2018 NFL Season Preview- Detroit Lions
There was a time that going 9-7 would have been celebrated in Detroit, but now it's just disappointing.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford has developed into one of the better quarterbacks in the league over the last few years, finishing third in the league with 4,446 passing yards. He did struggle with 17 turnovers, but most of that can be attributed to a lack of running game and poor offensive line. The Lions had the worst running game in the NFL. Running back Ameer Abdullah was a huge disappointment coming back from Lisfranc surgery with only 552 yards and four touchdowns. Theo Riddick caught 53 passes but wasn't the dynamic weapon he had been in previous years. Tight end Eric Ebron is one of the league's biggest head scratchers. He was one of the best tight ends in football the second half of the season, but played so poorly in the first half of the year that he was booed regularly. Detroit had two 1,000 yard receivers in Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. Jones became one of the league's best deep threats and a Pro Bowl alternate while Tate was a mismatch on underneath routes. The offensive line went through 11 different starting combinations and gave up 47 sacks on the season. Left tackle Taylor Decker missed the first half of the season with a torn labrum and didn't return to form until December.
The defense was opportunistic with 32 turnovers, third most in the league. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata tore his biceps in early October and changed the whole dynamic of the defensive line. The Lions went from having one of the best run stopping lines to one of the worst in Ngata's absence. A'Shawn Robinson took a step back in his second season. Defensive end Ziggy Ansah led the team with 12 sacks, but six came in the final two games. Tahir Whitehead had his second straight 100 tackle season and was the team's most consistent linebacker. Safety Glover Quinn was his usual steady self with three interceptions and four forced fumbles.
Detroit boasted one of the best special teams units in the NFL. Kicker Matt Prater made 30 of 35 field goals with four of his misses coming from 50 yards or further. He also made two game winning field goals.
The team had two Pro Bowlers in right guard T.J. Lang and cornerback Darius Slay. Lang made his second straight Pro Bowl in his first season with the Lions. Slay tied for the NFL lead with eight interceptions and was the big reason the secondary was the strength of the defense.
The rookie class played well overall to give hope for the future. Linebacker Jarrad Davis had his struggles in pass coverage but was a punishing run defender. Cornerback Teez Tabor was a fixture at nickel corner and could start opposite Darius Slay next season. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay was a mid round steal and was one of the better rookie receivers. Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin was a great nickel defender but needs to pack on more weight. Tight end Michael Roberts was mainly used as a run blocker. Cornerback Jamal Agnew was an explosive return specialist with two touchdown returns and also saw time as a gadget receiver and slot corner. Quarterback Brad Kaaya decided to play for the Colts rather than stay on Detroit's practice squad.
Opponent Passing YPG
Opponent Rushing YPG
A day after the 9-7 season ended, head coach Jim Caldwell was fired after four seasons with the team in which he posted a 36-28 record. He was replaced by former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.
The team decided to retain offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter as he has been essential in Matthew Stafford's development. After defensive coordinator Teryl Austin left to take the same position with the Cincinnati Bengals, the team hired Boston College defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni to be the new defensive coordinator.
After the hiring of Matt Patricia, it was discovered that he had been indicted on sexual assault charges in 1996. Patricia was not prosecuted for the incident. The Lions were unaware of the charges upon hiring him. Given the rise of the "Me Too" movement, that's not a good look for that allegation to be attached to one of it's head coaches.
Notable Additions- QB Matt Cassel, RB LaGarrette Blount, TE Levine Toilolo, TE Luke Willson, DE Eli Harold, DT Ricky Jean-Francois, DT Sylvester Williams
Notable Departures- TE Eric Ebron, TE Darren Fells, C Travis Swanson, DE Armonty Bryant, DT Haloti Ngata, LB Tahir Whitehead, LB Paul Worrilow, CB D.J. Hayden
Lions 2017 Highlights
2018 NFL Draft
Holding pick 20 going into the draft, Detroit has to start this new coaching regime on the note. To do that they'll have to make changes at running back, defensive end, and defensive tackle.
Detroit was last in the league in rushing by a mile. Ameer Abdullah hasn't gotten the job done and LaGarrette Blount is on the wrong side of 30.
Ziggy Ansah is playing on a franchise tag but even he struggled to get to the quarterback consistently. Another serious edge rusher would do wonders for this defense.
Team's were able to run on the Lions with ease after Haloti Ngata got injured. Sylvester Williams and Ricky Jean-Francois are nice additions, but they are journeymen for a reason.
On draft day, Detroit ended up selecting Arkansas center Frank Ragnow with the 20th overall pick. Ragnow was viewed as the best run blocking center this year, but lacks great speed to get to the second level.
The Lions also notably drafted Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson in the second round and Oregon offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby in the fifth. Johnson was the best running back at breaking defenders tackles, but lacks a lot of grace in his running style. Crosby has all the physical traits to make a dominant offensive tackle, but their are questions about his abilities as a pass protector due to Oregon's system.
Kerryon Johnson Highlights
What To Expect
Even with all the changes the team made to the coaching staff and roster, I don't see a lot changing for the Lions.
Matthew Stafford is going to continue to put up solid stats in Jim Bob Cooter's offense. The key will be to have a balanced offensive attack. At this point in his career, LaGarrette Blount shouldn't be the feature back in the offense and Ameer Abdullah is nothing more than a speedy third down back. With his high effort level, Kerryon Johnson might be the main starter. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones proved they played well together last season and Kenny Golladay should continue to grow and learn behind them. Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo are nice additions at tight end but neither of them are game breakers by any means. By adding Frank Ragnow and Tyrell Crosby in the draft, the offensive line looks to have five capable starters that should work well together.
Sylvester Williams and Ricky Jean-Francois should compliment A'Shawn Robinson well, but it will be key for Ziggy Ansah to produce high sack numbers. Jarrad Davis and Jalen Reeves-Maybin both had their moments as rookies but now the Tahir Whitehead is gone, the wo of them will have to step up and improve on their flaws. Darius Slay has shown he's a top notch cornerback in this league and Teez Tabor showed enough late in the season that he should play opposite Slay.
Looking at the rest of the NFC North, Minnesota and Green Bay will likely both be in the postseason. And given the success rate of other former Bill Belichick assistant coaches like Eric Mangini and Josh McDaniel's, that leaves Detroit fighting with Chicago for third place in the division.
Best Record They Can Hope For: 8-8