The Next Step: Detroit Lions offseason needs on offense

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Published on : February 15, 2017

 

 

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.

 

Offensive Line

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.

 

 The Lions must re-sign Riley Reiff.

 

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.

 

Deep Threat

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.

 

 In your dreams, Lions fans.

 

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.

 

Power Runner

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.

 

 Eddie Lacy as a Lion?

 

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.

 

 


The first season with Bob Quinn has given the Lions a solid foundation

Written by :
Published on : January 4, 2017

 

 

The Detroit Lions are headed to the NFL playoffs this weekend. After finishing with a 9-7 record, they will travel to Seattle this Saturday as the #6 seed in the NFC. Three weeks ago, the Lions were in control of the division with a 9-4 record and looked to be in great position to lock up a home playoff game for the first time in forever. Sadly, the team went on to lose three straight games and after dropping the regular season finale to the surging Green Bay Packers, the dream of a division championship is dead, for now.

 

Losing the division after having such a commanding lead on it a month ago is certainly disappointing, we must remember that this is a team that nobody believed in before the season began. Well, almost nobody. I had them winning 10 games in my prediction for how the season would shake out, and though they narrowly missed that win total, most people had them winning 4 to 6 games and getting a high draft pick. I did, however, have the team pegged as the #6 seed in the playoffs, so that just shows that I know what I’m talking about. But enough about me, this is about the Lions and what this season says about their future.

 

 Matthew Stafford is the leader of this team. Now he needs Bob Quinn to build a winner around him.

 

We’ve established that the team ended the season by going a paltry 1-3 in the final quarter. That is coupled with a 1-3 first quarter of the season that had fans of the team getting out their pitchforks and torches, and calling for the head of coach, Jim Caldwell. Luckily for Caldwell (and his employment status) the team was very strong in the middle of the season. Some timely turnovers by the defense and the incredible play of Matthew Stafford has them heading to the playoffs for the second time in three years. For a team with such low expectations (at least from everyone outside of Detroit) this is quite the surprise.

 

For those in Detroit, there’s a lot to feel good about. Besides the fact that their QB cemented himself as the franchise guy this year, it looks like they’ve finally found the right guy to lead the front office, and his name is Bob Quinn. The current general manager of the Lions was brought over from the New England Patriots, where he was the team’s director of pro scouting. After the Lions relieved their former heads of front office during the 2015 season, the team was determined to bring in someone who had experience building a winner. And there has been no bigger winner in the last decade than the New England Patriots.

 

In year one as the top dog in the Detroit Lions organization, Bob Quinn has shown the ability to add productive players to the roster via the draft and free agency, without breaking the bank on over-priced free agents. After the retirement of Calvin Johnson, Quinn went out and snagged the top free agent wide receiver on the market, Marvin Jones, at what now looks like a team friendly price tag. Injuries in the secondary are making it evident that he probably could have done a little more to add depth to that unit, but his acquisition of safeties Rafael Bush and Tavon Wilson and their relative success has shown that he has an eye for talent where others might not see the potential.

 

If Bob Quinn is truly going to turn the Lions into Patriots 2.0, then he has to find the best value he can in the draft, and with what we have seen out of this year’s draft picks, he seems more than capable of doing that. Six of the team’s nine draft picks have seen extensive playing time this season. First r0und left tackle, Taylor Decker, has started since day one and though there have been the usual rookie struggles, he has held up admirably and has proven that he is the future of that position on the team. Third round guard/center Graham Glasgow has also proven to be a great pick and replaced former first round pick, Laken Tomlinson, in the starting lineup early on in the season and has proven he can hold onto the job. The team has also seen a ton of things to be happy about from second round defensive tackle, A’Shawn Robinson (7 passes batted down at the line). Safety Miles Killebrew, running back Dwayne Washington, linebacker Antoine Williams and defensive end Anthony Zettel have also seen a lot of action.

 

 Taylor Decker (68) and Graham Glasgow (60) were drafted this year and are the future of the left side of the Lions’ line.

 

Having that many players from the top to the bottom of your draft board see extended action says two things. That the team has dealt with its fair share of injuries, and that they have a guy in charge who knows how to find talent. Bob Quinn’s eye for talent has helped to add a ton of depth to this team and is a big reason why they are going to the playoffs. While some may be upset that this trip to the postseason almost surely means that Jim Caldwell will be back for at least one more year as head coach of the team, you can’t deny that this team is trending in the right direction.

 

I fully expect the Lions to get bounced from the playoffs this Saturday when they head to Seattle. They’ve withstood a fair amount of injuries and it’s admirable that they’ve made it this far to begin with. But Lions fans should be very encouraged by what transpired this year. Another year under Bob Quinn should see this roster improve dramatically. By building off what he has already done for the team, and assuming they aren’t looking for a new defensive or offensive coordinator, this should be the worst Lions team we see for years to come. And considering that this is a playoff team, that is a big reason to be excited for the future in Detroit.

 

 


The Detroit Lions saved their season, and maybe their coach’s job

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Published on : October 11, 2016

 

 

It was a scene that we are all too familiar with. The Detroit Lions have a lead at halftime and everything seems to be going their way. The offense is scoring points and the defense is holding up. If they can just maintain the momentum of the first half, they should win the game handily. Then the second half rolls around and everything goes to shit. The offense can’t get going and the defense gets torn to shreds. Then the Lions do just enough to make you think they can pull it off, only to screw it up in the end and lose in painful fashion. It’s a story that everyone in the Lions fandom universe knows very well.

 

That’s how it was at Ford Field on Sunday when the Philadelphia Eagles came to town. The Lions scored touchdowns on all three of their first half drives and managed to hold the Eagles to 10 points. The perfect storm of good fortune and the type of scenario that is ripe for another Lions letdown. But this time was different. And for once in this harrowing 2016 campaign, the defense of the Detroit Lions did enough to win, forcing two late turnovers and sending the Eagles back to Philly to drown themselves in tears and cheese whiz.

 

   

Both of those late turnovers were forced by cornerback Darius ‘Big Play’ Slay. The first was a fumble by Eagles RB, Ryan Mathews, and the second was a great interception on an ill-advised deep ball thrown by rookie QB, Carson Wentz. It was the type of deep ball that you can see beating the Lions in your nightmares. Except Slay made a great play on the ball and Nelson Agholor wasn’t even looking for it. This was the first game this season where Slay has shown the type of talent that got him a fat contract extension over the summer. And by finally showing that top-tier talent, he may have saved his team’s season and his head coach’s job.  

 

One of those things makes me very happy. The other, not so much.  

 

If the Lions had lost this one, after once again holding a sizable lead, then that would have been curtains on the 2016 season. The team is still dangerously close to unraveling and there are considerable issues involving injuries, depth, discipline, and overall talent on the roster. But with that win over the Eagles, this team lives to fight another day. And the same goes for their coach, Jim Caldwell.      

 

 Big Play Slay saves the day!

 

Jim Caldwell has underwhelmed as head coach of the Detroit Lions and he seems destined to be relieved of his duties by 1st year general manager, Bob Quinn. The different issues facing this team can and should be placed on the shoulders of Caldwell. Lack of concentration, sloppy play, guys giving up on plays, failure to make adjustments in game. These are things that should be corrected after a few games, yet they seem to keep popping up. When it keeps happening you have to think that it’s systematic. Most would agree that Caldwell should go, but while saving the Lions season, did Darius Slay save Caldwell’s job too?    

 

 

It seems unlikely, but the Lions are great at doing just enough, or just little enough, to fuck everything up. Doing well enough to justify keeping Jim Caldwell would be a typical Lions move that would continue to keep the team mired in mediocrity for years to come. Through five games, it’s obvious that Caldwell is not the guy to take this team to the next level. I would never hope for my team to lose, and while I still hope they can get it together and make a playoff run, I sure hope it doesn’t save Caldwell’s job.

 

This Lions team has proven that they have the talent to win. They have been competitive in every game this season, despite missing some of their biggest playmakers for a majority of the games. They will be getting some of those guys back soon and that should make them better, but this inconsistency will be their downfall in the end. That’s on Jim Caldwell. So while Darius Slay and his teammates may have saved their head coach for the time being, they won’t be able to overcome his inadequacies for the entire season, and eventually he’ll be gone.

 

 


It’s time for Ausmus and Caldwell to go

Written by :
Published on : October 3, 2016

 

Last week, I reported that the city of Detroit was suffering from A Case of the Mondays after both the Tigers and the Lions lost their games. It was more of the same today. Both teams disappointed big time and it has me thinking, now more than ever, that it’s time for Ausmus and Caldwell to be shown the door as head coaches of their teams.

 

The Lions lost in a pathetic display of professional football against the Chicago Bears. The loss brings them to 1-3 and the team is on the verge of a complete implosion. In what is becoming an all too familiar early season trend with these Detroit Lions. Chicago was widely considered one of the worst teams in the league. They had 10,000 players on IR and were missing their starting quarterback. Detroit should have come out and gotten right against this team and started to build the foundation of a a potential playoff run. Instead, they fell flat on their faces. Jim Caldwell once again failed to have his team prepared and it was obvious.

 

The Tigers played the Atlanta Braves, with a chance to stay in contention for a spot in the AL Wild Card. Justin Verlander looked a bit off to start, allowing a run in the first before settling down and blanking the Braves for the rest of his six innings. The team went on to lose the game 1-0. As usual, the Tigers bats went to sleep when they were needed most. Despite having a future hall of fame slugger in Miguel Cabrera and a stable of other capable offensive weapons, the team couldn’t muster a single run. It is now the third 1-0 loss this season when Verlander is on the mound. Now the season is over and Brad Ausmus has failed to get his team to the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

 

 

We expect this from the Lions. This team has been breaking hearts in Motown for decades now and fans have seen the team be horrible more often than not. With injuries to the best defensive players and a head coach in Jim Caldwell who can’t get his team ready to compete on Sundays, they were treated to a listless effort.

 

Jim Caldwell was already on the hot seat this year. After making the playoffs in 2014, his first season in Detroit, the team started off the 2015 campaign in pathetic fashion before firing the offensive coordinator and getting it together enough to manage a 7-9 finish. This season saw a changing of the guard in the front office, as the Ford family brought in new general manager Bob Quinn from the New England Patriots organization. Quinn decided to retain Caldwell and give him one more shot to show what he is made of and bring Detroit a contender. Well, he sure showed us what he’s got and the returns are not good. That’s why he should get fired immediately and the team should start preparing to find someone who can maximize the talent on the team.

 

 

Same goes for Brad Ausmus. Say what you will about Jim Leyland as a professional baseball manager, but he brought the Detroit Tigers out of the dark ages and turned them into perennial contender. When he retired, Brad Ausmus inherited a team that had won the AL Central three years running and had appeared in two World Series in the past decade. His inaugural campaign with the team saw the team win its 4th consecutive AL Central title, only to get swept by the Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS. In 2015, the team finished last in the division with a 74-87 record. With yesterday’s loss, the team will miss the playoffs again. With the type of talent on this roster there’s no reason for that.

 

Ausmus and Caldwell have both had three years (more or less) to make a winner. Brad Ausmus came in as a manager with no experience. He was a calculated risk taken by the front office that hurt a team with aging stars whose windows are rapidly closing. Jim Caldwell came in with a solid resume, having taken the Colts to the Super Bowl as their head coach and won another as the offensive coordinator of the Ravens. Their were red flags with him as well, but the team needed someone who could counter the undisciplined culture of the team under former head coach, Jim Schwartz.

 

Neither of the two coaches has worked out. It’s time for the Tigers and Lions to move on from their current head coaches and start looking to the future. If you need to ask why, just watch the games from yesterday. The fans deserve better than what Ausmus and Caldwell have brought to Detroit over the last two seasons. There are teams out there that do a lot more with a lot less. That’s what good managers can bring and it’s time both these teams went out and found a couple of those.

 

 


Marvin Jones or Golden Tate, who will have the bigger year?

Written by :
Published on : August 9, 2016

 

 

The new-look receiver corps for the Detroit Lions has fans of the team full of uncertainty. For years, Calvin Johnson was the ultimate safety blanket in the passing game. He made quarterbacks and fans alike feel all warm and safe and scared away the monsters under our beds. But now he’s gone and he’s never coming back. It’s time we get over it and look towards the future.

 

Thankfully, the team has two very talented guys catching the ball who can help us forget Megatron and all the good times he brought to us. Fans around Detroit are already familiar with one of those guys and his name is Golden Tate. He came to the team via free agency from Seattle in 2014 and has been as solid as they come for the last two seasons. With a knack for catching everything that comes his way, his relationship with Matt Stafford should ascend to new heights as he is the heir-apparent to the role of go-to-guy.

 

The team, however, was not content to put all of their hopes into the hands of one man alone. As far as they were concerned the job of filling Megatron’s cleats was far to big of a burden for Tate to shoulder all by himself. New GM, Bob Quinn, acted quickly and snagged the consensus best receiver on the market in Marvin Jones. By adding Jones to play across from Golden Tate the Lions now have some of the surest hands in the game, something that Matt Stafford has definitely not had throughout his career.

 

With two quick, athletic, sure-handed receivers vying for catches the Lions passing game should recover nicely from the loss of Calvin Johnson. The pieces to be successful are there but I beg the question, who will have the bigger year, Marvin Jones or Golden Tate.

 

Mr Jones

 

Much like how Golden Tate really took off once he left Seattle, I believe that Marvin Jones is going to have huge year in his first campaign outside of Cincinnati. Getting out of AJ Green’s shadow will give him a chance to be the focal point of the passing game (along with Tate), and put his skills on a stage unlike any he has yet seen. Matt Stafford should be very happy that management went out and got Jones because the guy can do it all. Contrary to one uninformed analysts opinion, Marvin Jones has some of the best hands in the NFL. He dropped only 1.9% (2 out of 103) of his catchable targets last season according to sportingcharts.com. That’s better than guys like Calvin Johnson (2.7%), Demaryius Thomas (5.1%),  Dez Bryant (6.9%) and Odell Beckham Jr (3.2%).

 

So the kid can catch, but what else does he have in his bag of tricks?

 

A lot, actually. He is a complete receiver who runs great routes at all depths and is more of a deep threat than most people give him credit for. He tracks the ball very well, and more often than not he is able to get behind the defender. If he gets a clean release he is gone but he is also able to fight through jams from opposing corners. I expect to see some deep touchdowns between him and Stafford this season. As far as shorter passes are concerned, he catches everything that comes his way. He definitely doesn’t have the agility or elusiveness of Golden Tate, but if he gets the chance to try and outrun the defense, the Lions are going to be putting 6 points on the scoreboard. Signing Marvin Jones was the best thing the Lions could have done to try and compensate for the loss of Calvin Johnson and he will have a career year in 2016

 

Prediction for the 2016 Season: 87 receptions, 1168 yards, 9 touchdowns.

 

 

Golden Child

 

Lions’ fans already know what they have in Golden Tate. He is a monster after the catch and his ability to make defenders miss is unparalleled in the NFL. Every time I watch him I’m amazed at how he is able to get out of the most precarious situations on the field. The dude can flat out ball. And if his ability to get out of tackles and gain yards after the catch wasn’t enough, he has some of the best hands in all of the NFL. He catches everything. He only dropped 3 of his 90 catchable targets last year, which is pretty good when you consider the heat that Matt Stafford regularly puts on his passes. The Lions have had issues with drops in the the past and management has clearly made fixing those issues a priority in recent years.

 

Last year with Calvin Johnson playing in all 16 games and half a season worth of garbage offense under Joe Lombardi, Tate’s production took a bit of a dive from the year before. In 2015, he had 90 receptions for 813 yards and 6 touchdowns, but in 2014 when Calvin Johnson was clearly unhealthy he amassed 99 receptions for 1,331 yards. He may have come in with less touchdowns in 2014 (4) but that seems like a fluke. When called upon, Golden Tate is very productive. Marvin Jones is more of a deep threat to be sure, but Golden Tate’s versatility and his rapport with Matt Stafford can’t be understated.

 

Prediction for the 2016 Season: 101 receptions, 1368 yards, 11 touchdowns.

 

 Expect to see a lot of this in 2016.

 

I foresee a very successful year for the Detroit Lions offense with Marvin Jones and Golden Tate leading the charge at wide receiver. Matt Stafford should thank his lucky stars (and his front office) that he has two guys who are so talented in so many different ways. Both of these guys are going to have the best years of their careers, with Golden Tate emerging at his quarterback’s favorite target. He will just edge out Marvin Jones in all of the important statistical categories due to his familiarity with Stafford,  but both will be important in helping the Lions’ passing game be one of the better ones in the league.

 

 


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