The NFC North seemed to lose some of its competitiveness last season with Green Bay falling out early and the Detroit Lions never in it, going 0-16 to become the worst team in football history. It came down to Chicago and Minnesota with the Vikings running attack proving too much.
0-16 will be attached to the Detroit Lions franchise for the rest of history. The 2008 season beat the records of the Bucs, Bears, and Patriots who went 0-13.
In an attempt to right the ship, the Lions decided for a complete overhaul as only thirteen starters remain from last season.
The Lions hired Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz as head coach. His first order of business was to beef up the Lions’ weakest area, the defense. He brings a run-stopping mentality and the knowledge of creating a good secondary to a team that finished last in almost every defensive category.
What was the weakest part of the team last season will be the strength of this year’s Lions team, the defense. The Lions made many off-season acquisitions, mostly on the defensive side.
The Lions added veteran tackle Grady Jackson to beef up the middle of the line. He will be Schwartz’s Albert Haynesworth. The Lions also have a young, speedy rusher on the outside named Cliff Avril, the only true pass rusher on the line, probably until next year’s draft.
The Lions went out and created a linebacker corp which will be one of the best in recent history. Ernie Sims will finally have help at the position with huge additions in Julian Peterson and Larry Foote, both who will offer stability to an otherwise lost defense.
The secondary is very underrated and is composed of players looking to show they still belong in the NFL. The leaders will be ex-Cowboy Anthony Henry and ex-Buccaneer Phillip Buchanon. Both used to be stars on their teams, but injuries or house-cleaning moves allowed them to land in Detroit.
Kicker Jason Hanson is the only consistent member of the Lions for the past 18 seasons. He still has a good leg, but he was unable to use it much last season due to a weak offense.
They are in the right division to make a difference because Green Bay is the only team with good receivers (outside Calvin Johnson of course).
The quarterback position was a mess last season. Jon Kitna started the first four games until his injury, but he never looked like he was playing anyway with the way he was throwing the ball.
Then came Dan Orlovsky. Everyone will remember in the Vikings game when he ran out of the end zone being chased by Jared Allen. The play was You Tube fodder for many weeks.
Daunte Culpepper who provided some skill at the position, but he still was not enough to earn a Lions win. He came in out of shape after being out of football for nearly two years.
For 2009, Culpepper dropped about 30 pounds in order to get in shape and is favored to be the starter. The Lions did use the first overall pick on Mathew Stafford, but with an unproven line and very low expectations, there is little reason to rush him in to playing.
Stafford will be the quarterback of the future and this extra time will allow him to learn from one of the league’s most knowledgeable quarterbacks and grow with players like Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew.
The running game, like the rest of the offense, was virtually nonexistent. The Lions do seem to have a No. 1 back in Kevin Smith who should break the 1,000 yard mark this season. He has another year of experience, an improved line, and a fullback in Terrelle Smith to lead the way.
The receiving core was not half bad last season as Calvin Johnson moved into the elite ranks among the league’s receivers. Johnson had only Mike Furry for help last season and still reached over 1,000 yards receiving.
Now, he has Bryant Johnson as a wingman and first round pick Brandon Pettigrew to contribute at the tight end position. This group has a good future ahead of them as long as the quarterback position stabilizes.
The offensive line will be the key to the offense for 2009. It needs to grow as a unit and keep whoever the quarterback is on his feet. Tacles Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus need prove their worth and give time to the quarterback to get the ball to Calvin Johnson, Bryant Johnson, and Brandon Pettigrew.
The NFC North is full of strong lines so it will be vital that Backus and Gherilus rise to the challenge.
The Lions’ 2008 season was the ugliest in history and I think that says enough. There is no more downhill, so the Lions should be only keeping their heads to the sky.
Kevin Smith is a No. 2 fantasy back. With a more steady offense, and a dangerous receiver in Calvin Johnson, Smith should be good for at least 1,000 yards.
Calvin Johnson moved into an elite class last season. He is a top-five receiver and will be the main target for Culpepper/Stafford. Plus, with Bryant Johnson and Pettigrew, Calvin should be able to put up even bigger numbers.