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 franchise 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?
Waking the sleeping lion
It is fair to say the Lions have been one of the more morose franchises in the history of the NFL. Whether it’s inadvertently forcing not just one generational talent in Barry Sanders to retire but also being the reason Calvin Johnson walked away from the game, or being the first franchise since the merger to go 0-16 in 2008. In recent history the most impressive season the Lions have mustered was a first round playoff exit to the Cowboys in 2015.
Patricia aims to wake the slumbering lion and stake a claim for the NFC North.
On offence, Matt Stafford will be entering the eleventh season of his career. Stafford, although disrespected at times, has established himself as one of the premier passers in today’s game. However, the legit criticism of Stafford is still relevant – he hasn’t led the Lions to any real postseason success.
Last season, the Lions went 6-10. During that time, Stafford threw for 21 TDs, 11 INTs and 3777 yards, with a completion percentage of 66% and a QBR of 51.3. Stats which put Stafford at the ‘Dalton-Line’ (a proverbial line in which every quarterback below Stafford is bad and every QB above Stafford is good.)
If this is a down year for Stafford then with the acquisitions of Danny Amendola to join a receiving corps of Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay and Jesse James at TE will surely help. With their first pick in the 2019 draft the Lions selected tight-end T.J. Hockenson from Iowa. An astute selection, Hockenson excels in both the passing game and as a blocker. There is little doubt in my mind Hockenson will become a real contributor to the Lions, fully embodying the Lions ‘tough-as-nails’ philosophy whilst doing so.
In the trenches, the Lions are somewhat off from truly embracing Patricia’s philosophy. Stafford was sacked 40 times in 2018, as PFF had the Lions offensive line ranked 16th in the NFL. Tackles Taylor Decker and Rick Wagner as well as sophomore C Rick Ragnow must come up big for the Lions in 2019 for this team to take a real step forward.
The backfield will be the centre-piece of this Lions team in 2019. The emergence of Kerryon Johnson as the running back the Lions have been missing since Barry Sanders left was a huge success for Patricia and his staff in his first season. Johnson scored 4 touchdowns in 10 games for Detroit whilst averaging a respectable 5.4 yards per carry. Johnson will be expected to push on and reach new heights in 2019.
Defending the pride
Patricia rose to prominence in New England as defensive coordinator. So it makes sense that in 2019 the Lions’ defence has seen improvement.
The most obvious upgrades have been on the defensive line. The recent additions of Mike Daniels and Trey Flowers along an already talented defensive line makes the Lions a formidable opponent right from the off. One of the cornerstones in creating a grit and grind philosophy is utilising the front seven. With skilled and tough players along the line, backed up by a line-backing core that includes second round rookie Jahlani Tavai.
The most proficient offences in today’s league take advantage of speed mismatches all across the field. Lions GM Bob Quin has aimed to counter this by acquiring an array of secondary players who possess elite level speed- Darius Slay, Rashaan Melvin, Jamal Agnew and Mike Ford. At the safety spot, Quandre Diggs will be the teams starting SS. Tracy Walker will be taking over at FS, another speedster, Walker impressed in limited snaps last season ending the season with 18 tackles and 1 interception. This secondary led by Slay will be an interesting watch in 2019, not quite a case of boom or bust but certainly intriguing.
In a loaded NFC and an even more intimidating NFC North, the Lions face an uphill climb to the playoffs in 2019. But I believe that the most significant aim for the Lions this season will be to show progress by the means of advancing the philosophy set out by Matt Patricia. To base the success of a team such as the Lions season on quantifiable objectives would be misguided. The Lions may finish 6-10 again, however, fans can be forgiving as long as they see that the team is moving in a positive, forward direction.
Likelihood of making the playoffs: Unlikely