Detroit Lions 2014-15 Team Preview
The Detroit Lions would have a tough time blaming QB Matt Stafford for its struggles the past few seasons. The Lions lost six of their final seven games last season, and fired head coach Jim Schwartz.
Jim Caldwell took his place, and that’s another reason to expect even more from Stafford, along with the additions that the Lions have furnished around the burgeoning star.
Odds to win Superbowl: 33/1
Odds to win NFC: 18/1
Odds to win NFC North: +400
Odds courtesy of Bovada
The Lions have two super studs on offense: Stafford and the NFL’s best wideout, Calvin Johnson. Joe Lombardi will employ an offense similar to what he did with the New Orleans Saints. He has a penchant for drawing up big plays and Stafford has the arm to complete those types of passes. Last season, Stafford had 14 turnovers over the final seven games of the season, and that is troublesome.
His completion percentage also dipped below 60 percent, which was his lowest since his rookie year.
His arm remains his biggest asset, but his footwork isn’t the greatest and he makes some questionable decisions at times. The Lions worked with Stafford on reducing his turnovers this season, and if that happens the Lions could take a major step forward.
Dan Orolovsky will backup Stafford, and he’s nothing to speak of with a 2-10 record as a starter. In the event that Stafford goes down, the Lions season is over, so the OL will have a lot of pressure on it to protect Stafford.
The Lions’ backfield is done by-committee. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell both topped 500 yards each in the air and via the run, for the first time in NFL history. Both are among the best dual-threat RBs in the game, and Bush has been doing it for quite some time. The ability of both backs to function as receivers gives Stafford an even better chance to succeed. Mikel Leshoure may see short yardage opportunities.
Johnson will be 29 this fall and while he is the game’s best receiver, football has taken its toll on his body. He’s 6’5” and will be able to be productive for a few more seasons at least, but one has to wonder if he doesn’t fall off some this season. Golden Tate is expected to take some pressure off Johnson, and he’ll be good in middle yardage plays. The Lions drafted Eric Ebron, who makes some impressive catches but drops a good number as well. Beyond those three, the Lions lack many options.
The OL is solid and should be able to produce both holes for the run and protect Stafford. All five starters return and it was a solid unit last season. There’s no reason to expect change from that.
The Lions were a better defensive team than given credit for last season. The team was among the best at third-down situations and it was solid in the red zone, as well. There was a dearth of playmakers, but new coordinator Teryl Austin is hoping to increase blitzes and disrupt man coverage to produce more turnovers.
N. Suh had likely his best season as a pro last year, and for all the other things he is, he’s a top defensive player by all accounts. Ziggy Ansah produced well in his first season with eight sacks, but the Lions need more than Suh and Ansah to be a top defensive team. Nick Fairley is now in a contract year and Jason Jones may not return to a starting role this year following a season ending knee injury last year. C.J. Mosley is one of the best No. 3 tackles in the NFL.
The linebackers will look to be more active rushing the passer. The problem is that the LBs on the Lions aren’t particularly adept at doing so. Incoming second-round pick Kyle Van Noy will join DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch, and he’s a much better pass rusher than both the incumbents. Levy had six interceptions last year and defended the run well, though, and Tulloch had five straight 100 tackle seasons. It’s not as the LBs are bad, it’s just that they will really need to improve pass rushing to give Austin what he wants from his defense.
The secondary is a bit shaky, however. Chris Houston was horrendous last season and he missed the final three games of last season. Darius Slay will play CB, but he didn’t look good last year either. Rashean Mathis will be opposite of Slay, and Bill Bentley will play nickel. Fourth-round pick Nevon Lawson may eventually vie for a role.
The Lions figure that after spending draft picks on a kicker and punter the last two years, their special teams should be solid for a while. Sam Martin ranked 10th in the league in net punting. Nate Freese is the kicker after being selected in the 7th round out of Boston College. Giorgio Tavechio has been good, too, though. Jeremy Ross did well as a return man last season and had a lot of big gains. He doesn’t seem to be a liability to turn it over anymore, either. The Lions are good with special teams.
The Lions likely will finish 3rd in the NFC North. Though the team did well through the first half of last season, the second is just too troubling to imagine the Lions beating out the Bears, and definitely not the Green Bay Packers, who Bovada favors to win the division. The Lions have some premier talent but not enough surrounding it, and the defense will have to improve a good bit to keep the Lions in the playoff chase.