Welcome back to our NFL season preview series. Over the course of August, we're taking a look at all 32 teams in the National Football League and how they look heading into the new season.
Yesterday we took a look at the Dallas Cowboys, examining their chances of rebounding from a disappointing 2017 campaign that saw them miss out on Playoff football and head into the 2018 season with no Jason Witten or Dez Bryant. You can take a look here for more on that.
Today we're turning our attention to the Detroit Lions. Jim Caldwell missed out on the Playoffs, going 9-7 for a 2nd place finish in the NFC North, that ended up costing the head coach his job as Matt Patricia was brought in from New England tasked with taking a talented Lions side to the postseason and beyond. Let's get into it...
The 2017 Detroit Lions should've been good. In a year when Aaron Rodgers was forced to miss game time due to an injury that basically ended the Green Bay Packers season there and then, the Lions should've been a team to step up - grab the bull by the horns and take advantage.
They didn't. The Vikings did instead as they romped to a 13-3 record. And it cost Jim Caldwell his job.
Matt Stafford finished with 4,400 yards and nearly 30 TDs to just 10 picks. The receiving corps was solid, with Marvin Jones and Golden Tate both surpassing the 1,000-yard mark. Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball, Tahir Whitehead notched up 110 tackles, Ezekiel Ansah disrupted backfields to the tune of 12.5 sacks and Darius Slay made his way to the Pro Bowl on the back of a co-league leading eight interceptions.
So, what went wrong?
Well, there's the infamously bad run game. The Lions finished 2017 with 1,221 rushing yards TOTAL. Kareem Hunt, Le'Veon Bell and Todd Gurley had more than that by themselves. When your leading rusher is the 550-odd yards that Ameer Abdullah put up then you know you're in trouble.
Coming into December, the Lions were 6-5 with five very winnable games left on the schedule. They took an L in the toughest of those, on the road to the Ravens, but bounced back with victories over the Bucs and Bears. And then came week 16 and the 5-9 Bengals, who outfought outcoached and outplayed Detroit to the tune of 26-17. And with that, the season was done.
Caldwell was gone, Patricia is in.
Free Agency Moves
LeGarrette Blount's addition gives Matthew Stafford a much needed physical presence in the run game, which has been lacking for so long in Detroit.
Stafford's tenure has been hampered by the lack of balance on offense so Blount and second-round pick Kerryon Johnson, along with Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, should finally give the gunslinging QB something of substance to work with on the ground even if there isn't a clear cut number one back.
Former Seahawk DeShawn Shead is another shrewd addition who could slot straight in opposite star corner Darius Slay, giving the Lions a solid defensive backfield with Glover Quinn inside.
Former first round pick Eric Ebron was released and replaced in part by veterans TE Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo.
Devon Kennard was a good get from the Giants and he'll likely occupy one of the OLB spots next to the promising Jarrad Davis. Haloti Ngata was a big loss to the D-Line but bringing in Sylvester Williams from Tennessee plugs another huge body over the middle and they shouldn't lose too much there.
Frank Ragnow - C, Arkansas. 1st round, 20th overall.
Kerryon Johnson - RB, Auburn. 2nd round, 43rd overall.
Tracy Walker - S, Louisiana. 3rd round, 82nd overall.
Da'Shawn Hand - DE, Alabama. 4th round, 114th overall.
Tyrell Crosby - OT, Oregon. 5th round, 153rd overall.
Nick Bawden - FB, San Diego State. 7th round, 237th overall.
Fans Eye View
GMS: How would you rate your team's offseason?
Very Good. The Lions haven’t made the biggest noise this offseason, but they’ve made some solid additions. LaGarrett Blount was a quality addition, along with the drafting of Keyrron Johnson as they look to solve their rushing offence problem. Frank Ragnow, a centre from Arkansas, was taken in the first round, and also should go to help a struggling 0-Line.
The release of Eric Ebron was a hotly debated topic among Lions circles, but it was obvious that him staying in Detroit would not benefit his career. He was a “bust” in Detroit, but he may do better in Indianapolis.
GMS: What's the general opinion of the job the head coach is doing?
He’s yet to play a game, but Coach Patricia has done a fine job since replacing Jim Caldwell. Many criticised Caldwell’s conservative outlook on football, and Patricia looks to be the opposite.
Fresh out of the Bill Belichick school of winning (unless you’re in the NFC East…) Patricia has made some solid moves this offseason along with Bob Quinn. His main goal will be fixing the 0-Line and rushing game, along with potentially a NFC North ring.
GMS: Your opinions of the offense? (What's good, bad, different from 2017)
Matthew Stafford is the most underrated quarterback in the entire NFL. The former Georgia Bulldog has really stepped up his game the past two seasons, but is constantly omitted from top ten QB lists by “experts”.
Stafford has a solid offence in front of him, with Golden Tate and Marvin Jones being top tier receivers.
The running game has been a constant disappointment for the Lions however, with Ameer Abdullah edging ever so closer to being called a “bust”. An annual reminder that the Lions took Abdullah over David Johnson, who only went to the Cardinals cause the Lions took the Cards number one target, Abdullah.
GMS: Your thoughts on the state of the defense? (What's good, bad, different from 2017)
The Lions defence has been really really good the last two seasons. Last season was a particular highlight, with the D finally being able to get the offence back on the field! Sadly, they’d then more than likely go 3 and out but that’s beyond the point.
Darius Slay is one of the top corners in the entire NFL, and his Pro Bowl appearance last season was no fluke. Glover Quin is a solid safety, and second year line-backer Jarrad Davis had a solid rookie year. The Lions D is firmly on the up and up.
GMS: What's your deepest concern for 2018?
It’s the same as it always is. That rushing core. There’s a well known stat that the Lions haven’t had a 100 yard rusher since Thanksgiving 2013, where Reggie Bush ran for 117 yards, with backup Joique Bell even getting 94 yards in the same game. LaGarrett Blount is a top running back, and should help the offence, but the rushing offence is still a major concern.
GMS: Give us a name to watch out for?
Second year wide out Kenny Golladay. The former Northern Illinois player excited many beat writers last season, but apart from his touchdown week one, he never really got the ball and missed five weeks through a hamstring problem.
However, he continues to excite and could make a major difference to the Lions season if he can make the Lions really have a triple threat from their Wide Receivers.
GMS: And finally...your crystal ball prediction for the season?
It’s hard to predict this season from the Lions, because we’ve not seen Matt Patricia coach a game for the Lions. I mean, we don’t even know how they’re going to line up yet!
However, looking at the Lions schedule that sees them take on the AFC East and the NFC West along with some tough trips to the Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers, I could see the Lions possibly going 9-7 or 10-6. A wildcard berth may be a possibility for the 2018 Lions, but it could be a tough ask.
Week 1: vs Jets
Week 2: @49ers
Week 3: vs Patriots
Week 4: @Cowboys
Week 5: vs Packers
Week 6: BYE WEEK
Week 7: @Dolphins
Week 8: vs Seahawks
Week 9: @Vikings
Week 10: @Bears
Week 11: vs Panthers
Week 12: vs Bears
Week 13: vs Rams
Week 14: @Cardinals
Week 15: @Bills
Week 16: vs Vikings
Week 17: @Packers
Matt Stafford is one of the most reliable point scorers amongst QB's having finished in the top nine at his position in five of the last seven seasons.
The veteran gunslinger will yet again operate in a pass heavy offense with plenty of viable weapons out wide and he's a great mid round pick that'll score owners consistent points.
Of those weapons, both Marvin Jones and Golden Tate are good bets to have solid seasons. Both men exceeded 1000 yards and 60 receptions in 2017, with Jones leading the NFL in yards per reception (18.0) and ranking ninth in receiving yards (1,101).
Tate hauled in more catches with 92, but Jones' big play ability probably makes him the smarter pick as a WR2. The presence of Kenny Golladay might disrupt the dominance of the two aforementioned playmakers, but with Eric Ebron gone there isn't a clear TE1 to take those targets on and as a result both Jones and Tate should produce similar numbers in 2018.
As for the backfield, who emerges as the number one back is anyones guess at this stage. LeGarrette Blount is great value as a red zone threat on short goal line situations and he'll likely rack up a handful of scores, but rookie Kerryon Johnson could well dominate snaps and end up usurping Blount, Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick atop the depth chart.
It'll likely by a running back by committee type-deal early on though, and unless owners are taking a shot on Blount as a flex guy against weak run defenses, it'd be wiser to stay clear of Lions rushers until such a time that one guy emerges as the true RB1.
The Lions' strength of schedule sugar coats things a little bit. They have the 21st hardest schedule in the NFL on paper, but they will face up against no fewer than 10 Pro Bowl QB's and face a tougher division than at any time over the past few years.
The Vikings have arguably the most complete roster in all of football, the Packers with Aaron Rodgers and an improved secondary will likely be favoured even over that vaunted Minnesota team, and the Bears have had one of the best offseasons adding an exciting young coach who may be able to get the best of out second year QB Mitchell Trubisky.
Out of division matchups against other improved squads such as the Cardinals and 49ers will also prove tough whilst they also host three more playoff teams from last season in the Rams, Patriots and Panthers.
The running game and offensive line play will have a huge impact on how this team fares. If they fall into the same routine of becoming a predictable pass-first offense they'll likely produce the same kind of frustrating performances yet again.
The defense looks mostly good and deep on all three levels with stars up front and on the back end in Ziggy Ansah, Glover Quinn and Darius Slay and those playmakers will have a big impact on games yet again.
It just doesn't seem like a year for this team to break out considering the current in-division strength and a sneaky difficult schedule that includes up to nine potential playoff teams and a series of other tough outs.
We predict a drop off of some sorts from last season in Detroit, with the Lions falling to 6-10.