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4 things to watch for the rest of this Detroit Lions season

Looking for a reason to keep watching this football team play football games? Let’s sift through what’s worth paying attention to over these next seven games.

Detroit Lions v Chicago Bears Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Welcome to the end of hope!

After last week’s loss to the Chicago Bears, for all intents and purposes, the Detroit Lions season is over. According to Football Outsiders’ 2019 NFL playoff odds report, the Lions have just a 2.3 percent chance of making the playoffs. However, there are still games to be played, which means there’s still football to watch, but... why?

Lucky for you, you’ve found yourself in the right spot! But we have to establish some certainties before we get into the thick of things.

The coaching staff is here to stay

Bob Quinn isn’t getting fired which means the last coach he’ll hire as general manager of the Detroit Lions, Matt Patricia, isn’t going anywhere either. It’s sink or swim with Patricia for Quinn, and should Patricia brick out at the bottom of the pool, Quinn isn’t getting a third head coach. Patricia and Quinn’s contracts with the team are the same length, and the two have a built-in excuse as to why they deserve another season should Matthew Stafford not make another appearance this season. So any storylines or players we deem watchable, we’re keeping in mind how they fit into this current regime’s plans moving forward—whether or not they should stay or go is where our interest peaks.

Speaking of Matthew Stafford...

He’s the team’s starting quarterback from now until this regime is no longer in charge of things in Detroit—at the very least. Stafford should be the team’s signal caller until he’s done with playing football altogether because he’s consistently been the player most responsible for this team being competitive during his tenure. Without Stafford this past decade, do the Lions even make the playoffs once with a replacement-level quarterback? Maybe you can make a case for 2014, but this team isn’t sniffing the playoffs in 2011 or 2016 without him.

So no, these last seven games aren’t a Jeff Driskel dress rehearsal, and no, Stafford isn’t getting dealt for draft picks so Quinn can rebuild because he doesn’t have the luxury of time on his side.

Alright, cool, we’re all on the same page. Let’s talk about what’s worth paying attention to the rest of this season.

The man they call “Snacks”

Detroit’s defensive line was viewed as perhaps the team’s greatest strength heading into this season. The acquisition of Damon Harrison Sr. at last year’s trade deadline provided a huge boost to the Lions run defense and the contract extension he earned prior to this season seemingly solidified that area for Detroit. While one man doesn’t make a unit, Snacks play has been subpar this season—for the first time in his career, really—and it’s worth watching how he plays down the stretch. Harrison isn’t really a candidate to be a cap casualty this offseason seeing as it would be $5 million in dead cap should the team cut ties, but Detroit’s approach to bolstering this run defense in the offseason is pretty dependent on whether or not Harrison can return to his All-Pro level of play.

Establishing the Run

Matt Patricia wants to run the football and stop the run. As previously mentioned, Detroit’s rush defense is a sieve, but their running game hasn’t been horrendous as much as it’s been virtually non-existent. Placing lead runner Kerryon Johnson on injured reserve certainly didn’t do any favors, but even prior to his injury, the team had bigger problems up front along their offensive line. The Lions offensive line ranks 23rd in run blocking according to Football Outsiders, ranks 26th in yards per carry this season (3.7 YPC), and 29th in expected points contributed by rushing offense—Detroit is at -33.68 and the league average is -12.4.

As a whole, the offensive line hasn’t put it together. Individual performances here and there from the likes of Frank Ragnow and Graham Glasgow have stood out, but as a unit they’re just not getting it done. Likely to have another high draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Quinn invest more into Detroit’s offensive line if things don’t improve over these next seven games.

The whole line of linebackers

Sure, the defensive line has disappointed, but it’s shown some signs of promise at times. And the defensive backfield has had its moments as well, namely the play of Justin Coleman. But if there’s one unit that has been consistently bad, it’s the linebackers. In his third season, Jarrad Davis ranks as one of the worst linebackers in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus with an overall grade of 32.9. Christian Jones “earned” the most inexplicable contract extension midseason in the history of Quinn’s tenure in Detroit. The only player in the group who’s managed to play near an average level is Jahlani Tavai—ironically enough the player that drew the most backlash during Detroit’s offseason when he was selected in the second round of this year’s draft.

Something to enjoy... maybe?

Detroit’s receiving corps has been incredible this season and by incredible I mean maybe the best in all of football. Kenny Golladay leads the league in touchdown receptions (eight) and Marvin Jones Jr. isn’t far behind with six touchdowns himself. What’s been most impressive about their play this season has been their physicality, winning at the catch point like few receivers in the league can. Even Danny Amendola has been a solid replacement in the slot for the void left after Golden Tate was dealt last season. If offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell can coach up Driskel and scheme his way to success, watching this group for the rest of the season could be the high point of your football enjoyment come Sunday.