Vinnie Iyer of The Sporting News argues the Lions would be foolish to throw Matt Stafford to the wolves right out of the gate.
The offensive line. The Lions yielded 52 sacks last season, second-most in the NFL. They didn't draft a top lineman and made some desperate free-agent signings at guard and tackle. Last year, the Falcons' rebuilt line jelled early and it resulted in a run-blocking force and pass-protection improvement (only 17 sacks allowed after 47 in '07) that greatly benefited then-rookie QB Matt Ryan. It's unrealistic to expect a repeat in Detroit.
The running game. There is no doubt second-year man Kevin Smith is a talented all-around back. But consider the Lions were 30th in rushing offense last season (3.8 yards per carry) and the continued blocking concerns.
In contrast, the Jets' Mark Sanchez has this major advantage over Stafford in the race to start as a rookie.
"With that big offensive line we have and those backs, everything is going good over there," Jets coach Rex Ryan said this week after seeing Thomas Jones and Leon Washington at work.
The Jets ranked ninth in rushing last season, averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
Both Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco benefited from even more productive running games last year. Smith is yet to prove himself in the Michael Turner mold, and Detroit lacks Baltimore's depth.
The defense. Flacco also had the benefit of leaning on an elite Ravens defense, turning his rookie year into great team success. The takeaway-happy defense got more dominant under Rex Ryan. As for the Lions' defense, it allowed the NFL's most rushing yards, points and total yards last year. It also produced an NFL-low four interceptions.
The Jets come out looking a lot better by using this formula than the Lions do. I think it is easy to overuse comparisons to the Ravens because of Rex Ryan. The Jets and Baltimore are two different teams. Still, the Flacco model could apply here. The team has a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball, and the head coach has learned from some of the smartest defensive coaches in the game. The team's success is probably going to be based on defense and ball control. I might argue this would have been a better formula for the 2008 Jets the way Brett Favre struggled down the stretch.
Sanchez quite possibly could have a top defense and a running game that will give him a lot of eight man fronts. It is not a normal set up for a rookie savior.