to Tate, the Lions grabbed talented tight end Eric Ebron from the University of North Carolina in the first round. The revamped Giants’ secondary will be tested throughout this contest.
In the off season, the Lions signed wide receiver Golden Tate to start opposite Johnson. Last season for the world champion Seattle Seahawks, Tate had 64 catches for 898 yards and five touchdown grabs. The acquisition of Tate gives Stafford yet another option in the passing game.
Running back Reggie Bush flew under the radar and rushed for 1,006 yards last season, his first in Motown. Bush also represents a threat in the passing attack, as he hauled in 54 passes last year. Overall Bush accounted for eight touchdowns (6 rushing, 2 receiving) for Detroit in 2013. The Lions’ second running back, Joique Bell, had 91 yards on the ground in last season’s loss to Big Blue.
Keeping Stafford out of harms way remains critical to the success of the Lions, and the offensive line only allowed 23 sacks in the entire 2013 NFL season.
So Suh Me
Ndamukong Suh was supposed to revolutionize defenses when he was the second overall draft pick in 2010, but that really has not been the case. When the Lions teamed up Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley with Suh after the 2011 draft, the pair was supposed to become an immovable force in the interior of the defensive line. Fairley had been relegated to the second string for the final three preseason contests, and Suh has become more known for his on-field transgressions than anything else. After having 10.0 sacks in his first season, Suh has not approached double digits since, and he had only 5.5 quarterback sacks last season, and Fairley was restored to his starting position.
Detroit has a solid edge pass rusher in Ziggy Ansah, who led the team with 8.0 sacks, and the entire team only mustered 33.0 as a defensive unit. But the strength of the Lions’ defense has been their linebackers. Veteran Steven Tulloch led the team in tackles with 135 overall tackles, and unknown DeAndre Levy had a Pro Bowl season, even if he did not get the honor. Levy had 117 overall tackles, and he chipped in with six interceptions, including one touchdown.
The Lions’ secondary could have used an upgrade, but instead the team drafted Ebron. Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay are currently the starters, and neither should evoke fear in the eyes of their opponents. Mathis is 33 years old and has played a full season only once in the past seven years. The Lions did attempt to upgrade the safety position by bringing James Ihedigbo as a free agent from Baltimore in the off season.
Jim Schwartz was 29-51-0 in his five years as head coach, a .363 winning percentage. He lost his only playoff game to the New Orleans Saints 45-28 on January 7, 2012. It was the Lions only playoff appearance this century. Prior to 2012, the Lions last competed in the NFL playoffs in 1999 under Bobby Ross.
To highlight the continual ineptitude of Detroit, understand that the team’s all time passing leader is Matthew Stafford with 17,457 yards after a mere five seasons. Calvin Johnson is the franchise’s all time receiving leader with 9,328 yards; Megatron has been around for only seven seasons.
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Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.