The Detroit Lions are now just a few weeks away, 2 preseason games and some waiting, from the highly anticipated 2012 season.
Just like everyone rooting on the Honolulu Blue and Silver, I’m expecting big things. In order to be successful however they need to over come somethings and take advantage of some others.
Here are five things to keep your eyes on during the season that will help decide the success of the year:
Defensive line: First, EVERYONE is talking about the poor secondary to a point that it is not something to watch. Instead, in order to keep some pressure on the opposing Quarterbacks and off the Lions secondary, the Lions highly praised and possibly over hyped defensive line needs to play better than expected.
There are questions about this line just like the secondary but not as loudly talked about. First, Kyle Vanden bosch is 33 years old, not exactly the prime of his career. Last year he set the tone for the defense with his hustle and energy and will be looked at to continue that, but he won’t be practicing during the week due to the damage done to his body over the years and will not be playing every down. It will be up to the others on the line to keep the energy level up and stay consistent when this veteran isn’t showing them how its done.
Next, Ndamekong Suh was mediocre last year. Even with out the incident that won’t be mentioned, Suh did not have the type of year he did in his rookie season. He has spoke about getting back to what made him the #2 pick in the draft and made him so dominant in the offseason. This team desperately needs him to command double teams on every play in order to free the others up to make plays.
Cory Williams is old too. Having a under the radar good season last year, turning 31 recently isn’t going to ease any concerns. Although he has had a career resurgence when the Lions rescued him from the hell that is Cleveland, he will need to be able to stay on the field and make plays too next to Suh, since Nick Fairly could be terrible.
Fairly had a very injury plagued rookie season, barely getting on the field. When he was, he wasn’t all that noticeable like he should have been, busting through the line, breaking plays up. Then he had that wonderful off season where every Lions fan was able to learn that Fairly loves to party…with an arrest for marijuana possession and DUI in a few weeks of each other.
Willie Young and Cliff Avril are two players most people won’t need to worry about, since Avril is still playing for that big contract and Young is playing to get a starting spot either on this team or another team soon, those two may be the anchor that keeps this line dominant this year.
Running Backs: Oh the Running Backs…I could have avoided this potential hazard area like I did the secondary but this could be fun to watch this year.
Kevin Smith may get injured and not live up to the 2 game hype from last year. Jahvid Best’s career may be over after only a few quick glimpses of how good he was. Mikael Leshoure is suspended 2 games and has yet to even play a preseason game in his NFL career. Joique Bell was undrafted for a reason and went to Wayne State for a reason and Keliand Williams was let go by Mike Shannahan, a man that all fantasy owners know as the person to find a late, great running back with because he didn’t think he could use him.
BUT…on the other side, Kevin Smith was able to see what life with out the NFL was like and he could run like he is running from a desk job at all costs. Jahvid Best has been working out, could get healthy and join the team in week 6 and show that lightning style running he had where he could break lose every carry.
Mikael Leshoure could use his extra 2 weeks to keep getting into game shape and step in to action in week 3 and let all the fans and the rest of the NFL see what the Lions players and coaches saw before he got hurt last year…a fast, bruising back that just won’t go down with arm tackles.
Bell and Williams seem to have the ability to jump into a play and help the offense and seem to be the types of running backs every good team needs, the depth guy that knows how to run and when he needs to.
I’m not saying that this group is going to be fantastic or terrible and nothing in between. This set of players will most likely be serviceable and help keep some pressure off Matt Stafford for most of the year. However, they do have the chance to be so bad they Lions really suffer…but they also have the chance to be fantastic and help this offense be one of the best in the NFL.
Which way it will play out is definitely something to watch for.
Tough Division/Not terribly difficult schedule: Packers are good, Bears look good, Vikings are a joke. The Lions play games at the 49ers and the Eagles but the rest of the schedule looks manageable…will it be however?
Other road games against the Cardinals, Jacksonville and Tennessee could all result in wins and should result in at least 2. Home games against the Rams, Colts and Seahawks should also all result in wins. Two home games to end the season against the Falcons (been a poor late season team of recent years) and the Bears should determine the Lions playoff fate.
That fate should be in the playoffs easily but as Lions fans, everyone knows not to count on anything with this franchise.
The Madden Curse: Everyone knows the Madden curse especially Lions fans since it was a Lion to start it. In 1999 Barry Sanders was the first player to ever be on the cover of the game and he promptly retired the night before training camp.
It’s been all down hill since. But Calvin Johnson is here to prove that there is no curse and that the Lions can, in fact go to the playoffs in back to back season and actually win a playoff game. Johnson had a amazing season last year and yet, after watching the Lions loss to the Saints, I don’t think we saw the best he has.
Stafford didn’t force the ball to Johnson too much during the season. There were plays when you knew that it was going to Johnson and a few that maybe shouldn’t have but he was still able to make the play on (2nd TD vs. the Cowboys comes to mind) but in that playoff game he was something else.
The Saints basically had the plan to take Johnson out of the game and make the very questionable running game and Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew beat them. But Stafford didn’t care and kept throwing to double and triple coverage and Johnson would not be out worked for a football.
Johnson ended the game with 12 catches, 212 yards and 2 TDs, all while a Super Bowl favorite was trying to do nothing more than not let him get the ball. If you watched that entire season and then that game, you know, Calvin Johnson has the ability to improve on one of the best receiving years ever.
Matt Stafford: 5000 yards again? probably not…4000? yes, 40 TDs? maybe 35, hopefully only 12 or less INTs however. Stafford had the best single season in Lions history last year at the ripe ol age of 23. He has room to grow as a Quarterback and the main area would be on cutting down on his 16 interceptions.
Nine of those came in a 3 week span however so it seems as though he will be able to manage the ball better this coming season and less drives will stall due to his turning the ball over.
With the Lions QBing history so pathetic that Bobby Layne still holds most passing records for the franchise, Stafford should be able to become the leader in most categories over the next 2-3 years. Passing Yards, Completions, Passing TDs, etc…this will be exciting to watch and seeing the Lions make a decision like drafting a QB that is capable of leading the franchise for the next decade and seeing it start to come to fruition, Matt Stafford should be on the list of things to watch for a very long time.