Credit: Kirby Lee of USA Today Sports
By Dylan Wittenberg
The Detroit Lions season came to brutal end about a month ago in Seattle, Washington. The Wildcard Playoff loss to the Seahawks capped off a 4 game losing streak to end the season, costing the Lions both their first division title since 1993 and their first playoff win since 1991. That said, the team finished above .500 at 9-7 and at one point were considered Super Bowl favorites at 9-4. The team had very bright spots, and with a few more pieces this team can contend in 2017.
The largest bright spot for the Lions in 2016 was the breakout play of quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford, who is currently in negotiations with the team for a contract extension, finished with 4,327 yards passing, 24 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Although it was not his best year statistically in yards, a +14 touchdown to interception statistic stands out mightily. Offensive Coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who was appointed mid way through the 2015 season, played a big role in Stafford’s big leap in both talent in maturity. Besides controlling the ball and making all the necessary throws, Stafford was clutch when he needed to be, leading the Lions to 8 comeback victories in the final quarter.
Another reason for optimism for 2017 is the Lions’ offensive line. Rookie left guard Taylor Decker had an outstanding season, finishing on the All-Rookie team and challenging Jordan Howard for the best rookie in the NFC North. Travis Swanson, who missed the last few games of the season, proved to be a very good center that Matthew Stafford can rely on. When he went down with a concussion, rookie sixth round pick Graham Glasgow stepped in and did very well given his lack of experience. Once Swanson returns to full health over the summer, Glasgow can assume a lesser role on the offensive line and continue to grow on the team. Larry Warford and Riley Reiff, both in contract negotiations, had decent and productive years, but the young lineman must continue to improve in order to help this offensive line become the perennial pass and run blockers they can be.
Lions receivers also had an above average and improved year in 2016. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones became two very reliable targets for Stafford, although down the stretch Jones fell off noticeably. Tate remained as the go to guy for Stafford, making big plays in big games throughout the season. His biggest knock is that he will sometimes disappear in the middle of games, leaving a lesser impact that has hurt the offensive sometimes. Besides Tate and Jones, Anquan Boldin bolstered his Hall of Fame resume, catching big time passes and touchdowns. He particularly made his money on key third down plays, catching nearly every catchable pass that went his way. His time in Detroit and the NFL may come to a close sooner than people want, though, so the Lions may need to attack free agency or the draft in order to add more substance to the receiving core.
The Lions’ defense was the team’s biggest weakness. Although it held opponents to 20 points or under for a majority of its games, it also was near the bottom of the league when it came to opponent pass completion percentage, making quarterbacks like Case Keenum and Blake Bortles look like superstars at some points.. The defensive line had a lot of trouble getting after opposing quarterbacks. This can be partially blamed on the missed time by Ezekiel Ansah. The single optimistic spot of the Lions defensive line is youngster Kerry Hyder, who finished with 8.0 sacks. In the linebacking core, DeAndre Levy had yet another disappointing season, playing the last few games with a slowed amount of effort and success. Tahir Whitehead and John Bostic had decent years, but the Lions need help in the middle of their defense in order to get to where they want to be. There is an overwhelming and nearly unanimous belief that General Manager Bob Quinn will go after a defensive player, at any level, with the 21st overall pick in the NFL Draft in April.
The 2016 Detroit Lions were a team with a good offense and an inconsistent defense, and their 9-7 record showed that. If they want to become the contender they can become in 2016, the team must improve defensively. With such a highly touted GM in Quinn, it is certainly possible.
The views expressed are those of the author and not WBFH The Biff or the Bloomfield Hills School District.