Detroit. A town built on the back of hard work, determination and steel. Three things second-year head coach Matt Patricia has based his team’s philosophy on. On the path to success, there must be a foundation which holds the philosophy that every member of an organisation, team and franchisee must believe in.
In Detroit, Matt Patricia has decided to inherit the traits in which the city he now occupies are built upon. Hard work, determination and steel. But the question is, in today’s high-flying, fast-paced NFL, does such a place exist for a team which revels in the dirt and roots in which today’s game grew?
After the 2017 season, I felt Matthew Stafford rightful heir to the offensive MVP. All the signs pointed toward him being even better in his 10th season in 2018, but the only award he ended up pulling in was most disappointing.
That’s what happens when the production falls off the cliff and in turn so do the wins. Stafford fell off in every single major statistical category except for completion percentage, which had everything to do with adjusting to a reduced style of play. Some of the drop-offs were stark, like going from 29 touchdowns to 21, from 4,446 yards to 3,777 and from a 99.3 quarterback rating to 89.9.
The pieces surrounding Stafford need to accept responsibility as well. His general manager got rid of Eric Ebron and Golden Tate, two players who combined for more than 1,500 yards and replaced them with nothing.
His head coach fired his trusted position coach and replaced him and the backup quarterback with men who would bring Patriot creed to a playbook that in some ways lived in contrast to them. His roster broke down with injuries starting around midseason, and by the end of the year, he was throwing to names like Andy Jones, TJ Jones and Levine Toilolo.
But plenty of those factors were not present the first half of the season, when Stafford had Tate and a healthy Marvin Jones and when he was gifted with the first legitimate running back in years. Kerryon Johnson had two 100-yard rushing performances in that stretch, yet Stafford’s numbers still weren’t on par with last season, and he still had issues with self-inflicted turnovers that would come to define much of his season.
The drop-off was severe enough with Stafford much of the football landscape were speculating on potential trades. The Lions have done everything they can to thwart those, declaring that Stafford is their quarterback and they need to fix all the issues around him to give him a better chance to succeed. That’s the assumption we will carry with Stafford for right now, especially given the $30 million dead-cap hit that would come with trading him.
Detroit has already made a big move to try to correct some issues, replacing Jim Bob Cooter at offensive coordinator with Darrell Bevell. A former Wisconsin quarterback, Bevell brings 12 years of experience calling plays and has worked with such different star quarterbacks in Brett Favre and Russell Wilson. Stafford is more Favre than he is Wilson, but he does have his own ability to work sidearm and off-balance throws and he has legs the Lions didn’t utilize enough to open up the downfield passing that is his strength.
Bevell will focus heavily on the running game as well, as he did in Minnesota and Seattle, with the hope being that it simplifies what Stafford has to accomplish. That didn’t work amazingly well in the first seven games this year, but that was a small sample size, and the Lions hope they can get even better at running the ball after another year of Jeff Davidson’s blocking scheme.
Stafford will be throwing to some new players, as the Lions have to find legitimate replacements at tight end and slot receiver. The latter was a position of emphasis for Bevell in Minnesota and Seattle but has been one that Stafford has not utilized as well as he could.
The Lions are certainly sticking with Stafford, but we’ll need to see some uptick on 2018 if the Lions are going to win their fair share of success.
- RB Zach Zenner
- CB Marcus Cooper
The Detroit Lions brought back Zach Zenner, who managed to ball out with almost every down he played, the problem was that he never got many chances. as for Marcus Cooper, he has typically been considered a special teams option, however, he was cut in mid-August anyway.
Free Agency Losses –
- DE Ziggy Ansah
- OL TJ Lang
- CB Nevin Lawson
- LB/FB Nick Bellore
- DT Kerry Hyder
- S Glover Quin
- DE Eli Harold
- TE Luke Willson
- RB LeGarrette Blount
- WR TJ Jones
- TE Levine Toilolo
Matt Patricia is going into year two continuing his work on making over this Lions roster. There was seemingly a purge this year of underperforming and oft-injured players. Ziggy Ansah had years of 14 and 12.5 sacks, surrounded by seasons of 2 and 4 sacks due to injuries. He can’t stay on the field and the Lions saw no reason to pay him. Nevin Lawson was a starter for the team, and inside/outside versatile, but was league average. Losing him shouldn’t hurt a whole lot, and allows Teez Tabor to step up. Moving on, are other career underperformers such as Eli Harold, Kerry Hyder, and Levine Toilolo.
The two big losses will be T.J. Lang and LeGarrette Blount. Lang was a leader and a stout force on the interior line and will be missed. Blount was the short-yardage, a big back that Patricia without a doubt trusted running the ball, catching the ball and blocking for the Q.
Detroit Lions Free Agency Signings –
- DE Trey Flowers
- CB Justin Coleman
- TE Jesse James
- WR Danny Amendola
- RB CJ Anderson
- WR TommyLee Lewis
The Lions definitely looked to add quality over quantity this offseason. They replace Ansah with Trey Flowers, who may not have quite the pass-rushing chops of Ansah. But, you can trust him to be on the field and is a more stout run defender.
Justin Coleman slides right into the Nevin Lawson role, versatile inside/outside corner with not much upside but, provides solid depth.
The offensive side of the ball saw some love this offseason as well. Adding Jesse James to the TE room gives them a big man who can block well, and even catch a few passes. They will have a solid Two-TE set adding James out there.
C.J. Anderson will be the big addition on offense, as he proved to still have a little left in the tank last season with the Rams. At worst, he’s a veteran leader for Kerryon Johnson to learn from, and to spell him in games to keep him fresh.
finally, adding a true slot/possession guy in Danny Amendola will help Stafford complete a few more passes this season. He immediately becomes the best route runner on the team and will be yet another veteran presence in a younger receiver room.
Detroit Lions Draft Picks
Pick 1.8 – TE TJ Hockenson, Iowa
Pick 2.43 – LB Jahlani Tavai, Hawaii
Pick 3.81 – S Will Harris, Boston College
Pick 4.117 – DE Austin Bryant, Clemson
Pick 5.146 – CB Amani Oruwariye, Penn State
Pick 6.184 – WR Travis Fulgham, Old Dominion
Pick 6.186 – RB Ty Johnson, Maryland
Pick 7.224 – TE Isaac Nauta, Georgia
Pick 7.229 – DT PJ Johnson, Arizona
This is where the Lions really nailed the offseason. Many fans may not like a Tight End in the first round but, consider this: Brandon Pettigrew is the best Tight End that Stafford has ever played with. Look across the league and the best Quarterbacks have typically had great players at the TE position to lean on to make plays. Stafford finally has that. Hockenson is an exceptional blocker and a sure-handed receiver who will step in day one and be a safety net for this offense. Hock, in addition to James, Anderson, and Amendola all give this offense a new look they haven’t had before. And it’s looking good.
They also added to the defensive back room with Amani Oruwariye, who was a top 5 Cornerback on my draft rankings. In addition to adding Will Harris, who is a top ten Safety in this draft. Oruwariye is a steal in the fifth round.
Austin Bryant is also a big defensive end that will add some pass-rushing depth to this roster as well. The only pick I wasn’t the biggest fan of was Jahlani Tavai out of Hawaii. That may have been a bit of a reach with Germaine Pratt, Bobby Okereke, Drue Tranquill, Mack Wilson, and Blake Cashman all still on the board. Nonetheless, the Lions had a need at the position and got their man, so who can fault them? That’s a win in their book.
Detroit clearly has a very long way to go before they attempt to climb sports greatest summit, but they’ve laid down solid foundations and I fully expect them to make positive strides into 2019.