The Detroit Lions’ 2012-2013 season may be the hardest to anticipate of any team in the NFL. With the Packers clearly established as one of the league’s best teams, the rest of their division knows they will need to improve upon their 2011 seasons if they want to keep pace with not only Green Bay, but the increasingly deep NFC.
So where does Detroit fit in?
Detroit showed a lot in 2011 and have some clearly established strengths moving forward. They have a dangerous vertical passing game. They have a top-tier pass rush. They have an often-overlooked head coach in Jim Schwartz who has improved his team’s performance in each of his three years with the organization.
But, even with their first postseason appearance since 1999, the Lions left much to be desired last season.
For one, they committed nearly 1,000 yards of penalties. Detroit’s apparent offseason pastime—getting arrested, as outlined by Jeffri Chadiha of ESPN—has done nothing to assuage the opinions of their critics. Still, the idea that their legal trouble is somehow representative of a larger, organizational malfunction is more of a pundit-contrived topic than an actual issue.
The more pressing problem, however, has been their inability to run the football. Detroit has ranked in the bottom-10 league-wide in rushing yards every year since 2005, and 2011 was no exception. Injuries, a sometimes-suspect offensive line and a frequent need to pass all contributed to the No. 29 rushing attack in the league last year.
Nobody is expecting Detroit to have a top-10 rushing offense, and quite frankly, any real type of dedication to the running game does nothing but detract from Calvin Johnson and friends. Still, the Lions fanbase and players seem to believe that improvements have been made from last year’s pleasant surprise.
Assuming additional experience and confidence have made this true, Detroit will be finding themselves with more third- and fourth-quarter leads than they did in 2011.
Running might not win them many games, but an inability to pick up crucial first downs to preserve leads would be a major issue. Not to mention, Stafford will get injured again if he needs to throw the ball 663 times every season.
The good news? Detroit has four potentially capable runners? The bad news? Potentially.
Running backs Kevin Smith, Keiland Williams, Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure are all decent options, and one of the more intriguing offseason stories in Detroit has been seeing which of these backs will earn the top spot for the 2012 season.
Now, I realize that the idea of having a running back play in all 16 games is not one with which Detroit is familiar, but when I say “top spot for 2012,” the implication is that it will be a year-long role. All the runners bring with them their own sets of skills, but Kevin Smith should win the battle.
And here’s why…