I just am trying to wrap my head around how the analysts are seeing the world. What team do they think the Lions most compare to? I'm not really sure, but I had to wonder how the Lions would compare to the Washington Football Team. Heck, there are several former Lions featured on the squad - McKissic, Lucas, and Thomas are three of their leading producers on offense.
In some ways the division competition is something like that of the NFC-North too. It is a little unsettled, but Washington is forecast to be the repeat division champion despite the emergence of or re-emergence of the restored Dallas Cowboys. The New York Giants, featuring their newest prize receiver, courtesy of the Detroit Lions, Kenny Golladay, is expected to provide a balanced attack with the return of RB Saquon Barkley. The Philadelphia Eagles are too big of a question mark according to the analysts to be seriously considered as contenders.
Washington's success depends in no small part on the strength of their defensive line: Sweat, Allen, Payne, and Young. Here's an overview depiction of their entire defensive unit:
Their line, according to ESPN, sets the tone and is the best in the league. Let's take a bit deeper dive and show that position's roster:
What strikes me is how young their best players are. Chase Young is just 22, Montez Sweat is 24, as is Daron Payne, and Jonathan Allen is the old-timer at just 26. They performed last year, in just their first year together, to be considered the best! Overall, the team recorded 43 sacks, and half of them were recorded by these top four linemen.
They apparently use a 4-3 alignment and have a pretty good linebacker corp too. It's led by Jon Bostic in the middle, and Cole Holcomb on the strong side. Rookie Jamin Davis is projected to start on the weak side. I like the veterans, but the newbie had mixed reviews as a draft prospect after only having 1 full season as a starter. Washington chose him 19th overall, and expects great things from him.
The secondary is led by Landon Collins at safety and Wendall Fuller on the outside. Wendall Jackson is expected to start on the other side, after not playing in 2020. Troy Apke returns as the free safety after recording 31 tackles, o sacks, 2 passes defended, and 0 interceptions. All and all, it seems that the secondary benefited greatly from and likely depended greatly on the strong line play.
According to the analysts the defensive unit is the heart of this team. How successful the team is depends on this unit being not just good, but being great. Last year it ranked 4th in the NFL in points allowed yielding a stingy 20.6, just 2.1 points more than league leading LA Rams.
On the other side of the ball, it's a little different story. The team's summary stats from Yahoo don't seem very impressive to me:
The team has made some changes though, starting off by replacing Alex Smith with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB. The 38-year-old comes in after starting 9 games last season for the Dolphins.
The receiving corp is led by Terry McLaurin who pulled in 87 receptions for 1118 yards good for 4 TDs. Logan Thomas, the former back-up of the Lions, had an impressive 72 receptions good for 670 yards and 6 TDs. Several young receivers will vie to be the other two starting positions, and the team has invested in drafting several good players over the past two years to compete for the 3rd and 4th back-up roles. None of the receivers have established records, and so this should be a pretty wide-open competition.
The team's leading rusher is second year RB Curtis Samuel. The 2nd pick in the 3rd round of 2019 had an excellent rookie year carrying the ball for 170 times for 795 yards for a 4.7 average, and he scored 11 times. He also proved to be a good receiver, corralling 36 catches for 247 yards, but did not have any TDs. JD McKissic, another former Lion, served as the primary backfield receiver accumulating 80 catches for 589 yards and 2 TDs.
Analysts believe that Fitzpatrick may better stretch the field than Smith did in 2020. Smith seemed to focus on short yardage passes, but the question really is how well the offensive line will support longer routes and reads of the defense by the QB.
The offensive line is considered the weakest link on this division championship team, as it plans making some changes. Another former Lion, Cornelius Lucas, is expected to win the right tackle role, as Sam Cosmi, one of their rookies, works to improve his technique for the long term.
Here's the Yahoo Offensive Team Schematic:
The Lion Nitty Gritty Comparison---
Do the changes the Lions are making to their defense stack up and compare in any way to the Washington team? Trey Flowers was supposed to be a big time contributor - but was injured last year, and is playing a modified position this year. Romeo Okwara had a break-out year, and some envision him getting only better this time around. Several other young players are anticipated to contribute a great deal too - Alim McNeill, Levi Onwuzurike, Julian Okwara, and John Penisini, are all expected to be primary leaders on the line. Michael Brockers was acquired and has a great career record of success to lead a transformation too. Some Lions that had been thought to have high potential will be looked to as well. D'Shawn Hand, Austin Bryant, Charles Harrison, and Nick Williams will vie for significant playing time, if not starting roles as well. The depth of this 5-man unit seems unparalleled over recent history of the franchise. Not since Suh and Ansah has the team fielded the kind of talent that can make a difference.
As the line goes so goes the rest of the defense, or so it may seem. The Lions have talent at the other two levels of the defense, but the line I believe holds the key to whether they can show their full ability. Youth and veteran savvy seem in place. Jeff Okudah, Ifeatu Melifonwu, and Derrick Barnes represent one part of this unit. Jaime Collins,Tracy Walker, and Amani Oruwariye at some seasoned talent that at times has seemed very impressive.
Does the Lion's Offense stack up? The OL would seem to. Hockenson seems to be getting better. What do you think of Swift and Williams? Is the receiving corp doomed to fail? Last season the passing offense ranked among the top 6, but the receiving corp and the QB are undergoing a complete overhaul. Even the rushing group has been restructured. Last year's leader Adrian Peterson is gone, and the one time envisioned future leader, Kerryon Johnson, was released as well. D'Andre Swift remains and should be the focus, but can he shoulder a far greater workload than he has in the past? Jamaal Williams was signed as a free agent away from the team's greatest nemesis, the Green Bay Packers. Duce Staley has been hired as the assistant coach leading the running back group. His experience and history of building excellent rushing tandems is widely recognized.
Besides Duce Staley, head coach Dan Campbell has gone on record as wanting a balanced attack, if not even focused more so on the running game. There were some rumors floating that Todd Gurley, formerly Jared Goff's teammate in LA, might be signing to be another RB option. I've felt that it is time for Swift to put up some numbers or to consider other options in 2022. Running backs either pan out quickly or tend to linger as never more than middling performers. I am optimistic, but hope that Swift doesn't succumb to injuries or simply wasn't built to be a Bell Cow type of carrier.
It was reported that Swift looks bigger and stronger than last season, while still being as fast. That would be great to see and hopefully would bode well for him playing all 17 games this season. A break-out 1000 plus yard year would definitely make the team's fortunes seem all the better.
Williams shouldn't be a small part of the program. He brings good size, speed, and experience. Having a great tandem could put the team over 2000 yards, but perhaps I'm being greedy given that it's been so long since we've had a good ground attack.
I'm amazed and appalled that some analysts rank Jared Goff the 34th best starting QB in the NFL. If I were him, I'd love to have those analysts eat crow. Of course the analysts don't directly blame Goff but point to an inexperienced and low profile receiving corp that is replacing essential the entirety of last year's group. Still, as Washington shows there are plenty of receiver options, that do not directly play receiver. Detroit's TJ Hockenson should prove to be an exceptional TE - perhaps reaching the elite 3 level this year. Swift and Williams also are capable receivers, with perhaps a combined 100 receptions possible. Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyrell Williams, Breshard Perriman, Victor Bolden, Quintez Cephus, and several other players will vie for starting roles, and may surprise many with their desire and ability.
The offensive line is considered the best, and has been deemed the engine of the squad. Top 5 ranking of the group may prove conservative. In any case, they should aide the skill players in getting the most out of their talent by providing time and space. There might be a new catch phrase for this group in that analogy - The Regulators of Time and Space - the O-Line!
Improvement in both trenches seems to be the key to a successful season. Will both sides gel and stay healthy? Those are always the big questions. If both sides of the line do perform well, just how good could the team be?
Green Bay is the perennial favorite, but will Aaron Rodgers return or take the year off? Minnesota is a very good squad too that has challenged for top billing, but for some reason they've underperformed. Chicago has some excellent to outstanding players, but there also appear to be some chinks in their armor. At one time the NFC North was the most competitive of them all, but they probably compare to Washington's division. So, why can't the Lions be champions.