Predicting 5 Problem Spots for the Detroit Lions in 2012

James Van EttenContributor IMay 15, 2012

Predicting 5 Problem Spots for the Detroit Lions in 2012

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    Don’t start shopping for your flights to New Orleans just yet; there are a few problem spots that will most likely keep the Detroit Lions from partaking in Super Bowl XLVII.

    Problem spot—the term in relation to football is an opinion based on observation. In medical terms, it’s a candy-coated synonym for unforeseen horror.

    A close family friend’s two year old daughter had been rushed to U-M Mott Children’s Hospital because of a “problem spot” identified while checking the 30-month old’s eyes during an examination, a cancerous brain tumor.

    Thankfully, after a 12 hour procedure, the tumor was removed and the diagnosis is for a healthy recovery.

    It's amazing the polar difference in significance a term can carry when the context is changed.

    The Lions have made tremendous strides in their still unattained goal of becoming the newest franchise to make their inaugural trip to the Super Bowl.

    Improvements can be seen everywhere—the front office, the coaching staff, the players. Hell, I bet the ball boys are even better under the Schwartz regime. But the team is still far from perfect and I’ve highlighted five areas of concern. Some are oldies but goodies and some may ruffle a few feathers…  

Cornerback

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    As the roster sits today, Aaron Berry is a starting cornerback.

    The Lions used three draft picks on corners in the draft, but the Lions were not trend setters in this philosophy as 50 defensive backs—the most of any position—were taken throughout the 253-man process.

    Unfortunately, football is not RISK; you can’t win the battle because you have more infantry that the opposition.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like that they added some fresh faces on the back end of the defense; they have had their fair share of injuries in the secondary. Unfortunately, when the ball is snapped, Detroit can only put their best two corners on the field and Berry will not strike fear into many NFL quarterbacks.

    Bill Bentley is the obvious front-runner for playing time from the rookie class in the secondary and by all accounts he had nice rookie camp over the weekend.

    But running around in shorts and helmets impressively is a far cry from being left on an island on Sundays, and the expectations for any of the rookie corners is seeing the field in nickel and dime situations, at best.

    The roster is not finalized and it is conceivable Martin Mayhew makes a move to bring in a veteran to compete with Berry for the CB spot opposite Chris Houston.

    But the reincarnation of Lem Barney will not soon be walking through the doors, and whoever does win the approval of Gunther Cunningham should expect a heavy workload on Sundays this fall as this position will be viewed by opposing offensive coordinators as the weak link of the Lions’ secondary.

Running Back

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    Who will be the starting running back when the Lions begin the season hosting Jim Schwartz’s former boss Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams?

    Better yet, who totes the rock in Week 11?

    Yes, I know I’m speculating, but when was the last time the same running back was the starter for both Week 1 and Week 11 for the Detroit Lions?

    The answer is Kevin Smith back in 2009, when he rumbled for 47 yards—not exactly a ringing endorsement for stability in the backfield.

    Thankfully, the running back in Scott Linehan’s system is nothing more than ginger ale, a simple mixer that accompanies the grain alcohol passing attack orchestrated by Matthew Stafford.

    Hope is endless for Mikel Leshoure and everyone who follows this team looks forward to a successful redshirt rookie season for him, but there is nobody on the roster that is an NFL proven commodity with a track record of staying healthy for an entire season.

    The Lions passed on adding an insurance policy for Jahvid Best in the draft and part of that plan may be the comfort level with Joique Bell.

    The coaching staff worked with him two years ago at the Senior Bowl and was quick to snatch him up when the Saints released him.

    He does not possess the wheels of Best, but does have a nice combination of size and speed and could be a viable untapped resource to call upon if the running back stable once again looks like a M*A*S*H unit later in the year.

    As long as Stafford keeps slingin’ it, the running game should not be overly exposed, but the ground attack is still an issue. What would really help the running game is better blocking up front, which brings me to my next concern…

Right Side of O-Line

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    Although they are the most veteran offensive line in football, the play of the front five warrants only a shoulder shrug.

    The group does pass block well, I’ll give them that, but the running game is near the bottom of the league and finding creases to get through for a back is similar to making your way through the men’s room at Joe Louis Arena between periods.

    The right side of the offensive front is more of a head shake with a look towards the heavens in hopes of divine intervention.

    Gosder Cherilus and Stephen Peterman are the de facto starters on the right side and the first rung of the NFL ladder for Riley Reiff.

    The Iowa rookie will get a more than a fair share at thieving the starting right tackle spot from the unfulfilled potential of Cherilus, but don’t think a rookie is going to come in and start moving scrimmage all by himself.

    Reiff should be an upgrade—whether it’s in Week 1 or Week 6 coming off the bye—but Detroit will again struggle with their ground attack and the probable formation on 3rd and two will again be shotgun, when it should be I-formation.

Kicking Game

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    This will probably be received as blasphemy in many Honolulu Blue circles, but the kicking game could be the unforeseen setback.

    Jason Hanson has completed 20 years in the league and if he was a car, he would now be eligible for a historical license plate to display prominently on his cruise down Woodward Avenue.

    I realize a few kickers have kicked into their 40s. George Blanda kicked his last field goal at 48 and John Carney tossed his walker aside and kicked for the Saints at the ripe old age of 46 only two years ago.

    But that is the aberration and at 42, Hanson’s days are numbered—whether you want to admit or not.

    The punting legs are in no better shape.

    Both Ben Graham and rookie Ryan Donahue were in the bottom third for average among their kicking piers and regardless of who wins the roster spot this season, giving the opposition a longer field to work with would go a long way in helping the defense stop some drives.

    As explosive as the offense is and the dominance the defensive front has shown, special teams is still a major part of an NFL game and last year’s edition was anything but “special.”

    Let’s all hope Hanson can give us another year of excellence and Donahue returns to the form that allowed the Lions to part ways with Nick Harris, otherwise the kicking game could be the downfall of the 2012 Lions.

Schedule

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    It’s nice to see the Lions get some national love, but the schedule makers did Detroit no favors.

    The Lions have five nationally televised games, but only two are at home and one is the annual afternoon clash on Thanksgiving.

    So because of the surprising success of last year, Detroit must shoulder three road games in the national spotlight; a Monday night clash against the Bears at Soldier Spaceship and two Sunday night games at San Francisco and at Green Bay in December.

    Schwartz v. Harbaugh part deux is must-see TV, but it will prove to be a wicked tough road victory early in the season and Lambeau in December, at night, will have the deck stacked firmly in the favor of the cheeseheads.

    And when the Pack does come to Ford Field in November, they will be well rested coming off a bye the prior week.

    Detroit does end the season with two home games against playoff contenders, so the schedule is not all doom and gloom. Another national game the Saturday before Christmas against Atlanta and eight days to prepare for what could be a wild-card spot showdown against the Bears.

    Playing games on the four-letter network and NBC is nice, but it certainly would've helped if more of the prime time games were in the Motor City.