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.
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.
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.
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.