By: Eric Thomas
Some people have been pretty down on the Lions this offseason. Me, for example. But as the summer months have stretched on, and as I’ve been calmed by humid heavy breezes next to a grill with a beer in my hand, my pessimism turned to optimism. I’ve had time to think and convince myself that the Lions could be strong next year. This is part of the snow blindness (or: photokeratitis) that happens to fans of this franchise, as the season starts we always tamp down our nausea and say things like “playoffs” and “championships” even though cold calculating analysis would lead us in more pessimistic directions.
That’s not to say there aren’t any promising signs. The NFC North isn’t as settled as it once was. Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler are both very good quarterbacks, Rodgers in my mind is the best, but they’re both on the wrong side of 30. Could the Lions get handed another opportunity this season, and will they be able to take advantage while under a new coaching staff?
Here are five reasons to be optimistic about the Lions upcoming season:
1. The offense will probably be better – Dumping Scott Linehan was the biggest win the off season, which probably offsets the mistakes with the defense. No quarterback in NFL history has been asked to throw more than Matt Stafford. Think about that. More than the greatest show on turf. More than Bill Walsh’s west coast offense. More than Mike Martz in any of his stops along the way. More than Peyton Manning. More than Dan Marino. That’s insanity, and proof of the flaws from Linehan’s offense. That’s why you saw the Lions go empty backfield on 3rd and 1 late in the season, because there was never really any intention to run the ball, despite the fact that they tended to win when they did. It’s almost like Linehan was trying to outthink the opposing defense, “There’s no way they think I’m crazy enough to throw again.”
2. Matthew Stafford will probably be better – His best season in the NFL followed the offseason where he had to do the most work. He spent 2010 on the bench recovering from a series of shoulder injuries. He worked with a trainer to develop more muscle in his shoulders so he wouldn’t be as susceptible. In 2011 he had his first of three seasons that hovered around 5,000 yards. Stafford seems to take pressure well. He’s led the team on numerous 4th quarter comebacks, something completely foreign to Lions fans until he joined the team. The pressure is on him now and he knows it.
3. We’re probably going to like Golden Tate – Tate is a receiver well known for his sure hands. He comes down with the ball. The Lions haven’t had a reliable receiver with good hands in a while; even Calvin dropped balls last year. While some of us scratched our heads when Tate signed his with the Lions (cough, me) his presence will be welcome when the Lions start the season.
4. The defensive front will be epic – They have miles of motivation. Nick Fairley AND Ndamukong Suh are playing for contracts. I’m sure Fairley will show up at training camp in great shape, but Ziggy Ansah will be in his second year. Steven Tulloch isn’t getting any younger but DeAndre Levy took a big step forward next year. If Kyle Van Noy can live up to expectations (and overcome the Lions’ second round curse) the front seven will be a force.
5. If the front seven is epic, that could make up for the defensive secondary – Fingers crossed. The defensive secondary is bad. They haven’t been good in the past, and they lost arguably their two best players, Chris Houston and Louis Delmas. Here’s to hoping that Lions first year defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is a magician. Teams facing the Lions are a creative blocking scheme away from a 600 yard passing day. If the front seven wreaks absolute havoc on teams, that could go a long way to solving this problem. Again, this is based on hope (and the aforementioned beers) more than evidence.