FACT: The Detroit Lions are getting better! Just how much better is the question. General manager Martin Mayhew has done an excellent job of rebuilding a roster that was downright terrible, but fixing such a broken machine takes time and the Lions are not quite there yet.
OFFENSE: The Lions have the building blocks in place for a top NFL offense. Matt Stafford has all the tools to become a great QB. He has the arm, he has the system, and he has the targets. Calvin Johnson has the potential to be the best wide receiver in the league. Nate Burleson is a great compliment to him, along with the tight end tandem of Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. I think Scott Linehan who loves tight ends will be showing defenses plenty of two tight end sets. This, along with the addition of Jahvid best and Rob Sims, should improve the lackluster running game of 2009.
The weakness of the offensive line is still a major hurdle in the offense taking it to the next level. The addition of Sims, as I mentioned, will help. It fills that revolving door they had at left guard. Teaming Sims with right guard Stephen Peterman gives the Lions a nice duo at guard.
The major problem in the line are the tackles, both of whom are Matt Millen picks. Jeff Backus is arguably the most overpaid tackle in the league. JB is solid and durable but very, very average. He will not dominate, he will not push the pile. His counterpart, Gosder Cherilus, has the potential to be the road grading tackle they can run behind, but typical of MM draft picks he has been inconsistent. He has been benched in each of his two seasons. Dominic Raiola is similar to Backus durable yet average.
The bottom line is that in the NFL, or pee wee for that matter, if you can't run or protect the QB you wont score many points. If this line is able to gel and improve their play, this offense could be very dangerous.
DEFENSE: The 2009 Lions gave up at least 30 points eight times. That was an improvement from 2008 when that total was 11! The good news is that they have 11 new starters from the 2008 defense.
It all starts up front. That's why the Lions drafted Ndamukong "I really need a nickname" Suh second overall. They made a trade for 330 pound Corey Williams. Before switching to the Browns 3-4 defense, Corey recorded back-to-back seven sack seasons in Green Bay's 4-3. Adding former Titans star Kyle Vandenbosch solidified the RDE spot. Leaving them with a nice rotation at LDE. Last year's surprise, Jason Hunter, along with pass rush specialist Cliff Avril, will get most of the snaps I believe, along with Turk Mcbride. The defensive line is now the strength of this defense, no longer will teams be able to just run it up the gut with such ease.
The linebackers are a huge a question mark. Former all pro, yet aging Julian Peterson underachieved last season. 2 young starters in second year players Zack Follett and Deandry Levy will have a lot riding on their shoulders. The potential is there, but Lions fans can expect some growing pains.
The defensive backfield has improved. Its anchored by last years rookie sensation Louis Delmas at free safety. They added two very fast corners in Chris Houston and Jon Wade. Houston is a solid starter, but isn't much of a ball hawk with only three career interceptions. Wade couldn't seem to crack the starting line up in St.Louis. I can't imagine him suddenly improving in Detroit. That leaves rookie Amari Spievey as the best option at the #2 corner spot?
The biggest weakness in the defense is at strong safety. Daniel Bullocks, Ko Simpson, CC Brown, Marvin White, and Marquand Manuel. This crew of flunkies couldn't start on a single NFL team. They are downright terrible. That's why I, like many Lions fans, am hoping they can land free agent O.J. Atogwe. Atogwe is 29 years old and is demanding a high salary, but lack of interest is driving that price down. I have to believe the coy Mayhew is still interested in Atogwe has 19 interception in five seasons, more than all other Lions DBs combined! He is aging and coming off a shoulder and hernia surgeries. Despite this I believe he is still a big improvement, and is much needed for this defense to be competitive this season.
To summarize the defense, I think the run defense will be much improved to the revamped defensive line. But the Lions will continue to get torched through the air. The weak corners and safety, along with the young linebackers, will get tested early and often. It won't be pretty.
Anything is possible, but in their current state the Lions won't likely reach eight wins. They just don't have the defense. The schedule isn't favorable either. Three of the first four games are on the road versus our division rivals. If anyone needs a reminder they have ZERO division wins in the last two seasons. We also play road games against the Giants, Dolphins, and Cowboys. I predict wins against Chicago, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, and St. Louis. A home win against either Washington or Philly, and a big upset versus somebody, I will guess New England. Putting the final record at 6-10.