Detroit Lions 2016 Preview

Going into their bye week of the 2015 Season, the Lions were staring down the barrel of a disastrous season, following a luckless trip to London. However before the Lions boarded their plane to London, they made a switch that would change their whole season and possibly their fortunes in 2016.



In the 1st 8 games of their 2015 campaign, the Lions season was circling the drain, with little hope for any kind of positivity. Matt Stafford was having a season that I thought could be the final nail in the coffin for his career as an NFL starter. We’d seen genius moments, but for the most part we saw a player rely too heavily on his number one receiver (even when Megatron was out) and telegraph his plays by staring down his target. In week 7 though everything changed. Joe Lombardi, who had been heavily criticised for his overly complex game plans was out and Jim-Bob Cooter (owner of the best name, not only in the NFL, but life in general) was in. Cooter’s first job was to game plan for the game against a fearsome Chiefs defence in London, claiming he was going to strip everything back and rely more heavily on the many talents of Matt Stafford and his supporting cast and whilst it didn’t quite take at Wembley, in week 9 following the Lions bye week, we saw the Matt Stafford that had been promised to Lions fans since being selected number 1 overall in 2009. The difference between the 1st half and the last half of the season was night and day. Stafford threw 11 interceptions in his 1st 8 games, but only 2 in the last 8. Stafford improved by cutting out the riskier plays and simplifying the playbook and it worked, with a great deal of help from Calvin Johnson.


On defence the Lions struggled coming to terms with the loss of key pieces in the middle, not least ex-number 1 overall pick, Ndamakong Suh who had been an anchor in the run game. The year before Suh had led the Lions defensive line to a number 1 ranking in terms of yards and yards per attempt. The run game was virtually non-existent when teams played the Lions in 2014. In 2015 the Lions dropped to 20th, and 30th in touchdowns, the Lions went from best to being in the bottom 3rd in the league for run defence. Even the presence of Haloti Ngata wasn’t enough to right the ship. In pass defence they were better than average, but struggled with turnovers. In 2014 the Lions secondary picked up 20 Interceptions, in 2015 it was just 9. It seemed that the lack of a certain defensive tackle affected the secondary too, putting them under more pressure.

The Lions seemed to be making headway. Finally Stafford was on the same page as his offensive Coordinator. The future for the Lions looked bright, well until…

The Off Season: Bye Bye Megatron

Although the Lions went into the off season with a new found confidence in their offence, they definitely had a few holes. The run game was one of the worst in the league, thanks in no small part to an aging leaky offensive line. The receiving corps looked decent on paper, but outside of Calvin Johnson Jr, they really struggled and then he retired. Megatron retiring left the Lions with Golden Tate as a number 1, a decent player but a huge step down from one of the top 10 all-time receivers, in a year light on pass catchers.

To find a replacement the Lions made moves in free agency, picking up Marvin Jones from the Bengals. Jones had a decent season, but is in no way a replacement for Megatron. In the duo of Jones and Tate they’ve simply got 2 top level number 2 receivers, without a standout deep threat. The Lions also picked up Jeremy Kurley, who has been overlooked in New York and now adds depth to their receivers. Still though a lack of Megatron will really hurt the passing game this year.

As good as the offence got last year in the final 8 games, the run game was still stagnant. Ranked 30th in terms of attempts, 32nd in yards and 26th for yards per attempts. This from a trio of running backs that were considered amongst the most exciting in the league. As a result an unsettled Joique Bell was released and Steven Ridley was added to the pairing of Ameer Abdullah and pass catching back Theo Riddick, who turned out to be the most effective weapon out of the backfield.

In the draft the Lions addressed the huge issues they had on both sides in the trenches. In the 1st round, they picked up highly rated tackle, Taylor Decker. Decker adds some youth and athletism to a line that desperately needs it. If the offence is to progress in both the run or pass, the Lions will need Decker to hit the ground running and start from day one. The Lions also added some depth in the 3rd and 5th with Joe Dahl and Graham Glasgow. Glasgow won’t be a day one starter, but has many physical attributes that could see him as the starter in the future. Joe Dahl played for Washington State, a team that had little balance between pass and run. Dahl could do well in pass protection, but struggle in the run game.

At defensive tackle the Lions managed to pick up a 1st round talent, in the 2nd, thanks to a dearth in defensive tackles. A’Shawn Robinson had not only a 1st round grade to many, but in some instances top 10 and fell to 2nd round simply because there were so many players available at the position. Robinson will add some much needed size at defensive tackle and should improve their run defence. In the 6th round the Lions picked up Anthony Zettel, who has been a force in his last 2 years at Penn state. Zettel’s biggest issue is size, but if he can be a put on a little weight and play to his strengths, the Lions will have picked up a bargain in the 6th round.

The Lions added some potential talent in the trenches, but is it enough to turn their fortunes around next season? Can they get over the loss of Megatron?

The 2016 Season

Despite improvements last year, the Lions could be looking at another rough season. The successive loss of Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson over the last 2 years has left giant holes on this Lions team. Holes that are difficult to fill. The lack of a clear number 1 receiver is a giant issue on this offence. Yes Jones and Tate are decent players, but losing Calvin Johnson in a year that has very little receiving talent in the draft is bad luck for a team that has had more than its fair share of bad luck. The plan is to ride the run game, rely on short passes, but the fact of the matter is that their run game isn’t good enough to do that, not to mention the improvements on the offensive line not being extreme enough to make a difference this year.

On defence the addition of A’Shawn Robinson is a good one and an important one if they want to stop some of the top running backs in the NFC North. However aside from Ziggy Ansah, there is a serious lack of a pass rush, a stark contrast to the line they had going into the 2014 season. In the secondary Darius Slay is a standout player and Glover Quin is a decent safety, but aside from that they lack any real star power. Combined with the lack of a decent pass rush, this could be a serious issue for the Lions.

The Lions are entering a rough year that could be seen as a rebuild, with a need to start filling some of their bigger holes, which might take a couple of seasons. Marvin Jones won’t replace Calvin Johnson, A’Shawn Robinson won’t fill all the holes on the Lions defence, but they are definitely steps in the right direction. This year will be tough, but we could definitely see an improvement in the team and in the long run it may be the building blocks for a decent Lions team in the future.