You shouldn’t judge a product until you actually get to use it. The same is true for professional sports teams. How did that guaranteed World Series Championship work out for the Tigers back in 2008? They were destined for greatness. Then they started the season 0-7 and never fully recovered. I’m not going so far off the deep end that I’m predicting a Lions Super Bowl Trip. I’m not even going to say playoffs for sure. I will committ to, and I’m sure most of Detroit agrees, this team sure does look good on paper.
Offensively, much hasn’t really changed at all. The difference/improvement of the offense lays heavily on the shoulder’s (albeit weak) of Matthew Stafford. I know that “weak shoulders” comment isn’t fair, but he’s the biggest question mark. Here’s your “Did You Know” fact around the water cooler this week. Stafford had 6 touchdowns and 1 interception with a passer rating above 90 in his 2 plus games of work in 2010. The Lions were leading against eventual playoff teams Chicago and the Jets when he was knocked out, and he started the Redskins game. The flashes of brilliance are there.
A distant second question is the health of Jahvid Best and his turf toes. When he was healthy, or as close to it as he got, Best was Speed Racer on the field. The Lions need to keep pressure off of Stafford by having an effective running game. If Best can’t go all year, the draft brought in Michael Lashoure so depth shouldn’t be an issue. The dropping of receiver Bryant Johnson (pardon the pun) is cushioned by the drafting of Titus Young. Add a pair of pretty good receivers in Calvin Johnson and Nate Burlsson, and a core of solid tight ends (Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler, and Will Heller). As long as the front 5 holds out, as it did during the four game winning streak, the team should be borderline explosive. Also something to remember, Drew Stanton and Shaun Hill were the quarterbacks during said streak.
Defensively, I don’t see how this unit couldn’t show an improvement. Detroit will get back a healthy Kyle Vanden Bosch and draftee Nick Farely to that defensively line. We also need to hope Cliff Avril resigns. Is it possible Ndamukong Suh could improve? Hell, even if he doesn’t, the front four has the potential to be very deep, which is just as important as being good. The starters can’t be out there every down. You can’t afford a massive drop off when going to the bench. Get Avril signed Lion’s fans won’t have to worry.
The regime continues to show its ability to make good moves in free agency. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch was second in the NFL in tackles last season (which I learned from this very site) for a Titans team that no longer had Albert Haynesworth or Kyle Vanden bosch. That’s saying something. Don’t forget about former Jaguar linebacker Justin Durant also getting brought in. With Levy already on board and Bobby Carpenter resigned, the Lions defensive front might be the best in the NFC.
The downfall could be the defensive backs, but keep in mind, the hope is to just not give the quarterback enough time find an open receiver, and that strategy may in fact work. Louis Delmas should be the center fielder for a long time in this city, but I think there are question marks all around. Chris Houston is rumored to be signed soon. Alphonso Smith and Nathan Vasher were mid-season signings. I think this unit might just be good enough. Stay strong upfront, and patch together the back end. With the available talent, I think it’s doable.
Remember, the main pieces of that run at the end of the year, outside the front four, was the hodge podge of defensive players. The names mentioned above, like Carpenter and Vasher, as well as Ashlee Palmer and Lawerence Jackson, led the charge. My answer would be…who are these guys?
The moral of the story, and back to the main point, is let’s see if this team can handle the eye test. I don’t think the Detroit Lions are going to sneak up on anybody this year. But since you can’t sneak up, that doesn’t mean you can’t still dominate. The biggest issue will be health. The starters are good, and there is SOME depth, but not enough to deal with many injuries for long stretchers (which may seem obvious, but it’s more than true here). If the majority of the starters stay healthy the majority of the year, this team will be successful. If they can’t (read Matthew Stafford), we’ll be left with that all to familiar feeling.