Detroit Lions: 8 Reasons Why the Lions Will Contend for the Super Bowl in 2011
Throughout last season, the Lions saw players like Ndamukong Suh, Shaun Hill, Jahvid Best, Cliff Avril, Brandon Pettigrew, Calvin Johnson and Jeff Backus provide a much-needed sparks for the team.
The Lions could definitely consider last season a success, as they were pretty much in every game that they played. It marked the first year in over a decade where the team actually had the talent to be competitive.
For a team that did so well, the Lions had their fair share of injuries at key positions. Guys like Matthew Stafford, Jahvid Best, Alphonso Smith and even Cliff Avril were banged up, as Detroit tried to compete every game.
With Matthew Stafford getting injured, the team had to utilize its second-string quarterback, Shaun Hill, for the majority of the season.
When Shaun Hill went down, the team ended up using its third-string quarterback, Drew Stanton. He had a solid couple games at QB, leading the Lions to a victory over the Green Bay Packers—the eventual Super Bowl champions—and Tampa Bay with emerging superstar QB Josh Freeman.
1. Matthew Stafford Will Play His First Full Season
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Stafford has spent more time off of the NFL field than he has on it.
Over his first two seasons he has managed to play in 13 out of a possible 32 games, so durability has definitely been an issue for the young signal-caller.
In Detroit, we had the privilege of seeing him mature over the three games that he played in last season. He had a stellar quarterback rating of 91.3, throwing six touchdowns to only one interception.
Stafford is definitely the type of player that puts in the hard work to become a successful quarterback in the NFL. He is constantly studying and diagnosing game film. His player-organized activities will definitely help him develop time with the rookies.
The good thing about his injuries would have to be him being a much-improved decision maker. He shows signs of being one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL next season.
Stafford has also added muscle and has gotten his arm even stronger. Look for him to become a more durable player next season, as he helps lead the Lions to the postseason.
2. The Offensive Line Takes a Jump to Elite Status
Larry French/Getty Images
The offensive line for the Detroit Lions was tied for the sixth-fewest sacks allowed in the NFL.
With the veteran leadership of Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola, the team was very great in protecting Shaun Hill, the second-string quarterback.
With the emergence of Tony Ugoh, Corey Hilliard and a very talented Jason Fox, the Lions have depth at their tackle positions.
Even with the injuries of Gosder Cherilus and Jeff Backus, I can still see the Lions having one of the better offensive lines in recent history.
The next move for Detroit will be to become better at run blocking. Now that they have Johnny Culbreath and Jeff Maddux, they will be getting a better push off of the ball in rushing situations.
3. The Best Passing Attack in Lions History
Larry French/Getty Images
With the weapons that Stafford has, the Lions have an opportunity to turn in their most potent offense in team history.
The team ranked 12th in the NFL with 3,810 total passing yards. With more than 3,400 of those yards coming from their second- and third-string quarterbacks. The team had a quarterback rating of 82, which ranked in the middle of the NFL.
It is obvious that the Lions missed their starting quarterback, as they struggled to get the ball downfield. They were ranked 29th in the NFL with 6.3 yards per completion. Stafford immediately gives them the chance to attack defenses down the field.
Even though the team did not average a ton of yards per completion, it did rank 11th with 26 touchdown passes. The Lions were a dangerous team, completing 60.5 percent of their passes, which was ranked 17th in the NFL.
On paper, the Lions look like one of the most talented groups in the NFL. Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew, Nate Burleson, Jahvid Best, Mikel Leshoure, Jerome Felton, Titus Young and Tony Scheffler are all talented players. Pettigrew, Best and Johnson all had monster years behind their backup quarterbacks.
Stafford will help increase their passing yards per completion, the team's completion percentage, passing yards and quarterback rating. This team will be one of the top five passing teams in the NFL.
4. The Rushing Attack Gets Going
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
The Lions have a ton of promise in their backfield.
Guys like Jahvid Best, Mikel Leshoure, Aaron Brown, Jerome Felton and Maurice Morris are all dual-threat running backs. These guys are great in the running and passing game.
The Lions had a total of 1,613 rushing yards, which placed them at 23rd in the NFL. The team was tied for the 19th-worst rushing average in all of the NFL, barely averaging four yards per carry.
With the new addition of Leshoure, they get a guy that has Steven Jackson-like upside. He is a three-down back that can run, catch, block and does not put the ball on the ground.
The Lions have Maurice Morris and Jerome Felton, who are bigger backs that can split carries. Both of these guys can run, catch and block very well.
When, you add home run threats like Jahvid Best and Aaron Brown, you have a nice mix in the backfield. When you have five guys that you can hand the ball off to, you can establish the run.
Look for the Lions to improve upon their 2010 numbers. They will definitely have more than 1,600 rushing yards next season, and look for them to crack the top 15.
5. The Defensive Line Will Be the Most Dominant in the NFL
Marc Serota/Getty Images
The Lions defensive line was dominant last year, as it really turned up the pressure on opposing quarterbacks
The team finished sixth in the NFL with 44 sacks, and will look to add to that number with an infusion of talent on the line.
Detroit will definitely be getting another solid season out of All-Pro Ndamukong Suh, who is coming off of the best season for a rookie defensive tackle in NFL history, registering 66 tackles and 10 sacks. He will be exciting to watch in 2011.
With Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Corey Williams, Lawrence Jackson and rookie Nick Fairley, this team looks to actually improve on last year's sack numbers.
The Lions will have the best defensive tackle duo in the NFL next season, with Suh and Fairley, as they will get around 16 sacks between the two.
6. Improved Talent in Free Agency
Doug Benc/Getty Images
The Lions have a few holes on their roster that they failed to address during the NFL draft.
Going into the offseason, they did a pretty good job of filling holes and signing quality players onto the team's roster.
Justin Durant is a rangy player that fits the Lions system perfectly. He is a very athletic linebacker that can play the run, as well as the pass. Durant is widely considered one of the better cover linebackers in the NFL.
Adding a talented corner in Eric Wright definitely goes a long way in improving the holes in the secondary. He will come in and play in an already talented rotation of Alphonso Smith and Chris Houston. Look for them to force many turnovers.
With one of their biggest moves in free agency, the Lions signed linebacker Stephen Tulloch to a one-year deal. He will have a big season playing for Detroit, as the Lions will have one of the better run-stopping defenses in the NFL.
7. They Will Make the Playoffs
Marc Serota/Getty Images
Detroit is definitely on the rise. It will be a team to watch come playoff times.
They Lions showed last year that they are playing to compete, as they lost seven games by eight or fewer points. Finishing the season last year on a strong note, they won their last four games and two of those were against playoff-caliber teams.
Without their starting quarterback, the Lions beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. They clearly have the confidence and talent to compete in a division that they could've won last year.
The Lions lost two controversial games to the Chicago Bears last season. The Bears made it to the NFC Championship Game, where they lost to division rival Green Bay. Detroit could've easily won all four games that they played against the Packers and Bears.
Knowing that they almost beat the two representatives of the NFC and beat the Super Bowl champion Packers does wonders for the Lions' confidence.
I look for them to continue on the trend that they started at the end of the season and actually start closing games. This team clearly had the winning attitude needed at the end of the season; now they just have to maintain it for all 16 games.
8. Detroit Lions Make the Pro Bowl
Kent Nishimura/Getty Images
There are many weapons for Stafford to play with on offense, but the rise of Jeff Backus as a Pro Bowl-caliber tackle will be his biggest asset. He will have an improved offensive line, which had the sixth-fewest sacks in the NFL last season and eighth-fewest hits on the quarterback.
Get used to hearing, "Stafford to Johnson—he jumps and makes a one-handed catch. Touchdown! He scores again!" This will be a familiar sound all next season as Stafford, Johnson and Pettigrew will carve up defenses in the NFL. Stafford will play a full season and pass for more than 3,800 passing yards.
With the addition of Fairley, the Lions will have a unique situation on their defensive line with Suh and Avril. Expect them to improve on last year's sack totals, considering they have three Pro Bowl-caliber talents on the line now.
With the two big guys up front, Deandre Levy and Stephen Tulloch will have free room to roam and get a couple sacks with quarterbacks stepping up into the pocket. Levy will be playing in Julian Peterson's spot. He rushed the passer a lot in his few seasons in Detroit.
Now, you add Louis Delmas, one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the NFL. He punishes players that even think about running into his zone. He is one of the premier young safeties in the NFL.
Finally, you add Alphonso Smith and Eric Wright to the secondary and the Lions have some shutdown potential behind that potent defensive line. Smith recorded five interceptions while playing in only 12 games.
The Lions have potential to be a dangerous team on both sides of the ball, especially with old, reliable Jason Hanson.