I tend to focus on why the Lions DID make the playoffs instead of why they SHOULDN’T HAVE like many of Detroit’s fans, and even more of the big media organizations. But that is last year, and the 2017 season is nearly on us. So the question now is can they make it back to the playoffs in 2017? Let’s take a look at the biggest questions heading into the season…
Certainly losing LT Taylor Decker for the first half of the season is a huge concern but he’ll also return for the easiest part of the schedule and hopefully the playoffs (we’ll get to that).
Matthew Stafford’s contract
Matt’s under contract this year, so, like he says it’s a non-issue. Could a contract get done … certainly. I expect this scenario though – the Lions will go through the same ritual the Washington Redskins are with Kurt Cousins. Like Cousins, Stafford has to be weighing his options of where to play for a Super Bowl. Is that with Bob Quinn, Jim Caldwell, and the Detroit Lions? Quinn has two years to convince him.
Quinn isn’t likely to let Stafford go and he knows it. So, why sign a new deal? He’s likely to get the franchise tag for 2018 AND 2019. In essence, that’s a two-year short term contract worth $58 million dollars. It starts with his base salary plus his prorated bonus multiplied by 120 percent or $26.4 million. Nice raise from the $16.5 base salary he’ll make this year. Do it again in 2019 and it’s another 120 percent adding up to $31.6 million.
That’s $58 million and here’s what it does for the Lions: (1) use Stafford during his prime to win a Super Bowl, (2) pay a short term premium for an elite QB, and (3) buy yourself this year and two more to develop his replacement who will likely be on a rookie contract. Now, think of Brett Favre and his backup Aaron Rodgers. So, deal or deal, expect Stafford to be a Detroit Lion through the 2019 season.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at their biggest strengths and weaknesses…
Strength – Offensive and defensive coordinators
OC Jim Bob Cooter and DC Teryl Austin. These two guys are so easily overlooked. I’ve written about this over the summer, but Cooter had the 11th best passing game last year without Calvin Johnson. There are still skeptics about the receivers but it’s hard to make that argument when the passing game was one of the best in the NFL and Detroit made the playoffs. And, win or lose in the playoffs, getting to the postseason does matter. Next is Austin and his defense. There are so many negative stats that if that’s all you looked at you’d figure the Lions had the first pick in the draft. But as bad as that was, Austin’s defense ranked 13th in scoring defense. With two marquee players on the injury list, Teryl Austin was still able to keep the opposition out of the end zone. He now has a young, fast rookie MLB in Jarrad Davis and a couple of other new pieces, so, I expect his defense to hold onto that top fifteen scoring defense.
Weakness – Pass rush
Defense starts up front. The NFL is a passing league and if you can’t pressure the QB it’s tough to win. Ziggy Ansah missed three games with a high ankle sprain, which is still nagging him. He’s expected to return to his double-digit sack total this season.
Defensive tackles are not sack masters but they do create pressure up the middle and A’Shawn Robinson is expected to excel in his second season. Kerry Hyder moved from DT to DE last year and logged eight sacks. Most of those came early in the season, but for his first time on the outside, Hyder more than held his own. Now he’s heading into his second season as a DE and expectations are high on him as well.
Jim Caldwell is considered on the hot seat… again. I still don’t get it. He has the best winning percentage since 1957… the last Lions championship. He’s taken Detroit to the playoffs twice in three years. The players have consistently said they want to play for him. Nothing has ever filtered out of the front office that his job is on the line. And yet the media keeps claiming he’s on the hot seat. Now, should he get back to the playoffs this year that’s postseason football in 75 percent of his contract. Those guys don’t get fired. They’re not even on the hot seat. I wouldn’t blame him if he decided to walk away after his contract expires this year. He sure doesn’t need the aggravation he’s been facing.
I say yes, and here’s why. Teryl Austin always seems to put a solid defense on the field. As bad as the stats say they were, Austin’s defense held ten teams to 20 points or less. Then there’s the Caldwell wrinkle. He wins more one score games, 34-20, than the NFL average which is 50-50. Those games decide who makes the playoffs and it’s a stat that won’t be ignored much longer.
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