Ranking the worst offensive, defensive units in Detroit sports over the last 5 years

Detroit News

Believe it or not, the Detroit Lions’ 29-0 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday actually lessened their chances of ending the season with a historically inept defense. Prior to Sunday, the Lions were averaging 35.25 points allowed per game but have since dropped that number to 34 — and still, that would be an NFL record, if the season ended today.

The Tigers just wrapped up a year in which they challenged some of MLB’s worst offenses ever and the Red Wings are looking to put behind them a season where they gave up five or more goals a whopping 32 times, the most in the NHL since the 1995-96 San Jose Sharks.

And the Pistons: Perhaps surprisingly, they’ve kept their respective offensive and defensive units from reaching generational disaster status despite finishing with a bottom-eight record in team history for three straight years.

But this unrelenting horror has us wondering: What is the worst Detroit sports unit of the last five years? Let’s rank ‘em. (Full sample sizes only).

5. 2019 Tigers offense

Team record: 47-114

Runs/game: 3.6

Unit ranking in league: 30/30

You’ve gotta be feeling pretty good if you’re a member of the 2019 Tigers — a team that lost 114 games — and see that you check in at No. 5 on this list.

The 2019 Tigers were a special kind of brutal, in that they were trying to lose and you knew nobody from that lineup would still be hanging around when the team was competitive again (besides Miguel Cabrera, but that’s another story), and yet, this rag-tag bunch of sluggers who were brought together for the sole purpose of failure still managed to (barely) out-produce Al Avila’s finished ballclub three years later.

Of every team in the last five seasons, the 2019 Tigers scored the third-fewest amount of runs (minimum 160 games played).

Weakest link: Josh Harrison — .175/.218/.263, .480 OPS, -1.0 oWAR

Palate cleanser: Here’s Miguel Cabrera hitting a game-tying, two-run home-run off Mariano Rivera at Yankee Stadium with two outs in the ninth.

4. 19-20 Red Wings defense

Team record: 17-49-5

Goals-against/game: 3.76

Unit ranking in league: 31/31

The Red Wings’ offense and defense was abysmal over the 71-game, COVID-shortened season in 2019-20, creating one of the most uniquely awful teams the NHL has ever seen and the clear-cut worst team (by winning percentage) since the NHL introduced a salary cap in the 2005-06 season.

The NHL became briefly infatuated with humiliating goaltenders during the 1980s and early ’90s, so despite finishing last in the league in goals allowed this season, it’s hard to put this disaster into historical perspective since it’d only be like the 155th-worst defensive season ever.

That said, the Red Wings ’19-20 defense probably deserves to flip spots with the 2019 Tigers offense, but they’ve been relegated to fourth here because of the emphasis in which they unceremoniously killed the career beloved goaltender Jimmy Howard.

Weakest link: Goaltender Jimmy Howard — .882 SV% on the season and 20-game losing streak to close career (0-18-2).

Palate cleanser: Here’s Howard face-washing Penguins captain Sidney Crosby after a regular-season win over Pittsburgh in 2010.

3. 2022 Tigers offense

Team record: 66-96

Runs/game: 3.44

Unit ranking in league: 30/30

With a better roster and manager, the Tigers against all odds in 2022 freed the 2019 lineup — the one where John Hicks frequented batting cleanup, if you’ll recall — from being known as MLB’s least productive offense of the last five years.

That title now belongs to the 2022 team, which also scored the second-fewest runs in franchise history (minimum 160 games), trailing only the 1904 Tigers, a team that scored 505 runs and was led by the first center fielder in team history, Jimmy Barrett.

In 2019, Jordy Mercer (.747), Niko Goodrum (.743), JaCoby Jones (.740) and Brandon Dixon (.725) had a higher OPS than every player on the Tigers’ 2022 roster besides Eric Haase (.748). Javier Báez (17 home runs) was the only 2022 Tiger to hit more home runs than Dixon (15) did in 2019.

Weakest link: Jonathan Schoop — .202/.239/.322, .561 OPS, 11 HR, -0.7 oWAR

Palate cleanser: Here’s Austin Jackson with a catch-’em-out, throw-’em-out to secure a home sweep of Cleveland back in 2011.

2. 2019-20 Red Wings offense

Team record: 17-49-5

Goals/game: 2.0

Unit ranking in league: 30/30

In case you’d forgotten just how bad this offense was, allow this Dylan Larkin quote from early in the 2020-21 season to illustrate: “We want the puck, as opposed to last year, (when you’d) look up and there’s five backs to you. No one’s facing the puck, no one’s talking, no one wants it.”

The Red Wings in ’19-20 were on pace to score the seventh-fewest goals (167) in NHL history before COVID shortened the schedule. Tyler Bertuzzi was the Wings’ only 20-goal scorer and Larkin was the lone 50-point getter. The team’s top-10 scorers featured appearances from 35-year-old Valtteri Filppula, defenseman Madison Bowey and a 33-year-old Darren Helm, who had 16 points in 68 games.

In tandem with a disastrous defense, the Red Wings in 2019-20 finished with the second-worst goal differential (-122) in NHL history.

Weakest link: Justin Abdelkader — 0 G, 3 A, 49 GP

Palate cleanser: You look like you could use a few doses of Pavel Datsyuk shootout goals right about now. Let’s help you out with that.

1. 2020 Lions defense

Team record: 5-11

Points allowed/game: 32.4

Unit ranking in league: 32/32

Even for a team that’s known for twisting the knife, 2020 was an especially cruel year for the Lions.

While looking to make a breakthrough on a half-century of heartbreak, the Lions pulled their greatest trick yet and somehow hit a new rock bottom despite being the first team in NFL history to go 0-16 not even 15 years prior. Matthew Stafford somehow scooped up five wins despite his defense giving up more points (519) than any team that’s donned The Shield besides a 1981 iteration of the Baltimore Colts (533), which that year had a season so crazy, team owner Bob Irsay at one point called plays from the booth just to embarrass his coaching staff.

This is a group that featured a linebacking rotation of Jahlani Tavai, Jamie Collins, Christian Jones, Reggie Ragland and Jarrad Davis — a group that gave up greater than 34 points in 50% of its games.

And still, the Lions’ defense in 2022 hasn’t matched its level of success just yet.

Weakest link: Jahlani Tavai — Allowed 143.1 quarterback rating when target in coverage, played 55.52% of snaps, missed 12.1% of tackles.

Palate cleanser: For your final palate cleanser of the day, here’s the time Darius Slay intercepted Sam Bradford on Thanksgiving 2016 to set up a walk-off win over the Vikings.


Twitter: @nolanbianchi

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