As part of our mid-season analysis, RealSport are looking at reasons why the fans of the cellar-dwellers of each division still have reasons to be optimistic about their futures. We continue the series with a look at the Detroit Lions. See the other editions below: AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West | NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West
This article is brought to you by the letter D. D is for desperation. D is for dysfunction. D is for Detroit. There are a multitude of reasons as to why the Lions are putting their long-suffering fans through another horror show of a season, with a dismantling of the coaching staff preceding the gutting of the front office, with the firing of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and offensive line coaches Jeremiah Washburn and Terry Heffernan, and then general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand joining him on the unemployment line not long after. This is a team that has managed to underperform in every facet of the game, and at 1-7 are ranked as the league’s bottom feeder, with their sole win squeaked in overtime against the Bears.
There are, however, reasons that Lions fans can look to the future with some hope. This is, after all, a team that made the playoffs last year, and although there was the inevitable turnover of players in the offseason, there are still a number of big names in Honolulu Blue. For one thing, the major problem with the Lions was their offensive playcalling. Joe Lombardi is gone. The importance of this cannot be overstated. The talents of Matt Stafford, Golden Tate and, most importantly, Calvin Johnson, were being squandered entirely. Admittedly, Jim Bob Cooter’s offense looked like an absolute carbon copy of Lombardi’s in London, but he had only had limited time to work with them.
Having a bye week to instil his own way of doing things will mean that for the rest of the season we should get some idea of what Cooter can do. The best thing he can do is to trust his players. In Stafford, Tate and Johnson he has three experienced players who are all able to get the offense firing. Johnson is a physical freak who has been one of the best players in the league the last few years. He suffered under Lombardi, and will hope to show that he is as good as he ever was in the second half of the year. Stafford is one of the better quarterbacks in the league, unorthodox though he may be with his throwing action, and knows how to get the ball out to his playmakers. Tate has raw speed, safe hands and stepped in last season as the team’s number one receiver after the loss of Megatron to injury.
The defense is more problematic. DeAndre Levy is on injured reserve with a hip injury. Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh anchored the defensive line together for four years (Suh came to Detroit in 2010, Fairley a year later). Both are now plying their trade for new teams. Haloti Ngata came in from the Ravens with a lot of fanfare, and hasn’t played as well as was hoped, when he has played. He has missed significant playing time with injuries and looks like poor value for the draft picks sent to Baltimore. Ezekiel Ansah has fared a lot better, with seven sacks, 21 solo tackles, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. The secondary also has some bright spots, particularly Darius Slay and Glover Quin who aren’t having terrible years. The Lions are middle of the road in pass defense. A look at the schedule reveals a lot of close losses, bad luck, and debateable officiating which have prevented the Lions generating any positive momentum.
The next eight games aren’t remotely easy, although there may not be a better time this season to play the Packers, who have lost their last two games. Granted, the last two teams to beat them were undefeated at the time, but a rested Detroit team could ask some questions of Green Bay. Games which will definitely be circled as winnable in Jim Caldwell’s diary are the Eagles, who are unpredictable at best and prone to blowing hot and cold, the Saints, who don’t look to be the same irresistible force in the Superdome, and the 49ers who… well, that’s another column in this series. The end of the season will herald a root and branch reorganisation in the front office, coaching and most likely playing staff for the Lions, and a number of rumors swirled around approaching the trade deadline of Stafford’s availability.
This is a league, however, with the mantra of Any Given Sunday. This Lions team is not their record. They are a product of dysfunction off the field effecting the product on it. Be cheerful though, Lions fans, because the rest of this year you can see what you have, what you need and what you can get.