31 Days, 31 Teams: Detroit Lions
Much like the automakers that dominate the city, the Detroit Lions were hopeless at the end of 2008 but appear to be on the verge of a comeback.
After years of drafting incapable wide receivers the Lions finally got it right in 2007 with the selection of Calvin Johnson. 2008 was a breakout year for Johnson and although his numbers slipped last year he is a legitimate number one wide receiver. Add in 2008 pick running back Kevin Smith, 2009 selections quarterback Matthew Stafford and tight end Brandon Pettigrew and 2010 pickup running back Jahvid Best and you're looking at an up-and-coming offense. Stafford took his lumps as a rookie, playing in only ten games while throwing 20 interceptions. You can chalk up last year to inexperience and Stafford will have every opportunity to prove he was worth the overall number one pick in '09. The real key, as it always seems to be with the Lions, is the play of the offensive line. Detroit yielded 43 sacks and although Smith carried the ball 217 times he averaged only 3.4 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns. Keeping Stafford upright is a must.
The same amount of excitement is not generated when speaking of Detroit's defense. The Lions didn't rank toward the bottom last year, they were the bottom. Detroit finished last in scoring defense, total defense and passing defense. The selection of mammoth defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is a good first step but as of Monday night Suh remains a holdout from training camp. Detroit added some bite to the defensive line with the free agent signing of veteran end Kyle Vanden Bosch but the former Titan is 31 and signing aging defensive free agents didn't work for Detroit last season. To be sure the Lions need a better pass rush after recording 26 sacks in 2009. The team leader was Cliff Avril with just five and a half. For as bad as the pass rush the secondary was just as ugly. Louis Delmas is the team's returning leader in interceptions with all of two. Outside of Delmas, who has room to improve, the Lions have a complete lack of playmakers.
It comes down to the trenches for the Lions. If Detroit can open things up for Smith and Best while protecting Stafford the Lions could be a fun team to watch. Suh and Vanden Bosch are immediate upgrades but the Lions will continue to be picked apart in the secondary unless Detroit gets more physical upfront. The Lions might be a year away from really competing and the schedule doesn't give Detroit much breathing room. Nevertheless, 6-10 may not be out of the question.