In Podcast 2 I talked about high expectations for this Lions team and Jim Schwartz building something that could be continued success year in and year out for this inept franchise.
I should have known better.
The Lions, after two preseason games and training camp conclusion, appear to be in a similar predicament that they were in last year and it doesn’t appear as if they have made many strides towards contention.
I want to believe in them, I want them to win, I drink the kool-aid and think that Reggie Bush catching balls out of the backfield and Glover Quin helping in the secondary can swing a few of those close losses into wins in 2013. Add in some potential benefits of Ziggy Ansah’s athleticism over the aging Kyle Vanden Bosch and maybe we can add in another win and 9-7 is almost a foregone conclusion for this team.
Meaning they are on the cusp of the playoffs. One more win and its almost a guarantee they make it back to the post season. Then training camp happens and the preseason occurs and the kool-aid seems to dry up.
This team needs to challenge for the playoffs for Jim Schwartz and Martin Mayhew to keep their jobs. They inherited a train wreck and have made improvements, but it would have been hard to NOT improve what this team was in 2009 and the level of improvement has seemed to plateau.
6 wins, even 7 wins should results in a change of direction, yet again, with the Lions, but they can get to the playoffs, if these things happen for them:
1) Darius Slay becomes an impact player at Cornerback from week 1:
The Lions need a consistent starter across from Chris Houston, some one to play week in and week out and provide good coverage skills. Slay does not need to become Darrell Revis in his first week, but he does need to make plays and not allow the opposing quarterbacks to throw at will, as they have in the past.
Slay dropped to the second round of the NFL draft because of injury concerns, so him staying healthy all year is not guaranteed, but he appears to have recovered from his knee injury that dropped him from a mid 1st round pick, where plenty of stellar corners have been drafted, to the Lions in the 2nd round. They took a gamble and need it to pay off almost immediately
2) The offensive line gels and provides holes for running AND protection for Stafford:
The right side of the line is a mess. Larry Warford is a huge man with ProBowl potential at the guard spot but seems to be unable to take command of the starting role and is still in a dog fight for 1st team snaps at camp. Jason Fox was drafted in the 4th round a few years ago and has been hurt ever since. Allegedly healthy he has been battling Cory Hilliard for the Right Tackle spot and one will need to win the position and play better than Gosdar Cherilus did last year.
On the left side, Riley Reiff needs to prove he can play and anchor the tackle spot and Rob Sims and Dominic Raiola have to perform much better than last year if the Lions are going to run the ball at all and if they are going to give Stafford enough time to properly throw the football and not just fling it as he is jumping over a lineman and getting hit.
3) The Defensive line becomes a disruptive force and takes over multiple series per game:
Ndamekong Suh, Nick Fairley, Ziggy Ansah. Three first round picks in 4 years spent on the Defensive Line. This unit better perform at an unbelievably high level EVERY DOWN this year. If not, the rest of the defense is going to look really bad.
4) Special Teams function at league average levels:
This unit was so pitiful the first half of last season other teams should have just punted every down and would have had just as much offense. They spent a 5th round draft pick on Sam Martin, a Punter from Appalachian State who has looked very good kicking so far. The Lions averaged almost 8 yards less per punt last year than the top teams. That is almost half of the football field each game they were losing, hence the draft pick on a Punter.
They also have moved on from Stefan Logan in the return game who was pitiful last year and have upgraded some of the special teams players so this area should be a big improvement, but it couldn’t have been any worse. They don’t need some one that returns multiple kickoffs and punts for TDs (it would be nice for a change) but someone that can get consistent yardage and provide better field position will go a long way with the offense.
5)They stay out of their own way:
Stop with the holding on the offensive line, quit the pass interference because the corner was out of position, enough after the play shoving. The Lions have a terrible reputation with the refs and will never get the benefit of the doubt and will always draw the extra penalty. They cannot keep losing 15 yards at a time and expect to win.
Sure, Matthew Stafford throwing for more touchdowns and Calvin Johnson scoring more as well would help as well. But, those are things that should happen and have happened before. The list above are things that seem to be lost on this franchise for quite some time and need to be corrected to be taken seriously.
If they can put it together they have the talent to win 10+ games and make a playoff run and hopefully they do, but not if they can’t keep their composure then kiss another season good bye and start making your “New Head Coach” wish list.