2020-21 Detroit Lions Season Preview

I almost did not go through and write this post. I’m less excited for football than ever before this year. Something about not having Michigan football playing makes the fall not seem like the fall. Nothing about 2020 seems normal…obviously…so that’s why I ultimately decided to fight the urge to skip this post and return to some semblance of normality.

Sports have been on TV for a few months now, but I’m not sure things will ever look the same. College football looks like a bizarre high school football scrimmage on TV. And for some places to play and have fans and others to not play at all? It’s times like these that show you just how little pull something like the NCAA has. But that’s another blog post for another time.

The NFL’s decision to go with zero preseason games has resulted in very little hype for the season beginning…not to mention the fact that we know less than ever before going into a year. Undrafted free agent superstars might not emerge this year because they did not have a chance to play. Someone like Victor Cruz or Austin Ekeler may never have gotten their shot and turned into bonafide players if they did not have the preseason. So do not hold your breath and expect some diamond in the rough to appear for the Lions. This year, the healthiest and most talented teams are going to be the ones that win it all.

Alright, fine. That’s not that different than normal.

OFFENSE

At quarterback, it looks like Matthew Stafford is finally healthy. Last year, I said that if he gets hurt the Lions are toast and unfortunately that is exactly what happened. He went down and the season went up in smoke. The Lions invested in one of my idols Chase Daniel but don’t get it twisted, if Stafford goes down again, he will not be the ones to save the season. Daniel has made $37.8 Million over the last 12 years (and is poised to make $9.5 Million the next two) for a grand total of 1,430 passing yards, 7 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Like I said, he’s my idol.

At running back, you would have expected the Lions to roll with Kerryon Johnson and D’Andre Swift but then Adrian Peterson got cut and things went sideways. For me, I think this is an indictment of Kerryon Johnson. If the staff had confidence in his knee and the possibility of him staying healthy, they would not have signed AD. Side note, his nickname is AD for All Day, it’s not AP. So stop it. I think that at the end of the day the Lions will roll with a pure committee here. Peterson is familiar with the offense but he’s older, to say the least. He had a solid year last season but I do not think you bank on something like that again. If he had still been capable of playing, I cannot imagine the Washington Football Team would have cut him. I would have expected Swift to have a big role right off the bat following the draft, but we do not really know. He’s listed as the 4th player on the depth chart that was put together by the media, which is quite odd, but I think his injuries in camp hampered his adjustment to the next level. I think it’ll take a few games for everyone to settle in and see how the roles play out, but expect a committee.

Looking at wide receiver, they have a great tandem in Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. Not much needs to be said here. Jones was dinged last year and Golladay’s numbers dipped a bit when Stafford went down but both are very capable players to say the least. Amendola will be a target hog again and act as Stafford’s security blanket. I’m curious to see how Quintez Cephus adapts. I have concerns about his separation ability but the Lions seem to like him as a “big slot” and think he can be a new age Anquan Boldin. The person I’m most intrigued to see on the offense this year will be Jamal Agnew though. He’s made the switch to wide receiver and I’m expecting that they’ll use every opportunity to get him involved in gadget plays and returning kicks…especially after they cut their 5th round pick Jason Huntley. I don’t think we’ll ever know why they drafted Huntley when they had Agnew and Johnson as potential returners and gadget players. Hopefully the full transition for Agnew will allow him to be more effective and will not telegraph when he’s getting the ball.

Tight end as a whole was disappointing last year. Hockenson had an incredible first week and set the bar unreasonably high and then showed the growing pains of a first year tight end and then ended up hurt. Jesse James was a total disaster of a free agent signing and is commanding far too much salary for what he put on the field last year. I’m expecting both of them to have bounce back years, even though Hockenson may not be 100% healthy yet. Both of them are scheme fits and Hockenson needs to take the next step forward before fans eventually turn on him. Hunter Bryant is an intriguing third tight end and he’s basically another wide receiver with his athleticism. He’s been dinged up most of camp, so I would not expect to see anything from him until later this year.

The offensive line is an interesting looking one. They spent a couple mid-round picks on guards and signed Halapoulivaati Vatai to replace Rick Wagner. After giving Taylor Decker a fat extension, the Lions have put their stamp on a solid core of the offensive line.

LT: Taylor Decker LG: Joe Dahl C: Frank Ragnow RG: Jonah Jackson RT: H. Vatai

Jonah Jackson is going to be a plug and play starter and while he’s not a supreme athlete, he’s a strong run blocker. Vatai is more inexperienced than most for the contract he got, but he’s also a strong run blocker. Based on the right side of the offensive line, the Lions will continue forward with their run-first and pound it scheme. Ragnow and Decker are going to have to anchor the inexperienced line and Decker is going to have to prove that he is worth the investment the Lions just made in him. The offensive line is going to make the whole offense run and they’re going to have to protect Stafford. There’s not any real depth to speak of behind any of them, though Logan Stenberg is intriguing and has practiced at center and guard, I don’t want him playing. Tyrell Crosby is an alright backup, but let’s face it, there was no competition at any of these spots.

DEFENSE

I’ll be dead honest with you, I have no clue what to expect out of this unit this year. They spent big money on Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton and Desmond Trufant in free agency. They also brought in Cory Undlin from the Eagles to be the new defensive coordinator. Undlin has gotten rave reviews and the Eagles players seem to love him, which is a good sign. Trufant is supposed to be a short-term replacement for Darius Slay, and while I think he’s a solid player, he’s not as good as Slay. Meanwhile, Shelton and Collins are two guys that proved they cannot succeed outside of the Patriots system. Here’s to hoping that Patricia can at least get something out of them.

The Lions starting front line is still going to be a problem this year. They desperately need Da’Shawn Hand and Trey Flowers to stay healthy. I think both Okwara brothers can play, but the Lions are not strong enough up front to start both. The interior of the defensive line is the ultimate meh and I could not be less excited about it. The fact that they did not address this more in free agency or in the draft is a concern for sure. Yes, they took Julian Okwara in the 3rd round…but it seems like taking a pass rusher or a defensive tackle over Swift would have been a more prudent move.

Meanwhile, the linebackers have some talent, but it’s tough to know what to expect and who will play or play well. All of them should contribute and I expect Jarrad Davis to line up on the field with Jahlani Tavai a lot more this year. Davis can stuff the run and blitz with the best of them and this is a big year for him if he wants to stick around in Detroit. Ultimately, they will toy with him playing on the outside to try and utilize his athleticism more and try to get more pressure up front. Ragland and Jalen Reeves-Maybin might end up playing their way onto the field and I would not be too surprised if the Lions used some heavy rotation and played everyone a decent amount. Especially until someone emerges and takes control of what was a terrible defense last year.

The secondary should be better this year than last year…the key word being should. Justin Coleman was an absolute disaster last year and frankly, there’s nowhere for him to go but up. I think Amari Oruwariye will end up starting opposite of Desmond Trufant going into this year, but there’s no reason that Jeff Okudah should not overtake him. Yes, cornerback is a tough adjustment in the NFL, but if he’s going to be the Lions marquee corner of the future, he should be able to adapt and take the job at least by week 8. Will Harris, Duron Harmon and Tracy Walker will make a pretty solid safety trio, but Tracy Walker should be the lead guy there that is used as a chess piece all over the field.

Seriously, this group cannot possibly be worse than they were last year. The defense as a whole ranked dead last in passing yards allowed, 31st in total yards allowed, tied for 32nd in interceptions, and tied for 31st in total sacks…that is just abysmal. They gave up a ton of yards and could not get any turnovers. If that does not change, what the offense does will be meaningless. Unfortunately the defensive line still has major question marks and the secondary (specifically cornerback) is not exactly rock solid.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Matt Prater and Don Muhlbach return for the 27th year in a row and the Lions did the prudent thing and moved on from Sam Martin to save some cash. Jack Fox is your new punter and I really hope that we do not get used to seeing him on the field…the only thing he needs to make sure is that his chemistry as a holder with Prater is rock solid.

I’m not totally sure who will return kicks and punts but I would expect Jamal Agnew and Ty Johnson to split those duties or for Agnew to handle all of it.

PREDICTION

Regular Season
WK DATE OPPONENT TIME TV Prediction
1 Sun, Sep 13 1:00 PM
FOX
W
2 Sun, Sep 20 1:00 PM
FOX
L
3 Sun, Sep 27 4:25 PM
FOX
W
4 Sun, Oct 4 1:00 PM
FOX
L
5 BYE WEEK
6 Sun, Oct 18 1:00 PM
FOX
W
7 Sun, Oct 25 1:00 PM
FOX
L
8 Sun, Nov 1 1:00 PM
CBS
L
9 Sun, Nov 8 1:00 PM
CBS
L
10 Sun, Nov 15 1:00 PM
FOX
W
11 Sun, Nov 22 1:00 PM
FOX
W
12 Thu, Nov 26 12:30 PM
CBS
L
13 Sun, Dec 6 1:00 PM
FOX
14 Sun, Dec 13 1:00 PM
FOX
W
15 Sun, Dec 20 TBD L
16 Sun, Dec 27 TBD L
17 Sun, Jan 3 1:00 PM
FOX
L

As I hastily throw this together, I initially thought the Lions could very well end up going 4-12. But being the positive person that I am, I’m thinking the Lions will go 7-9. I just do not think that this schedule sets up well for them. If Stafford goes ahead and has a superhuman season then anything is possible. It’s just hard to see this defense taking a big enough leap forward to get anything done on that side of the ball. Cory Undlin has his work cut out for him and though the defense added more talent in the offseason, I’m just not sure it was enough to offset how historically bad they were last year. For them to make monumental changes in a COVID offseason would be truly remarkable. The offense will not be able to stay in shootouts every week and will eventually need help. Now some of you will say that the defense got crushed last year because the offense could not move the ball on offense and they could not get off the field, but it was a sieve almost all the time. Mix in the fact you’re playing the AFC South and the NFC South and you’re looking at a real problem. Oh and spoiler alert, if the Lions go 7-9 this year, they will definitely be moving on from Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia.

[Photo via: Mass Live]

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