A Few New Tricks from Your 2009 Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions...The laughing stock of the league in 2008 and the first 0-16 team in NFL history, is hoping to pull a few rabbits out of their hat this year and make an impact in the NFC North.
Before getting to their new and improved playbook though, lets take a look at what worked last year.
When you really think about it, they had two consistently successful offensive plays throughout the season.
1. Throw the ball to Calvin Johnson
2. Kick a field goal with Jason Hanson
The Lions addressed their most pertinent issue on the offensive side of the ball by drafting QB Matthew Stafford first overall. Odds are he will not be the starter on day one, although there's a chance they could put him in this year if they struggle early.
The draft pick that should pay immediate dividends is the other first round pick, TE Brandon Pettigrew.
Jim Schwartz loved using his TE's in Tennessee, and coming to Detroit, he didn't have anyone comparable to guys like Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler. Pettigrew will be that guy. He will start immediately and he should get his fair share of targets.
Picking up Ronald Curry and Bryant Johnson to compliment Calvin Johnson should help the passing game as well.
Both receivers are solid veterans, and while they won't put up great numbers, they're significant upgrades from Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald.
The only other significant offensive pickup was Maurice Morris, who will act as a backup to Kevin Smith. He is a good pass blocker that should get a handful of carries each game to give Smith a breather.
Then there's the defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately I'm at a loss here. I really can't think of a single play that worked on a regular basis. The Lions couldn't get sacks, they couldn't get picks, and they gave up a ton of yards, both rushing and passing.
In summary: their defense was a joke.
Enter former Titans defensive coordinator and new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz. He turned the Titans into one of the most feared defenses in the game.
They were equally effective at stopping the run and the pass, and put fear in the hearts of opposing quarterbacks.
The problem Schwartz now faces is how to turn the most transparent defense in the NFL into a dominant force similar to what he had going in Tennessee.
I guess he figured the best way to accomplish that goal is to get better players. Makes sense to me.
Schwartz, along with GM Martin Mayhew, went out and picked up two pro-bowl caliber linebackers in Julian Peterson and Larry Foote to compliment Ernie Sims.
The focus then shifted to the horrid secondary. Adding CB's Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry, as well as drafting FS Louis Delmas in the second round of the draft, should immediately improve the Lions pass defense from useless to decent, which is quite a leap for one offseason.
Now Schwartz's defense in Tennessee was centered around a dominant defensive line, which was anchored by some guy named Albert Haynesworth. The Detroit Lions have nobody comparable to Haynesworth, and their D-line is swiss cheese compared to Tennessee's.
They did pick up Grady Jackson, which is a good upgrade, but it's clear that Detroit chose to focus on fixing the secondary this year, and will presumably focus on the line next year.
Put simply though, it's going to be up to the linebackers to stop the run, because the defensive line isn't going to help very much.
All that being said, the Lions will definitely have a few new plays that should improve their effectiveness on both sides of the ball.
Blitz! Blitz! Blitz!
The man in the picture above is Julian Peterson. He is now a Detroit Lion, and along with Larry Foote and Ernie Sims, he will be blitzing ALL THE TIME.
Since the Lions still don't have a great defensive line, Jim Schwartz will be need to be sending at least one linebacker blitzing almost every down.
The linebacker blitz will do two things: it will help stop the run and it will hurry the quarterback, which forces mistakes to be made. This will in turn help the secondary do their job.
I also believe that there will be an increase in the number of safety and corner blitzes, but primarily, the Lions will depend on their linebackers to get the job done.
Introducing Mr. Pettigrew
The Lions desperately needed a check down option for their quarterback. Last year, if Calvin Johnson was covered, there really wasn't a good second option.
Enter Brandon Pettigrew, considered the most complete tight end available in this year's draft.
He will immediately start, and will immediately contribute to the passing AND rushing game.
Look for Pettigrew to get a ton of looks from Culpepper, and especially from Stafford when he plays. He's the guy the Lions desperately needed to convert those short third-down plays, not to mention the fact that he's another big target to look for in the end zone.
Kevin Smith is licking his chops over this guy, too. While Detroit didn't address their offensive line until late in the draft, Pettigrew is considered an excellent blocker as well, which will only help Smith find a few more holes to run through.
Lots and lots of Kevin Smith
Schwartz is a defensive coach, and he knows the importance of controlling the clock and playing the field position game.
While he will not abandon the passing game with a guy like Calvin Johnson out there, the Lions will definitely focus on the running game this year.
Kevin Smith had a great rookie year. He racked up nearly 1,000 yards, averaged over 4 yards per carry, and didn't even start every game. Expect Smith to get 20-25 carries a game in 2009, and rack up at least 1,200 yards.
If Smith can find some success in the rushing attack, guys like Calvin Johnson, Ronald Curry, and Bryant Johnson, will find themselves open a whole lot more often.
It's a simple formula. Run the ball down their throats, then toss it to Megatron for a touchdown.
Louis Delmas, Daniel Bullocks, and Gerald Alexander. Those are your 2009 Detroit Lions Safeties that will likely see the majority of the playing time.
All three of them are young, quick, and able to make plays.
Delmas is the real wild card of the bunch. His M.O. is that he's a game changer, and a ball magnet. If this is true, and he can come up with even a couple interceptions, it'll be an improvement over the Lions safety play last year.
Schwartz is hoping Delmas is everything he's supposed to be. If he is, look for him to be used similarly to how Ed Reed is used in Baltimore.
With the linebackers blitzing as much as I believe they will, the safeties will likely be sitting back in zone coverage, which should play to their biggest strength: their speed.
That's not to say they won't blitz either though, I foresee more than a few sacks and TFL's coming from Detroit's secondary this year.
If Bullocks can improve his anticipation, and if Alexander can stay healthy, and if Dumas is all he's hyped up to be, then the Lions safeties should be the anchor in the secondary.