In the previous installment of The Next Step we talked about the Detroit Lions and how desperately they need to improve their defense if they want to get to the next level. Defense wins championships and the lack of one can get you bounced from the first round of the playoffs in embarrassing fashion, as was the case when the Lions faced the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round. While improving the defense is paramount to establishing a consistently good team, all parts of the team should be examined every offseason and that brings us to the offense.
The Lions offense has carried the team for years now and Matthew Stafford, before his late season finger injury, seemed to prove that he has finally put all the pieces together. He carried the team in 2016 and was the only consistent bright spot. And even that went to hell after the finger injury. It’s time for the team to take some pressure off of Stafford and build a complete offense. Here’s what they should do if they want to accomplish that goal.
The starting offensive line that the Detroit Lion rolled out last season is full of young talent. Rookie first round pick Taylor Decker proved that he is the left tackle of the future and Travis Swanson surprised everyone by becoming one of the better centers in the league, after an extremely rocky first two years in the NFL. Former first round left guard Laken Tomlinson on the other hand proved that he is quickly headed for bust status, but never fear! Rookie Graham Glasgow took over and did a good job. He also showed some versatility by moving to center when Swanson went down with a concussion that would cause him to miss the final five games of the year. All these players will most likely be on the Lions roster in 2017 (unless Tomlinson gets him self cut from the team, which is possible) so the left side of the line is set. But the right side could be a little tricky.
At right guard is former third round pick Larry Warford, who has been very good at times but hasn’t lived up to a stellar rookie season four years ago. At right tackle is former first rounder Riley Reiff who moved to the right side after the team drafted Taylor Decker. Both are above average-to-good players but both will be unrestricted free agents this offseason. It will be very hard to keep both so that means a choice must be made. While Larry Warford is probably higher rated at his position compared to other guards around the league than Reiff would be against his peers, good tackles are just too hard to come by. If the price is right, the team should re-sign Reiff, let Warford walk, and move Laken Tomlinson back to his more natural position at right guard. They should also draft some developmental players in the mid/late rounds of the draft, but by no means should they be giving big money to any free agents. If Reiff decides he wants left tackle money then you let him walk and hope Corey Robinson can step up and fill in.
The team is also in desperate need of a blocking tight end. Eric Ebron is great for catching passes (when he doesn’t drop the ball) and he gives the offense an explosiveness that it has been missing but having him block has not worked out. The Lions haven’t had a tight end who can block since Brandon Pettigrew so expect them to draft someone to fill this role. If they don’t address this need they will surely regret it.
Let’s face it, with Calvin Johnson gone from the offense the Detroit Lions had no true deep threat. Sure, there were some plays when Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, or even TJ Jones would get behind the defense. But they were few and far between throughout the 2016 season. For the most part, the offense was predicated on getting their shifty receivers the ball near the line of scrimmage and letting them breaks plays after the catch. There were long stretches when receivers could not get separation from opposing defensive backs. This has to change and the way to do that is by finding a speedy guy who can take the top off of the defense and open up the field underneath.
I think the answer here, like with the offensive line, should come from the draft. With as much work as the defense needs, spending big in free agency seems like the wrong move. I’m in favor of re-signing Anquan Boldin (should he choose not to retire) but he isn’t a giant threat to beat anyone deep. DeSean Jackson would be an amazing addition but with all the holes on defense, it seems unlikely that Bob Quinn will pay what it takes to get him on the team. The Lions should spend a mid round pick to find the fastest receiver available who can catch the ball well.
The Lions say that Ameer Abdullah is still slated to be the top dog in the backfield in 2017. And there’s no reason he shouldn’t be. He may be considered in an injury concern by some after missing most of last season and part of his rookie season with various injuries but that doesn’t seem fair. In the 18 games he has appeared in he has been absolutely electric and the offense is a totally different machine with him on the field. He should be the top back on the depth chart, but that doesn’t mean the team shouldn’t have other options. Fans love Zach Zenner but the Lions’ offense needs a real powerback.
The smartest thing to do would be to draft someone in a late round and hope that they can show enough to become the third option behind Abdullah and pass-catching extraordinaire Theo Riddick. Dwayne Washington, a sixth round pick last year, could blossom into the role but he had a very hard time seeing his holes last year and the team should have other options going into training camp. Should the team look to free agency Eddie Lacy could be an option. If he comes cheap it would be hilarious to see him run over some Green Bay Packers next season. Either way the team needs someone who can punish the defense between the tackles. Something they do not have right now.
That does it for the roster needs on offense but I have one more thing to add and it many Lions fans might think that I’m crazy. It’s the idea that maybe, just maybe, the Lions need someone new calling plays for the offense. After a great start to his career as offensive coordinator of the Lions, Jim Bob Cooter seems to have regressed. The play calling was awful at times last year and he has shown an inability to adjust as games wear on. I have no doubt that he will start the season calling plays in Detroit and hopefully he can continue to learn in second full offseason as offensive coordinator but keep an eye on how he performs in the early part of next season. If the offense leaves something to be desired he could be relieved of his duties mid season.
What do you think the Detroit Lions need to do on offense? Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.