Tuesday, August 30, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Detroit Lions

It's been very tough being a Lions fan, as if you need to tell one that. They haven't made the postseason since 1999, and have only been close twice since then, in 2000 and 2007. But, the tide seems to be turning. There is optimism in the Motor City, and many people are jumping on the bandwagon. Will the Lions live up to the hype?

What's New: Not anything major, but changes have been made. The additions were mainly on defense, and all should have impacts early on. They picked up CB Eric Wright from Cleveland, and FS Aaron Francisco from Indianapolis in the secondary, and LB's Justin Durant and Stephen Tulloch from Jacksonville and Tennessee respectively to help fix the linebacking corps. The defensive line got some new faces too, with the additions of DE Keyunta Dawson from Indianapolis, and the drafting of DT Nick Fairley from Auburn, who when healthy, should form maybe the best interior D-Line combo with Ndamukong Suh. The offense didn't really get any attention this offseason, but Jerome Harrison and Rashied Davis come into the fray. The Lions mainly made moves that would help their needs, and that wouldn't necessarily create shockwaves.

Biggest Strength: The Lions have a dynamic passing game that few others in the NFL sport. If Matthew Stafford can stay healthy and live up to his #1 overall pick billing, then the Lions should succeed. They have maybe the league's best wideout in Calvin Johnson, and also have good supplemental pieces in Nate Burleson, Derrick Williams, and Rashied Davis. They also have a very underrated Tight End in Brandon Pettigrew, who finished 3rd amongst TE's with 71 receptions last season. They also have a young and improving offensive line, and that should help Matt Stafford stay healthier this season. But defense is where their biggest strength is. There may not be a better defensive line in the NFL today. Most people know about Suh and Fairley, but not many people know about the ends, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, who may be the most underrated tandem in football. They also have good young players in the secondary, combined with a good veteran presence.

Biggest Weakness: They lost rookie running back Mikel Leshoure to a season ending injury in camp, and that will hurt a running game that is a question mark. Jahvid Best is a young player who can create a spark, but isn't an every down back. Jerome Harrison wants to retain the form he had at the end of the 2009 season with Cleveland. The linebacking corps, while improved, may still be an area of concern, with a lot of unproven and young players in that group. The secondary also had problems last season, and while it is improving, it still may be a problem area this season, despite the presence of good players such as Louis Delmas, Chris Houston, and Eric Wright.

Outlook: Truly, the success of this season hinges on Matt Stafford staying healthy. If he is able to, there is no reason to think why this team can't become a playoff contender, and even test some of the NFC's better teams. They have a powerful offense, and an emerging defense with a defensive line that is ferocious. They are the trendy team to pick to do well this season, and there are plenty of reasons why.

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