As a life long Lions fan it seems like clockwork every year. The Lions dominate the preseason and the fans around the area get excited. The sayings like “this is finally the year we turn it around” or “the roar is restored” are echoed all through southeastern Michigan. If there is one thing I have learned as a Lions fan it’s never to buy into the hype until the season starts. Otherwise you are 16 weeks in wondering why the hell you cheered for an 0-16 team. It was the mantra of the Matt Millen era, every year it was a different excuse be it an offensive coordinator change, numerous head coaches with different philosophies or just believing a new wide receiver was the solution to all our problems; or at least that’s what Matt Millen wanted the public to think. So pardon me if I don’t jump in on the hype of Super Bowl possibilities by Peter King or the fact that Robert Kraft anointed football was back in Detroit^1. While I will agree the Lions have made great progress from the Matt Millen era, they seem to be headed in the right direction under Jim Schwartz’s guidance. Don’t expect this team to be anything greater than a .500 team this year. My False Start colleague, Ryan Berlin, will argue that the Lions are a 10+ win team. I will be ecstatic if that happens, but at the same time I need to see it first hand after 16 weeks of play to really believe it. There are too many holes the Lions have yet to address on this team to think they are anything but a .500 team.
Reason 1: The Running Game
MF: Last year many people were shocked the Lions jumped back into the first round to grab Jahvid Best. Schwartz made a joke about how he went home at night and watched Jahvid Best clips on Youtube as though it was pornography. Best is part of the new breed of running backs, like Chris Johnson, that have the speed and elusiveness that cause fans to drop their jaws in awe. The knock on Best in college was his previous injury history. It was after week two that most Detroiters couldn’t stop talking about him after he dropped 78 yards rushing and 154 yards receiving against Philly. But his health history eventually plagued him as a Lion, after the first couple of weeks he had turf toe that lingered the rest of the season robbing him of his explosiveness. Like last year, the Lions have no suitable backup. Mikel Leshoure, the 2nd round draft pick from Illinois, was supposed to be the brute force that would finally help out the running game, but as with all Lions luck he tore his ACL within the first week of training camp. Behind Best there are a plethora of waiver wire and free agency pickups, most notably is Jerome Harrison. I don’t expect Best to last an entire season due to his previous injury history. He already had a concussion in pre-season. So what we are relying on is serviceable free agents and waiver wire backs to fill in a non-existent run game that was one of the league’s worst last year. Does this sound like a championship caliber squad to you?
RB: Yes the loss of Mikel Leshoure will hurt and the o-line has some holes. However, with a year under his belt and finally being healthy, minus the concussion, Jahvid Best is going have a great year. We saw flashes of the brilliance he can bring to this team last year. Like Feldman said a healthy Best can drop three tds with 78 yards rushing and 154 yards receiving anytime. I believe there are three keys to Best having a great year. First and foremost is his health. Obviously if he can stay healthy and play in all 16 games he will do well. The second key for a Best to have a successful year is Matt Stafford. If Stafford is around and plays this will open things up for Best. Stafford is capable of being an elite QB. He can open things up downfield with Calvin and Burleson, hit Pettigrew on an out route and then of course hit Best in the backfield with the screen pass. The screen pass can be the Lions best friend. With Jahvid’s speed and elusiveness he can get away from almost any defender ^2. The third and final key to having a successful Jahvid Best is Jerome Harrison’s presence in short yardage and goal line situations. With a big physical back like Harrison who can take the pounding inside, it will give Best a chance to sit out some plays and not allow his body to take the beating, thus allowing Best to stay healthy.
REASON 2: Lions Secondary
MF: The Lions did a nice job filling the holes they had at linebacker with Steven Tulloch and Justin Durant. The issue last year, and still this year, is the cornerback position. Eric Wright is OK, but expect big play receivers to burn this secondary. Unfortunately the Lions schedule has plenty of big time QB-Receiver combos this season. Aaron Rodgers-Greg Jennings X 2, Matt Ryan-Roddy White, Brees-Colston, Romo-Austin Miles/Dez Bryant, Rivers-Jackson, and to a lesser degree McNabb-Harvin X 2. Right there I named over half the schedule that can and probably will probably will burn our secondary, if Silver Crush doesn’t disrupt the QB timing. Compound this with reason one and it’s easy to see why this team is going to have a tough time being an above .500 team.
RB: Detroit has arguably the best front seven in the NFL. Yes the secondary is a little weak but if the front seven penetrates like they should and don’t give the QBs time to make their reads, the DBs will make plays. Everything starts up front. Third year DB Alphonso Smith is the perfect example of how a strong front seven can benefit the secondary. In just 12 games last year Smith had five picks. Smith’s interceptions came off of Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Sam Bradford, Donovan McNabb and Mark Sanchez. It doesn’t matter who the QB is, if the d-line and linebackers get through like they’re suppose to then the secondary will make plays. As long as the Lions have the biggest, strongest and meanest defensive lineman in the league, the secondary will be in good shape.
REASON 3: Health
MF: Health could be the biggest reason the 2011 Detroit Lions may not be anything more than a 6-10 or 8-8 team. Remember it was May when Zach Follett called Matt Stafford a “China Doll”. We have seen two straight seasons where Stafford has dislocated his shoulder. Over his two year career he has been sitting on the pine more than he has been on the field. Although Shaun Hill and Drew Staton put up valiant efforts when they were in the game; it doesn’t take even the most astute observers to see the tremendous down grade the offense becomes when Stafford is not playing. If you had to bet your life on the Lions being better than a .500 team would you trust that dislocated shoulder? Mind you he is the same division where he sees Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, and Jared Allen twice a season. Once a shoulder is dislocated it has an easier chance of popping back out. Let’s just say I will be cringing every time I see Stafford take a shot. This along with the fact that Best, our best running back, has a bad health track record too.
RB: When speaking about health and the Detroit Lions three names come to mind, Jeff Backus, Gosder Cherilus and Stephen Peterman. Backus was responsible for injuring two quarterback. He was unable to keep Stafford and Hill healthy. I know you are going to say that Backus had a great year and he only gave up a few sacks. This is true but it was two of those sacks that took out Stafford and Hill. This is going to have to be a big year for Gosder. In order for the Lions to Succeed he really needs to step his game up. It’s his job to open holes for Best and keep Stafford on his feet. So far in his four tear career he has not quite been able to put it all together. If this is the year Gosder finally gets it then watch out because at ‘6”7 325 he is the quintessential right tackle. Finally, Stephen Peterman, what can I say about Peterman other than this guy sucks. He is really a horrible offensive lineman. What Schwartz should do in order to help keep his team healthy is move Big Jason Fox inside to right guard. I believe that this is the best way for the Lions to remain healthy. Having an o-line with Backus, Sims, Raiola, Fox and Gosder gives the team the best option to win.
MF: L-Close game but I’ll give edge to the Bucs.
RB: W-Suh will not allow LaGarett Blount to run anywhere and with an aging Ronde Barber and really no other great defenders I give the edge to the Lions
MF: W-Matt Cassell head gets torn off by Suh. Come on he has to entertain the home fans somehow right? After the total domination from a home game.
RB: W-With all the hype surrounding the Lions this year Ford Field is going to be rocking and the Lions will not lose their home opener
MF: L-Just something about being in the Metrodome and that creepy Viking mascot. Jared Allen and the defensive line of Minnesota give Stafford a hard time.
RB: W-This will be a lose one but if the Lions are healthy the Vikings won’t be able to keep up with the Lions Screen pass. Stafford and Best could be like McNabb and Westbrook in their primes.
MF: W-Its Monday night football in the D. All Calvin Johnson catches in the end zone will be ruled TD’s by the ref as to make up for robbing last year’s game.
RB: W-This is where the Lions show they are for real. Put it on the front page, back page or middle page, it doesn’t matter. The Lions will not lose on Monday Night. I repeat: the Lions will not lose on Monday Night.
MF: W-Let’s just say Matthew Stafford burns his home town team a new one at the greatest stadium on earth.
RB: L-After a short week the lack of rest catches up with the Lions and they finally lose one.
MF: W-Jim Harbaugh tells the press after the game. “Seriously guys we signed Alex Smith for one reason. To help us get Andrew Luck,”
RB: W-The Niners are improving but they aren’t there yet. Another win for the Lions.
MF:L-Who said nerdy white guys can’t ball? Doesn’t hurt to have dominant receivers in Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez.
RB: L- Matty Ice, Michael Turner and Roddy White prove to be too much for the Lions.
MF: W-The Broncos have a new QB controversy when John Elway decides to suit up after the crap he sees behind the O-Line
RB: W- The Broncos have no true identity and no big play guys.
MF: L-Jay Cutler finally gives a damn for something outside his own selfish needs.
RB: L- The Bears will steal one at home.
MF: W-When your newly drafted QB has a problem reciting a play for Jon Gruden it’s a red flag. Steve Smith tells Cam after the game “I like you, but god damn you are stupid.”
RB: W- Easy win for the good guys.
Green Bay Turkey Day-
MF: L-They don’t call them the Champs for nothing. Rodgers gets rid of the ball quick enough that he won’t have to worry about being sacked by Suh and the rest of Silver Crush. Although that doesn’t mean Suh won’t take a shot anyways, he doesn’t mind 20k fines folks.
RB: W-In both meetings last season the Lions gave the Packers a run for its money. Another national game will give the Lions a chance to prove they are for real.
MF:L-Who Dat makes the Lions into Who Dem?
RB: L-The Lions are for real but they aren’t ready to take that elite step.
MF: W-Donovan’s age finally shows up in this one.
RB: W-If all is right in the world the Lions will remain healthy and dismantle the Vikings again this season.
MF: W-Al Davis’s track stars realize there is more to the game then just running up and down a field. Can’t wait for the next top 40 time to be drafted by Al.
RB: W-The RRRRaidas are nowhere near the Lions level.
MF: L-A Norv Turner team during the back end of the schedule are generally impossible to beat, well until playoff time then they fold over themselves.
RB: L-Antonio Gates proves to be the X-factor. The Detroit Native will have a ridiculous game and just beat up on the Lions.
MF: L-Did you know it was in 1991 the last time the Lions won at Lambeau. Let’s just say Lions continue this wretched streak of awfulness.
RB: L-I agree with Feldman. However it will be close. The NFL didn’t schedule this game in the last week of the season for no reason.
OVERALL Record MF-8-8 RB-10-6
This is an 8-8, Berlin believes 10-6, team this year and in the retched NFC that is possibly good enough to back into a wildcard spot. No one should be disappointed with the 8-8, or 10-6, record as it will be the the Lions first time being .500, or above .500, in almost 11 or 12 years. To come back from such a retched era as the Millen Era in only three years is an impressive feat. All credit should be given to Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz. As I looked at the schedule I felt the Lions have a legitimate shot at beating all the teams on their schedule on any given day, but being a Lions fan and for reasons stated above I am not going to jump the gun on them^3. They are building a nice core and adding slowly and patiently, like all great teams do. Lions’ fans will have nothing to be ashamed about this season, since this team will play with passion and hard work. They are turning the corner, but it’s too early to say this team has arrived yet. The future is bright for the Lions, but they still have a ways to go to become the team we always dreamed about.
1. Since when does Robert Kraft’s opinion on football matter. Yes he owns one of the greatest franchises in the NFL over the past decade, but outside of that decade the Patriots never won a championship. Mr. Kraft’s opinion is valuable on the amount of cheese I want on my macaroni noodles, but outside of that meaningless.
2. I just got a boner.
3. Ryan ate the cornbread and drank the kool-aid. He believes and bleeds Honolulu Blue.