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THE DISAPPOINTMENT FOR LIONS FANS AND THE POSITIVE OUTLOOK FOR 2018

Let us first take a look back for a moment at the devastating season of 2017: the Golden Tate goal line tuck, the crumbling offensive line, the 47 sacks, that gruesome Cincinnati Bengals game, Thanksgiving at home, the blow out in New Orleans, or the blow out in Baltimore. The list goes on and on.

Here we sit in the stands, at home in front of our televisions with our family and friends, out at a restaurant or at a game day party sitting on the edge of our seats, standing on our feet, or even pacing the room as we silently await for the snap.  

The ball is snapped. “This is it. Let’s go Lions,” we shout in excitement and desperation anticipating that big play, that 3rd down conversion, and that touchdown. We get lost in the moment. We become ecstatic and turn into that child at heart when that moment of short-lived success happens.  Yet, the next moment we become furious as our cries of joyful moments just seconds ago turn into hostility, panic and let downs.

Being a Lions fan has not been easy since 1957, as many believe in the curse of Bobby Layne which led us into long hard years of doing nothing. But then there is hope and boom as we hit the draft running 32 years later and score arguably the possibly best running back in history. “This is it. This will change it all. The Lions have found the answer,” we chant.

Here I sit in 1989, this 11 year old boy who would claim the Lions but hadn’t found the love of the game or of the Lions franchise yet. I will never forget that moment sitting at my grandparents house the first time that I seen him on the field. It was October 29th, 1989 against the Green Bay Packers. With just his 8th start in his career and first time facing the longest running rivalry in the NFL (currently 86 years), Barry Sanders got the ball 30 times and ran for an astounding 184 yards. It was love at first sight and from that moment on I’ve never looked back.

I thought, ‘Was he the answer? Is he the one to break the curse? Will we finally end this sorrow and misery?’ And then “YES” as we won our first playoff game dominating the Cowboys 38-6 after a long hard drought of 35 years. “We did it. We are on our way to the Superbowl!”

But not so fast. We are the Detroit Lions after all. And low and behold, the tables take a turn for the worst as we get man handled and annihilated by the Washington Redskins 41-10. The season is over. We move on watching the other teams go on to the playoffs. And we move on to a current drought of 26 years unable to capitalize in a single playoff game.

After years of terrible drafting looking for that next best thing, the icing on the cake if you will: the Detroit Lions select Calvin Johnson, wide receiver out of Georgia Tech and 2nd overall in the 2007 draft. “Here we go. We will have that guy opposite of our star receiver Roy Williams,” the fans chant. ‘Is this too good to be true’ we sit and wonder.

Yes it is. Roy Williams gives up on us and off to Dallas he goes. Then we have a following record-setting dreadful season in 2008 at 0-16. How is this possible? How in the world do we go winless with our sophomore star wide receiver racking up an impressive 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns?

Now we enter the 2009 NFL draft with the 1st overall pick Matthew Stafford out of Georgia. The perfect fit for the gigantuous nicknamed freak of nature “Megatron”. But, that’s all we had: a predictable playbook of Stafford to Calvin Johnson which never seemed to be able to go the extra mile.

Then he retires before his time. Lions fans go nuts. We are doomed. Now what do we do? Stafford won’t be able do do what he’s done with Calvin Johnson. We have an average quarterback. Calvin Johnson made him and he will never have those stats again. But he has achieved those stats since then. So is there hope for us in this near future?

With a little bit of painful memories which we are continuously reminded of on a daily basis from the fans of all teams, media, and critics, I turn back the focus to the 2017 Lions. A team loaded with talent and destined for success coming off a winning record 9-7 season where we made the playoffs. With great enthusiasm I think, ‘This is it. This is our year.’ And here we go again. Another 9-7 season missing the playoffs. A quarterback with 4,446 yards, 29 touchdowns, and only 10 interceptions. Two wide receivers break the 1,000 yard mark (the only team in the NFL to achieve this) while the defense knows we are throwing the ball. So with that in mind, Stafford is more than able to fit that ball into tight windows topping the charts. Yet, us fans take another brutal hit and hang our heads in shame.

But something’s got to give here, right? Here comes 2018: a clean slate and a new beginning. This little 92 year old lady Martha Ford takes over for her late husband. Now, low and behold, we have found the best owner ever, who would have thought? She hired the best GM we have had 3 years ago. He has proven in his drafting and free agency that he is more than competent and seeks talent in which others overlook. Giving us what we never had, which is a complete team built around Matthew Stafford.  

‘Yeah, but he can’t even win a playoff game right!’ ‘The Lions just did an overhaul on almost the entire coaching staff.’ ‘We won’t have success the first year with a new staff and scheme. Our schedule is too hard.’ ‘The Lions cannot beat winning teams.’ ‘Our offensive line is atrocious and we cannot run the ball.’ ‘We look like fools trying to stop the run, and we cannot pass rush for the life of us.’ I have heard it all from Lions fans, and we are very critical. But, let’s be optimistic for a moment if we may.  Let me bring forth an insight to you, as I turn these negatives in positives moving into the 2018 season.

Everyone wanted us to use our first round pick for defensive line, defensive end or a running back. We wanted to address the pitiful run game, or shall I say lack thereof, stop the run, and pressure the quarterback. So, we draft a Center. “What you say? We went offensive line?”  Well, that was just plain silly, right? Wrong. Everything starts up front. I don’t care who you are. You will not run the ball well without good blocking and holes created for you, unless you are Barry Sanders.

But let’s face reality for a moment as he won’t be replaced or duplicated. We need to cater to the type of running backs of today. We added versatile depth to the line in free agency and now the the rankings are in. We are rated a top ten offensive line in 2018. Ok, so our, in my eyes, an overrated 19th ranked offensive line up to a top ten. But, don’t just take my word for it. You can alway check out Pro Football Focus and let them show you themselves.

Let me give you an example of some of the top ten ranked offensive lines from 2017: the #1 Philadelphia Eagles, #3 New England Patriots, #5 Tennessee Titans, #6 LA Rams, #7 Buffalo Bills, and #9 New Orleans Saints. Now ask yourself this. What did all these top ten ranked offenses have in common?  Well, the playoffs, two trips to the Superbowl and a run game, is what they had in common.

So the Lions decide to use a running back by committee approach. Fans freak out. I know this as I myself was not a fan of it at first. Then, after looking into what we have in our backfield in LaGarrette Blount, Kerryon Johnson, Theo Riddick and a possible Ameer Abdullah, I find it statistically impossible that we will not move the chains forward in the ground game.

Blount is a power back veteran who is very hard to take down, a guy that can leap over you at his size, and barrel through a defensive line where his motor never stops. At 31 years of age, he still looks 21 on the field with no indication of slowing down. A great mentor for young running backs which leads me into my pick as the dark horse of 2018. 2017 SEC offensive player of the year Kerryon ‘wayward son’ Johnson led the SEC and averaged 115.9 ypg, 1,391 yards for the season, and also led the division with 20 tds: 18 of which were on the ground. He had 24 receptions for 194 yards and 2 touchdowns. So let’s compare him to the guy with all the hype Saquon Barkley, the first running back to be drafted, who had 21 tds (18 on the ground), 97.8 ypg on the ground with 1,271 yards on the season, 54 receptions for 632 yards, and 3 touchdowns.

Now, I am no rocket scientist but I must say the SEC is a much tougher division than (as much as it pains me to say, but facts are facts) the BIG TEN. In the last three drafts, only 5 running backs were traded up for: Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Melvin Gordon, Kareem Hunt and our boy Kerryon Johnson (I would say that is a pretty impressive crowd to be amongst). I expect big things from Johnson in his rookie season and moving into the future.

Matthew Stafford, Mr. Record Breaker, has not had a season of less than 4,000 yards in seven straight seasons, one of which was over 5,000 yards. His ridiculous Brett Favre-like interceptions have been cut in half. He has one of the strongest most accurate arms in the NFL. Expect nothing less and count on him to have one of his best seasons yet.

On to the wide receiver core. We are rated #1 in the NFL, last I heard. Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay, TJ Jones, Jace Billingsley, and this new kid from out of nowhere,this head turning, big hands, catching machine Teo Redding with a vertical that is very impressive. A kid that gets to the ball no matter where it is and makes a play (understand that I am basing this off of training camp). This should be a high powered and high scoring hybrid offense.

Now on the defensive side of the ball, I give you Matt Patricia and Bo Davis. That there should be plenty enough to get you excited. A’shawn Robinson, Da’Shawn Hand, Sylvester Williams, Ziggy Ansah, Kerry Hyder, and Anthony Zettel will be a sleeper line with depth in this new scheme, in my opinion. For our struggle at linebacker, we are young. Jarrad Davis, who had difficulty in his leadership role on the field but not of the field and who was slacking in pass coverage, should mature as a sophomore and be an immediate impact. Christian Jones, Devon Kennard, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Al-Rasheed Benton, Jonathan Freeny, and a newcomer who is making himself known Chad Meredith. Led by a new coach, yet a Lions familiar face, Al Golden.

Golden spent 10 seasons as Miami’s Head Coach. He’s been a defensive coordinator and defensive back coach. And what I think brings a great balance is the fact that he was also a tight end coach. Linebackers cover tight ends, which means he also brings the better ability in covering tight ends. Crazy to think this defensive coach was put on to coach tight ends in 2016 and 2017. I strongly feel this was in preparation for his role in 2018.

Our secondary: do I even need to touch on this one? I think we are all aware of Glover Quin, Darius Slay, Quandre Diggs (which by the way is an upcoming star). He can play corner slot, deep coverage, and oh my, moving him to safety was one of the best moves I have seen in a long time. Our young talent and depth is very impressive and versatile. You don’t throw the ball to number 23 Darius Slay. Expect an improved top notch secondary.

As for our kicker Mr. Clutch Matt  ‘hold my my beer while I handle my business’ Prater will be lights out in 2018. I also expect him to be on the field more, no not for field goals. That’s correct, extra points. ‘On the money’ Sam Martin will be on point, although I don’t expect him to see the field as often this season as we will be in the end zone more often and more aggressive in converting short yardage 4th downs.

With special teams, expect nothing less from Jamal Agnew, as I truly believe he is the real deal. And Ameer Abdullah should fare well in the return game as well. Our special teams coach has been good with the exception of last year. I think it is safe to say that last year was a fluke.

Now with this hard schedule, Green Bay is picked to win the division and more all because of one single guy Aaron Rodgers. I believe that we can and we have beat them. Kirk Cousins will not be the answer in his first year. Bears will keep us all on our toes and they will be creeping and showing up to the occasion on game day. We have a little bit of a break against New England and San Francisco due to key players on suspensions.

So with all this said and done, why can’t the Lions come out and prove to the media and the critics to be wrong? I see no reason at all. In fact, I would like to close out with my number one reason that we will break our slump. This team has a chip on the shoulder. They have something to prove and they will. When it comes to beating good teams, I say check as we have a schedule full of them. Running the ball to have balance, check. Aggressive smart coaching, check. Stopping the run, I do believe we will do also, so check. I am more excited this year than I have been in a long time. I hope this article has shed some light on those with doubt, those who don’t believe and pumps all of you up.

 

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