It's a brand new year for the Detroit Lions and head coach Jim Schwartz. There is no quarterback controversy. There is no 0-16 record looming over their heads. But will the emergence of Matthew Stafford, along with two-straight fantastic offseasons, lead to success on the football field?
Will Matthew Stafford Take His Game to the Next Level?
Stafford won over most of his critics with his performance against the Cleveland Browns in his rookie year. That game had it all. He set records for most passing yards for a rookie (422) and most touchdowns by a rookie since the AFL-NFL merger (five). The 88-yard drive to win the game also included a dramatic injury, penalty as the clock struck zero, and comeback all on the same play.
In order for Stafford to be considered a top quarterback in the NFL, he will need more of these performances in his sophomore campaign. Of course, he will need to cut down on interceptions and stop forcing the ball in the double and triple coverage. But most importantly, he will need to be the leader that his team saw in Week 11 against the Browns. If he can throw for 3,500 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions, he will put his team in a much better position to win and be hailed among Lions fans.
Who Will Carry the Load at Running Back?
Kevin Smith will be inactive Week 1 against Da Bears, so rookie Jahvid Best will be named the starter in his first professional game. However, plugging in a fragile rookie running back for 25 carries against a very capable defensive line is just not smart.
Jim Schwartz will likely give Maurice Morris his fair share of touches from the backfield, and use Best in the slot to utilize his breakaway speed.
Dave Birkett, of the Detroit Free Press, pointed out that "the Lions haven’t topped 100 yards rushing against the Bears since Oct. 28, 2007, their last road victory"(Birkett, 9/11/10). Best and Morris can combine for 100 yards, especially if Best breaks a 50-yard touchdown run.
The backfield will be the most important part of this years' offense. If the backs can consistently move the chains and break occasional long runs, it will open up the passing game for Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.
Who Will Step Up in the Secondary?
In the current two-deep depth chart, only one player in the secondary has ever played in a regular season game for the Lions. Louis Delmas is that player, and he will have to be the leader of the group if they are going to have any success.
C.C. Brown, Chris Houston, and Jonathan Wade are predicted to get the starts alongside Delmas. It has been a while since the Lions have had any continuity in the secondary, but GM Martin Mayhew has put together a group of high-potential players who did not fit their previous systems. If Schwartz can find a group of players who play well together, and stick with them, it will ease a lot of pressure off of the front-seven.
You never know what to expect from teams in the regular-season opener. However, Stafford has performed very well in the preseason and shown flashes of brilliance. Stafford and Best put some points on the scoreboard, but so does Jay Cutler under new offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher shut down the Lions in the fourth quarter and pull out the win for Da Bears.
27-21 Bears over Lions