Detroit Lions – Look Forward to 2017 and Beyond

running-lion

Well damn.

The Detroit Lions came to Seattle to play in the NFC Wild Card game with some lofty expectations…only to discover that the Seattle Seahawks were indeed a very large obstacle they could not get around.

Some of it was of their own doing. The four dropped passes (three of which would have led to first downs). Four very stupid 15-yard penalty calls (two by 13 year veteran Anquan Bouldin and one by Haloti Ngata, an 11-year vet. Those two players should know better.) And of course, the most evident, they were made one-dimensional when the Seahawk defense took away the Lions anemic running and forced Matthew Stafford to put the game on his shoulders.

Not that Matthew Stafford didn’t relish the challenge. I mean, after all, he did lead the Lions this year to an NFL record of 8 fourth quarter comebacks in 2016. And don’t give me that tripe that they accomplished that feat against mediocre teams. Ticks me off to no end when Peyton Manning, Eli Manning or Tom Brady accomplish something similar to this and they are hailed the greatest. But when Matthew Stafford does it, it’s for some other reason.

I’m not going to re-hash the season nor am I going to re-hash the wild card game. You all saw it. Suffice to say, I was rather uncomfortable when I showed up to a friend’s house to watch the game in my Golden Tate III jersey…and even more so after the game had ended. Thankfully I have fantastic friends so the needling wasn’t too awful.

I will say this: I am going to give the Lions organization a pass for 2016. Not that it is of any great importance that I do so since I really, really doubt that what I write here for Beer Thinker Sports is read by anyone in the Detroit Lions organization. None the less, I’ll give them the pass.

My reasons are that since this is the first full season for GM Bob Quinn. And while some of the moves and acquisitions he made prior to the start of the season got the Lions a chance to be in the playoffs, there is more work to be done. And I’m sure Mr. Quinn will be the first to admit it.

What I am going to offer is just my opinion on what’s needed for the future of the Detroit Lions.

  1. The road to the NFC North Division runs through Green Bay. Not a big surprise. Since 2011, the Green Bay Packers have won the NFC North title five out of the last six years. Not sure how they can accomplish that other than to say it rests all on how well Aaron Rodgers plays. And for the last three years, when it looked as though each time the Pack had no chance of even getting to the playoffs, they find a way to dig deep and pull yet another miracle season. So the first step for the Lions to be successful is to build a team that can stop Aaron Rodgers. Best way to beat him is to keep him off the field. That means the Lions need to get themselves a running game that can tire out an opportunistic Green Bay defense and keep their best player on the bench. That means improving the Lions offensive line and getting a dominating running back to take pressure off Mathew Stafford. It also means the Lions need an upgrade to the defense, particularly in the secondary as well as the defensive line. Darius Slay is a good cornerback but Rodgers pin point accuracy can defeat just about any one on one coverage. In order to force Rodgers into mistakes, pressure has to be put on him, force him into making mistakes. Unfortunately, it’s a Catch-22 as Rodgers has an insane ability to escape and keep plays alive until someone gets open. But if the Lions can get another speed rusher to complement Ziggy Ansah and replace an aging Haloti Ngata, they just might be able to at least stay with the Packers.
  2. The Lions need to get a big running back to help Matthew Stafford. No surprise here. For the last 10 years, the Lions have averaged an anemic 92.8 yards a game and only once did a player top 1,000 yards for the season, Reggie Bush in 2013 for 1,006 yards. I don’t know about you but I am pretty fed-up hearing the words the Lions need an “effective running game.” It’s a bunch of bull. The Lions need a rusher that will carry the ball 25-30 yards per game and get you 110 to 125 yards per game. That leads to better time management and keeps the opposing offense off the field. It may be boring but it does lead to wins despite the fact the NFL has become a pass-happy league. And that requires a big running back, one that can make up for any deficiencies in the offense line yet capitalize when blocking is done correctly. Not a big play back, Lions have that in Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick. But a big back that will wear down a defense and allow Abdullah and Riddick to hit big gains when they do come in for a change of pace. And since a big back will force the linebackers to come up, that opens up the passing game and all of a sudden, the Lions dominate on time of possession.  It will also give the Lions a bigger threat in the red zone. Don’t know about you…I like Matt Prater and all but I’d like to see games where he just kicks extra points instead of field goals.

There are 4 running backs in the 2017 draft that I think would be a great fit in the Lions running game. In most cases, any one of these running backs will make Ameer Abdullah expendable.

  • Leonard Fournette, LSU. At 6-1 and 230 lbs. and a 40 time of 4.5, Fournette might not be available to the Lions as he is projected as a top-10 pick. But I list him in case GM Quinn can do some magic to move up in the draft to get him. He has been compared to Adrian Peterson. In his 2016 season, he gained 1,953 yards with an average of 6.5 yards per carry. He is a powerful downhill runner that can run through tackles and can break off big gainers.
  • D’Onta Foreman, Texas. 6-1, 249 lbs. Ran for 2,028 yards for an average of 6.3 yards per carry for Texas in 2016. He isn’t much of a receiver but that’s not what the Lions need since Theo Riddick fills that spot nicely. Foreman is a load who can run over the opposition and bring a bit of attitude and toughness the Lions so desperately need.
  • Samaje Perine, Oklahoma. 5-11, 237 lbs. Perine reminds me a lot of Marshawn Lynch in that he will just not be tackled. Again, toughness and attitude the Lions need and Perine would definitely get Green Bay’s attention. His position in the draft has dropped due to being banged up this season but Perine rushed for 735 yards with an average of 5.2 yards per carry in limited action. He is a decent receiver as well with 10 receptions for 106 yards. Love to see this guy in screen pass situations on first or second downs.
  • James Conner, Pittsburgh. 6-2, 250 lbs. Is listed as a possible 4-6 round pick due to a serious knee injury in 2015 and then being diagnosed with cancer. He was proclaimed cancer free in 2016 as well as coming back from a torn ACL. He responded with 1,092 yards with a 5.1 yard per carry and scored 16 TD’s. He also caught well out of the backfield with 21 passes for 302 yards and four scores. He is worth taking a chance on since he has the potential to become a 3 down back and be a major threat in the red zone with his running and receiving abilities.

3.  Lions need to upgrade the secondary. Granted, NFL rules will favor the receiver in most cases. However, there are 2 places that teams really can’t shortchange themselves: The offensive line and the secondary. Both are exposed if the talent isn’t there. I feel the Lions offensive line is good enough going into 2017 but the secondary has been exposed. The Lions need another good cover corner to compliment Slay and a safety in the league of an Earl Thomas to help cover the middle.

  • Jalen Ramsey, Florida State. 6-1, 209 lbs. I doubt the Lions will have a shot at this guy but I felt the need to list him just in case GM Quinn can maneuver to get him. He is projected as a top-5 pick so it is a longshot. Ramsey is comparable to Richard Sherman. However, it is felt that he would do better at safety than corner. Teams have high regard for Ramsey and they love him off the field which pretty much means you aren’t going to see his name for any off the field antics. With his great character and impressive skill set, a lot of teams want him on their roster.
  • Eli Apple, Ohio State. 6-0, 199 lbs. He has Number 1 corner potential in the NFL with his size, agility and speed. He does need coaching to stop grabbing receivers but that’s just a matter of technique. Possible he’ll be available late first round or early second.
  • Su’a Cravens USC. 6-1, 226 lbs. Cravens was moved to linebacker in 2016 but most experts feel that Cravens potential in the NFL reside in playing safety. I’d like to see him gain at least 10-15 lbs. to play in the NFL. He is physical, strong and quick and has shown to be a capable tackler. A good defensive coordinator would be wise to use him in a variety of ways. Could be that game changer on defense.

4.  Protect the den. It is one of the most important aspects of the game. Great teams know how to win at home. Winning 6-8 games at home and go .500 on the road gives you 10-6 to a 12-4 season and pretty much gives the Lions a playoff slot. Lion’s fans are more than willing to do their part and if the Lions get that big running back and beef up the secondary, Lions will be able to challenge the Green Bay Packers better for the division title.

There are other aspects that I’m sure need to be addressed. I, for one, am not sure that current head coach Jim Caldwell is the one to lead the team to the Super Bowl. But he is close with owner Martha Firestone Ford who really likes him. Caldwell has Jim Bob Cooter as his offensive coordinator and is a good one. He and Matthew Stafford are on the same page and in his first full season, got as much as he could out of Stafford. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is a good one as well. But he has been mentioned for several head coaching jobs and with 6 openings this year, he may be gone. Whoever comes up next needs to improve the coverage and mitigate the big plays the Lions seem to give up.

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