Detroit Lions Season Review/Off Season Preview
The Lions season should be broken into two phases: pre London trip and post London trip. The Lions left London at 1-7, without a GM, President and a new offensive coordinator. After the London trip the Lions won three straight, including a historic win for Detroit by beating the Packers in Lambeau, snapping a 24 game loss streak in that stadium. They put together another three game win streak to close the year, and were an Aaron Rodgers hail mary away from finishing 7-1, but did close 6-2. It should be noted that six of the eight games against playoff teams were in the first eight, and they finished 1-7 against playoff teams, but nonetheless it was a much better finish to the year than the start.
Jim Caldwell surprised many by keeping his job post-London and even extended that to the offseason. Caldwell has not been the most successful head coach, and is more known as a successful offensive coordinator. The problem is that his hand picked OC was fired mid season, and Stafford has openly admitted he prefers the new OC Jim Bob Cooter to anything Caldwell and his hire Joe Lombardi have brought. With JBC, Stafford threw for 19 touchdowns to only two of his thirteen interceptions. As mentioned, that was also the weaker half of the schedule, but commendable nonetheless. On defense Teryl Austin has been above commendable. For a defense that lost all three of their interior tackles, including Suh, as well as going into camp assuming Deandre Levy was available to find he misses the whole year to a rare back virus, he did a solid job. The defense was 16th in efficiency, but that should be chalked up to scheme over talent.
As mentioned, Stafford really enjoyed his time with JBC. The biggest problem with Stafford is that still, at this point of his career pressure clearly gets to him. To rattle him early is to change the entire game. He is too reckless, and while he has physical talent to succeed, the need for talent around him is major. Dan Orlovsky is a free agent, leaving a late round quarterback as a possibility.
Running back Play
One of the main reasons Lombardi was fired was the handling of the running backs. Ameer Abdullah led the team in carries as a rookie. He did that by averaging nine carries per game. No team can survive with their lead back consistently getting nine carries per game. He did have fumble problems, and Joique Bell took a lot of carries, but at the same time only averaged 5.6 per game. Bell, with his 3.6 yards per carry rate is a guy who could be a cap casualty if they feel good about Zach Zenner, because beside Abdullah they also have Theo Riddick. Riddick is almost a slot receiver with 133 carries and 99 targets but that is a need for every team in the NFL. With Abdullah, Zenner, and Riddick this team will be set at running back.
Ode to Calvin Johnson time. The 2011-13 seasons he was hands down the best wide out in the game, and while his production has dipped, he is still the walking mismatch. If this was the last run for Calvin, he will be missed. Much more by the Lions than me or any other football fan though. Don’t get me wrong, Golden Tate is a talent, he even caught two more passes than Calvin. The problem is he isn’t a physical presence, and a lot of his success can be tied to the single coverage Johnson brings. If Johnson really does leave the Lions are stuck with Tate, Riddick the receiving back and then TJ Jones, another former Notre Dame wide out who had ten catches in his rookie year. These are going to be huge problems, and while they will clear money, how do they replace a superstar without in house depth?
At tight end Eric Ebron finally emerged late into the year as a receiving, and red zone threat, and the hope is he will pick up major slack this year. Combining him with Pettigrew, who is a solid blocker, but big body in the red zone and the hope would be they can become key red zone players in the absence of Megatron.
Offensive Line Play
Aside from questions at wide receiver, the offensive line will need a lot of work. Laken Tomlinson is essentially the only starter in place past this season. Larry Wolford will man the guard position with Tomlinson, but is only signed this year. Riley Reiff hasn’t lived up to draft status, but has been steady and entering a season of free agency his 2016 will be the most important of his career. If the Lions extend him this offseason it will be telling as to how they feel with the left tackle. Aside from that, center and right tackle should be open competition, as only depth pieces are currently signed.
It was mentioned above but things are not pretty on defense. The line was essentially Ziggy Ansah and a bunch of guys around him, and the only player signed that put in meaningful time was…you guessed it Ansah. He is only signed this year but extending him and his awesome pressure is priority number one. Priority two is to add around him. No one will want to give Haloti Ngata a multi year deal but that doesn’t mean the Lions have to. Tyrunn Walker, Jason Jones, and even Jermelle Cudjo add to Ngata as free agents on the line, but really if any are back over cheap replacement level players they aren’t getting much of a difference.
Linebacker isn’t pretty either. The hope is that Levy is healthy because without him the linebacker core is nothing.Stephen Tulloch is nice that he is a veteran and knows his role, but is slowing down in production, and is a free agent after this year. Kyle Van Noy was a guy I liked in college, but was undersized and has not been able to see playing time in two years. You would think this is priority, but this seems similar to both lines and the wide receiver unit.
It actually looks like they got it right in the secondary. Between Darius Slay, Quandre Diggs and Nevin Lawson you have young players, signed past this year and guys that are talented and have proven themselves in 2015. They also have Rashean Mathis for one more year until he retires and Alex Carter, a rookie like Diggs which gives them a future at a position. At safety is Glover Quin, who isn’t flashy but isnt bottom of the barrel, and then a hope to resign James Ihedigbo as they need some form of continuity, and lack of need on this team.
Where do they go?
The lions need a makeover, what else is new? Stafford is inconsistent, yes but Stafford is the only piece of consistency on the team (cue Alanis Morissette). They need help across the board, but need to resign and extend in house first (Ansah, probably Reiff). It is tough to see the Lions turn it around in 2016, but a good draft is where it would start.