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

Written by :
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.

 

 


The Detroit Lions offense will be fine without Calvin Johnson

Written by :
Published on : July 24, 2016

 

 

We gon’ be alright.

 

 

After many months, I have stopped mourning the loss of another Hall of Fame (fuck you if you don’t agree) Lions player who retired far too early. Now that I have had time to process the loss of Calvin Johnson, I’m here to tell all my fellow Lions fans that things will be okay, and despite popular opinion, the Detroit Lions offense is going to be alright.

 

I don’t aim to diminish everything that the man known as Megatron meant to the team and the city of Detroit, but in the game of football you need to deal with these kind of things. If you don’t adapt, you die. And I think that the Lions are very much alive right now. Before you jump all over me and say that the Lions are a five win team, just hear me out…

 

The Offensive Line

Last year the Lions offensive line was a mess. They haven’t had a decent right tackle since Gosder Cherilus, and that’s debatable. We’ve signed a succession of veritable turnstiles at the position, who aren’t worth naming, ever since. The center position has also been bad for a few years now, because of the lack of development by Travis Swanson. When two of your five starters in the unit are liabilities it means that you aren’t going to run the ball very well and, more importantly, your quarterback is going to get destroyed. The only thing that could make it worse would be having a system of blocking that is ill-suited for your personnel group. The Lions had that too. It was a mess.

 

 Seems like just yesterday Taylor was on the podium with Goodell, now he’s getting work at LT.

 

This offseason, the Lions finally got serious about adding some talent along the offensive line. It started by adding Geoff Schwartz, who has had a nice career, when healthy, and has the versatility to fill in at multiple spots. After that, they addressed the tackle position, much to the joy of the fanbase, by adding Ohio State tackle, Taylor Decker in the first round of the draft. The team also added a little fire under the ass of Travis Swanson by drafting Graham Glasgow out of Michigan in the third round. Both of these young monsters of the Big 10 will be on the team for years to come but it is Decker who will have an immediate impact.

 

I figured he would earn his bones at right tackle and eventually supplant Riley Reiff on the left side, but it seems as though the team might try him out at left tackle from the jump. People have been saying for a long time that Reiff is more suited to play on the right side, so if Decker really is good enough to play on the left side from the start, the Lions could be looking very good along the offensive line. He is an absolute mauler in the run game that will open up some big holes for Ameer Abdulah from day one.

 

But perhaps even more significant than the solid additions to the roster is the continued development of….

 

Cooter-ball!

When Jim Caldwell was hired and brought in football legacy Joe Lombardi as offensive coordinator, hopes were high in Motown. It became clear very early on that something was not working, and in my opinion, Lombardi should have been shown the door prior to that second season, regardless of the playoff appearance. After that terrible start last year, he was finally given his walking papers mid-season. The team promoted QB coach, Jim Bob Cooter, to fill the play-calling void and the team very quickly started to turn things around. Gone was the slow developing, precision passing game from New Orleans and in its place was something more tailored to our QB, a man who is definitely not Drew Brees and should not be forced to try to become him.

 

 The man himself.

 

More important than any change in play-calling was the fact that Jim Bob Cooter wisely scraped the entire offensive blocking scheme. It was very apparent that our group of big guys could not run Joe Lomardi’s complex, zone blocking system. There were too many times early on last season when guys were left blocking no one, while three defensive linemen were busy making Stafford eat the turf. The change to a power-blocking system, where our guys were allowed to hit the guys in front of them, greatly benefited the offense.

 

After the Lions week 9 bye last year, the offense, and especially Matt Stafford, really started to take off. Interceptions were down, and completion percentage and yards per carry were up. In the second half of the season, Stafford was a top QB in the league and the team wasn’t turning the ball over. And it’s because of these things that Jim Bob Cooter, the man with the best name in football, was asked to return and bring the Detroit Lions’ offense to the next level. With a full offseason under his belt, I believe Cooter-ball is going to be a household name very soon.

 

The Other Weapons

The Detroit Lions aren’t strangers to making due without Calvin Johnson. For the last handful of seasons, he has been injured quite often. There were times when he would be used merely as a decoy or miss games altogether. The team has been forced to adapt in those situations, and most of the time they have done a pretty good job. A recent successful situation that comes to mind is the 2014 season. For much of the season Johnson was obviously hurt and probably should have missed more games than he actually did. The thing is that Matt Stafford might have been a better quarterback with Megatron missing or limited. It forced him to go through his progressions completely and spread the ball around. He wasn’t able to automatically revert to throwing up jump balls to the best receiver in the game and instead had to find the best option on the field among one of his other weapons. And he didn’t have very many.

 

 Look for Golden Tate in an end zone nearest you this year.

 

One weapon that he did have, and leaned on heavily, was Golden Tate and this year he will be a main focal point once again. Tate is as sure-handed as they come and is a big play waiting to happen once he has the ball in his hands. We’ve seen what he can do and we know he is capable of great things when the offense is clicking, but he isn’t the only one on the roster who can make big plays. The Lions also added Marvin Jones, formerly of the Bengals, to take the spot opposite Tate and (try) to fill the void left by Calvin. He is a complete receiver coming off of his best season and is only 26 years old. While some people think that the Lions overpaid for him, he was the consensus-number one at his position in free agency, and the Lions had a need. I applaud the decisiveness of new GM Bob Quinn. Jones is more of a deep threat than people give him credit for and has some of the surest hands in the league, along with Golden Tate, which is good when you consider the Lions’ other two big weapons on offense.

 

The team has some other hopefuls at wide receiver in TJ Jones, Jeremy Kerley and Andre Roberts but much of the season depends on if running back Ameer Abdullah and tight end Eric Ebron can step up their game. As Ameer Abdullah showed on his very first touch in the NFL, he is an explosive runner who can find the end zone on any given play. He should have a huge season behind that revamped offensive line as long as he can overcome his fumbling problem from last year. Eric Ebron has all the physical tools to be a monster of a tight end, but he needs to continue to develop and stop making mental mistakes (like dropping the ball). I personally think that both of these guys will come into their own this year and help the Lions’ offense be among the best in football.

 

 With the holes created by the Lions this coming season, Abdullah will get a chance to work his magic.

 

Have no fear, Lions fans, Calvin Johnson’s retirement may be sad, but it is most certainly not the end of the world. In similar fashion to Barry Sanders, who retired in 1999 following a 5-11 season, we were all blindsided by the departure of an offensive juggernaut. But the Lions followed up the Sanders retirement with a trip to the playoffs, and I think the team can do it again. Along with a defense that is welcoming back DeAndre Levy and still has mastermind Teryl Austin calling the shots, this offense is going to continue to develop. And once they hit their stride, Cooter-ball will reign supreme in the National Football League.

 

 


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