The Detroit Lions entered the 2018 season as a potential sleeper team. QB Matt Stafford will always be their center piece, but could the Lions surround him with enough weapons and a decent scheme to get him into the that top tier discussion, at least for a season?
In 2017, Stafford had a solid campaign, and was able to utilize his strong arm often enough to toss 27 touchdown passes and over 4,400 yards. This season, the Lions have looked to establish a ground game that would be able to help the offense convert on 3rd downs, as well as have more success in the red zone while providing a nice compliment to Stafford. The Lions’ braintrust of former Patriots, GM Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia, drafted Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson in the second round, and signed veteran bruiser RB LeGarrette Blount to bolster their backfield. So, far Johnson has looked good averaging 5.4 per carry and also nabbing 32 passes. Unfortunately for Detroit, it doesn’t look like he’ll play Sunday as he’s sat out of practice this week because of a knee sprain. That means Blount will start. Blount has averaged a pathetic 2.8 yards per carry this season but had a nice game against the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving when he rumbled to 88 yards. The Lions will also use Theo Riddick to catch a bunch of dink n’ dunks from Stafford; a staple of offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s attack this season.
Heading into the season it seemed like Stafford would have plenty of targets to find down field in receivers Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr, and emerging threat Kenny Golladay. That was before the Lions decided to deal Tate to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 3rd round pick trying to gain some value for a player that they were unlikely to resign after this season. Then this week, Marvin Jones was placed on the Injured Reserve list with a knee injury. That pretty much leaves Golladay and an offense that has done a 180 and refuses to take shots down field. To add insult to injury, back in March the Lions released 2014 1st Round selection TE Eric Ebron, who then landed on the Indianapolis Colts roster and has already caught 11 touchdowns from Andrew Luck.
A year ago, the Lions were the leagues 7th highest scoring offense, but have dipped to 21st this season. Similar dips from a year ago exist in most passing categories, including notably, yards per attempt and touchdowns. After a couple of costly interceptions from Stafford in last week’s loss to the Bears, many Lions fans have to be scratching their heads wondering where this is all going and what is the ceiling is looking like on the Stafford era. Of course, with Stafford’s contract being what it is, he’ll be around for a while, but can the Lions ever ride him through at least one magical playoff run?
Well, the NFC is pretty tough, but we’ve seen turnarounds before.
Defensively, the Lions have also struggled both when trying to stop the run as well as the pass. However, they do have standout players and are very capable of generating turnovers; a formula that may ring familiar to Rams fans. Look out for defensive tackle Damon Harrison who the Lions traded for back in October. It was only two seasons ago that Harrison was named to the All-Pro team with the New York Giants, and has a super high Pro Football Focus grade of 91.3. Next to Harrison is defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, a former Pro Bowler who was the 5th overall pick in the 2013 draft, just five seasons ago.
Nobody stuffs the run quite like Snacks! pic.twitter.com/TlNVZJl9dz— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) November 28, 2018
Beyond Ansah and Harrison, the only other truly solid players on the Lions defense have been cornerback Darius Slay and possibly safety Quandre Diggs. Safety Glover Quin has shown regression. None of the Lions linebackers, Devon Kennard, Jarrad Davis, or Christian Jones have played exceptionally well either.
If the Rams can play a clean game and avoid turnovers, they should be able to hang some points up in Detroit, but nothing is automatic. The Rams will have to show up if they want to stay a game up on the New Orleans Saints in the race for home field advantage. The Lions sit at 4-7, but have home victories over the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, and Carolina Panthers.