Originally Posted by TacticaLion
It's easy to hate the Lions. They didn't make a huge splash in the offseason, targeted need (and not BPA) during the draft and finished the 2007 season losing 7 of their last 8 games. Most preseason predictions have the Lions finishing with a losing record and last in the NFC North, but there's another side to the coin. Could the Lions finish the 2008 season with a winning record? It's possible. Here are 4 reasons why:
4 Reasons For Success
1. The Losing Streak
Yes, the Lions lost 7 of their last 8 games, but they played one of, if not the hardest, schedule during the second half of the 2007 season: the Packers (twice), the Chargers, the Giants, the Cowboys, the Vikings, the Cardinals and the Chiefs. They beat the Chiefs (barely), lost to the Cowboys by 1 point (missed field goal and muffed fumble recovery led to the loss) and lost on the final drive to the Giants, a game the Champs won by 6 points. Looking a bit closer, those 7 losses are a bit deceiving.
2. "Marinelli's Team"
For the first time in his 3 year coaching career, Rod Marinelli finally has "his" team. The players have bought into the "Marinelli way", and it shows... from the effort on the field to the chemistry in the locker room. Every Detroit Lion is signed and participating in training camp (no hold outs or lingering contract situations) and Rod has players that fit the offensive and defensive schemes fighting for starting roles. The team is focused, determined and working harder than ever, and that mindset shouldn't be overlooked. It seems that the Detroit Lions are finally a team... made in Rod's image.
3. Offseason Changes
The 7-9 Detroit Lions of 2007 have lost little, but gained much, throughout the offseason. Yes, Shaun Rogers is a Cleveland Brown, Kevin Jones is a Chicago Bear and Damien Woody is a New York Jet, but each of those players had serious concerns and each hole was, for the most part, filled adequately. Chuck Darby, a hard-working veteran, will take over for Rogers at the NT position. Darby may not be the dominant force that Rogers was, but he's a harder worker who understands his responsibilities and wont wear down nearly as quickly as Rogers did. The oft-injured Kevin Jones was cut and replaced by Kevin Smith, an extremely talented back with great vision and a desire to succeed. Damien Woody, an OG/C with weight control issues, was replaced at RT by Gosder Cherilus, who should give the running game a punch and be a staple on the OLine for many years to come. The secondary was given a complete overhaul and should now be a strength, not a weakness, of the Detroit Lions' defense.
4. The Schedule
Detroit's 2008 schedule actually plays to their strengths. Throughout the 2007 season, Detroit played very well at home, outscoring their opponents 212-168, but seemed to lose their focus on the road, being outscored 276-134. Their hardest opponents (Washington, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Tennessee and New Orleans) come at home, while their "easier" games (Atlanta, San Francisco, Houston, Carolina) are played away. If Detroit can continue their 2007 trend and play well in Michigan, they might be able to steal a few on the road and end the season with a reasonable record.
Instead of playing to the strengths of the roster, Mike Martz decided to leave average OLinemen in constant pass-protection and focused more on the slot receivers than on the "dynamic duo" of Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson (140 receptions by Furrey/McDonald and only 112 receptions by Roy/CJ). The running game was abandoned early and often, and the team struggled as a result.
New Offensive Coordinator Jim Colletto is keeping the same basic offense, but vows to run the ball on a regular basis in 2008. He changed the blocking scheme to a zone blocking scheme, the same scheme that led to Tatum Bell's success in Denver. Jon Kitna also now has the opportunity to change the play at the line, something not allowed in a Mike Martz offense. Drafting Gosder Cherilus (Rd 1) and Kevin Smith (Rd 3) shows a commitment to the changes, as each is a great fit for the direction of the offense.
The Problem: the running game. Tatum Bell is an average back, and understands the ZBS, but can't be relied on to carry the team throughout the season. Kevin Jones was cut, leaving room for rookie Kevin Smith to have a OROY-type impact. If he can't, the running game will struggle. If it does, expect Kitna to spend quite a bit of time on the ground and the offense to stall, drive after drive, like it did in 2007.
The Solution: the twin towers. There will be more emphasis on getting the ball (quickly) to Roy and CJ, which, if successful, will open up the running game and spread opposing defenses. If the changes to the offense can help the passing game click, expect the Lions to have surprising success on the ground, and, in turn, through the air, in 2008.
The Detroit Lions' had the worst secondary in the NFL in 2007... and, as some of that was injuries, most of it was simply a lack of talent. That changed during the offseason. Leigh Bodden was acquired from Cleveland, Brian Kelly was signed, Dwight Smith was added and Daniel Bullocks should be healthy for the start of the 2008 season. That's potentially 4 new starters, each an upgrade over the player who held the position before him. It's easy to say that their largest defensive weakness was improved greatly.
Detroit's "biggest" loss, Shaun Rogers, wont have as much of an impact as many believe. When fit and motivated, Shaun Rogers is one of the best DTs in the NFL... but those situations were few and far between in Detroit. After a great start in 2007, Shaun disappeared down the stretch and the team struggled as a result. His replacement, Chuck Darby, is a high energy, experienced Cover 2 NT with a great motor. The position loses some of the "flash" with the departure of Rogers, but becomes more consistent overall with the addition of Darby.
The Problem: the pass-rush. Jared DeVries? Corey Smith? IAF? Cliff Avril? Someone has to step-up at LDE, and in a big way, for the Lions' defense to be a force in 2008. DeVries is opportunistic and a hard worker, but isn't flashy or explosive. Corey Smith has great speed off the edge, but lacks moves and gets pushed out of the play easily. IAF has a ton of potential, but is a work in progress and most likely wont be ready to break out in 2008. Cliff Avril, a 3rd round pick, might just be the answer. He combines a variety of moves with his incredible explosiveness and underestimated strength off the edge. If he can thrive as a situation pass-rusher, the unit might surprise in '08.
The Solution: role players. If the role players on Detroit's defense can have a big year, the defense could break out. Redding has to be a force, Darby has to be "good enough", the safety across from Dwight Smith has to step up, Dizon needs to emerge and have a solid rookie year and Dewayne White needs to show he's a solid RDE. It may sound like a lot, but Marinelli's pieces on defense are finally on the roster. If they can step up, so will the Lions.
All things considered, I think the Lions will finish the 2008 season with a 8-8 record. They've improved their defense, have play makers on offense and a schedule that plays to their strengths/weaknesses. If the Bears continue to fall and the Packers struggle to click without Favre, the Lions could find themselves sitting 2nd in the NFC North and fighting for a playoff berth through week 17.