It seemed like yesterday that the Detroit Lions were supposed to be turning the fortunes of their franchise around and giving the Motor City a contender. Now it seems like they are learning how to gradually get expectations back down to reality. The hire of Jim Caldwell was received with mostly positive feedback, but that’s because he was replacing Jim Schwartz. That’s the equivalent of moving from tap water to bottled water. Not saying Caldwell didn’t keep his players in line better than Schwartz did, but he doesn’t exactly sell you on being the head coach to turn a team’s fortune’s around.
The Lions lost N’damukong Suh and Nick Fairley in the off-season. They expected Suh to sign for the big bucks elsewhere (and he did, with Miami) but they also thought they have a more-than-good-chance at re-signing Fairley. The Lions have proven veteran Haloti Ngata now, but he can’t fill the void left by Suh, let alone Suh and Fairley. Something has to be said about Ngata no longer being on the Ravens as well. Teams like the Ravens, Steelers and Patriots, do their homework and never get emotional with their players. If they feel like they can part with somebody – there has to be a reason behind it. Steven Tulloch returns this season at linebacker and will play alongside the equally aggressive DeAndre Levy. Levy and Tulloch will be relied on a lot in blitz packaging now more than ever with the losses to their line.
This defense’s one true pass rusher and star is defensive end Ziggy Ansah. Ansah is 6’5″ and two hundred and seventy eight pounds of pure athlete. His quickness and strength at the line are amongst the best in the league but this could be a season which frustrates the young star, who will see double teams every week and on almost every down.
The secondary was celebrated last year, especially safety James Ihedigbo who lead the NFL with seven interceptions. Once again, because of the strength lost at that defensive line, expect teams to not be scared and to even run deeper routes against a team that for years never gave the quarterback time to do so.
Even on the offensive side, the “trenches” are a place for concern. It wasn’t good last year and that is one area in football that you don’t just flip and become great at in one off-season. The guard position may be their only dependable spots and that comes in the form of mostly unknown Larry Warford and rookie Laken Tomlinson out of Duke.
The running game is always just a weird situation in Detroit and this year they have the incumbent starter in Joique Bell but behind him are rookie Ameer Abdullah and Theo Reddick who showed some flashes last year. Abdullah gets a lot of fan fare for running for over 1600 yards in his final season at Nebraska but the truth is, his smallish frame has had over 750 carries in the last three years, while having suspect hands and being a risk in pass protection. He tore the lid off of defenses like Florida Atlantic, Illinois and Rutgers but looked human, or even average against the likes of Michigan State, Wisconsin and USC.
Calvin Johnson is getting as much hype before a season as he usually does, but he is still regarded as a top three wide-out in every conversation. Johnson had some durability issues last year but thanks to the acquisition of Golden Tate, the offense always had a game breaker at the wide receiver position last season. It was good to see Tate go off like he did, not only for himself but also because it forced Matthew Stafford to rely on somebody else other than Johnson.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been given weapons around him every season, but it’s something about him and not what’s around him that turns people off from this Detroit offense. His accuracy is suspect and his decision making makes some of the NFL’s most classic gunslingers scratch their collective heads. One of the pieces they brought along with Tate last year was rookie tight end Eric Ebron, but for the lack of productivity he provided it could’ve been Zac Efron out there and nobody would’ve noticed. Ebron struggled with blocking assignments, route running and getting on the same page with Stafford, which isn’t exactly easy to do anyway. Ebron is in a fortunate position in this offenses passing game and needs to step up quickly or the team will look to Ryan Broyles or newly acquired free agent receiver Lance Moore to become the third wheel in this passing game.
Predicted Record: 6-10
Predicted Pro Bowlers: Ziggy Ansah, Calvin Johnson