Lions' winning record not enough to keep Caldwell

Jan 4, 2018 - 4:42 AM ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It wasn't long ago that a 9-7 record would have been celebrated in Detroit. Now, it's considered disappointing enough that it cost Jim Caldwell his job.

Caldwell was fired the day after the season ended when the Lions missed the playoffs for the second time in three years.

One of the NFL's darlings to start the season, the Lions were given a chance to win their first division title since 1993 when Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone in mid-October. But rather than contend for the NFC North, the Lions stumbled to the finish with three losses in their final six games and proved once again they couldn't beat the best teams on their schedule.

General manager Bob Quinn said he thought the Lions' talent merited more than nine victories, and in some ways he was right. The Lions got a strong season out of Matthew Stafford and the passing game; they fielded an opportunistic defense that forced 32 turnovers, third most in the league; and they had one of the best special teams units in the NFL.

Unfortunately, they also lacked depth on both lines, and that caught up to them as the season wore on. The running game was non-productive ... again. The Lions started 11 different units on their offensive line, and never got enough pass rush out of their defensive front. Ziggy Ansah once again battled injuries at defensive end, major free-agent additions Rick Wagner and T.J. Lang underperformed their contracts, and the Lions now wait to see who their next coach will be.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Lions had the seventh-highest scoring offense in the NFL as quarterback Matthew Stafford took advantage of a deep group of wide receivers. Stafford finished third in the league in passing, and Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay emerged as viable deep threats. On defense, Darius Slay tied for the NFL lead with eight interceptions, and punt returner Jamal Agnew had two of the Lions' seven defensive or special-teams touchdowns.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The offensive line was a major disappointment as injuries and inconsistent play wreaked havoc on the unit. The Lions started 11 different combinations up front, Stafford was the second-most sacked quarterback in the NFL, and the Lions couldn't run the ball no matter how hard they tried. Defensively, the Lions were equally as bad against the run after defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was lost to a torn biceps.

MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Rick Wagner. The Lions made him the highest-paid pure right tackle in the NFL and he certainly didn't play that way. Wagner gave up a handful of sacks early in the season as he adjusted to his new surroundings, then struggled with an ankle injury in the second half of the year.

MOST SURPRISING PLAYER: Quandre Diggs. Diggs appeared to be on the outs after a disappointing and injury-shortened 2016 season, and the Lions spent a second-round pick on Teez Tabor and some free-agent dollars on DJ Hayden for the cornerback position. But Diggs won the nickel job in training camp, then transitioned to safety late in the season after Tavon Wilson's injury. Diggs intercepted three passes in December and should have a new position going forward.

ASSISTANT COACH ON THE RISE: Cornerbacks coach Tony Oden. Historically a weak spot, the Lions' secondary was a strength in 2017. The front office stocked the unit with good depth, and Oden helped transform Tabor into a valued contributor as the season went along. Darius Slay is the star of the unit, and he's improved every year under Oden's tutelage.

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