Lions' Playbook: Strategies May Simply Be Asking Too Much

Francisco E. VelazquezCorrespondent IMay 29, 2009

ALLEN PARK, MI - MAY 01: Sammie Lee Hill #79 of the Detroit Lions stretches during rookie orientation camp at the Detroit Lions Headquarters and Training Facility on May 1, 2009 in Allen Park, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

From what I saw last year, the Lions offense ran typical pro sets, I-formations and such. With Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson opposite of each other, you would’ve thought that the Lions had a nice recipe for success outside, considering Kevin Smith’s successes in the run game.

Sure, the running game wasn’t perfect by any means, but to deny Kevin Smith’s abilities is just ignorant. The line was a mess and so was the quarterback situation—a trend in the North last season.

This year, much of that should change. Culpepper should be a prepared quarterback with a full preseason under his belt rather than a fill-in QB as he was last year. Yet you would think that he could wipe much of whatever success he had last year as a new offensive coordinator this year equals a new playbook.

Sort of.  Culpepper is familiar with Linehan from their time in Minnesota. With a premier receiver in both tenures—Moss and now, Calvin Johnson—I would expect a similar type of offense, considering it is also the same conference-brand of play.

Drafting Stafford, Pettigrew, and Derrick Williams (which I think is a superb pick that hasn’t been talked about much) to place into the mix, the Lions now have a good amount of talent in those key positions. But drafting a single lineman out in the seventh round doesn’t exactly show the Lions are worried about their line. They kinda should be.

Last year, the Lions employed more zone-blocking schemes. This year, it would be wiser to refer back to man-to-man, which I’m sure they will if they plan on doing some more running. With pretty good skill position players, the run game is needed to open up space for those receivers, which is where we come full circle.

The line is still bad, so don’t expect the running game to be too successful. It’s as if the Lions, for example, fixed an appliance from the electrical cord to the appliance itself, yet never turned on the electricity to get it started in the first place.

So, in reality, I imagine the Lions will stay to their Pro Sets, three-wide outs and strong side I formations—with of course some philosophical modifications. Linehan is different, which in turn leads to different play calls.

Will the offense be better? No doubt, but only because of the upgrade in skill personnel.

In fact, a pass-first concept wouldn’t be out of the question. In that regard, that would open up the running lanes.

Once the running game gets going, well, refer to top. But then again, this is the NFC North.

On defense, new defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham is a very experienced coordinator. I like the choice. The addition of Louis Delmas and DeAndre Levy for Cunningham to play with allows some more security on the outside thirds of the field.

The philosophy here is of course to keep the offenses on the inside. By keeping them on the inside, it allows Larry Foote, Julian Peterson, Ernie Sims, and/or DeAndre Levy to make the plays.

Hey, that’s not a bad idea at all. The Lions have definitely upgraded the personnel which virtually simplifies the philosophy: Keep the offenses to the middle will force defenses to run. So, stop the run.

The problem, though, is a similar one. Yup, the linemen are the key and, um…the line sucks.

Sure, sending Foote, Peterson, and Sims to make plays is a good idea. But all the time?

Having an old Grady Jackson lead the line, forces the younger lineman to step up. Landon Cohen fits the bill but is too light (296 lbs.) for what the staff prefers.

Kevin Seifert reported that the Lions are looking to beef up their linemen “to stand up against the run better.”  That logic ultimately shows why the Lions selected Sammie Lee Hill (331 lbs.) in the draft.

Grady Jackson is the heaviest at 345 lbs. Hill and Chartric Darby will have to make plays. If they do, the defense should be relatively okay.

Considering the passing game, the linemen must make rush the quarterback too if they plan on being successful. That may be asking too much from this corps of linemen.

But if the Lions implemented a 3-3-5 scheme as has been suggested, it takes pressure of the lineman and adds more on the linebackers. Again, we come full circle. If the linemen fail, you now may be asking too much from the linebackers, even as good as they are.

But Gunther is smart. We’ll see what he does to plug his holes. In the end, the Lions simply may be asking too much right now.