I wrote an early Lions Preview a little while back and now after the preseason, I feel some of the questions I was wondering about have been answered. I do not think they are a playoff team yet, but I feel they are on the verge of becoming one. A few quality players at certain positions and the Lions will be able to compete for the division.
This young Lions offense is close to being potent. You have a young game changer in running back Jahvid Best who really helps make this offense go. In the preseason, when Best was in the game the offense did significantly better than when he wasn’t in the game. There is proof to that right in the games as well.
For example, when Detroit was facing the Browns, the starting offense put together their only touchdown drive when Best was in the game. Then against the Bills, in limited time, the offense struggled a bit without Best playing. Kevin Smith was the primary backup, but he looks a bit tentative coming off a serious knee injury. The Lions have a slew of backs that can contribute though with veteran Maurice Morris and young scat back Aaron Brown also on the roster. Even fullback Jerome Felton can tote the rock as a power guy.
Second year quarterback Matt Stafford does not have a shortage of weapons in this year's offense. The former No. 1 pick in the draft has taken great strides in becoming a top NFL QB. He has been very impressive in the preseason. He has been proficient and has made plays.
The WR core is bolstered by one of the most talented players in the game with Calvin Johnson and savvy veteran Nate Burleson. The Lions also have an experienced third WR with former starter Bryant Johnson and then a fourth WR in Dennis Northcut or Derrick Williams. Stafford also has two very nice TE targets in Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew. Both are big targets that will be used a lot in this offense.
One of the biggest improvements on this team comes from the hogs up front. You won’t see their names in papers for winning games and great plays, but any real football fan knows games are won & lost in the trenches. If you can block well, you are always giving your team a chance. This line looks totally different that the previous ones.
With the addition of Rob Sims at guard, it seems the line is solidified. They gave Stafford plenty of time to throw the ball and did equally as well opening running lanes for the backs. If they continue to do this well, this offense will be fun to watch with all the weapons it has.
The defense is a completely different story than the offense. They look very suspect and teams will be able to throw the ball on them with success. Now don’t get me wrong, general manger Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz did a nice job improving the talent on this defense, but its just not where it needs to be.
The defensive line is unquestionably the strength of this defense. The strength of them is creating pressure on the QB, but they also stop the run well. At times they have shown flashes of dominance.
With 1st round pick Ndamukong Suh taking on double teams every play, it has created opportunities for other lineman to create plays. Corey Williams the other DT playing on the side of Suh is a nice pass rusher and with Suh being double teamed, he has been able to get pressure up the middle. Even while being double teamed.
Suh still has made his share of plays in the preseason. Veteran DE Kyle Vanden Bosch has shown why the Lions were so high on getting him. He has a non-stop motor and makes plays all over the field while getting pressure on the QB. Lastly you have young pass rusher Cliff Aviril who has looked very good at times. He has the ability to beat OT’s around the edge and create pressure on the QB.
The linebackers have looked shaky thus far in preseason. Middle linebacker DeAndre Levy has been injured throughout preseason so it has been hard to judge him. He needs to step up his game though from last season if the Lions want to stop some people. Julian Peterson, who many believe is overpaid, has showed up some in preseason, but needs to also make more plays. \
First time starter and previously a 7th round pick Zach Follett looked good at times, but also struggled at times. With more experience on the field though, he may become solid. These three need to stay healthy as the depth behind them is not good and maybe they can gel behind a very good defensive line.
Then there is the secondary on this team. Louis Delmas is easily the best player in this unit. He has been hampered with injuries throughout training camp, but word is he will be ready to go Week 1 against the Bears. He is the type of safety that can come up and stop the run, but also fly around in the defensive backfield and make plays. The other starting safety spot may belong to undrafted free agent Randy Phillips. Phillips has looked good at times, but also has had his struggles. In general, for someone undrafted, he has looked solid.
The cornerbacks are the big question. Chris Houston who was acquired in a trade in the off-season, has been inconsistent. The other corner spot will be a revolving door in my opinion. You will likely see multiple guys playing there this season. It’s likely nobody will lock the job down though.
This defense is pretty young in most positions which causes this inconsistency in play. At times they will play well, but other times they will have mental lapses and will look like the old Lions defense we know all too well. With this offense though, the Lions may be able to out-score many opponents and the defense will not be needed as often. This team has improved and should win between six and 8games.
rip_city is a Jabberhead, Lions fan, & SJ Contributing Author
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