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Grading the 2013 Detroit Lions

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Grading the 2013 Detroit Lions

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Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions played well below expectations in 2013.

COMMENTARY | The Detroit Lions (7-9) endured yet another roller-coaster season, this one falling well short of expectations just like last year's 4-12 season.

The Lions started the 2013 campaign 6-3 and in full control of clinching a playoff berth. However, they won just one of their final seven games and fell to third place in the NFC North and out of the playoff picture.

They held fourth-quarter leads in each of those six games they lost in the second half of the season, but couldn't close any of them.

The Lions already have started to clean house firing coach Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham probably will be next to go.

Here are the grades I've given to each of the three facets of the 2013 Detroit Lions, as well as the coaching staff:

Offense -- B-

For the first nine games of the season, the Lions offense looked stellar. Matthew Stafford was making good decisions and protecting the football -- even getting lucky on a number of occasions -- the team found ways to win close games and even won a few lopsided games.

The offense really impressed me in the very first game of the season when it faced a 14-6 deficit against the Minnesota Vikings, but ended up winning the game 34-24. Lions teams in the past would have rolled over and conceded defeat, especially after Adrian Peterson ripped off an 80-yard touchdown run on the very first play of the game. This Lions team did not, at least for the first part of the season.

Picking up Reggie Bush was a great addition to the Lions' running game. Bush and Joique Bell were the first running back duo in the history of the NFL to each get 500 yards rushing and receiving in a single season. It was part of what made Detroit's offense so dangerous. You could focus on Bush, but then Bell would be able to get the tough yards up the middle.

The offense averaged 26.4 points per game through the first nine games, and just 22.4 in the final seven games. It doesn't seem like a big discrepancy, but when you consider four of the Lions' six losses were within three points, it makes a big difference.

Of course, you cannot talk about the offense without talking about Calvin Johnson. He found the end zone 12 times this season, a big improvement from just five last year. When he missed the game against the Green Bay Packers, you could tell what an anemic offense this was without him.

In the second half of the season, Stafford started to struggle, and the offense as a whole started to struggle. Turnovers stalled their drives and they couldn't hold leads late in the game because of those turnovers.

There is a lot of talent and skill on the offensive side of the ball, but Stafford has to be better, it's as simple as that. The Lions will only go as far as he takes them, and if he continues his gunslinger mentality, they won't go far.

Defense -- C+

The secondary was the big question mark coming into this season, and it certainly was one of the weaker positions for the Lions. They allowed numerous big plays and kept some games a lot closer than they should have been.

However, they did outperform the offense in a number of games. They held Aaron Rodgers to one touchdown in the game at Lambeau Field and held their opponents to 20 points or less in six games.

The defense forced a lot of turnovers in the first half of the season (11 in nine games), but wasn't as effective in the last seven games (eight). DeAndre Levy finished tied for second in the league with six interceptions.

I was expecting big things from the defensive front that featured Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ezekiel Ansah but they weren't as dominant as I thought they would be. Ansah did have eight sacks as a rookie, but opposing quarterbacks seemed to get rid of the ball so quickly that the defensive line couldn't put any pressure on them.

The Lions did have one of the better rushing defenses in the league allowing an average of 99.8 yards per game, good for sixth in the league. Unfortunately, the secondary didn't do the front seven any favors.

Special Teams -- B

Jeremy Ross made a splash on special teams when he returned a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in a blizzard against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Lions haven't had a solid return specialist since Eddie Drummond back in 2007. It appears Ross has cemented himself as the return specialist for the foreseeable future.

Other than Ross' two touchdowns, there was nothing special about the Lions special teams. They didn't allow any touchdowns, which is a plus, but David Akers was egregious as the field goal kicker.

He was 19 of 24 on field goals this year, good for 27th in the league at 79.2 percent. After he won the starting job from Havard Rugland, the Norwegian YouTube sensation, in training camp, I expected bigger things from Akers.

Sadly, I was left to reminisce about the Jason Hanson days instead. Rugland deserves a shot next year, or the Lions need to find someone else because Akers does not deserve the starting job next year. He was too inconsistent, and with the Lions already struggling to get winning seasons, they need a more reliable kicker.

Coaching -- C-

You can make an argument this grade should be much lower as the Lions already fired Schwartz and Linehan, but it could have been a lot worse.

I was a big fan of Schwartz's aggressive mentality. It's a good strategy for a team that doesn't quite know how to win on a consistent basis. However, what I don't like is Schwartz likes to be overly aggressive.

Case in point, using punter Sam Martin to run the ball on a fake field goal in muddy conditions in Pittsburgh. Taking points off the scoreboard on a number of occasions by going for it on fourth down rather than taking the field goal.

These plays ended up costing them games and made the coaching staff look foolish. Being aggressive is good -- it forces the other team to make plays to stop you -- but being overly aggressive can end up hurting you more than it will help you.

Schwartz also had problems controlling his team. In the summer of 2012, there were a number of arrests on drug-related charges that ultimately foreshadowed the Lions season. I couldn't tell you how many times a personal foul took the Lions out of field goal position, or gave the opposing team another chance on offense. Schwartz never got those corrected, and that's why he doesn't have a job with the Lions.

Linehan also made some questionable calls on offense that didn't give Stafford the best position to succeed. Calling pass plays on third-and-short, or not getting Johnson involved as much as he should have been.

Overall, this was another disappointing season for the Lions. The first half looked so good, but everything fell apart in the second half, like much of the Lions' games.

They have a lot of work to do to find a new coaching staff that can not only get the respect of its players, but can get Stafford back to his 2011 ways.

I'd like to see the Lions go for a cornerback in the draft to help alleviate the big plays the secondary gives up. They also need support for Johnson in the receiving corps. Nate Burleson may not be back next year, and they don't have any depth after those two.

Tom Mitsos is a Michigan native who writes about the Detroit Lions for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. He also is a high school sports reporter at MLive Media Group. You can follow Tom on Twitter.

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