The Detroit Lions are a team with a ton of potential, yet again. It seems like every year the Lions are in the same position; the media and fans have a ton of hope for success and the team ends up coming up short. They have one playoff win since 1955, so don’t get your hopes up that something like that is going to change. That being said, I think this team has the potential to make the playoffs and maybe get that elusive playoff victory because of some key offseason additions. It’s just unfortunate for the Lions that the NFC is absolutely stacked this year.
The Lions quarterbacks remain unchanged from last season and hopefully Matthew Stafford will rebound from a rocky year. Things were tough on Stafford because of the total lack of a run game and he only had one receiver to throw to. There have been plenty of questions about Stafford’s mechanics and his choice to throw side arm to receivers often, but that’s not a concern I have. Stafford has one of the strongest arms in the NFL and he can throw the ball whichever way he pleases, in my opinion. My biggest concern with Stafford right now is his decision making. He made a lot of bad decisions last year and put the ball into plenty of bad spots. Shaun Hill is a very viable backup and has always been efficient and effective when he’s played and it will be interesting to see how soon fans start calling for Hill to start. If Stafford keeps regressing and is having an awful, Sanchez-eque year, then I wouldn’t be opposed to giving Hill a shot. But after giving Stafford the big money, the Lions have to ride or die with Stafford for a few more years.
The running backs received a major upgrade when I finally got my wish. I’ve wanted Reggie Bush in a Lions jersey since he was at USC and now that he is finally here, I’m expecting him to be a game changer. He’s a perfect fit for the offense and a perfect replacement for what Jahvid Best was supposed to provide the offense with; a spark. Joique Bell looked a lot better in preseason than Mikel Leshoure, so I think that the #2 job is Bell’s to lose, even though the depth chart puts Leshoure at #2. Bell looked stronger and quicker while he was running and Leshoure showed no improvement in his vision as a runner. I’m not a Bell fan by any means, but it is clear to me that at this point he is better than Leshoure.
The wide receiver position is pretty straight forward. Titus Young screwed the team by being a complete moron who lives on his own planet and now the team doesn’t have an explosive 2nd receiver. Nate Burleson is too slow to play on the outside and be effective and Ryan Broyles is a perfect possession slot receiver. Broyles is still working back from his torn ACL and when he is fully healthy he will be a huge help. The Lions are going to continue looking for a receiver to put on the outside with Calvin Johnson, but that won’t happen. The front office should have known that they needed a wide receiver and taken one earlier or not taken a project like Corey Fuller in the 6th round, who ended up getting cut and placed on the practice squad. Yet again, this team will lean heavily on Calvin Johnson and thankfully he is the best receiver to play in the NFL since Jerry Rice. Addressing the wide receiver position in the offseason was the one thing the Lions did not do and that could cause the passing game to have some serious issues if Burleson doesn’t stop dropping the ball.
The tight ends are going to have to play a crucial role in the passing game to try and make up for the lack of a pure #2 receiver. Brandon Pettigrew is one of the most frustrating players in the league to watch, and I’m not sure how a guy who is so big can be so weak with the ball in his hands. Tony Scheffler will do what he normally does and be one of the most effective second tight ends in the league. The tight end I’m most interested in seeing is Joseph Fauria. Fauria was a monster at UCLA and performed very solidly in the preseason. He will provide a massive target for Stafford and has surer hands than Pettigrew. It’s too bad that Michael Williams was placed on IR after he hurt his hands, because he was going to be a great replacement for Will Heller as a blocking H-back. Instead, the Lions now have three pass catching tight ends and only one of them can block decently.
The offensive line is a very scary looking line at the moment. The left side of the line should be solid, LT Riley Reiff proved himself last year against the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving. Yes, he has room to improve, but he is not nearly the biggest concern. The only returning starters are Rob Sims at left guard and Dominic Raiola at center, both of whom will be rock solid again. Larry Warford is the Lions rookie 3rd round pick that will be replacing Stephen Peterman at right guard and let’s face it, he can’t be any worse than Peterman. Warford is a road grading guard and how he pass blocks is going to be the biggest concern. At right tackle there was a revolving door all preseason. Jason Fox, Corey Hilliard and undrafted rookie La’Adrian Waddle all took reps at right tackle. If the thought of one of those guys starting at right tackle makes you nervous, that’s because it should. Jason Fox is believed to be the starter at right tackle and I’m hoping he can get the job done. He’s an athletic, big bodied guy, so pass blocking should be okay, but his run blocking could be an issue. The biggest issue of all though is Fox is quite injury prone, so his experience is minimal.
The defensive line returns as the strongest part of the defense, yet again. Nick Fairley was a beast last year and he looked good in the preseason as well, he just needs to cool it on the penalties and he will be a dominant defensive tackle. Ndamukong Suh was his typical self in the preseason, but with fewer penalties. Suh needs to keep a level head and try to return to the player he was as a rookie, because he was an absolute monster. It’s tough for Suh to pad his stats since he sees so many double teams, but with the emergence of Nick Fairley and their additions at defensive end, I’m hoping he will see more single blocking and begin producing again. Jason Jones is going to be a major addition to the strong side and is going to be an upgrade over Kyle Vanden Bosch. The most interesting player to watch will be Ziggy Ansah, who is currently suffering from a concussion, and is unlikely to play in the opener. If Ansah can’t go, Willie Young will go in his place, and he has shown major strides in the last year. Ansah was better than Young in the preseason and shocked me with how well he played, so hopefully he can get healthy quickly. I figured Ansah would be nothing but a project but he showed real flashes of talent during the preseason. I would love to be wrong about the Lions taking Ansah at 5th overall.
The linebackers haven’t changed going into this season, except they have downgraded from Justin Durant starting on the outside to Ashlee Palmer. Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy are both very good in pass coverage, but they can’t rush the passer or help out in the run game like Durant did. Hopefully Palmer will take his downhill running style from special teams and apply it to outside backer. The backup linebackers, Travis Lewis, Tahir Whitehead, and Rocky McIntosh, are nothing special and in my opinion, the linebackers are now the weakest unit that the Lions have. The only way these linebackers will flourish is if the defensive line does a great job getting penetration.
The Lions secondary received major upgrades this offseason and signing Glover Quin will probably be the best signing out of all of their free agent signings. Louis Delmas looks the healthiest he’s looked in two years, but I wouldn’t count on Delmas to make it through the year. He may be the heart and soul of the defense and a leader, but Delmas misses a lot of tackles and is made of glass. Getting Chris Houston to return was big and while he isn’t a true #1 corner, had he left the Lions would have been screwed. Instead, they return the key components of their secondary from last year and managed to add Darius Slay. Slay is a rookie and is going to get picked on a lot this year and he will have to learn quickly. He has the athleticism to stay with nearly everyone in the league, but he is going to have to work on breaking up passes and not letting bigger receivers take balls away from him. The size of the Lions corners will be a big issue against the Chicago Bears. Bill Bentley is back to full health and will be great in the slot, a spot that he should have been playing all last year if he hadn’t gotten hurt. I’m also excited about the Lions adding Rashean Mathis, who can play corner or safety, and showed in little action in the preseason that he can still play football at a high level. The Lions also added DeJon Gomes when they claimed him on waivers from the Washington Redskins. Gomes is only 23 and his biggest asset is that he can play both free safety and strong safety. His versatility will be key if/when Delmas goes down and his youth means that he isn’t over the hill quite yet and could still manage to produce.
This unit is going to be highly questionable this year. The Lions let Jason Hanson walk in the offseason for a cheaper option in David Akers. I’m not a fan of Akers, who made 69% of his field goals last year and he’s almost as old as Hanson. If you’re going to let Hanson go, at least go with a younger kicker who has a stronger leg. 5th round pick Sam Martin (smh) is going to be the Lions punter. There’s no question he has a leg and he can do kickoffs as well, but I’m still not a fan of drafting a punter, especially when they had other needs. Regardless of that, Martin will be a good punter for the Lions, far better than Nick Harris and Ben Graham were last year. Kick returner and punt returner is going to be interesting, Michael Spurlock is currently listed as the starter at each and he has five career punt return and kick return touchdowns (combined). His career average numbers for each are pretty good, 9.9 yards per punt return and 24.8 yards per kick return, but all I really care about is his ball security skills during the returns. Don’t turn the ball over and let the offense have it.
I’ve said for a while now that I see the Lions going 9-7 and just barely missing out on a playoff spot and I’m sticking to it. This sort of record will be good enough to let head coach Jim Schwartz and general manager Martin Mayhew keep their jobs for another season and hopefully they will add more talent during the draft next year. In my opinion both of them should be on the hot seat, but unfortunately I’m not calling the shots.
Here’s a look at some of the Lions statistics from ESPN’s preview. And here is a closer look at Martin Mayhew’s draft record, which is a must-read.