With the 53-man roster finally set, for now anyways, we can finally have a good idea going forward what the Detroit Lions have in store for us as fans this year. Personally, I’m quite optimistic about the upcoming season. It will be a pain listening to Cheese Heads all season, but I’m hoping that this Lions team will be able to put together a nice run to get back into the playoffs. I wish I had more time to be thorough, but as it turns out, packing up your entire life takes a little bit of time.
It is not like you can’t say this for a lot of teams, but if Matthew Stafford goes down the Lions are toast. Watching Dan Orlovsky play during the preseason was not pretty and with Stafford behind an offensive line that is sort of banged up at the moment, you have to be a little worried. Now if everything goes according to plan, I expect Stafford to have a big year…I’m talking 4,000 yards, 30 TDs and less than 10 INTs big. It’s his second year in Joe Lombardi’s offense and with Calvin Johnson healthy, I expect some better execution and I also expect some better play calling. Now this is not a guarantee, but there is no reason to think that they will not open up the offense more with the experience added on. His arm strength has never been a question and if he can make some better decisions and some better throws, the Lions offense will be able to improve. The Lions were 19th in yards last year and 22nd in points, and I’m really hoping that was just the adjustment period because that is abysmal compared to what we are used to.
Running back is where we were going to see a major change to the Lions offense. Reggie Bush was supposed to help be a great change of pace back but he was often hurt and ineffective when he was on the field. It’s really too bad because he’s one of my favorite college football players ever and just could not get it done. Now I would have preferred for the Lions to draft Duke Johnson, but Ameer Abdullah is a very capable back. He looked fantastic in the preseason and is extremely shifty. He may lack breakaway speed, but he’s going to be a good change of pace back for Joique Bell.
Now, I’m not sure when Joique Bell is going to actually be healthy since he did not touch the ball this preseason after he had some offseason Achilles and knee surgeries, but he should still be the bulldozer type running back he always has been. Add in an older, better Theo Riddick and the UDFA beast that is Zach Zenner, and you have yourself quite a solid foursome in the backfield.
I mean that is some Barry Sanders quickness. Ameer is not going to be Barry, but that’s something that Lions fans have not seen since Barry.
Getting Calvin Johnson back and fully healthy is going to be a huge boost for this offense. Having 71 receptions for 1,077 yards and 8 touchdowns in 13 games is pretty damn good, and having him for a full season is only going to help Golden Tate. Tate has been perhaps the best free agent signing in the history of the Detroit Lions. The two of them are the perfect combination and compliment each other quite well. Tate has 99 receptions for 1,331 yards and 4 TDs last year and continued his momentum in the preseason with 7 receptions for 169 yards and 2 TDs. That is some insane production without Calvin Johnson, preseason or not. Tate and Calvin both run fantastic routes and have pure pass catching ability. Calvin continues to be the best receiver in the league, in my mind, and when you have an elite #2, good things will happen. Where the Lions offense will need some extra help though is at the #3 spot that is going to be filled by Corey Fuller, Lance Moore and TJ Jones. The three of them round off the rest of the Lions wide receivers and they will have to step up. Fuller is a good deep threat and Moore is a productive slot receiver, who has a lot of experience in Lombardi’s offense. TJ Jones will need to find a niche returning kicks and punts to see the field consistently, but as a group, I think it’s a pretty good start.
Tight end is probably the most frustrating position on the roster for me to discuss. Brandon Pettigrew is a good blocker, but he has major issues catching passes. Then you have Eric Ebron, who had a horrible rookie season but was a decent blocker. Ebron came in with drop issues and did not do anything to quell the concerns of that throughout the season. Basically the Lions have two first round tight ends on the roster that can not catch right now. Now I’m not calling Ebron a bust…that would be insane. He’s a young guy and needs time to adjust and development. People should be patient and I actually think he will have a better year this year. If he’s healthy he can line up as a big time mismatch and it would be nice to get some contributions from him. Now Joe Fauria had major issues staying healthy the past year and a half and the Lions obviously got sick of it and decided to trade for Tim Wright. Wright’s production wasn’t that far off from Fauria’s and I think he should do pretty well…once he gets used to the offense that is.
The offensive line should be stronger this year, especially with the interior being reinforced with the additions of Laken Tomlinson and Manny Ramirez. That Draft Day trade was probably my favorite move of the offseason. Depth in the interior was an issue this past year and I do not think it will be now, provided Larry Warford is not out for too long. Travis Swanson did a good job at center when Raiola was suspended and I think he will be a good player. Riley Reiff is not an elite left tackle, but he is certainly good enough to keep Stafford upright. The only issue for me is at right tackle with the health of La’Adrian Waddle. Cornelius Lucas and Corey Robinson will be the backups at tackle, but Lucas is far better at left tackle than he is at right tackle. Waddle is going to need to stay healthy so that this offensive line can protect the team’s most important asset.
The defense is obviously going to face a bit of a drop off with the loss of Ndamukong Suh but the addition of Haloti Ngata should help with that loss. Ngata may not be as good of a pass rusher as Suh is/was, but Ngata is a great run stopper and his size (6’4″ 331 lbs) make him an absolute load at nose tackle. His versatility will allow him to play more than just NT which will be very important for the Lions defensive line. Tyrunn Walker and Caraun Reid will fill in just fine for the exit of Nick Fairley and will probably be an improvement at the second DT spot. Gabe Wright may only be a rookie, but he will be able to add some depth behind these two. Ziggy Ansah is going to need to be a critical piece in the pass rush and he is going to be the most important piece of the Lions defensive line. Jason Jones, Darryl Tapp, Devin Taylor and Phillip Hunt are serviceable, even more so than that, but they do not possess the skills that Ansah has to attack the passer.
The Linebackers are arguably the strongest piece of the defense, especially with getting Stephen Tulloch back. DeAndre Levy is an All-Pro outside linebacker, and the emergence of Tahir Whitehead last year was fantastic. Levy is elite in coverage and Whitehead is going to have to make his money stopping the run and helping to rush the passer. Levy is hurt right now and his status for week one is unknown and that is a concern. It’s too bad that Kyle Van Noy is hurt again because it would be nice to see what he could do, but Josh Bynes is at least solid backup on the outside. I do not care for Travis Lewis, so again, health is going to be a major key for the Lions defense. As good as the starters are, there are some depth issues up front and that is really undeniable at this point. You could say this for a lot of teams, but as a defense that was elite last year, they will need everyone at 100% to reach the heights that they did last year. Thankfully Teryl Austin is a mastermind as a defensive coordinator so he will be able to get players into good spots to make plays. He blitzed 24.9% of plays last year and something tells me that we can expect more of that this coming season.
The secondary should be very solid again, returning all four starters from last season. Darius Slay is on his way to being a Top 10 cornerback in the league and Rashean Mathis is a very sturdy #2. I never thought that Slay would have this sort of meteoric rise, but he was a fantastic shutdown corner last season and I expect more big things out of him this season. James Ihedigbo is a solid strong safety and Glover Quin is an elite free safety. Josh Wilson will likely start in the nickel, but I hope that Nevin Lawson takes the job away from him. Lawson was very good until he got hurt as a rookie and I am curious to see how he has developed this offseason. In terms of their starters, they look very good on paper, and the depth here is more than adequate.
In terms of special teams, what you see is what you get. Though I d
o not like hate Sam Martin, he’s a good punter and Matt Prater is a pretty good kicker. The return game is going to be interesting with TJ Jones listed there, but I would expect Ameer Abdullah and Golden Tate to get some looks in the return game if he falters. There are really no concerns here for me because any one is better that Jeremy Ross at this point.
For the record, Sam Martin is a mental midget who searches his own name and blocks people on twitter who have said bad things about him…this is probably why he has had major issues punting in clutch situations in the past. I personally have never mentioned an athlete on twitter when talking about them because they do not need their mentions clogged by people bashing them. That’s how I know he searches his own name.
Alright, the first thing I’m going to say is that it is going to be very tough to not be at Ford Field this season. That first home game on Sunday Night against the Denver Broncos is going to be epic. At least I’ll get to go to the 49ers game over Christmas, but I digress.
The Lions have a tough schedule this year, playing the NFC West, even with the 49ers dropping off it is not going to be easy. Not only that, the AFC West is no slouch either with Kansas City and San Diego boasting some solid rosters to go along with the Broncos. I would be pretty happy if the Lions are 2-2 through the first four weeks. Taking a quick look at the schedule and assuming everyone stays healthy, I think 10-6 is a very plausible record. They could do better, and 9-7 would not shock me, but I think 10-6 is a good middle ground and I could see them snagging a Wild Card spot. I would love for them to finally host a home playoff game, but I do not think that 10-6 will be quite good enough to make that happen. Jim Caldwell was a very conservative coach last year, which I was afraid would happen, but he did a good job in his first season as head coach and I think he could be the right man for the job. But this year without Suh will be a much better indicator of how he will be as a coach and if he can help lead this team to a playoff win. Yes, I’m at the point of where I will settle for a playoff win…let’s take this thing one step at a time here.