By: Eric Thomas
I’ve been pretty tough on the Lions this year. Since they hired Jim Caldwell, I’ve questioned their every move. When I was asked how many games they’d win in 2014, I said three. I hated the signing of Golden Tate, openly criticized the selection of Eric Ebron, and wished that they would finally trade away Ndamukong Suh.
The off-season is Christmas for Lions fans, and I’ve been presented with a lump of coal. But with the weather turning warm, my mood leans optimistic. While I don’t like any of the Lions’ moves, it’s possible I could be wrong. Heck, I BEGGED the Lions to take TJ Ward, and it looks like he’s going to have some legal troubles in Denver. Whoops.
With the Lions, I’m openly HOPING I’m wrong. 2014 could be the year where everything goes right, unlike all the other years previous. The Lions could be the break out team that shocks the NFC. I could also hit the lottery and suddenly re-grow all my hair.
Rather than spend the summer dwelling on what I think will happen, maybe it’s time to write a blog where optimism reigns. Please don’t get confused: I’m not confident in the Lions this year. But here are four reasons the Lions could be better in 2014:
1. Maybe the previous coaching staff was worse than we thought. – The Lions’ play calling in 2013 is buried deep in my subconscious. They went empty backfield on 3rd and 1, abandoned the running game almost immediately, and often left Matt Stafford floating alone on an ice floe, chucking prayers in the general direction of Megatron. The defense was bending and eventually break; any team that abandoned the run would find heaps of success. Since Jim Caldwell arrived, there are rumors of a changing culture. Former head coach Jim Schwartz had a reputation for, let’s call it, “grumpiness” and many who’ve taken the temperature at Allen Park have found something that seems like a relief. Maybe Joe Lombardi’s scheme will be better than Linehan’s. Maybe Teryl Austin is the next great defensive mind with a better scheme than Gunther Cunningham. It’s possible.
2. Nick Fairley will finally be properly motivated. – He’s playing for his career. There might be a backup role for him on a team somewhere, but he needs to prove he can be a starter in every game. When he was drafted, fans squealed with delight, “WHO ARE YOU GONNA DOUBLE TEAM?” It turns out that Fairley has been easy to account for when he’s wheezing on the sideline. The Lions refused to pick up the 2015 option on his contract with hopes it might motivate the former first round draft pick, and if the plan works the Lions front four could be scary. You know Ndamukong Suh will be dominant and Ziggy Ansah will be a year older with more experience. If Fairley can play at the level he’s capable of (like Thanksgiving last year), it could be huge for the Lions.
3. Maybe ONE of these young cornerbacks will pan out. – Bill Bentley. Darius Slay. It doesn’t really matter who it is; if one of the Lions’ recent drafted cornerbacks can somehow put it together, it would be revolutionary. We can cross our fingers and hope that Chris Houston’s last season was an anomaly, and pray that Glover Quinn and James Ihedigbo will provide veteran leadership, but nothing would help Detroit more than some production—ANY, really—from the cornerback position.
4. Stafford will have someone he can throw to. – This isn’t Joey Harrington, folks. We’ve seen what Stafford looks like when he had weapons. 2011 was great, when Pettigrew still could catch reliably, Nate Burleson wasn’t as old, Titus Young wasn’t crazy and Tony Scheffler was still on the team. Stafford was an alternate for the Pro Bowl that season, and he led the offense up the field with relative ease. His targets have since become limited, he’s led the lead in dropped passes (at times it felt like Pettigrew was singularly responsible for that statistic) and interceptions have crept up. Now he’ll have Golden Tate (a Titus type player), Eric Ebron, Pettigrew again, Joseph Fauria, Reggie Bush, Joique Bell…you get the point. Stafford enters the year with the deepest receiving corps since 2011 and that could pay dividends. Let’s just hope Lombardi’s new offense doesn’t have a steep learning curve.
There. I’m not always negative, am I?