Lions must focus on defense in the draft

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Published on : April 2, 2017

 

 

The Detroit Lions have spent the better part of the last 50 years as the laughing stock of football. From pee wee to the pros, the Lions like the Browns and other oft-maligned franchises, were synonymous with ineptitude. The team that squandered the careers of Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson, two legends of the gridiron. Lions and losing went together like peanut butter and jelly, but in the last few years something crazy has happened. The team has been pretty damn good at times, and mediocre at worst. For the last three seasons the team has been a legitimate contender for the division and they have made the playoffs twice in that period.

 

Gone are the days of planning for the next year’s draft in October and November. Fans in the Motor City expect to be in the running late in the season. The new goal isn’t just having a winning record or even making the playoffs, it’s winning a playoff game; something that hasn’t happened since 1991. If that goal is going to be achieved this season then there is still quite a bit of offseason work to be done. Especially on the defense.

 

 

There is an almost complete consensus that the Detroit Lions are one of the early winners of this year’s free agency. After losing Riley Reiff and Larry Warford, two long time starters on the offensive line, there was concern that an already somewhat porous unit was going to take a big step backward in 2017. Then general manager Bob Quinn surprised many people by spending big money to acquire two of the best offensive linemen available. On the opening day of free agency, right tackle, Rick Wagner, was signed away from the Baltimore Ravens. Days later local boy and longtime Packers guard, TJ Lang, was signed after it seemed like a certainty that he was headed for Seattle. These two are immediate and significant upgrades over their predecessors on the line, especially when it comes to pass blocking, where they rank as two of the best at their positions in the league. Quinn had a goal to upgrade protection for Matt Stafford and he executed his plan swiftly.

 

Those upgrades on the offensive line did not come cheap, however, and depending on who you ask, the Lions now only have about $8 million in cap space. That cap space doesn’t preclude them from making more moves in free agency but it does most likely take them out of the running for the big names like Zach Brown that are still on the market. That could be of concern because the Lions have yet to improve their defense whatsoever this offseason, and if anything the talent pool on that side of the ball has gotten more shallow.

 

Linebacker Paul Worrilow was signed from the Falcons and cornerback DJ Hayden was signed from the Raiders. Worrilow has value as a special teamer but if the Lions are forced to start him then that’s a bad sign. Hayden has the potential to start at the nickel position if he can stay healthy and replicate his performance from last season. Both of the guys are nice depth pieces but they aren’t difference makers. That is troubling on a Lions defense that is in dire need of guys who can make big plays, especially after the team chose to part ways with the once electric but now injury plagued DeAndre Levy.

 

 None of the defensive signing so far are game changers, including Paul Worrilow.

 

A few more depth pieces with some potential have been signed along the defensive line. Akeem Spence, Cornelius Washington and Jordan Hill will all contribute but the team must generate a better pass rush this year. Ever since Ndamukong Suh took his talents to South Beach there has been no pressure up the middle. Last year, that weakness really came back to bite them as opposing quarterbacks were allowed record setting completion percentages against the defense. If there’s no pass rush then the defense will surely flounder again.

 

The cap constraints and a free agency class that is short on defensive playmakers at this point means that the Detroit Lions are going to need a defensive haul of epic proportions in this year’s NFL Draft. There are huge holes on the defensive line and at linebacker and the way that the team sits right now, the offense will need to score 40 points a game for them to be successful. In the NFL, you can’t expect to have sustained success if you’re forced to rely solely on the offense. This team must dedicate the lion’s share of their draft picks to the defense because the guys they have right now simply can’t get the job done.

 

 


The Next Step: Detroit Lions offseason needs on defense

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Published on : February 1, 2017

 

 

Some people see the Detroit Lions 2016 campaign as a failure. Some people see it as a success. Regardless of whether you think the team needed to win the division or that Wild Card game in Seattle in order to say that the season was a success, you have to admit that they surpassed most everyone’s preseason expectations. Nine wins and a trip to the playoffs is nothing to scoff at, but the 26-6 thrashing that the Lions took at the hands of the Seahawks proved that there is still a way to go before this team is contending for titles.

 

The team has a few very solid pieces in place and has the luxury of some nice depth on the roster, but there are some big holes still. With a few good moves this team could be a dangerous. General Manager Bob Quinn and head coach Jim Caldwell have a chance to solidify this roster and make the Lions legit. Defense wins championships so we will focus on that unit for this first installment about the Lions offseason.

 

The Detroit Lions defense was historically bad in 2016, especially against the pass. Though opposing quarterbacks carved them up through the air, I actually believe that the Lions’ secondary is the most solid unit on the defense. Darius Slay will be a solid number one cornerback for years. Glover Quin is in his prime and has a year left on his contract. Guys like Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs, Tavon Wilson, and Miles Killebrew have a ton of potential and provide solid depth. They could certainly use a solid number two cornerback who can turn and run with faster receivers (Logan Ryan from New England?), but I place most of the blame for the unit’s pass defense woes on the front end, especially the defensive line.

 

Defensive Line

 JPP has proven he can still rush the passer. Will the Lions be willing to pay him?

 

The team gambled on returning Haloti Ngata, Tyrunn Walker, and Devin Taylor back to start at defensive tackle and defensive end along rising star DE, Ziggy Ansah. And they lost big time. With Ziggy battling injury for most of the year, the defensive line was not able to get consistent pressure. Kerry Hyder, a guy I had never heard of before 2016, lead the team in sacks (8) and the team only had 26 overall. They must upgrade here if they want to turn this defense around, and though Hyder certainly earned a spot in the rotation with his efforts this year, everyone except Ansah should be on the chopping block.

 

The team may be interested in a guy like Jason Pierre Paul to start at defensive end across from Ziggy, but he may come at a price tag that is far beyond what GM Bob Quinn is willing to pay. JPP would make the Lions’ starting DEs absolutely terrifying but it seems like a pipe dream at this point. There are too many holes to be filled to spend the likely $11-13 million/year that JPP will command. Other guys like Andre Branch out of Miami or William Gholston from Tampa Bay could be more cost effective options in free agency. Defensive ends Taco Charlton out of Michigan or Daeshon Hall out of Texas A&M could be available when the Lions pick in the draft and they have the size and skills to develop into the type of player they like.

 

As far as defensive tackle, it seems likely that the team will release Haloti Ngata unless he takes a pay cut and Tyrunn Walker should allowed to walk out the door. The Lions already have one replacement starter in A’Shawn Robinson, who was drafted in the second round last year and led the line in passes defended with seven. Robinson needs to develop into a force in the interior if the Lions defense is going to get back on track because I don’t see the team spending big money on a free agent stud, if that even exists this year. I think the focus will be on defensive end and they will allow Robinson to develop while finding a band-aid type player in free agency and a more developmental prospect in the draft.

 

Linebackers

 The Lions could certainly use a linebacker who can generate a turnover or two.

 

Linebacker needs some major help too. When he signed a lucrative contract two offseasons ago, DeAndre Levy looked like the future stud playmaker on the Lions defense. Injuries have derailed his career since then and he has played in only 6 of 32 possible games. He may be healthy, but then again he could get injured again. Or he could retire after showing obvious displeasure with the league and the way it conducts business regarding its players and their health. Hopefully he will still be able to contribute and make plays but the team can’t count on it and even if he does, there are other major holes.

 

Tahir Whitehead has been the starting middle linebacker for two years now and it’s clear that it isn’t working. Three years ago, when he was the third best linebacker on the team and was playing on the strong side, he thrived. The team needs to do everything in their power to make that happen again because when he is the best option at LB, the team is in trouble. That makes finding a new starting middle linebacker priority one. In free agency, the two names that are being floated around are Zach Brown from Buffalo or Dont’a Hightower from New England. The two will definitely come at a high price, but if the team wants to spend the money then Zach Brown is the guy for this team. With Reggie Ragland returning from injury, it seems likely that the Bills will let him walk following his 147 tackle effort in 2016. If the Lions can put him in alongside Tahir Whitehead and (hopefully) DeAndre Levy then this unit can be very solid, but it’s going to cost them. I think it would be money well spent.

 

Should the Lions choose to address the need at linebacker in the draft the big name that has been floated is Zach Cunningham out of Vanderbilt. Reuben Foster from Alabama would be amazing but there is very little chance he drops low enough in the first round for the Lions to snag him. Cunningham has the athleticism, size and speed to step into the role in the middle immediately but is a bit of a problem in the missed tackle department. He would definitely have some learning to do and if the Lions are really in win now mode with head coach Jim Caldwell potentially on the hot seat, then they may opt for a more expensive solution in free agency.

 

 Cunningham could be the MLB of the future if he can clean up his tackling.

 

These are just some of the moves that the team needs to make this offseason. In the NFL you can never rest easy and you always need to be looking for upgrades at all positions. Expect the team to make some moves that don’t correspond to anything I’ve listed here. Stay tuned for the list of offensive needs for the coming offseason.

 

 


It’s not time for the Lions to panic just yet

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Published on : September 24, 2016

 

 

Last Sunday’s loss to the Titans was a sloppy mess that was brutal for fans of the Lions to endure. There were many factors that contributed to the heartbreaking 16-15 score, and it might be easy for some to give up on the 2016 NFL season. As one of the more battered and abused fanbases in the league, the people can turn against the team on a dime. It’s a defense mechanism that helps fans stop the pain before it gets too bad.

 

I’m here to try and quell that urge and tell you that it’s too early to panic. Last week’s game was bad, but the NFL season is long and even the best team’s have games like the one the Lions had against Tennessee. In a 16 game season, 1-1 after two games isn’t the worst position to be in. There are reasons to be encouraged with this team, and reasons to believe that the team can move on from the loss and still compete. Here are a few of them.

 

This Sunday is a whole new game

The amount of penalties in last Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans was enough to make a Lions’ fans head spin. Same goes for the injuries. It was so Lions that it hurt. Eventually the hurt got so bad that the team lost. They still should have won in spite of all the adversity, and had the chance to do so, but they couldn’t seal the deal, and all the penalties and injuries certainly weren’t helping.

 

 

These teams were playing some very sloppy football, but the refs in this game also had their heads up their own asses on a few occasions. Both teams benefited from some bad officiating at one point or another. The Titans got a gift when an Eric Ebron touchdown was called back on a make believe offensive pass interference call. The Lions got to keep the ball when the refs twice failed to notice Lions fumbles that were recovered by the Titans, instead calling the plays dead. The Lions need to clean their play up to be sure, but fans also need to realize that things like holding happen on every single NFL play. Officials will not normally call the game like this and there will be many crews that will be more apt to let the teams play and decide the game between themselves.

 

As for the injuries, it was a bad, bad day for the Detroit Lions. The worst thing to happen was the Ameer Abdullah injury. He was forced to have surgery on his foot this week and the team placed him on IR. He is eligible to return in time for the Jaguars game on November 20, but the team hasn’t indicated if they believe that is possible and it doesn’t seem likely. The team also lost Ziggy Ansah for an undetermined amount of time with a high ankle sprain, but the real hit was to the linebacking corps.

 

The team was already without DeAndre Levy who missed the game with another mystery injury (quadricep), then they began to drop like flies. By the time Kyle Van Noy and Antoine Williams had gone down with injuries, the only two linebackers left were Tahir Whitehead and a guy I’ve never heard of named Thurston Armbrister. The team was forced to move Brandon Copeland off the line and was obviously hampered by it.

 

 

The truth is that while these injuries are a concern, every team in the NFL has to deal with them and it’s better for some of these to happen now rather than in November or December. If the team can continue to play .500 ball while getting healthy, they can finish out the season and push for a spot in the playoffs. You never want to get injured but luckily it looks like none of them, except Abdullah’s will be too long term.

 

The offense is good enough to keep the team competitive

It was a sloppy game where the Lions left points on the field via penalties or poor play, but still, the offense has looked pretty solid this season. Especially the offensive line. Pro Football Focus has them graded out as the third best line in the league through the first two weeks. I know that doesn’t really mean anything but it sounds nice and I like saying it. But for real, this line has looked pretty good. There have been some shakey moments in pass protection from guys like rookie Taylor Decker, and I’m pretty sure Laken Tomlinson will never be all that good (certainly not good enough to justify a 1st round pick), but the early returns on this group are good overall.

 

 Taylor Decker has been solid in his first year.

 

The big boys up front are opening up holes and keep Matt Stafford upright for the most part (5 sacks given up). The fact that this group is gelling only means good things for the Lions and this offense. With Travis Swanson finally playing up to his potential and Larry Warford and Riley Reiff owning the right side of the line, the run game should continue to excel. Even in Ameer Abdullah’s absence.

 

Aside from the proficient play of the offensive line, another reason to be optomisitic about the offense is the emergence of Theo Riddick as a quality runner. He has always been a threat in the pass game, with his ability to get open and make defenders miss in the open field, but never before has he looked good rushing the ball. He’s seeing the holes that his line is opening up and making defenses pay with agility and speed. The fact that the Lions gave him a new contract on the eve of the season means they believe in his ability as a complete back. You don’t give a guy almost $13 million over three years if you think he is solely a pass-catching back. Theo Riddick will make the the loss of Ameer Abdullah a little easier to deal with and the run game should be decent at worst.

 


With a competent run game and Matthew Stafford continuing to have thrive in Jim Bob Cooter’s system, this offense will keep the team competitive. Eric Ebron has looked great, and was the team’s best receiver last week. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones won’t continue to drop the football and the passing offense should be one of the better ones in the league this year. If the defense can hold it together and be decent, this team will be in every game this year. And if you can get that far, there’s always a chance in the NFL.

 

Especially when you consider my next point.

 

The NFC North is up for grabs

 

As we talked about early, the NFL season is still very young. Nothing is getting set in stone after week 2 and the NFC North is still wide open. The Bears were never really a threat, and with the loss of Jay Cutler that’s even more true. But the two teams that everyone picked to be playing for the division title, the Packers and Vikings, have got some serious issues of their own. Because of those issues, if the Lions can manage to avoid a total implosion, they have a chance to be playing for the division come December.

 

 Did the Vikings season go down with AP?

 

On August 29, the Minnesota Vikings were the favorite pick to win the NFC North. Then things began to seriously unravel. Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the year and the team quickly made a move to acquire Sam Bradford. He may not be the best quarterback but he certainly isn’t terrible and has looked okay through two games. But the injuries have continued to pile up and now running back Adrian Peterson and starting left tackle Matt Kalil are likely done for the year. The defense is great but it’s unclear if the offense can weather the storm of injuries it has faced. Because of that, the Vikings are no longer a lock to take the division.

 

As for the Green Bay Packers, they too have some issues to deal with. In week 1, they almost fell to the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars and in week 2 they lost to the aforementioned Vikings. The offense doesn’t look great. Receivers aren’t getting much separation and Jordy Nelson doesn’t look like he has quite returned to pre-injury form yet. Another person who hasn’t looked quite like their old self is QB Aaron Rodgers. Stretching back to last season, there looks to be something wrong with him. He hasn’t surpassed 300 passing yards in 11 games and has gone 14 straight contests with a sub-100 passer rating. Long story short, this team is flawed, just like the rest of the teams in the NFC North.

 

 If Aaron is on tilt, the Lions have a chance.

 

Tomorrow’s game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau field will be an important one. Both the Lions and the Packers are still getting their acts together. If the Lions can pull out a win on the road in Green Bay for the second year in a row, then they will be in a very good position to contend for the division. If they lose, see above. It won’t be the end of the world and there will still be a chance to contend for the division. It’s early in the season and there’s a long way to go.

 

 


Concerns about the Lions defense

Written by :
Published on : September 15, 2016

 

 

In typical Lions fashion, the team gave up a late lead with less than a minute to play on Sunday. In not-so-typical Lions fashion, they managed to drive down the field and win the game with a late field goal. Much like the first game of last season, the team built up a 21-3 lead in the first half, only to watch it slip away as their defense withered against Andrew Luck. If not for superb play from Matt Stafford, and a long lost running game that showed up big time, this team could very well sit at 0-1 right now.

 

The offense was a pleasant surprise. The line held up fairly well (against a weak Colts defense), and the Detroit backs and receivers more or less did as they pleased all day. A win is a win and in the NFL, you have to take them where you can get them. It’s encouraging that the offense seems to be picking up where it left off last season with Jim Bob Cooter calling the shots. But there might be some cause for concern on the other side of the ball. After a strong first quarter, the Detroit Lions defense regressed as the game wore on. The way things unfolded in the second half has me wondering if the Lions defense might be in trouble. Here are some of my biggest concerns at each level of the defense.

 

Piss poor pass rush

Early on in the game, the Colts offense looked lost and the Lions defense looked pretty tight. I was specifically impressed with the play of the defensive line, going as far as to voice my pleasure on Twitter…

 

 

As usual, I was premature in my praise. Early on, the pressure was constant and guys like Kerry Hyder Jr (one of the last players to make the 53-man roster) were making plays. The team was using stunts and disguising the rush in order to confuse the Colts offense. Andrew Luck looked uncomfortable and the pocket was collapsing with regularity, causing some difficult throwing situations for the young QB.

 

About midway through the second quarter that began to change. The Lions had built up a comfortable lead and then it seemed like defensive coordinator Teryl Austin took his foot off the gas. The play calling went vanilla as the Lions switched almost exclusively into a two-linebacker package, after working the 4-3 with Kyle Van Noy early on in the game. The four man rush was inept and the guys looked slow off the ball. Big boys like Haloti Ngata got pushed off the line much more often than they should have been. Devin Taylor wasn’t much of a factor either, giving a bit of legitimacy to my original concerns about him being a full time starter.

 

 Ziggy just couldn’t get there.

 

There just wasn’t much going on up front and Andrew Luck took full advantage of it. Even when there was pressure the boys couldn’t get home. Like on the Colts final drive, when Ziggy Ansah allowed Luck to narrowly escape a sack that could have been a big boost to the defense. By the end of game, hell, by mid-game, the defensive line looked worn down. This is despite a pretty constant rotation of bodies. The defensive line has got to be the heart and soul if this defense is going to thrive. If they play against top level offensive lines like they did Sunday, then there are going to be some painful moments in Detroit this season. Two sacks against that Colts is unacceptable.

 

Linebacker issues

Tahir Whitehead started the game pretty strong. He made some big hits and looked good in man coverage. But as the game progressed, and the team asked him to play more zone coverage, he got exposed. Teryl Austin was clearly asking him to do more than he could handle. There were some suspect coverage hand-offs in zone that left me thinking Whitehead may have been out of place or indecisive about where he needed to be. The team should let him do what he does best and let other players who thrive in more complex coverages do their thing. That’s what we have our other stud linebacker for, right?

 

The only problem is that he didn’t look so great either. DeAndre Levy played a total of 17 snaps in 2015, and only a handful during this year’s preseason, but was on the field for all 70 defensive snaps in week 1. By no means was he a liability (except on that shit head taunting penalty), but he didn’t live up to what we expect from him either. He was solid enough but also much slower to react than Lions fans have become accustomed to with him. It was his killer instinct and quick reflexes that helped earn him a big contract extension before last season, but this was not the same bearded beast we are all used to seeing. It was obvious that there is some rust to be knocked off with Levy, but if by some unfortunate chance his play doesn’t improve, this defense could be in trouble. They need him to be game changer not an average guy.

 

Second(ary) Thoughts

We all know that the Lions have at least one star in the secondary with Darius Slay. They also happen to have one above-average safety in Glover Quin, although he had a bad game against the Colts. In the NFL, that’s the foundation of a pretty good secondary. If those guys do their job and you can get just a few more players to play up to, or slightly above, their potential then you can have some real success. On Sunday that didn’t really happen.

 

It remains to be seen if Tavon Wilson and Rafael Bush can combine to form a serviceable safety tandem, but they sure as hell aren’t going to do it if the defensive line can’t get any pressure. Slay and Quin can only do so much on their own, and without a consistent pass rush the entire unit will be a failure. Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs have shown that they can be better than adequate when given a fair shot in a defense that is functioning properly at all levels. When that was not happening on Sunday they couldn’t keep up and they shouldn’t be expected to. This secondary can thrive, but much like the defense as a whole, that is predicated on the defensive line.

 

 Nevin Lawson getting beat for a TD.

 

With all of that in mind, we have to remember that this is only the first week of the season. Many of these issues will probably get resolved as the team plays itself into game shape and the boys knock off some of that rust. With the limited amount of full contact practices during training camp nowadays, many teams need a couple weeks to get back up to speed, and after the last two seasons it’s clear that the Lions are one of those squads. This team seems to come out of the gate in sluggish fashion every year.

 

We often don’t see a team’s true self until they have played a few games. I suspect that may be the case with these guys too. DeAndre Levy had played only a handful of snaps in more than a year before Sunday. Time will tell if he will ever get back to being his pre hip injury self, but I’d be willing to bet that once he gets into shape we will see a better version of him than the one we saw against the Colts. Jim Caldwell and his staff once again has failed to have his football team prepared for 60 minutes of regular season gameplay coming out of training camp.

 

Speaking of the staff, defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin, deserves a big chunk of the blame for how the defense played Sunday. He displayed an unwillingness to play to the strengths of his players and the team suffered. By simplifying his schemes once the team had a comfortable lead, he gave Andrew Luck the window he needed to mount a comeback. It was a repeat of last season in San Diego all over again. This year, they were lucky enough to come out with a win in week 1, but they had better hope they get up to speed soon.

 

 


Detroit Lions 2016 Win/Loss Predictions

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Published on : June 20, 2016

 

 

Last season was a disappointing one for the Detroit Lions. The team came out of the gates firing on all cylinders in the first half of their week 1 matchup against the Chargers, and then promptly fell flat on their faces. They started off 1-7, but managed to finish 7-9 by overhauling their offense midseason. They could have easily had two more wins and possibly made the playoffs, but last second insanity against the Seahawks and Packers killed those hopes.

 

This season the team is looking to build off of the second half of last year and keep improving. A full offseason in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense, improvements along the offensive line, and the return of DeAndre Levy should have the Lions looking better than many people in the national media are giving them credit for. Here is my 2016 Win/Loss Predictions for the Detroit Lions.

 

Week 1 @ Colts

The Colts were pretty awful last year, especially on defense. In my opinion, they didn’t really do enough to fix that. They do still have Andrew Luck, but they also have an aged Frank Gore slated to start in the backfield. Luck keeps the game interesting but I think the Lions have an advantage in defense, which gives them the edge. The Colts offense will have a good day, but the Lions will get just enough stops to come out on top. The Colts defense on the other hand will have huge problems containing the Lions offense. Lions win, 37-31.

 

Week 2 vs Titans

There are some folks out there who are pretty high on the Titans. They have some nice pieces on offense but with Mike Mularkey as head coach this team is going nowhere. They will fold under the pressure of that home opener Ford Field crowd. The defense will come up big and DeAndre Levy will have a pick 6. Lions win, 45-28.

 

 Look out for Levy in this one.

 

Week 3 @ Packers

The Lions are lucky to once again get to travel to Green Bay before winter has had a chance to wrap its freezing cold hands around the neck of that godforsaken wasteland of cheese. While that definitely helps their chances, I’m not sure the team will get as lucky this year as they did last year. It will be a hard fought battle, but I think Green Bay gets this in a close one. Lions lose, 27-24.

 

Week 4 @ Bears

Big thanks to the NFL for sending my favorite team to play their two biggest rivals consecutively on the road. The Bears are much improved, but luckily the Lions have their number in the last handful of years. The streak continues. Lions win, 17-16.

 

Week 5 vs Eagles

The Lions obliterated the Philadelphia Eagles last year on Thanksgiving. By that time of year, Detroit was starting to put it together on offense, and the Eagles meltdown was in full effect. Philly will still be recovering from what Chip Kelly has done to them. Lions win, 21-6.

 

Week 6 vs Rams

I’m not sure what the Rams plan on doing at quarterback just yet, but they could present some problems for the Lions. Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald are beasts and could very well both be in the running for OPOY and DPOY. I think they give the Lions enough trouble to hand them their second loss of the year. Lions lose, 24-17.

 

Week 7 vs Washington

I know Washington was a playoff team, and have some good pieces all over the field. But I find it hard to believe that Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins are going to have sustained success. The Lions will be sharp after getting worked extra hard in practice following their loss at home to the Rams. They come out on fire and win handily. Lions win, 28-10.

 

 Look for a win against Washington.

 

Week 8 @ Texans

The Texans always have a scary defense with JJ Watt out there. They will be the big difference here and will give the Lions trouble all game. The Lions offensive line will be much improved but there aren’t many answers for JJ Watt, who will have 2 sacks. Lions lose, 24-14.

 

Week 9 @ Vikings

The Vikings are definitely the darlings of the division this season. Most people seem to think that they will challenge the Packers for the NFC North title. I think they are pretty good too, and they are definitely going to be a tough test for the Detroit Lions in Minnesota for this matchup. Lions lose, 28-27.

 

Week 10 BYE

 

Week 11 vs Jaguars

The Jaguars should be pretty solid this year, but on the road in Detroit, a win won’t be likely. Ameer Abdullah goes off in this one for 120 yds rushing and 2 TDs, while adding 60 yds receiving. Blake Bortles will also throw interceptions to both DeAndre Levy and Glover Quin. Lions win, 34-13.

 

 Look for Ameer Abdullah in the end zone in this one

 

Week 12 vs Vikings

Watching the Lions on Thanksgiving is a long tradition. I’ve seen many Turkey Day loses through the years, but as of late they have really shown up. I’ll be damned if I call them to lose this year, even if it is against the infallible Vikings. Lions win, 14-12.

 

Week 13 @ Saints

The Saints had an AWFUL defense last year, and Drew Brees started showing signs that he might be past his prime. I’m flying across the country to go to this game so my boys better show up, and get some vengeance for that 2011 playoff loss! Lions win,  21-9.

 

Week 14 vs Bears

Lions rule, Bears drool. Jay Cutler throws three interceptions. The streak continues for another year. Suck it, Chicago. Lions win, 45-6.

 

Week 15 @ Giants

The Giants are the first of two consecutive road games against the NFC East, a division that was truly awful last season. In typical Lions bad luck fashion, I believe the NFC East will be much improved in 2016. The Giants threw around some serious money in free agency and I think that by this time it will start to pay dividends, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Coming off of a big win over the hated Chicago Bears, I think the team is in for a big letdown. The offense has trouble and Eli Manning frustrates the defense all day. Lion lose, 31-17.

 

 Eli will rule the day in week 15

 

Week 16 @ Cowboys

The Detroit Lions return to the “House that Jerry Built” for the first time since getting worked over by the refs in the 2014 Wild Card game. The team is going to come out hot and I see early touchdowns from Marvin Jones and Eric Ebron. Then things will slow down as the Cowboys adjust. In the second half things will get a little hairy for Detroit and the ‘Boys will take the lead. Dez Bryant catches a late touchdown. Lion lose, 28-24.

 

Week 17 vs Green Bay

This will be a game that decides whether or not Detroit heads to the playoffs as a wild card team. Teryl Austin is going to have the Lions defense totally fired up and I envision Ezekiel Ansah having a monster game. Ziggy will get to the quarterback three times, including a late one that seals the game for Detroit on 4th down. Lions win, 17-14.

 

The Lions will be the #6 seed in the NFC at 10-6.

 

 

This is my prediction for the Detroit Lions. It’s quite a bit more positive than most of the win/loss predictions I’ve seen for the team, but I think it’s totally realistic. Most people seem to underestimate the amount of talent on the team. This is a solid squad that has improved both lines and should be able to control the trenches. Playoffs here we come!

 

 


The Best Facial Hair in Sports

Written by :
Published on : May 6, 2016

 

I’ve been into sports my whole life. I’ve also had some sort of facial hair since I could grow it at 13. So this seems like a natural topic for me to cover. Get your old-timey mustache wax and your beard oil and let’s comb through the best the whiskers in pro sports.

 

Mustaches are a must

Many of the great coaches, players and fathers of the 70’s and 80’s rocked some excellent ‘staches. It was the fashion of the day. Think Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I. or Burt Reynolds in every movie ever.

 

Mike Ditka:

Picture perfect. This classic dad look owned the sidelines of Chicago. You can draw cartoon Ditka by simply doing the mustache and sweater. Like a modern day Groucho Marx.

 

Lanny McDonald:

Lanny-McDonald

This guy means business. If this isn’t the soul of old time hockey then I don’t know what is. I bet he had to wash people’s blood off his mustache. That’s so metal.

 

Larry Bird:

larry-bird-mustache1

Thin, wispy and blonde. This is part creepy uncle and part teenage boy. What an awesome mashup. Bird didn’t always rock the lip hair but I will always remember him with it.

 

Joe Greene:

Maybe the nickname “Mean” came from how fierce his grooming was. Razor sharp style paired with that afro makes for a legendary look we are all in awe of.

 

Kirk Gibson:

The vintage porno mustache. Every young man tries to make this work at least once in their life. Gibson makes it look effortless. Plus those throwback Tigers unis are dope.

 

Great Goatees

The subtle stubble is all the rage for movie stars but a really solid goatee makes a bold statement. Baseball has really kept this movement alive. And for that, I’m grateful. The goatee is not for everyone but these fellas totally pull it off.

 

Mark McGwire:

I can’t even imagine his face without that goatee. He’d just be some round-cheeked goon. With the goatee, he is a home-run-hitting god.

 

Dr. J:

DrJ goatee

The doctor is in. Look at this silky smooth prince. The facial hair complements his head hair and ties it all together. Man, I wish I could grow a fro.

 

Jeff Bagwell:

Jeff Bagwell #5

Is that the guitar player from Pantera? Nope, but that dangler says “I like to party” and crush the baseballs. Just stare at it. It’s like two stalactites hanging from his chin. Wicked.

 

Barry Melrose:

Melrose

The Canadian wizard of hockey. Nice suit, very Don Cherry inspired. I always prefer Barry with something on his face to backup that epic mullet. One of the goatee G.O.A.T.

 

Beasts of the Beard

I love how hockey players grow out their beards for the playoffs. It’s one of my favorite traditions because it guarantees that the Stanley Cup Finals will be two squads full of fuzz and fur. It’s a super look and fits hockey like a glove.

 

DeAndre Levy:

Levy Beard

Almost full ZZ Top status. Levy is just as wild as his whiskers. On and off the field. Only makes sense that he sports the full “Sea Captain.” Ahoy!

 

James Harden:

james-harden beard

B-ball’s best beard. The NBA isn’t exactly known for its facial follicles but James uses his like a mohawk. A visual statement of rebellion. An easy choice for this list but totally deserving.

 

Brett Keisel:

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel (99) on the sideline during  an NFL football game against the New York Jets in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Does he even have a mouth? I don’t know a comb on earth that can navigate that forest. Kind of reminds me of the Game of Thrones character, Tormund Giantsbane. P.S. That’s a compliment.

 

Joe Thornton:

Joe Thornton

The crazy old man beard. Complete with the two-tone highlight. Bravo. This growth just screams “get off my lawn.” No joke, he wears it well, even if he does play for the Sharks.

 

Mike Napoli:

mike napoli

The kooky prospector look. “There’s gold in these mountains!” Very nice. Napoli switched teams and shaved. All of which seems like a bad move. I assume losing your beard causes organ failure. #growitback

 

 

Well that’s the short and curly of it. Hope this hairy experience encourages some of you to grow your own show-stopper. And as always, it’s not just about the size of the facial hair but the style and vibe. Be bold, do mutton chops or a civil war joint. But always be you.

 

Five o’clock shadow.

 

 


What lies ahead for the Lions’ defense?

Written by :
Published on : May 5, 2016

 

 

By most accounts, the Detroit Lions 2016 offseason has been a successful, if not earth shattering. Gone are Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew, and with them the last vestiges of the dark period in the team’s history when Matt Millen crippled the franchise with his inept management of the roster. In their place is a man named Bob Quinn, who the Lions signed as their new GM, stealing him away from the New England Patriots’ organization. He has proven to be a prudent team manager and seems to have the franchise headed in the right direction.

 

Faced with the loss of Calvin Johnson, one of the greatest wide receivers in the history of the NFL, Quinn acted quickly by signing Marvin Jones, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals. While no one man can replace the monster they call Megatron, the fact is that Jones was the best option on the market and provides a nice, sure-handed, one-two-punch, along with Golden Tate.

 

Bob Quinn also made good on his promise to improve the offensive line, by selecting offensive tackle, Taylor Decker out of Ohio State in the first round of the NFL draft last week. He also added a former rival of Decker, the center out of Michigan, Graham Glasgow in the third round. Decker should start at right tackle from day one and Glasgow should light a fire under the ass of the underachieving Travis Swanson.

 

 The Lions’ new right tackle.

 

So the offensive side of the ball is pretty set and seems to be in good hands. But what about the Lions’ defense?

 

This doesn’t seem so clear cut. The Lions lost starting cornerback Rasheen Mathis to retirement, and safeties James Ihedigbo and Isa Abdul-Quddus to free agency. They also haven’t made a move to re-sign defensive end Jason Jones and announced that they would eventually cut middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, though he still remains on the roster.

 

In the trenches moves were made to re-sign an aging Haloti Ngata and a question mark (due to being injured most of last season) in Tyrunn Walker at defensive tackle. The team also signed Stefan Charles and drafted what lookd like a 45 year old man, Kimbo Slice impersonator and second round steal, A’Shawn Robinson to join an already crowded middle of the trenches along with Caruan Reid and Gabe Wright. That’s a lot of big boys in the middle of the defense.

 

 Kimbo, is that you?

 

What they haven’t done is pay much attention to the defensive end position. The team still has standout Ziggy Ansah, as well as Devin Taylor, both of whom are slated to start at this point. While Ansah is an obvious starter, I’m not so sure about Devin Taylor. He has developed into a solid rotational player in his three years since being drafted out of South Carolina, but he has never been a starter and I would be more comfortable with him in a backup role. Behind those two are Kerry Hyder and Wallace Gilberry, who don’t exactly inspire fear in the hearts of opposing offensive linemen.

 

Why so much attention given to the defensive tackle position and seemingly so little to the defensive ends? I think the answer may have something to do with a shifting of defensive philosophy by the team and their defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.

 

Historically, the team has run a 4-3 defense with four down linemen, three linebackers and four defensive backs. This has been a pretty standard defensive set for most of the history of football. The team has given the indication that they may begin running a lot more of a base nickel package like they did in the year that Stephen Tulloch hurt his knee by doing the discount double check. This involves running with five defensive backs and two linebackers, and would give the team a chance to showcase second year nickelback Quandre Diggs. But I think the team may be headed in the direction of using the 3-4 defense.

 

 Can Ziggy cut it as a 3-4 outside linebacker?

 

Perhaps some of the many defensive tackles on the roster are indeed slated to play defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Robinson and Walker could easily slide in at defensive end in the new scheme and, in theory, Ziggy could switch to being a pass rush specialist at the outside linebacker position. I’m sure many people, like me, have reservations about moving someone who is still relatively new to the game of football, and just now starting to get a strong grasp on his current position, to a new spot in the defense but with Ansah’s size, speed and athleticism, I think it just might work.

 

That would leave Kyle Van Noy to play the other outside linebacker and DeAndre Levy and Tahir Whitehead in the middle, with all the other defensive linemen and linebackers as reserves and rotational pieces. If Van Noy (this is a big if) can show a bit of development from last season this could be a pretty scary front seven with a ton of speed and athleticism. I can just see Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Teddy Bridgewater shaking in their cleats.

 

None of us really know whats going to happen with the team until we get to training camp but hey, what else do we have to do in May but speculate about our favorite teams. While I’m not a huge proponent of the 3-4 defense, I’m a big fan of doing whatever it takes to win football games and destroy the opposing quarterback (I’m looking at you, Rodgers). And if making some changes in the defensive scheme is the best way to do that, then I have full faith in the judgement of Teryl Austin. Let’s just hope that he knows what he’s doing with this group because there is too much talent on this roster to justify another year without a trip to the playoffs.

 

 


DeAndre Levy: Future President of the NFLPA

Written by :
Published on : April 1, 2016

 

Fear the Beard….

 

Some people may associate that slogan with the Houston Rockets’ James Harden, but for us Detroit Lions’ fans that term brings to mind our stud-linebacker DeAndre Levy. His play is characterized by his sharp football instincts and stunning athleticism. He missed almost all of last season with a hip injury, and it was obvious that the defense missed his contributions out there. He played in every single game the previous two seasons and tied the lead for interceptions in 2013 with six picks. With the departure of Ndamukong Suh last offseason, he is now the face of the defense and a force to be reckoned with.

 

But he is so much more than just some meathead linebacker. He is a complicated and mysterious individual who has a zest for life off the field, that makes both his coaches and fans nervous with some of his offseason exploits. His Instagram account details the life of an explorer, adventurer and adrenaline junky who routinely does outrageous things like camping in the Amazon, sledding down active volcanos and walking on the wings of planes in mid air. He’s like if Bodie from ‘Point Break’ was a millionaire football player and stand up guy.

 

levy plane

 

I don’t know him personally but I also get the feeling that he is highly intelligent. With all the recent revelations surrounding the lasting effects of concussions associated with playing football, it was only a matter of time before he let the world know his thoughts on the whole thing. In the last few weeks he has done just that, taking to his Instagram to comment on all the latest revelations on CTE and boneheaded comments from team owners, before finally emailing Detroit Free Press reporter Dave Birkett with some more in-depth thoughts on the matter.

 

First he took to Instagram to roast Colts owner, Jim Irsay over his ludicrous comments on CTE:

 

Frequent trips to the pharmacy makes you a medical expert on CTE?

A photo posted by DeAndre Levy (@dre_levy) on

 

Sure, poking fun at Mr Irsay’s prescription drug abuse problem is probably a little below the belt. But you know what? A person who has gotten rich on the backs and battered brains of football players, trying to downplay the risks of the sport is pretty shitty too. Jim Irsay had the balls to say that the risks of playing football could be comparable to how some people might have a negative reaction to taking aspirin. That is not only ridiculous, but it’s dangerous. Look, I love football, but the people who put their health at risk to play the game deserve to know the risks and deserve to have ownership and management take those risks seriously. So maybe he went about it the wrong way in calling out Irsay, but the fact that he is willing to stand up to the league on this matter means that he might have a future as the president of the NFLPA, the union for the league’s players. In his letter to Dave Birtkett he said “It’s unacceptable to prioritize marketability and profitability of football over the real health risks associated with it.” If that doesn’t sound like someone who should be leading the charge on player safety then I don’t know what does.  

 

 

By being outspoken on the issue when most of his peers would rather not rock the boat, DeAndre Levy has proven that he isn’t scared to step into the spotlight take the issue head on. He said that he still loves football and will keep playing, but that doesn’t mean he is naive about the risks involved. His justification for continuing to play is that he is already so deep in the game that whatever potential damage he may cause has already been done, so he may as well secure is family’s future by playing out his contract. I respect that, and I respect the fact that he wants to make sure future players know the risks before they put on the pads and crash full speed into another fully grown man.

 

This is just the type of leader that the players’ union needs. Once he is done with football, I hope DeAndre Levy seriously thinks about becoming the next president of the NFLPA. He is eloquent, knowledgable and right when it comes to this issue. Football is a beautiful game, but it doesn’t come without risks, and if the league and the owners continue to try and cover up those risks then there needs to be someone to call them out on it. And I think the bearded linebacker of the Detroit Lions is just the man for the job. Maybe it’s time for the NFL as a whole to Fear the Beard.

 

 


If I was GM: Lions Offseason Edition

Written by :
Published on : March 6, 2016

 

Free Agency begins on Wednesday and with it, the season of hopes and dreams. This is the time when you get to imagine all the amazing things your team can accomplish in the offseason. I usually have a wish list of sorts for all the things that I hope my beloved Detroit Lions will do during free agency and the draft. This time of the league year is pretty much a crap shoot and most of what I hope for never comes to pass.

 

There are just too many variables. Too many other teams willing to be reckless with their spending and too many other top notch destinations for free agents. Let’s face it, Detroit isn’t exactly the ideal spot to relocate for work. That doesn’t mean that the Lions can’t have a successful offseason, they just shouldn’t expect to land any marquee free agents. In fact, while everyone loves an over-hyped free agent acquisition, I don’t really want them to overspend. The recipe for a successful franchise involves finding value in free agency and building your roster through the draft, just look at the Patriots and Packers. If I was GM, here are a few things I’d like to see this offseason.

 

Trench warfare

 Larry Warford is a piece you can build around but he needs some help.

 

Football games are won in the trenches and for that reason the Lions have got to make some major improvements along both the defensive and offensive lines. If they can add a few pieces to the foundation they have then there is a chance the defensive line can be as dominant as they have been in recent years. The offensive line is going to need a little more love though and the team should not be shy about spending serious money there if necessary.

 

The offensive line is the weakest part of the team in my opinion, so let’s start there. Matthew Stafford has been getting his ass kicked for the last couple of seasons and if they don’t want to absolutely ruin their (relatively) young franchise QB then they’ve got to make figuring out the o-line priority one. The line already has three solid, if not remarkable, pieces in place. Last year’s first round pick, Laken Tomlinson, wasn’t jaw dropping in his rookie campaign at left guard but he showed some flashes of what he can be capable of once he fully adjusts to the pro game. At right guard is former third round pick, Larry Warford, who was one of the best interior linemen in the league during his rookie season. He followed it up with a much less impressive showing last season, but I think that he improved once the zone blocking scheme was ditched along with Joe Lomardi. His future remains bright. Currently sitting at left guard is the much maligned, Riley Reiff. A lot of people inside and outside of Detroit love to trash him but the reality is that he is serviceable at worst. I personally would love to see him slide over to right tackle so that a more athletic tackle could cover Stafford’s backside, but franchise left tackles don’t grow on trees so that might not be so easy.

 

Anyway you slice it, the Lions are in dire need of a tackle who can protect their quarterback. The last two seasons have seen them start undrafted free agents at right tackle, and the reasons for them going undrafted were evident in the game film. While I do think that it is important for them to draft someone this year, I don’t like the idea of counting on them to develop in their rookie season. Tackle is the one position I would love to see them spend some money on if the right player is out there. As far as center goes, we could give Travis Swanson another chance to show he can cut it in the NFL, but I definitely want to add some depth as insurance.

 

The defensive line is in pretty good shape with Ziggy Ansah leading the charge but there are still a couple unplugged holes. The team already made a good move in getting Tyrunn Walker back on a cheap one year deal. He showed some very good potential in four games last year before a dirty play by the Seahawks defense ended his season. If the injury hasn’t set him back too much, he should be one of the starters at defensive tackle. For the other d tackle position I would love to see Haloti Ngata come back, but not for too much money. The draft is also pretty deep at that position so that should be an option too. We also need to decide if we want to bring Jason Jones back at the defensive end position opposite Ansah. I like him as a player but he is also getting a little long in the tooth, so I wouldn’t be too upset if they let him walk and got someone just as good who might be a little younger.

 

Someone to catch the ball

 Please don’t go.

 

By the time you read this article there is a very good chance the Calvin Johnson will have announced his retirement from the NFL. That makes me sad but the truth hurts sometimes. My dream scenario is that he comes back for one more year, but it would have to be at a reduced rate because his cap hit of $24 million is pretty hard to swallow. Even if that happens, the Lions need some help at receiver because after Megatron and Golden Tate, that position group doesn’t have a whole lot of talent and I’m not comfortable with counting too much on Eric Ebron.

 

I would like to see the team add someone in both free agency and the draft. A deep threat is the real need in my opinion so I hope it’s someone with some speed who can take the top off opposing defenses and take some pressure off of Tate and Ebron over the middle. Some deep speed at receiver combined with improvements on the offensive line to keep Stafford upright will make the Lions’ offense great again and strike fear into the hearts of NFL defenses.

 

Levy…… and who else?

 Let’s get this guy in a Lions jersey!

 

In just two seasons the Linebacker position has gone from serious strength to serious question mark. DeAndre Levy is a stud, who missed all of last season with a hip injury. That’s scary for someone whose strength is lateral movement, but I’m going to pray he fully recovers. The other two spots next to him are up in the air. Stephen Tulloch is no longer with us because it’s obvious that he can’t be a three down middle linebacker anymore. He’s still strong against the run but is regularly exposed in the pass game, and our defense can’t live with that. Tahir Whitehead is a free agent who I would like to see the team re-sign so that he can continue to fill the other outside linebacker position. Kyle Van Noy was drafted a couple of seasons ago to eventually fill that role but he hasn’t looked like anything other than lost during most of his NFL game action.

 

I’m kind of torn on if I want the Lions to add a Linebacker through the draft or through free agency. I’ve heard the idea of the them going after a guy like Alabama’s Reggie Ragland in the draft and I wouldn’t be mad about that but I have my eye on Danny Trevathan. He won a Super Bowl last year with the Broncos and led the team with 109 tackles. He was a big part of that defense and was rated by Pro Football Focus as the 10th best linebacker in the league. With him and DeAndre Levy, the Lions defense would have two very athletic linebackers who can play the run and the pass.

 

Secondary opinions

 Bring Isa back but don’t stop there.

 

I could see the Lions adding another mid level starter at corner through free agency but I was pretty impressed with how Nevin Lawson handled himself across from Darius Slay last season. With Quandre Diggs in the slot and Alex Carter’s development, I don’t see the Lions acquiring any big name cornerbacks but they do need some help at safety. Glover Quin has been great since the Lions signed him a few years back, but the other spot needs some attention.

 

The team has decided to let James Ihedigbo walk after it became evident that age is beginning to catch up with him when it comes to his coverage skills. Isa Abdul-Guddus took over for him halfway through last season and showed some very good stuff. He is a free agent and I really want the team to bring him back but the jury is still out on if he can be a full time starter. He is great for depth and special teams but relying on him for 16-plus is a gamble. I’d like to see him come back along with a new addition to the safety position.

 

There you have it. Without getting too technical, these are the types of things that need to happen for the Detroit Lions to have a successful offseason and get back into playoff contention. The only thing I didn’t mention is that I would look for the Lions to draft a quarterback in a later round to be groomed as the new back up to Matt Stafford. This isn’t really a glaring need though and could easily be put on the back burner until next season. So here’s to a good offseason and a Lions Super Bowl run in 2016-17!

 

 


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