Detroit Lions: Strong Finish in 2010 Bodes Well For Fast Start in 2011

John FarrierCorrespondent IJanuary 7, 2011

Detroit Pride Cheerleaders outside Ford Field after the season-finale victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
Detroit Pride Cheerleaders outside Ford Field after the season-finale victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

It seems like August 4, 2010 was only yesterday and I was standing on the sidelines of the opening practice of training camp in Allen Park, Michigan, as another hope-filled season of Detroit Lions football was about to ensue.

For those of us who languished through the winless season of 2008 that earned the Detroit Lions the title of “OwenXVI Champions,” and suffered through the two-win season of 2009, the Detroit Lions’ four-game win streak to close the 2010 campaign was more than welcome to the lifelong Pride Faithful.

Much like Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, the Detroit Lions 2010 season shows two different teams:  before the bye week and after the bye week.

By the end of the first six weeks of competition, the Detroit Lions had posted a 1-5 record, beating only the St. Louis Rams at home, a team they could not beat at home the year before.  The lone victory before the week seven bye was about the only high point, as quarterback Matthew Stafford’s shoulder was injured on a plunging hit by Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, and rookie running back Jahvid Best had suffered debilitating turf toe injuries.

Following the much-needed bye week, I was treated to a Detroit Lions victory over the Washington Redskins at Ford Field on Halloween afternoon, October 31, 2010.  Future treats included the day-after-Christmas win at Sun Life Stadium against the Miami Dolphins, and a season finale victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

The Detroit Lions losses came in batches this year, as the team lost five games in a row following the Washington win.  By the end of week 13, the Detroit Lions were a paltry 2-10 team eyeing yet another top-five selection in the upcoming 2011 NFL Draft.

And then, without warning, the Detroit Lions learned how to win as a team, without their starting quarterback, without their starting running back, without their starting right defensive end, battling injuries and congealing to turn the tide from losing into a four-game win streak to finish the second half of the season as a .500 ball club.

Rarely is a six-win season seen by an NFL fan as “progress,” but in Detroit, there is absolutely no doubt that improvement has been made, and those improvements should carry forward into the next season.

After a two-year major rebuilding effort, it seems that the Detroit Lions front office has some foundational pieces around whom they can build a franchise.  Another fine offseason in free agency and the draft and the Detroit Lions should compete for a playoff spot in 2011.

Offensively, the Detroit Lions would do well to upgrade at right guard, the third wide receiver position, and add a big, power back.  The Lions still cannot run the football effectively or efficiently with any consistency, and that deficiency must be corrected during the offseason for Detroit to make the playoffs next season.

Defensively, the Detroit Lions are building one of the best defensive lines in the National Football League.  The linebacker corps is likely to see a modest overhaul, with at least one new outside linebacker if not two.  The defensive backfield remains suspect, as does the future status of cornerback Chris Houston.

If the Detroit Lions are able to go into 2011 with the defensive back seven reloaded, the team should be poised for their long-awaited return to post-season play.

While the Lions draft theory is to select the best player available (BPA), it is possible that we may see a preference given toward adding playmakers at linebacker and cornerback during the first three rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft.  Detroit is in somewhat of a “no-man’s land,” as the team picks 13th overall in the first round, a place in the draft where general manager Martin Mayhew could trade up to “find” the Detroit Lions BPA or trade down to acquire additional picks.

During the 2011 season the Detroit Lions will face the NFC South and AFC West in addition to their regular schedule against NFC North rivals.  Also added are Detroit’s third-place counterparts, San Francisco and Dallas.  After having faced the NFC East and AFC East in 2010, the Detroit Lions should be ready to do battle against any team on any given Sunday.

With another successful offseason of acquisitions, Martin Mayhew could provide head coach Jim Schwartz, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan with the tools to win 10 or more games during the regular season and make their way to the playoffs.

Here’s to an 11-win season in 2011-12, Detroit Lions fans and Pride Faithful!