Detroit Lions: 6 Assets They Will Use to Compete for NFC North in 2011
The misery is well documented.
Twelve years of futility. Twelve long years since their last playoff appearance. Twelve years since they were .500.
While history is not on the Detroit Lions' side, there is plenty that is this 2011 season. The roar is back in the Motor City, and while the road will be tough, the playoffs are in sight.
The immediate goal for the Lions is winning the NFC North. A competitive division, the NFC North is wrought with question marks and maybes. Every team in the division has a weakness this year.
The Lions have the potential to rise to new heights this season, and here are their six biggest assets going forward.
1. Youthful Exuberance
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While this may seem like a liability, consider for a second how it is really a positive.
First of all, all these players have fewer miles in the tires than older guys. They will hold up better down the stretch and still be spry, even in the fourth quarter.
Along with the physical advantage youth provides, I think it will help them emotionally as well. These are young kids who are still playing for the love of the game, and young players tend to be more emotional.
If they get off to a hot start, they will start to believe in themselves. At that point, just about anything is possible.
2. Talented Backfield
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There is a long, illustrious list of great NFL running back tandems—Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure are ready to join that list. Both are supremely talented and just beginning to come into their own.
From Dunn and Alstott, to Williams and Stewart, successful tandems complement each other. Best and Leshoure are a nearly perfect match in that regard.
Best is among the quickest backs in the league. He ran a 4.35 40 at the draft combine and is great in space. He will pick up plenty of receptions and probably lead the team in touches.
Leshoure is a bruiser. He will be the change-of-pace back, and he can run over guys. He isn't big enough to make guys miss, however. He is a very complete back and without shouldering the whole load, could be very productive.
3. Explosive Passing Attack
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There is so much to like about the Lions' ability to throw the ball downfield; all of the pieces are finally there.
It all starts with Calvin Johnson. Megatron is coming off an 1,100-yard season with 12 touchdowns. He commands a double-team every down, and he is capable of taking it to the crib whenever he touches it.
Nate Burleson has stepped nicely into the second receiver slot. He has been solid for many years, and nothing more is expected of him this season.
Brandon Pettigrew opened some eyes last season. A former first-round pick, Pettigrew went for 722 yards and four touchdowns last season. He is dangerous at the goal line, and his numbers should only improve this year.
Finally, there is rookie Titus Young. Young can flat-out fly. While some think he would be a great deep threat, I think he fits in as a Wes Welker-type receiver; he can make people miss in space and has steady hands.
Let's be honest, the passing attack will be as good as the offensive line allows it to be, there really is no ceiling here. The line has been bad, so an upgrade there, and the sky is the limit.
4. Defensive Line
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When Nick Fairley dropped to the Lions, things changed; no longer would they be a pushover and weak. This was the last step in making this a man's team.
Fairley is a beast and has a mean streak. He combines with Ndamukong Suh to make one of the most hardcore defensive tackle combos in the league. They will keep constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks and hopefully take some of the heat off the underachieving secondary.
Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch will contribute to the pass-rush from the edges. They combined for 12.5 sacks and could add to that total with good health and a little luck.
5. Coaching Staff
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Mercifully, it appears that the worst is over when it comes to head coaches. Gone are Marty Mornhinweg and Steve Mariucci; Jim Schwartz appears to have his act together, giving the Lions solid direction.
You really can tell the change over the past two seasons.
Look at the players on the sidelines during games. Even though most of the time they were losing, they still appeared in tune with the game. That is more than you could say for Roy Williams and Kevin Jones under previous regimes.
Schwartz seems to get the modern player and what it takes to motivate them. He has made toughness a priority, and it shows. He is also really fiery and doesn't tolerate a lack of effort. His guidance will be huge in taking the next step forward.
6. Fan Support Starved for Victory
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Lions fans have stuck out all the losing—now it's time to reap the benefits. If this team gets off to a hot start, you will see Lion mania around the state of Michigan like you have never seen before.
The state of Michigan is a great football state. The University of Michigan has one of the richest football traditions in the country, and the state values high school football to the utmost degree. That devotion to the gridiron would be very evident if the Lions could give them something to rally behind.
Detroit fans can say goodbye to the paper bags over their heads, as a new era is born. It will be a period of hope and potential. It remains to be seen what the Lions will make of this potential, but with a little luck, you could see a NFC North title in the near future.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know.