5 Adjustments the Detroit Lions Will Make to Dominate in 2012
In 1988, Jerry Glanville famously told a referee, "This is the NFL which stands for 'Not For Long' when you make those kinds of calls." He was of course implying that the referee would lose his job if he didn't clean up his act.
Glanville's statement has taken on a completely different meaning over the years. These days it refers to how hard it is to reach the NFL mountaintop, and even harder to stay atop it.
Teams must adapt if they expect to be relevant year after year. The league is too talented for teams to be complacent. If they're idle they will get passed by—or more likely run over.
After last season, the Detroit Lions can consider themselves relevant. They haven't reached the mountaintop by any means, but if they hope to keep their momentum going forward, they can't be complacent either. They must adapt.
It's a fine line knowing what to change and what to keep the same. They won for a reason; drastic changes might only weaken their strengths. The Lions don't need to do this.
They do need to fine-tune some things though. Here are some key adjustments the Lions should make that will help them be successful this season.
5. Establish the Run
OK, maybe this is less of an adjustment than an overall change in game plan. It also has something to do with the personnel the Lions have available to them.
With the injuries to Mikel Leshoure, Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith last season, the Lions struggled to establish any kind of running attack.
Injuries were certainly a factor, but there were several games when it seemed like Detroit either gave up on the run too early, or never even tried. That might explain why Matthew Stafford threw the ball 663 times.
At any rate, the Lions have their big dogs back, and by all indications, they're ready to run.
With Detroit's talented team of receivers, it's no secret they'll always be a pass-first offense. For that reason, the Lions don't need a 1,000-yard rusher. They do need the ability to score on the 1-yard line and control the clock in a close game though.
An effective running game clearly gives them an edge they lacked last year. It would force defenses to be honest and might even limit the number of double- or triple-teams that Calvin Johnson has to face.
Achieving some semblance of balance to the offense should be a goal, and the Lions certainly have the personnel to do it
4. Energize the Return Game
Stefan Logan was a revelation in 2010. His total yardage was impressive and he returned a kickoff over 100 yards for a TD. He provided a spark and fans expected him to be a fixture in the Lions return game as Mel Gray had been two decades earlier.
As I said, this is the "Not For Long" league though. Logan's 2011 was mediocre at best and he wasn't the dynamic playmaker from the year before.
The return game is his only contribution to the team, and if he's not playing at a high level, his value is minimal. The Lions should upgrade the position and fill it with someone who can provide quality returns, while contributing in other areas as well.
They have plenty of young speedy guys on their team that are capable of helping. All three cornerbacks drafted this offseason have top-end speed, and Ryan Broyles, when completely healthy, might be in the mix too.
The Lions need that spark back and I believe a change is necessary to make it happen.
3. Improve Coverage Teams
The Lions special teams really took a step back last season. It wasn't just Stefan Logan that failed to make an impact. It was also the coverage teams that consistently couldn't contain anyone.
The Lions were in the Top 10 for both opponents' kickoff and punt return yardage in 2011. Worse yet, they were second in the NFL giving up a whopping 13.4 yards per punt return. They also surrendered two return touchdowns.
This pattern of ineptitude continually put the Lions defense at a disadvantage. NFL offenses are dangerous enough these days; allowing them to win the field-position battle is akin to simply giving them points.
The Lions need to get their special teams back on track, and judging by their draft, they might be hoping an infusion of youth will do the trick. It seemed like every time a Lions pick was announced the phrase "special teams demon" followed.
As many as five players from the 2012 draft class could make an impact on special teams.
Ronnell Lewis, Tahir Whitehead, Chris Greenwood, Jonte Green and Travis Lewis will all be in the mix and could significantly bolster the floundering unit.
The Lions also just re-signed core special teams player from last year Maurice Stovall. He was one of the lone bright spots and will provide the youngsters with veteran leadership.
Time will tell if these personnel upgrades do the trick.
2. Get Creative with the Defensive Line
For all the hubbub about Gunther Cunningham and the Lions' dominant defensive line, I was shocked by how often they got beat last year. Particularly, against the run.
Opposing offenses were able to game-plan and counter the Lions wide-nine scheme by rushing away from or around their penetration. The result was long runs that kept stalled drives going and ultimately ended in scores.
As this article from MLive.com's Justin Rogers reports, Cunningham is already tinkering. Ndamukong Suh has been spotted taking snaps from the right side of the line. There is also talk that Nick Fairley will play alongside Suh much more often.
Keeping Suh in one place worked in 2010. Last year it didn't get the same result. Moving him around makes perfect sense and proves that teams must continually adapt.
Different looks and different personnel means less predictability. By changing it up, the Lions will keep the opposing quarterback and offensive line guessing. The opposition will have to spend more time game-planning and this means more room for error.
With Suh and Fairley side by side, errors could be disastrous for their opponents.
I'm sure that's what the Lions are hoping for.
1. Find a Bigger Role for Titus Young
For all the negativity surrounding Titus Young this offseason, you'd think he was busted for marijuana too.
He wasn't. He got in a fight with a teammate. OK, he sucker-punched a teammate. It was bad, but I tend to agree with Nate Burleson. It happens all the time, let's move on.
Media and fans should be talking about how Young has the potential for a breakout year.
Immaturity was really the only thing that hindered him last season, and while the previously mentioned incident didn't show any evidence of maturity, there's still time before the start of the regular season for him to get his act together.
He's an emotional guy and that characteristic can help as well as hinder his progress.
Obviously the Lions offense did pretty well last year with Young only getting 84 targets and 48 receptions, but they can be better if he's given a bigger role.
He clearly needs to work on his consistency but the Lions need to throw him the ball more often too. Some players respond when they're given more responsibility.
Besides, he gives them a vertical threat that Burleson and Ryan Broyles cannot match.
Brandon Pettigrew is a very solid receiver and he's a big part of the Lions' success. But he should not be second on the team with 83 receptions either. He's not Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez (yet). Distributing the ball more evenly between Pettigrew, Burleson and Young will keep the defenses on their toes.
Young is the best player to pair with Calvin Johnson too. He stretches the field and opens up holes that Johnson can turn into big gains.
The Lions passing game is one of the best in the NFL, but if coaches give Young a bigger role, they might be surprising how much better it can be,