If you’ve gotten past the headline, I welcome you to my Friday hot take. I was originally going to drop this piece next week and avoid the potential hate that I’m sure it will receive, but that’s not what I do. I jump in the hot take truck and drive directly to your house.
Today’s take is something I’ve thought about for a while now. The idea of even putting the Lions and Super Bowl in the same sentence is often looked at with laughs and rolling eyes, but I don’t think it’s as far off as many want to believe. Today, I want to explain why.
The Lions are on the right track. I think that while so many are used to the Lions being a horribly mismanaged team and laughing stock of the league, they’ve ignored that this team isn’t the 2008 Lions. At this point, they’re not even the 2015 Lions anymore.
The Lions are a team that’s made the right hires in the front office and scouting department for possibly the first time ever. This is a team that 10 years ago had a winless season and somehow managed to climb out of that grave. Now it seems they’re finally walking out of the graveyard.
The drafting has produced several starters, the free agents have mostly performed well, but I believe the final missing piece to the puzzle was in the coaching. Jim Schwartz turned this team around, Jim Caldwell made them a team you expect to win instead of getting embarrassed, and Matt Patricia could be the guy to come in a finally put the icing on the cake. But, still, this is not what I think could make the big difference.
I think there are two things the Lions can do to make their team Super Bowl caliber. But here’s the catch: it’s the two things they haven't been able to do in the last 20 years. Run the ball and protect the quarterback.
In 2017, the Lions finished seventh in the league in points per game with the 32nd ranked run game and an offensive line that allowed the second highest sack total the league. They still managed to have a quarterback finish in the top five or six of every statistical category in the league and they were still able to be the only team in the that had two receivers finish with 1,00 yards each.
This may not seem like that big of a deal, But look at the other teams that had similar problems.
Pass protection problems
The Lions are clearly in a different world here. This leads me to believe that they may not really be what their record suggests they are. The Lions are team that were a couple missed opportunities away from making the playoffs. They were in every game they played in 2017. Even the New Orleans game saw them come to within a touchdown before the wheels fell off. This isn’t new. The Lions have been this team for a while now.
Is it possible for the Lions to turn these two problems around in 2018? Well, that’s the thing, I can’t tell you if it is. That’s what makes this hot take not so hot. I’m simply saying the Lions can do big things if they can do the two things they’ve never been able to do. No big deal.
But on paper, it really does look good. The Lions have an incredibly diverse group of running backs that are capable of a lot of things. If they can all achieve the things they’re capable of, they could finally provide Stafford the help he’s never had.
And it doesn’t even have to be all that great. The 2017 Lions possibly have a playoff run with an average running game. That’s all it has to be.
I can’t tell you that I believe in the run game, but the offensive line is something I do believe in, as long as they stay healthy. In 2017 the Lions only had their best line for 95 out of 980 snaps per Kyle Meinke. If they can turn that 95 into 980, who knows what can happen. The fact that the Lions have added depth and won’t have to start Greg Robinson for the half of the season already makes this better.
I’m sure most will point to the defense, and they’d be right to do so. The Lions defense did perform surprisingly well during the early stretch of the season, but things definitely fell off a cliff when the injury bug hit and the Lions started dealing with high-power offenses. But the Lions are bringing in a guy that has managed to make the Patriots defense work despite seemingly having little in terms of roster talent.
Judging by the lack of major attention shown to the Lions defense in the offseason, it would appear the Lions are going to roll with a similar look to Patricia’s former team. There have been plenty of offensive-driven teams that have dragged poor defenses to the Super Bowl in the recent past. Just take last year’s Patriots team as an example. They may not have won it all, but that offense dragged them all the way to the big game.
In my opinion, the Lions could have the most dangerous offense in the league if they can fix these two big issues. Will they actually do it? I obviously can’t say for sure, but the outlook sure looks better.