Coming into this season I thought it was playoffs or bust for this Detroit Lions team. I got a taste of reality after the first game against the New York Jets where a rookie quarterback picked apart the Lions defense and Matthew Stafford was color blind, throwing the ball to the white colored jerseys instead of blue ones. It was here I knew I had to reevaluate my expectations of what this season will be.
As the Lions made their way into the bye week this week I realized that this season, at least for the Lions front office, would not be measured on wins and losses, rather it will be used as the foundation of what Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia want this football team and their culture to be going forward.
Cultural and foundational pieces are cool and all, but you still have to preform between the white strips and the Detroit Lions need to attack Week 7 with an eye on getting better in these 5 areas:
Offense Has to Start on Time
Too many times after a game do we hear Stafford say, “We need to get going earlier,” or “We need to take advantage of scoring drives early in a game,” or “We can’t wait to score in the fourth quarter.”
And he’s right. This team and that quarterback have made a name for themselves as the comeback kids, laying it all on the line in the fourth quarter when they are down by 3 and have 1:53 left on the clock. However, good to great teams don’t do that every week, they can’t. The miracle bag only has so many inexplicable wins in it and we’ve seen a ton in prior seasons.
Whether it be more scripted play sets, force feeding the run game, utilizing a hurry-up offense to get Stafford in a rhythm or just taking what the defense gives you, the unit as a whole has to be more effective in games early. A prime example is the Green Bay game in Week 5. A weird turnover got the offense back on the field at the Packers’ 1-yard line, 4 seconds later LeGarrette Blount was plunging ahead for a touchdown which got the offense engaged and going as they ripped off 24 unanswered points and only punted once more in that first half.
Kid Kerryon Needs to Eat
If you’ve watch any of the Lions games this season you will notice a bit more of a balanced attacked on offense. The skills of Pro-Bowl caliber quarterback Stafford and his dangerous wideout weapons are still on display in the pass game, but there is a new wrinkle: A run game.
In the off-season, this sub-unit of the offense was retooled, bringing in bruiser Blount, keeping Theo Riddick as a change of pace back and passing option out of the backfield, relegating Ameer Abdullah to the inactive list and moving up in the NFL Draft to grab Kerryon Johnson.
Johnson has been the most pleasant surprise as he has breakaway speed, good hands and is tough to bring down. Johnson is a Top-10 running back in the league when it comes to picking up yards after contact and in Week 3 against the New England Patriots on 18 touches he became the first Lion to rush for more than 100 yards in a game since Reggie Bush on Thanksgiving in 2013.
The issue is, he isn’t getting used enough. On the depth chart he is second, behind Blount, which isn’t a big deal if he is getting his touches. This tends to be a 50/50 backfield with Blount and Johnson getting equal carries, at this point Johnson needs to be the featured back on this offense and should be touching the ball 20 to 25times a game.
The proof is in the pudding, the Lions win when he has double digit carries:
JBC Needs To Dig Deep
The job Offense Coordinator, Jim Bob Cooter, did when he took over for Joe Lombardi part way through the 2015 season was pretty amazing. Cooter stepped in and built a passing offense that limited Stafford’s mistakes and allowed him to be the passer fans clamored for.
Fast forward to the 2017 season and still we haven’t seen his ability to install a run game or get creative with his play designs.
Now it’s Monday Night and it’s the opening week for the 2018 season and Jets players are celebrating picking off Stafford, again, and again, and again, oh and one more time. After the game Jets Linebacker Darron Lee told the New York Post, “We were calling out their plays as he (Stafford) was getting up to the line.” Lee continued, “We knew his signals. We knew everything. Just seemed like we were in his head as a defense, but that’s just preparation for us all around. They run pretty true to whatever they get out of their formations, and everybody knew it.”
Week 3, verse the Pats there was a near catastrophe that Blount was skilled enough to turn into a positive gain, but it was all caught on TV for the world to see on Sunday Night Football (click the link for video).
The run game has improved due to the talent, but the play design and calls have not. If Cooter is going to continue on as Offensive Coordinator, he is going have dig deep into his magical bag of creativity and design something to keep the defenses honest and on their heels.
Stuff The Run
What’s the one thing that is killing this team week-in and week-out?
You’d probably say this team can’t stop the run.
And you’d be correct, after all this team is dead last in the NFL at stopping the run.
Going into the season, everyone knew that the defensive linewas thin and there were no real playmakers along it, including the $17.1Million-dollar man Ziggy Ansah.
To say this team just needs to be better at this through scheming or stacking the box is foolish. The real problem is this team doesn’t have the talent to get the job done against better offensive lines and premier running backs.
The defensive will be this team achille’s heel all season long, but there is a bit of a silver lining – Da’Shawn Hand.
The rookie 4th round pick that the Lions traded(2019 3rd Rd Pick) up for is paying massive dividends and looks like he could be a Pro-Bowl player. The only problem is he can’t do it on his own. The Lions need more production from guys like A’Shawn Robinson, Sylvester Williams and Ricky Jean Francois.
Hand and free agent pick up Romeo Okwara look like the anchors of this defense line right now, watching them evolve and get better every week is the only expectation that can be asked of them.
This sub-unit of the defense is expected to look totally different next season, if guys like Robinson want to be on that new look defense in 2019 he better pick up his play.
Can We Get a Return on That Investment?
I mentioned the $17.1 Million-dollar man Ansah and how he has been a non-factor for the Lions defensive line - its hard to contribute when you can’t even put your pads on. Ansah has played 29 snaps this season and has been sidelined with a shoulder injury coming out of the first game against the Jets.
Injuries and Ansah go hand and hand like peanut butter and jelly. Beside a relatively healthy 2014 and 2015 seasons, Ansah has dealt with nagging injuries that have hamper his production since he came in the league in 2013. The thing that is curious about this injury is that it was reported that Ansah should be back by Week 3. He then practiced all week before the loss to Dallas in Week 4 and he was ruled out of the Green Bay game on Friday afternoon of Week 5. This has caused questions from the media and the fan base asking if he is milking the injury so he can collect his check and not play.
This season two defensive ends where franchised tagged by their teams, giving them the average dollar amount of the Top-5 players for their position, they were the aforementioned Ansah and Dallas’ Defensive End Demarcus Lawrence. While Ansah has only taken 29 snaps, Lawrence has 5.5 sacks on the season and has the third most sacks for defensive linemen. At this point, one guy is worth every penny of the $17,143,000.00 franchise tender and the other is a frustration for an organization and a fan base.
If Ansah can figure out where the field is located and how to say on it, he has a chance at being productive and helping out the one unit that has struggled the most this season. Then again ifs and butts, candy and nuts. If my grandma had balls she’d be grandpa.
At this point, I don’t see the Lions getting to the post season, but this season could be used to catapult them for seasons to come. I hate the Patriot comparisons and the Patriot Way BS, but Bill Belichick took over the Patriots in 2000 (1999 - NE was 8-8) and went 5-11. After that brutal season he only won less than 10 games once (9 games in 2002) and missed the playoffs twice (2002 and 2008).
The similarities are there and a Patriots like dynasty would help ease 61 years of awful play, but it needs to start next week.