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Football NFL

NFL Team Previews: Detroit Lions

2018 Season Review: 6-10 (4th in NFC North)

The Lions started off 2018 by getting rid of Jim Caldwell and hiring DC Matt Patricia from the New England Patriots. The Lions were hoping that Patricia would be the exception to Pats assistants failing as HC for the most part. Patricia and Lions had a good 2018 draft by taking C Frank Ragnow (but they played him at LG) in round one, RB Kerryon Johnson in Round 2, and found a stud for the DL in Round 4 with Da’Shawn Hand.

All three of those contributed to the Lions in 2018 and proved they can play in the NFL. Johnson, to fantasy and Lions fans chagrin, never got appointed the #1 guy even though he was obviously better than anybody the Lions had. Johnson also battled injuries and only played in 10 games, starting 7, but still rand for 641 yards and 3 TDs at 5.4 yards a clip. He also added 32 receptions for 213 yards and 1 TD.

The Lions did not get off to a good start, they started 0-2 getting blown at home on Monday Night Football against the Jets, then lost the next week to the 49ers. They did manage to crawl their way to 3-3, including a dominate win over the Patriots on Sunday Night Football and the Packers. However, they were never able to find some momentum. Their offense would sputter at times, or their defense would sputter at times, very rarely putting together a complete game.

On offense Matt Stafford had a down year throwing for only 3,777 yards, 21 TDs, and 11 INTS. HOWEVER. Reports that come out in June have said Stafford actually played through a broken back which is remarkable, so now those stats and the Lions up and down offense don’t seem so bad anymore. The Lions running game was also hit or miss, because as I noted before they never gave the reigns to Kerryon Johnson. They kept giving the damn ball to LeGarrette Blount who rushed for only 418 yards in 16 games with almost 40 more carries than Kerryon had.

The bright spot for the Lions on offense came with the emergence of second year WR Kenny Golladay who in 15 games had 70 receptions on 119 targets for 1,063 yards and 5 TDs. The other two main WRs, Golden Tate and Marvin Jones didn’t produce as much for the Lions with both guys playing less than 10 games and finishing just over 500 yards on the season.

As a team, the Lions finished much worse then you’d think with Stafford and the weapons he had. They only managed 20.3 points per game, good for 25th in the league. Their run game as we mentioned was also pretty bad only averaging 103.8 yards per game which has 23rd in the league, and the passing yards per game was also poor ranking 20th in the league with 223.5 yards per game.

Detroit was also in the bottom of the league in turnover differential. They finished the season at -5 which was tied for Buffalo for 23rd in the league. They threw 12 INTS and fumbled the ball away 7 times. Their defense only managed to force 7 fumbles and 7 INTS.

The Lions defense gave up 22.5 points per game which was tied for 16th in the league. As far as passing yardage goes, they were pretty good against the pass giving up only 224.9 per game which was 8th best in the league. Their rush defense for yards per game was also top 10, coming in right 10 with 110.1 yard per game. Detroit lacked in turnover though and big plays. As I mentioned before they only forced 14 turnovers, and produced 43.0 sacks which was tied for 11th in the league.

The Lions were really an average team on defense, and just below average on offense in 2018 which led to their 6-10 record. They are one of those teams where it doesn’t seem like they need a lot of help, but they can improve almost everywhere because not one unit on this team is exceptional.

Key Off Season Acquisitions

DE Trey Flowers (5 years, $90 Million)

With only 43 sacks in 2018 and not one guy on the team having over 7.0 on the season, the Lions wanted to get a pass rusher and they paid good money for the top one on the market. Oddly enough, Flowers only had 7.5 sacks last year with the Patriots and has 21.0 total in this three year career, which is obviously good for 7 a year. Flowers does have 59 QB hits in this three years, and he’s only missed 3 games in the three years. He’ll reunite with DC Matt Patricia and be an upgrade at DE right away for the Lions.

CB Justin Coleman (4 years, $36 Million)

Lions bolstered their secondary by adding a solid corner from Seattle. Coleman started 10 games for the Seahawks in the past two years and played in all 32 including the playoff games. He recorded 3 INTS (bringing two back for TDs), 19 pass deflections, recovered 2 fumbles (returned one for a TD), made 90 tackles, and even had two sacks. He’ll start day at a position the Lions need depth at with the likes of Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Adam Theilen, and Stefon Diggs in the division.

TE Jesse James (4 years, $22.6 Million)

Lions needed a TE after losing Ebron and having to watch him go apeshit for the Colts. James was a breakout candidate the past two years for the Steelers but he never did for various reasons. You could say it was on him, but the Steelers have never been a TE dominate team, then you had to share the ball with Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and JuJu the past two years. James looked like TE #1 for the Lions until they picked Hockenson in the draft. James is still going to utilized a lot, probably more so early on has Hockenson gets used to the NFL. Good pickup here for the Lions.

WR Danny Amendola (1 year, $4.5 Million)

We’ll get to who the Lions lost soon but Amendola replaces Golden Tate who was traded last year to Philly. Amendola obviously has familiarity with Matt Patricia and it seemed like a good fit. Amendola is in the later part of his career, but I get the feeling he’ll become a favorite target of Matt Staffords.

2019 NFL Draft

Round 1 Pick #8: TE TJ Hockenson

Great pick here by the Lions although they could have gone elsewhere to help their LB or DB core. Hockenson was obviously the highest guy on their board and they got an all around great TE in the pass and run game. Iowa is turning into TE U with Kittles coming out part and Hockensens’ teammate Noah Fant going to the Broncos. Hockenson and Jesse James should prove to be a great 1-2 combo at TE for the Lions and create many mismatches for them. For the Hawkeyes last year he had 49 catches for 760 yards and 6 TDs in 13 games. He also had a nice little 4 yard rushing TD to add onto that.

Key Off Season Departure

DE Ezekiel Ansah (lost via free agency to the Seattle Seahawks)

Ansah is 30 years old and coming off an injury season where he only played in 7 games and started in two. He was for a while the biggest pass rushing threat on the Lions team. In 2017 he racked up 12 sacks but in 7 games last year he was only able to get 4 sacks and 7 QB hits. He got a 1 year 9 million dollar deal from Seattle, I guess the Lions felt like that was too much for an aging player.

2019 Preview

I feel every team in the NFC North this year has a legit shot to win the division. The Lions can do it by changing the way the they’ve played on offense in the past with Matt Stafford at the helm.

This team will go as Kerryon Johnson goes, and that not only implies his on the field play but how new Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell uses him. Bevell comes from Seattle where they loved to the run the ball. Patricia comes from the Pats where they knew when to stuff the run down the opposing teams throats. Kerryon is a guy who can and should have around 1,600 total yards and 10 total TDs for this Lions team. The Lions focus in 2019 should be to establish Kerryon early and then let Stafford make the plays later on in games.

The Lions have a very formidable offense, they have guys at each position who can take games over, and they have depth. If their offensive line can hold up, there’s no reason why the Lions can’t have one of the higher scoring offenses in the league. They might have some hiccups early on with the new Bevell offense, but this offense should be tough to handle for opposing defenses.

For the Lions on defense, they only need to improve slightly if they want to make a playoff run. They were mediocre in almost every aspect of their defense last year but they have added some good pieces in free agency. They may have overpaid for Trey Flowers but there’s no doubt he’s better than what they had previously. Justin Coleman is a great addition to a secondary that already includes good players like Quandre Diggs and Darius Slay. The Lions have depth on offense, but the question for them will be is there depth on defense. Can they go three or four deep in their secondary to compete with the best, do they have enough in their front seven to rotate guys and keep them fresh?

The biggest question of all for the Lions is Head Coach Matt Patricia. In today’s NFL, head coaches are getting short leashes. If Patricia has another shitty year with only 6 wins, he could be booted out the door. There was a lot of reported turmoil inside the locker room with Patricia, but they team stayed together and played hard. Those reports have quieted down in the offseason but we’ll see early on if Patricia’s Patriot like message is making an impact on the team. If Patricia’s presence is isn’t received by the players on this team, it’s not going to matter how talented the Lions are on offense.

Schedule

The NFC North plays the AFC West and NFC East this year. The Lions got last in the North so they also draw the Cardinals and Buccaneers.

The Lions draw two prime time games this year that are both divisional games, Week 6 at Green Bay on Monday Night Football and Week 13 for the Thanksgiving Day game at home against the Chicago Bears. Speaking of the Bears, that game on Thanksgiving is the second time the Lions will play the Bears in a 4 week span. Their games against the Packers and Vikings are more spread out.

The Lions really have a good team and could make a playoff run but the start to their season is pretty brutal after their Week 1 game in Arizona. They get the Chargers, Eagles, Chiefs, Green Bay, and then Minnesota after, with their early bye week thrown in during Week 4. So the Lions could get off to slow start but the rest of the schedule gets a bit easier. Yes they play the Bears twice, Dallas, and then both Green bay and Minnesota. But they also draw some teams that were pretty bad last year. They get the Giants, Raiders, Redskins, Buccaneers, and Broncos. You can’t base strength of schedule based on last year, but just looking at those teams and the Lions can reel off some wins during the second half of the season. They also get the luxury of playing Chicago and Green Bay at home late in the year.

Fantasy Player You Want

The Lions could have a #1 guy at each fantasy relevant position, Kerryon at RB, Golladay at WR, Hockenson at TE, and Stafford at QB. All those those guys will get drafted pretty high but the one I would want for value is Golladay because I trust him to replicate and improve on what he did last year before anyone else. I don’t want him as my WR1, but as my WR2 in the third round or later and I’ll be happy.

Fantasy Player to Avoid

I’m gonna go with Marvin Jones. For one, Golladay is the main guy at WR for the Lions. Secondly, they did replace Golden Tate with Danny Amendola and Amendola is going to steal some targets, especially with Stafford as his QB. Next we have TJ Hockenson who I think is going to be a stud and quickly turn into the number two target for Stafford. Finally, the Lions should be running the ball a lot more with Kerryon Johnson. I’m not rostering Jones at all this year.

Ceiling

Each team we do for the NFC North is gonna get the same thing said here. This is the toughest division in football to guess at. Each team here could win the division, each team could crumble for various reasons and maybe win only 6 games. Having said that, I can see the Lions winning 10 games next year and maybe winning the division with some sort of tie breaker.

Floor

My floor for each team in this division is going to be the same, besides one (nice tease), but that’s going to be 6 games. Lions are too talented on each side of the ball to fall below that mark. Plus: Giants, Raiders, Redskins, Bucs, Broncos, Cardinals. That’s gotta be good for at least four wins right?

Matthew Stafford during a joint practice with the New England Patriots on August 6th. (Detroit Lions via AP)
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