Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Power rankings: Preseason: 32. This week: 29
Where they stand: The Lions (1-7) snapped their losing streak with a victory Sept. 27 over Washington but have lost five consecutive games since. The past two weeks have been especially exasperating: A loss to then-winless St. Louis followed by a 32-20 loss at Seattle, where the Lions had jumped out to a 17-0 first-quarter lead. Anecdotally, the Lions appear to be improved this season but so far they have only one victory to show for it.
Disappointments: Running back Kevin Smith was supposed to take pressure off rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford, but instead Smith has been unable to establish any consistency as a runner. A shoulder injury has played a role in his sophomore slump, but the bottom line is a 57.5-yard per game average for a player the Lions hoped could be a 1,200-yard back this season. Cornerback Phillip Buchanon, expected to be the team’s top cover man, has been benched several times this season. Defensive end Cliff Avril, who the Lions hoped would serve as a strong edge pass-rusher, has been slowed by injuries and has 2.5 sacks. Receiver Bryant Johnson has a pair of touchdown receptions but unofficially has five drops on the season.
Surprises: Stafford has thrown 12 interceptions and is completing 52 percent of his passes, but most of his mistakes have been from aggression rather than lack of understanding. Stafford appears to have a strong grasp of the Lions' offense and enough football instincts that, even at 21, he’s never looked out of place as an NFL starter. Rookie linebacker DeAndre Levy has been battling veteran Ernie Sims for the starting weakside linebacker spot and has made perhaps the most positive contribution of any Lions rookie this season. Levy moves well, hits hard and has a bright future.
Outlook: The Lions might be out of the playoff hunt, but they can make some inroads on next season by establishing young starters at a variety of positions. The continued development of Stafford, Levy, safety Louis Delmas, tight end Brandon Pettigrew and defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill would give them something tangible to build off for 2010.