Lions

2010 NFL Preview: Detroit Lions

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Between now and the September 9th season kick-off, Hank Koebler, IV will be previewing all the NFL teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, division): 2-14, 0-6
Division finish: 4th NFC North
Offensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards): 27th, 26th, 21st, 24th
Defensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards): 32nd, 32nd, 32nd, 25th

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Kevin Smith, 747 yards, 4 TD; Maurice Morris, 384 yards, 2 TD; Matthew Stafford, 108 yards, 2 TD
Passing: Matthew Stafford, 2,267 yards, 13 TD, 20 INT; Daunte Culpepper, 945 yards, 3 TD, 6 INT
Receiving: Calvin Johnson, 984 yards, 5 TD; Bryant Johnson, 417 yards, 3 TD; Kevin Smith, 415 yards, 1 TD; Brandon Pettigrew, 346 yards, 2 TD
Tackles: Larry Foote, 70 total tackles; Louis Delmas, 65 total tackles
Sacks: Cliff Avril, 5.5 sacks; Charles Grant, 5.5 sacks; Julian Peterson, 4.5 sacks
Interceptions: Louis Delmas, 2 interceptions, 1 TD; William James, 2 INT 1 TD

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2010 Season Outlook

Schedule
(* denotes division game)

Key Matchups

September 12 at Chicago: Opening the season with a win against a divisional rival would make a huge statement that the Detroit Lions aren't going to suffer through another losing season without a fight. With their improved pass rush, the Lions might be able to get past Chicago's mediocre offensive line and force Bears quarterback Jay Cutler into making bad decisions. If the defense can establish a constant presence in the Bears' backfield, Cutler will play poorly, and the Lions could have an outside shot at opening the season with a 1-0 record.

October 10 vs. St. Louis: Losing to last year's worst team would be a sign that the Lions aren't progressing as well as they'd like to be. For this reason, Jim Schwartz is going to send everything he can think of on defense to rattle Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. In the season's first and only game in which Matthew Stafford is the most experienced and polished of the two starting quarterbacks (and the more well-protected), the Lions should be able to take care of business and collect a win.

November 14 at Buffalo: The Lions could make a major statement by winning big against Buffalo. The Bills' offensive line is their biggest weakness, and the Lions' biggest strength may be their defensive line. This matchup will be interesting to watch, and could give the Bills' current quarterback major headaches.

Key Losses

DeWayne White, DE; Daunte Culpepper, QB; Ernie Sims, LB; Larry Foote, LB

Key Returning Players

Dominic Raiola, C; Jeff Backus, OT; Turk McBride; DE

Key Draft Picks

Ndamukong Suh, DT; Jahvid Best, RB;

Key Free Agent Signings

Dre' Bly, CB

Key Acquisitions Via Trade

Tony Scheffler, TE; Rob Sims, G; Chris Houston, CB

Offensive Overview

Rebuilding on offense has been the Lions' top priority over the past two years, despite the selection of Ndamukong Suh with the second pick of the draft. With WR Calvin Johnson, RB Jahvid Best, TE Brandon Pettigrew, and QB Matthew Stafford in the lineup, the Lions have their starters clearly entrenched at the skill positions. On the offensive line, left tackle Jeff Backus and center Dominic Raiola are not phenomenal, but they are good enough to get the job done. Backus has started a team-record 144 consecutive games since the start of the season, and Raiola has only missed 4 games in the course of his career. Left guard was one of the Lions' bigger weaknesses last year, but the Lions traded for Seattle guard Rob Sims to shore up that position. Right guard and right tackle are still question marks, and that was the side that struggled to push the defense off of the ball. At right tackle, Gosder Cherilus and Jon Jansen appear to be the frontrunners in the competition for a starting spot.

Stafford's got a knack for moving around and keeping plays alive, and it's fun to watch him buying time for his receivers. That being said, he has the tendency to just toss the ball up for grabs without really reading the defense, which led to a high amount of interceptions last year. In the ten games he played, he tossed 20 interceptions, putting him on pace to surpass Peyton Manning's rookie-record 28 interceptions had he played every game. If he cuts down on these careless throws, he could definitely improve the Lions' offense. An area of concern is depth behind Stafford, who missed quite a few games due to injury last year. Daunte Culpepper, an experienced veteran who played well in lieu of Stafford and is familiar with coordinator Scott Linehan's offensive system, was not re-signed by the Lions and is currently a member of the fairly new United Football League.

One key draft pick is running back Jahvid Best, a talented north-south running back with an impressive burst. However, due to the weakness on the right side of Detroit's line, Best's effectiveness will be limited as he is forced to run to the left side.

Defensive Overview

It's nearly impossible to judge the talent of individual players' run defense, because their play is so unorganized that everybody on the field is often out of position to make a play. Instead of sticking to their parts of the field, the linebackers and defensive backs immediately rush to where the ball-carrier appears to be headed, but they don't close the cutback lane, and it often results in their defense being demolished by runners with good change-of-direction abilities, and it leaves them extremely susceptible to being burned by reverses and end-arounds.

Safety Louis Delmas is a hard hitter, and will likely be a cornerstone of the Lions' defense for years to come. Defensive end DeWayne White wasn't bad at all last year, but his impact was limited by the lack of talent surrounding him on the defensive line. Rookie Ndamukong Suh and free-agent signee Kyle Vanden Bosch will help improve the pass rush, and a breakout year by either defensive end Turk McBride or Cliff Avril in place of White could make this defensive line one of the most drastically improved lines of the season.

The problem is, no matter how talented the defensive line is, the linebackers are going to miss opportunities to bottle up running plays, which will greatly hurt the Lions. The linebacking corps was bad enough in 2009, and it now has to face the departure of Larry Foote and Ernie Sims, with second-year linebacker Zack Follett expected to fill Sims's shoes. At strong safety, former Canadian Leaguer Jonathan Hefney and former New York Giant C.C. Brown are competing for the starting job, with Brown appearing to have the inside track. At cornerback, it appears as if free-agent Dre' Bly and rookie Amari Spievey are expected to start, with former Atlanta Falcon Chris Houston having a shot at a starting spot, too.

All in all, it appears as if the pass rush is the only aspect of the Lions' defense that will be good. Everything else is a good year or two away from being able to stop anyone.

Special Teams Overview

The Lions' have the league's fourth-worst average kickoff distance, but only the 12th-worst average yards allowed per kickoff return. While not great, this suggests that their kickoff coverage isn't too bad, although they did allow one return to go for a touchdown. Similarly, the Lions ranked 21st in average punt distance and 19th in average punt return yards allowed. They had the sixth-lowest average yards per kickoff return, so they drafted Tim Toone with the last pick of the draft in hopes of fixing their return game. In the punt return game, the Lions were average, ranking sixteenth in average yards gained per punt return.

Kicker Jason Hanson is coming off of a not-so-hot 2009 season where he missed a quarter of his field goals, but he made a phenomenal 21 of 22 field goal attempts in 2008 and has generally been a good kicker throughout his career. An interesting story arc for the Lions this year will be whether Hanson's rough 2009 campaign was merely an aberration, or a sign that the 40-year-old has passed his prime.

Head Coach: Jim Schwartz

The Lions saw an improvement after the most highly-sought head coaching candidate of the 2009 offseason came to town, but it's not like the team could have gotten any worse than they were in 2008. He is a major question mark as a head coach, but the Lions' success (or lack thereof) this year will be a good indicator of Schwartz's head-coaching ability. Schwartz, a defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans until his acceptance of the Lions' head-coaching vacancy, was extremely successful with Albert Haynesworth on his defensive line, and should be able to make his defense in Detroit more similar to his Titans defense now that he has Ndamukong Suh, who is physically similar to Haynesworth, in the fold.

Top 2011 Free Agents

Tony Scheffler, TE; Chris Houston, CB

Season Prediction

4th NFC North

The bad news for Detroit fans is that 2010 will most likely not be a playoff year. The good news is, this team finally seems to be headed in the right direction after being in the dreaded “rebuilding” phase since Barry Sanders retired. However, they're still two or three good offseasons away from being playoff contenders. One of the reasons their rebuilding has progressed more slowly than it should have was the drafting of Matthew Stafford. Even if he becomes a Hall of Famer, it doesn't mean that the Lions didn't have more pressing needs to fill while allowing Daunte Culpepper, an adequate starter, to hold the reins for another year or two. It makes no sense to draft a quarterback if you plan on starting him immediately when your offensive line can't protect him. Stafford missed six games due to injury, and when he did play, he was forced to scramble around and make throws on the run. Stafford wasn't drafted 1st overall because he was the player who could help the Lions the most. He was drafted 1st overall to sell optimism. No matter how badly the team does in their first year, the team can say that their new quarterback will only get better, and the team will get better with him. Instead of a defensive playmaker or an offensive lineman, the Lions opted for a short-term solution that would placate the fans. Sadly, this institutional cowardice was practiced yet again in this year's draft, when Sam Bradford was selected to play behind the Rams' struggling offensive line. This practice of selecting a quarterback so early in the draft as a panacea for the team's entirety of woes is shortsighted, and is a major reason why so many highly-selected quarterbacks fail in the NFL. As a result of their selection of Stafford, the Lions are farther behind than they should be in their quest to become playoff contenders. - Hank Koebler, IV

Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.

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