Most experts are pegging the Detroit Lions to be a contender for a Wild Card playoff birth this year. The Lions have improved offensively from last year, but still need several players to step up if they are going to win more games than they lose. Here is a look at five of the offensive players the Lions absolutely must have good years out of.
Calvin Johnson is one of the elite receivers in the NFL, however, its time for CJ to step up and reach his full potential. Johnson needs to find more ways to make himself available. He's almost always going to be double teamed, even with Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew being legitimate threats. Johnson needs to find a way to make himself more available, especially if Matthew Stafford misses any time.
Brandon Pettigrew took some big strides forward and is moving up on the list of pass catching tight ends. Pettigrew is a good blocking tight end, which is needed (more on that later), however, there is always room to improve. More importantly, Pettigrew needs to cut his drops. The Lions need Pettigrew to be a reliable middle-of-the-field receiver and red zone threat.
Some of you will be mad because I don't have Jeff Backus on this list, but I think Peterman was more of a liability. Peterman (and the entire offensive line) needs to do a better job of opening holes for the run game. The line ranked sixth in sacks allowed last year, which is especially impressive considering the changes in QB they faced. Peterman also needs to cut down on his penalties. He was one of the most penalized offensive lineman in the NFL last year. If the OL has a big year, you can bet the Lions will too.
The Lions have struggled to run the ball since James Stewart (being nice), and really haven't done much since Barry Sanders. The Lions need to have a legitimate run game if they expect to push for a playoff spot.
Best will be a big part of what the Lions do on the ground. With the loss of Mikel Leshoure, Best will have to carry more of the load than the Lions were planning on. Best had an amazing start last year, but he needs to stay healthy and keep consistent.
In my opinion there isn't a player more vital to Detroit's offensive success than Matthew Stafford.
Stafford appeared to be taking the necessary steps forward last year, but managed to only play in three games and only finish one. Stafford must stay on the field for the Lions to be a legitimate playoff threat. In addition to staying healthy (Stafford's biggest concern), he also needs to continue to improve his reading of defenses. Stafford has to learn when to sit in and take a big hit and when to drop the ball off or throw it away, so he doesn't take unnecessary hits.