Although the 2010 season has just come to an end, it is never too early to start thinking about next year, and the Detroit Lions finally have something to look forward to!
These are 10 of the key elements to the Lions success in 2011. Their six wins in this year may be middle of the road when compared with the rest of the NFL, but they represent a new beginning for those fans in Honolulu Blue who have been waiting oh so long for a team to be proud of again.
Even more important than any of the six wins that the Lions achieved in 2010 was the wall they slowly tore down with each one of those victories. A stigma had been built up for so long deeming the Lions the worst team in the league, justifiably so. By breaking their all time worst road loss streak, that stigma was partially relieved. By finally finishing victorious against another NFC North team and winning back-to-back games for the first time in years, they quickly moved from joke to competitor. Just ask your Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers... that is if he can even remember that day.
The team must keep the mindset that they can compete with anyone they step onto the field with, or they will quickly revert to old patterns.
One of the Lions weakest attributes over the past decade has been the lack of a defensive secondary. By drafting safety Louis Delmas out of Western Michigan in the second round, the Lions front office showed that they realized this issue and intend to fix it. Delmas has quickly turned into one of the top defensive backs in the NFC and is oozing potential.
However, there are still holes to fill at the CB spot, where the Lions have been destroyed by deep-threat teams. The presence of Nnamdi Asomugha on the free agent market should have their mouths watering as he is widely regarded as the No. 1 or No. 2 corner in the league along with the Jets' Darrelle Revis. Asomugha would sure up a spot that the Lions have been looking to fill for some time now.
Calvin finished up the 2010 season with over 1100 yards receiving to go with 12 TDs. Regardless of who was taking the snaps for the Lions, and believe me there were plenty, Calvin remained a solid target as both a deep threat and a solid possession receiver who could inch out tough first downs.
"Megatron" is a freak of nature and was the most highly touted receiver in recent history when he came out of Georgia Tech in 2007. Calvin has enacted clauses built into his contract through exemplary on field performance that will give him more than enough money to remain focused on winning and winning only in 2011.
Another sore spot for the Lions in 2010 was the offensive line, whose lackluster performance resulted in the loss of two different quarterbacks for extended periods of time. Left tackle Jeff Backus has yet to reach the level that many thought he would coming out of the University of Michigan, and the Lions backfield has paid.
At right tackle is Gosder Cherilus, a first-round draft pick in 2008, who is also still trying to find his way. Dominic Raiola is a steady veteran at the center spot, but the line has yet to fully mesh as a unit worthy of protecting the valuable assets behind them.
Which brings me to my next point.....
Unlike years past, the Lions will actually have to wait beyond the top 10 for their first draft pick (barring a trade), and this is a welcome change for fans as it is a tangible sign of improvement. The bad part about this result, however, is that the players available at the 13th slot are typically not the potential superstars that the Lions have been able to select from in recent years. It is for this reason that teams typically end up picking the highest-rated player available at the time unless there is a gaping hole in their roster.
The Lions could greatly benefit by adding another offensive linemen to step in and create some competition, but with big names like Julio Jones and Flint's own Mark Ingram likely to still be available, it may be hard to pass up on a potential offensive superstar to add to the already dangerous offensive arsenal.
The Lions selection will largely depend on what happens in the draft prior to their selection.
Last year's second draft pick by the Lions is the immensely talented Jahvid Best. Although Best was hampered by a lasting turf toe injury, he still put together a respectable rookie campaign, and with the help of Maurice Morris and Kevin Smith, created a backfield that defenses had to account for. Coming off of the injury I suspect Best will put together a strong 2011 performance now that he's more accommodated to the speed of the professional game.
In this day and age, a two-back system has become the norm, and it's hard to say if Morris or Smith is worthy, or fitting, to fill that second role.
The Lions may benefit in adding another solid hardworking back to play off of Jahvid's speed...... who may have been previously mentioned... who may be a Heisman Trophy recipient...... who may be an immediate fan favorite coming from the area..... just a hint.
Ndamukong Suh's impact on the Lions defense after being drafted No. 2 overall in 2010 can not be overstated. In his rookie season, he came just half a sack shy of the all time record for a defensive tackle with 10. He repeatedly punished quarterbacks, sometimes to such a violent degree that he was hit with an ensuing fine. He is the major reason that the Lions defensive line transformed from average at best to one of the top pass rushing lines in the entire NFL. He makes everyone around him better simply by occupying more of the blockers attention.
Lions Defensive Coordinator Gunther Cunningham went as far as to say that Suh was the best defensive lineman he'd ever coached, and he has been around the league for over 30 years.
From the looks of things Ndamukong will likely go down as one of the better draft selections in the history of the franchise. All of this and he has played ONE SEASON. Expect big things in 2011.
There are three other teams in the NFC North that the Lions must face two times apiece in 2011, one of which happens to have one this one game that happened last weekend. Another of which lost to that team in the NFC Championship Game. In order to make the playoffs, it is very likely that the Lions will have to finish ahead of one of those teams (that's the Packers and Bears if you missed the clue). Not to mention the third team has Adrian Peterson. Include with all that the fact that the Lions are steadily improving, and it is clear that the NFC North is one of the best divisions in the entire NFL, making their journey to the postseason even more difficult than most.
On a positive note, one of the Lions six victories in 2010 was against those Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers, a game in which Aaron Rodgers was knocked out with a concussion. So don't get it confused, Detroit can most definitely compete in this difficult division, they just have to bring it week in and week out and probably hope for some help along the way.
Since being named the head coach of the Lions, Jim Schwartz has done an outstanding job motivating players who had previously been used to losing nearly every single game. That in itself is more difficult to do than it seems, and he has been very successful when you take the years before he arrived into account.
He is one of the youngest coaches in the NFL, and it is easy to see through his emotion on the sideline and respectful relationship with his players. He had a proven track record as defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans prior to his time with the Lions, and his hard working mentality has clearly rubbed off on all of his players.
After going through coach after coach, and losing season after losing season, it appears that Detroit has finally found the right fit for their players, organization and city in Schwartz.
The time that Matt Stafford actually spent on the field in 2010 was very successful, but unfortunately for the Lions, it wasn't for very long. He re aggravated a shoulder injury which had held him out of a good portion of his rookie season, and only played in three games throughout the entire season. While Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton were both effective in rallying the team to some victories, there is no question that Stafford possesses a skill set which far surpasses both of his backups.
Lions fans are understandably anxious to see if he can, in fact, perform at the level he has shown he is able to for an entire 16-game schedule. Stafford was the first pick in the 2009 draft, and thus is taking up a substantial portion of the Lions salary cap room.
If 2011 is anything like '09 and '10 injury-wise for Stafford, then don't be surprised to see the Lions start anew in the search for a franchise quarterback in the 2011 draft.