The 2009-10 Detroit Lions will finish at .500.
Well, at least they should finish at .500
No. Screw that. They will win 8 games this season.
Ah, what do I know? But let’s hope they can make it to .500
You can call it a case of extreme optimism, but there are signs (although not quite neon) this team isn’t only ready to turn the corner but halfway around it. That is, if the team can remain at least considerably healthy.
I know this is the NFL and anytime injuries are involved that if becomes huge. Now that I have thrown out the biggest disclaimer in terms of sports predictions, let’s take a look at the best case scenario.
The Running Game
I understand it is only preseason which means; starters rarely play, a coach doesn’t game plan and the games do not count. While that may be true, this Lions offensive line has played lights out by Detroit standards.
Kevin Smith is obviously the starter and has played well (4.7 ypc) but his supporting cast has also looked really strong.
Coach Jim Schwartz has constantly preached an emphasis on power running and a physical football team and the players are bringing that mentality to at least the ground game. What’s not to like about a backfield of Jerome Felton and Terrelle Smith? Both are listed as fullbacks and weigh in at 246 lbs each, but Felton actually played halfback in college.
Aaron Brown and Tristan Davis have also displayed flashes of big play potential. Brown has 153 yards on 28 carries; an average of 5.5 yards per attempt. Davis has done a lot more with his attempts. He had only seven but went for 114 yards, including a 79-yarder during the preseason finale.
The line, who has taken more than their fair share of heat, seems to be well-suited for the aggressive power running scheme the coaches have installed. Look for big things from this unit.
If his foot heals properly, Daunte Culpepper will most likely be named the starter for the opener and for good reason. People seem to think he has been too cautious with the ball, citing the low amount of yards and lack of down field throws.
However, I don't see the problem.
What I do see is 65 percent completion percentage, no turnovers and ability to move the ball consistently. What fans need to realize is while Stafford has a rocket arm and better accuracy than advertised, he needs to learn the nuances of NFL quarterbacking. Things like when to check down, when to throw the ball away and when to step up opposed to escaping the pocket.
Daunte has that, and he knows how to move the chains. Finally, a passer in a Lion’s uniform who can do that on a regular basis.
When Coach Schwartz came into town, he brought along some simple philosophies.
One of those philosophies were to increase the size of the guys in the trenches, preferably the on the defensive side of the ball. Cliff Avril had a strong rookie season which he is looking to build on.
The signing of Grady Jackson and drafting of Sammie Hill adds much needed bulk to the middle of a soft run defense. Considering the Lion's defense saw the fewest amount of pass attempts (why pass when you can run) they were 16th in the league in sacks, which proves the pass rush was present, just not prevalent.
Another key to the defensive line rotation is the expected emergence of Andre Fluellen. Who, thanks to Lions' great Robert Porche, got a chance to play defensive end instead to go along with his normal tackle duties.
So far, Fluellen has really impressed the coaching staff with his strength and quickness.
Anything besides the same would’ve been an improvement.
Thankfully, the team did not remain the same. The addition of two-time Super Bowl champion Larry Foote and former Pro Bowler Julian Peterson adds much needed pop to a pretty lackluster unit.
Foote’s experience, toughness and desire to improve his hometown team automatically upgrade a very pivotal middle linebacker position in Gunther Cunningham’s system. Peterson is a pass rush specialist who provides another dimension to Gun’s (Cunningham’s nickname) blitz happy scheme.
Hopefully, the arrival of these two veterans will improve the play of Ernie Sims, who admittedly had a down year in 2008.
I see the Lions, maybe not winning the North, but making some huge strides along the way. I really expect to see an 8 win team. They have enough pieces to get it done, regardless of how people feel they are rebuilding.
Pro Bowl caliber receiver? Check. Up-and-coming running back? Got it. Solid QB play? OK. Solid defense? OK, maybe this unit could use some more talent but there is enough to keep games close through four quarters.