Meaningful football is here. Well, almost.
In roughly 48 hours, the Rams begin yet another season of regular season football. It opens in Detroit, Michigan. The two teams have a storied history that goes all the way back to Cleveland.
Since 1990, we're 3-5 against the Lions, including a strange contest in 1999. The Rams dropped two games straight on the road including one against Detroit, en route to a 13-3 regular season record capped off with the historic Super Bowl win.
Since 2000, we're 3-2 including 2010's demoralizing 44-6 smackdown.
Since 2011, we have yet to lose a single game to them. Undefeated, suckas.
To get the info from those who know best about the team, I linked up with Sean Yuille from Pride of Detroit, the SB Nation community for fans of the Lions. Sean didn't skimp.
I'm assuming the level of excitement/expectations among the Lions' faithful is at a Spinal Tap-ish 11 right now, no? Gotta admit, though. I expected a much stronger 16-0 contingent over at POD. Get yer act together, people. When was the last time your fan base had this much enthusiasm going into week 1?
I would say the level of enthusiasm is about the same as it was going into last season. There were certainly question marks before 2011 for the Lions, but fans were expecting a run to the playoffs. It didn't take anybody in Detroit by surprise that they ended up going 10-6 and made it to the postseason. Fans knew that as long as Matthew Stafford stayed healthy, that was a playoff team.
This year, the level of expectations certainly has risen now that the Lions have gotten a taste of the playoffs. There is an expectation that the team will sustain what they did last year and make it back to the postseason. Anything less will be a disappointment, as the hope is that this will finally be the year where they win another playoff game. (They've only had one playoff win since 1957.)
How worried are you about the injuries in the secondary? The Rams were a hot bowl of crap oatmeal in the red zone under Spags. How much does it affect your red zone D without Houston and Delmas?
It's definitely a concern. The Lions' secondary is by far their biggest weakness, and it becomes even more of a weakness without Chris Houston and Louis Delmas. Houston is the Lions' best cornerback, and behind him right now are the following players: rookie Bill Bentley (a starter), Jacob Lacey (a free agent brought in this offseason), Drayton Florence (just signed this past weekend), Kevin Barnes (just acquired in a trade last week) and Jonte Green (a rookie who looks like, well, a rookie). Needless to say, there are a lot of question marks surrounding the cornerback position. Even with Houston it's not a great situation, and without him it's a bit scary.
At safety, Delmas is definitely the team's best player, but John Wendling and Erik Coleman put together a strong enough preseason that I think the Lions can get by for a week or two without Delmas. Not having him certainly takes away a big hitter on the back end of the defense, but I'm much more concerned about not having Houston than Delmas, especially in the red zone. Houston really does a good job in the red zone for the Lions, and not having him could mean a big day for the Rams' pass offense on Sunday.
What about the offensive line? Any concerns with the older veterans?
From a pass protection standpoint, I'm quite comfortable with the Lions' offensive line. In the run game, however, it's not good. Guys like center Dominic Raiola and right guard Stephen Peterman just have trouble opening up holes. This is a big reason why the Lions have struggled so much to run the ball in the past and why they will likely have to continue relying on their explosive passing game. There's certainly a need to make an upgrade over the veterans at those positions, but the only upgrade waiting in the wings is Riley Reiff, who is primarily an offensive tackle and is waiting to take over for Jeff Backus.
I'm not gonna lie - I'm actually rooting for Kevin Smith this year. It would make for a phenomenal storyline. What's the status on Jahvid Best, and how worried are you about Mikel LeShoure's offseason exploits affecting his 2012 season?
Jahvid Best is expecting to be cleared when he's eligible to come off the PUP list after Week 6, but I'm skeptical at this point. We were told all offseason that he would be ready to go for training camp and then he never ended up being cleared for contact. Once he is eligible to come off the PUP list, it will have been about a year since he suffered the concussion that is still keeping him out. Obviously these things just take time in some situations, but I'm growing worried that we may never see Best play again.
As for Leshoure, I'm not too worried about his offseason issues. They were relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, and considering Kenny Britt only got a one-game suspension for his laundry list of issues, two games for Leshoure is probably excessive looking back on it. In any case, he showed some promise in the preseason once he was healthy, and I think he will be a big addition to the Lions' offense when he returns in Week 3. Of course, I'm not sure how much success he will have simply because of the run blocking concerns, but he should join Kevin Smith as a nice one-two punch coming out of the Lions' backfield.
One thing that's always working against the Rams is that they're second fiddle to the Cardinals in the city. How would you rank the city's sports teams in terms of general popularity? And what's the dichotomy like with the Wolverines now that they're back to winning ways post-RichRod?
Detroit has been lucky enough to have a lot of great sports teams in recent memory. The Red Wings haven't missed the playoffs in more than two decades, the Tigers have been in the mix for a playoff spot rather consistently in the last five or six years, Michigan and Michigan State's football and basketball teams are among the best in the Big Ten and as bad as they've been lately, the Pistons put together an unbelievable run in the 2000s. There are a lot of great teams to cheer on, but I would say the Lions are at the top of the list in terms of popularity. Detroit is known as Hockeytown, but now that the Lions have started winning more and more in recent years, it's clear this is really a football town. I suppose that should've been clear even when they were consistently bad during the Matt Millen years, as football is king in this state. Up until the 0-16 season, the Lions sold out every home game (as is now the case once again), and let's not forget that Michigan puts 110,000+ fans in the Big House every home game and Michigan State draws 75,000+ fans on a consistent basis. The other teams are certainly popular, but football and the Lions definitely are at the top of the list.
(By the way, the popularity of Michigan football never really changed despite how poorly things went during the Rich Rodriguez era. Quite a few fans are certainly back on the bandwagon now, but as a recent Michigan graduate whose four years coincided with Rodriguez and Brady Hoke's first season, there wasn't a huge difference in terms of overall popularity.)
Thanks to Sean for taking the time to answer these so comprehensively.