Yes, I know the Lions are currently in second place in the NFC North. Yes, I know the Lions are still in the hunt for a wild card spot in the 2017 NFL Playoffs.
But based on their performance over the last three games, even if they make the playoffs, they won’t last the first round. And should we as Lions fans find that acceptable? I suppose for a fan base that hasn’t seen a championship since 1957, it would be.
I for one am not going down that path. 60 years since the Lions were last crowned as the best in the NFL is far too long.
Since Lions GM Bob Quinn has taken over, the Lions have made progress. The 2016 draft shored up the offensive line with OT Taylor Decker and C Graham Glasgow as well as improving the defense with DT A’Shawn Robinson, S Miles Killebrew and LB Antione Williams.
Quinn made some small improvements in 2017 in getting some WR help drafting Kenny Golladay but the focus was mainly on defense again.
So where do the Lions go in 2018? There is no question the Lions made Matthew Stafford the highest paid QB in the NFL was the right move. But it’s an all too familiar trap the Lions seem to fall into by relying on one player with massive talent and hope the rest of the offense can do adequately enough to put points on the board. We’ve seen this with Billy Sims, Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, Calvin Johnson and now Matthew Stafford.
The Thanksgiving Day loss against the Minnesota Vikings exposed a huge deficiency, perhaps the worst kept secret in the NFL: The Detroit Lions don’t have a running game.
I’ve never been a fan of Ameer Abdullah. He tends to jitterbug too much instead of making one cut, find the hole and go. And at 5-9 and 203 lbs., he isn’t big or strong enough to be used for short yardage situations. He is, at best, a change of pace running back and should be used in that fashion if the Lions deem to keep him on the roster.
Personally, I’d cut ties with Abdullah because of the presence of Theo Riddick. Release Abdullah and look for a big running back that does take the one cut and then heads North.
I doubt the Lions (unless Quinn does some horse-trading) will have a shot at Penn State’s Saquon Barkley or LSU’s Derrius Grace. Both of them are big-play threats that would take a ton of pressure off Matthew Stafford. Play fakes would go to the next level and imagine Stafford working with a 2nd and 3 most of the time instead of 2nd and 8!
And the passing game, as good as it is now, would be even more explosive! A play fake on 2nd and 3 and then Stafford hits Jones, Tate, Golladay or Ebron on a seam route that leave the middle open because the linebackers have moved up, anticipating the run. If Stafford see’s the linebackers stay back, he hands it off and most likely, the running back picks up the first down.
I think Oregon’s Royce Freeman would be an excellent fit for the Lions. According to Pro-Football Focus, he is listed as #2 in the nation in breakaway percentage among 2018 eligible running backs. At 5-11 and 231 lbs., he has the size to bust through holes and with a 4.5 40 time, is fast enough when he hits the hole to get deep into the secondary.
I also think he’ll be able to move the pile in short-yardage situations. He’ll need to get better on protecting the ball and needs to shore up his blocking techniques but those are coachable.
By getting Freeman (or a equivalent of Freeman), you get a running back that will wear down a defense, allow for better play calling and most importantly, you have a rested defense that can tee-off on opposing QB’s.
In fact, if getting a big running back is the only player they take on the offensive line, I would applaud the Lions going after more D-line players and in the later rounds, get some depth for the Offensive Line, specifically the guard position.
I want the Lions to be an elite team and be one that will be elite for years to come. Stafford is still a relatively young QB at 29 but in the NFL, anything can happen. The Lions need to give Stafford the final piece of the puzzle: a 1,000 yard rusher (one he hasn’t had in 5 years) and a rusher who can give him consistent 85-100 yards a game. The fact that the Lions haven’t had a running back to gain 100 yards in a game in over 4 years is just as dubious as the 0-16 season in 2008.
Lions need to build on this season and should have a goal to get to and win the Super Bowl in 2019.