Oh, you lovably chaotic Lions. Like the drunk toddler of the NFC North, you stagger into the coming season. No sense of what you’re doing, where you’re headed or why you’re screaming. Don’t ask why. Just enjoy the dance.
Because I am not a Lions fan, and because their players no longer get severely injured in hilarious ways, I pay them very little attention in between yearly Previews. So whenever I do look at them, it’s like opening a present from my elderly Great Aunt Sally. Will it be Matchbox cars? Four pairs of wool socks, each crocheted with the likeness of one of the Golden Girls? A quarter-full bottle of Chambord? Five-year-old me didn’t know what to expect year to year, and neither do you, Lions Fan!
Seriously though: the Lions have gone from one of the most predictable teams in the league (sub .200 winning percentage, draft a wideout in the first round, suck, rinse and repeat) to a complete yet somehow boring wildcard. Will they pay out the ass for what they hope is the last piece of a dominant defense, or will they let the centerpieces skip town with barely a fight? Are they going 4-12 or 11-5? Is there a Hall-of-Famer on the roster, and is this the year that he’s going to chuck his career in the trashcan because tens of millions of dollars, the adoration of the masses and the promise of football immortality aren’t worth having to put up with this clown-car-fire organization for another 16 games? QUESTIONS ABOUND!!!!
And this year, the questions start near the top. In the face of the last few years’ ups and downs, there was always one constant: Jim Caldwell. No matter what else was happening, you knew he would be there—saying nothing, doing nothing, like a high-level Zen Buddhist practitioner or the victim of locked-in syndrome. Caldwell was the anchor of this team—not in the sense of a strong, steadying influence, but in the more literal sense of a giant hunk of inanimate metal that gets hauled from place to place and dumped over the side if things get too rough. After two consecutive winning seasons (the first since 1994-95), Martha Ford apparently decided things were getting perilously close to respectability and decided to finally jettison the man. Pour one out for The Lamp.
Now we get Matt Patricia, a Belichick Disciple who looks like he got pulled out of the Gate D crowd at a Jets game and given a headset. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, every time one of The Hoodie’s Patriot apprentices catches on with another team, it spreads His Malignant Influence farther and farther. On the other hand, every one so far has been a complete and utter sewage geyser as an NFL head coach, with the exception of Bill O’Brien (master of turning a porterhouse steak into a Wendy’s hamburger). I can’t tell whether that adds to Belichick’s legacy (“He’s so special, no one can replicate what he does!”) or detracts from it (“Well yes, because none of these assistants is taking anyone from the SigInt staff.”) If Belichick’s “coaching tree” (ugh) essentially dies with him, I think the league will be better for it. It remains to be seen if Patricia can cope when he doesn’t know ahead of time what plays the opposing team is calling.
As for Patricia himself, no one is quite sure what the hell kind of shop he’s decided to run. On the one hand, he appears to be a relatively high-energy, guy. On the other hand, he’s adopted the Belichickian philosophy regarding player contact with the media: you don’t talk to them except on specific topics, and only with the Commissariat-Approved Answers. On the third hand, he’s already bitching out the Detroit media for their perceived “lack of enthusiasm” about the team.
As if anyone in Detroit is excited about anything other than the sweet release of Death. Even the Patriots don’t seem to require this sort of SEC-style captive media loyalty. Given how quickly the Detroit Media Partnership (the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, fittingly abbreviated as “DMP”) ran with the “Hey, Our New Head Coach Is An Accused Rapist” story, I’m not sure he’s ever going to get the Hail Glorious Leader reaction he seems to desire short of a deep playoff run.
The rest of the team is largely unchanged, save for a few substitutions of roughly-equivalent players. Matt Stafford remains Matt Stafford, though another year older. He has played and started every regular season game since 2011, a frankly amazing statistic given some of the truly horrific offensive lines he’s played behind. Last year, Stafford was surprisingly effective- 29 TDs to only 10 interceptions, third in passing yards while absorbing the second-most sacks in the league. So as long as he manages to dodge the injury bug for yet another year, one might reasonably expect Stafford to be competent-or-better at running Jim Bob Cooter’s offense.
I still can’t believe Martha Ford signed off on hiring or retaining someone named Jim Bob Cooter. Maybe she’s hipper than your average 92 year-old heiress. You know those Vassar girls…
The offensive line should be improved, if only because they are returning a number of injured starters who did not utterly suck before those injuries. The one notable addition is first round selection Frank Ragnow. I applaud the Lions for being willing to take such a risk on drafting a 48 year-old plumber from Staten Island. Wait, he’s not? With that name? The hell you say…
The passing game should be about the same as last year, given that Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Maddening Sleeper Kenny Golladay are all returning at wideout. Chronic disappointment Eric Ebron is gone, taking his “Next Vernon Davis Back When That Was a Good Thing” talents to Indy. I was genuinely shocked to see that he had four touchdowns and more than 550 yards last year. Luke Willson, treacherous Canadian and understudy for Jimmy Graham during most of his Seahawks tenure, was signed to fill the void. Second-year Toledo product Michael Roberts is also being put forth as a potential replacement, despite having three (3) career catches on seven targets in a pass-happy offense. There’s no way this can possible go severely wrong…
Stafford’s performance last season was even more impressive given how little support he gets from the run game, as the Lions have managed to go four-plus seasons without a 100-yard rusher. Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick are back, despite combining to form exactly one sub-mediocre pass-catching halfback between them.
The Lions signed LeGarrette Blount, apparently on the theory that he is some sort of Super Bowl Good Luck Charm. The projected starter, however, is Kerryon Johnson. Johnson is a rookie second round pick out of Auburn, who averaged 4.9 yards per attempt last year—good enough for…um….140th place among rushers with at least six carries per game. NFL.com’s predraft scouting thingy is one of the more amusing I’ve read in a while though, talking about his “thin hips,” “hip tightness” and that he “could struggle to avoid early penetration in the backfield.” Who says the NFL is rabidly homophobic? Regardless, thank God Chris Berman’s retired(ish), because his inevitable “Kerryon My Wayward Son” reference would probably cause an aneurysm.
On the upside, the problem of lacking a reliable running game is probably academic, because the Lions are going to be playing from behind. A lot. Ziggy Ansah and Darius Slay are the only names to strike fear into opposing offenses. I assume Ansah will have one or more important ligaments torn to shreds while playing on the franchise tag, because the Blood Gods of Lake Huron will have their sacrifice, oh yes. There is still Glover Quinn, who put up really good numbers last year at free safety (84 combined tackles, four forced fumbles and three interceptions). However, he’s been preternaturally durable over the first nine years of his career, missing just one game despite multiple concussions. At some point, it’s got to catch up with him, leaving the Lions’ defense in dire straits.
The real question here is how good the rest of their division has gotten while Detroit has been running in circles. It seems like one of most popular Deep Insights that keeps popping up on the Internet is that the NFC North is going to be The Hardest Division in Football this year. Frankly, I think this is Horse Shit. Minnesota may be good again, although Kirk Cousins somehow inspires even less confidence than Case Keenum. Mitch “Love to Kiss Tittiess” Trubisky isn’t Jared Goff, and everyone’s assumption that he’ll have the same Great Leap Forward is frankly laughable. Green Bay will be better and will likely not be trotting out Hundley and Kizer for 2/3 of the season this time.
Fuckit. Detroit’s Detroit and will continue to be Detroit now and forever, world without end. They’re going 7-9.
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