1. The Lions have entered a period of mediocrity. They own a nearly even 57-55 record over the past 7 seasons, with 3 playoff appearances but no playoff wins. How have the Lions attempted to take that next step from a Wild Card team to a Super Bowl contender?
Mediocrity is a fine word, although it depends which side of the Lions Great Divide you are on. If you reside in SOL Gulch, it’s disappointment. If you’re in the Kool-Aid Canyon, it’s better than what it was in the aughts. Both are true. Jim Caldwell was fired for winning, but not winning enough; in the words of the front office on hiring Matt Patricia, they want to be better than 9-7. Of course, now the team is also saying that this might “take time” around Patricia, which doesn’t sit with me. I thought Caldwell was better than his detractors made, but whatever, he’s gone. The team should build around Matthew Stafford, God, pixies, Detroit-style pizza and establishing the run game.
2. Matt Stafford’s career progression has been very interesting to watch. Once a high-risk gunslinger who was throwing 15+ interceptions a season, Stafford has gradually lowered his interception totals while maintaining his explosiveness and also increasing his completion percentage. He is now a consistent top-ten quarterback statistically.
How has Stafford progressed into the quarterback he is today - and how do Lions fans think he ranks among the top quarterbacks in the league?
He is one of the top quarterbacks in the league. That’s not a question, that’s a fact. Depends who you ask, that company is either top 5 or top 10. I’m of the latter camp, but he’s obviously hampered by the fact that the team struggles to build a proper offensive line around him. He takes a lion’s share (jajajaja) of work for this offense, and Lions games live and die with how well he’s playing on a given day. That makes for some fun times - like all of 2016! - but can also come crashing at any point.
Fine-tuning the offense has done wonders for him. As long as he keeps making quick, zippy throws and has a versatile cast to work with, he’ll thrive.
3. The Lions struggled in most areas defensively last season, but did make up for it one very important area - takeaways, with their total of 32 ranking 3rd in the league. Can the Lions maintain that level of defensive playmaking, and how have they worked to address other areas of their defense?
Darius Slay is quietly one of the top corners in the league, but takeaways can be pretty inconsistent. The Lions lived and breathed on them last year, but as you said, it doesn’t make for a consistent defense. What it does do is forces opponents to go short - which would be fine if the front seven wasn’t so bad against that.
The Lions, baffling, have done very little to address these issues. They’ve tried a few times to fix the linebackers, but they let Tahir Whitehead go and Jarrad Davis didn’t impress in his rookie year. Patricia came in and changed the scheme up and it doesn’t seem to be working that well at the start. A’Shawn Robinson is one of those interior linemen who haven’t adapted well. Then, they just cut Anthony Zettel and picked Romeo Okwara off waivers. The only bright spot is Ezekiel Ansah, who is on a franchise tag and has proven wildly inconsistent over the last two seasons. If the 2019 draft comes and the Lions aren’t taking a defensive end in the first round there may legitimately be a fan riot.
4. The run game has long been an issue for the Lions. They placed last in total rushing last season and 2 of the last 3 - and haven’t ranked in the top half of the league in total rush yards. Has the issue been running back talent, offensive line play, or both? How has the team worked to improve this phase of the offense?
The Lions must establish the run.
(This is all I really have to say on the matter, anything else is attempting to decrypt a triple-sized Rubik’s Cube. Also my lawyers say I’m not allowed.)
5. Where do the Lions stack up in this monstrous NFC? With a myriad of title contenders at the top of the conference, can the Lions sneak into a Wild Card spot like they have in recent seasons? Could they potentially provide a shock and compete for the NFC North title?
The Lions are an odd duck, being an offense-heavy team in a North division that’s been rebuilding itself on killer defenses. I don’t have much expectations for them this season, which is again pretty shocking given that they brought in a new coach to move forward. This isn’t being negative either, just realistic. Everyone in the division stocked up while the Lions lost parts like Eric Ebron and Tahir Whitehead.
Whatever the plan general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia have, it won’t be seen this year. Lions probable to miss the playoffs.
Of course, Stafford could go Super Saiyan. It’s within the realm of possibility. But instead of his hair turning gold, his baseball cap will.