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2014 Season Preview: Detroit Lions

2013 Season Recap

  • Record: 7-9 (3rd NFCN)
  • Head Coach: Jim Schwartz (5th Season)
  • Offensive Rankings: No. 13 Scoring, No. 6 Yards
  • Defensive Rankings: No. 15 Scoring Allowed, No. 16 Yards Allowed
  • Pro Bowlers: Calvin Johnson (WR), Ndamukong Suh (DT), Reggie Bush (RB), Nick Fairley (DT), Matthew Stafford (QB)
  • Key Injuries w/Games Missed: Ryan Broyles (WR) – 8, Nate Burleson (WR) – 5, Jason Jones (DE/DT) – 13, Calvin Johnson (WR) – 2

2014 Season

Detroit Lions Depth Chart via Detroitlions.com.

Offense

Despite having an offense that could move up and down the field efficiently in 2013, the Lions had a great deal of trouble putting up points. Being in the top half of the league in points scored per game is nice, but when you have the amount of weapons the Lions have on offense, it’s not enough. Gone is offensive coordinator Scott Linehan from a year ago and in comes Joe Lombardi. Lombardi was previously the quarterbacks coach of the New Orleans saints. Along with Lombardi, new head coach Jim Caldwell has been an offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens. Both coaches were brought in with the clear intention of helping quarterback Matthew Stafford develop.

The offensive line is solid, with Riley Reiff at left tackle and mauler Larry Warford at guard. Dominic Raiola returns for his 15th season at center and had one of his best seasons ever last year. Rob Sims is looking to rebound from his 2013 season in which he had a slight dip in play. Right tackle is still a question mark at this point with LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard battling to win the position. Overall, the Lions offensive line shouldn’t be an issue for the team.

New additions to the offense include Golden Tate at wide receiver from Seattle, and Eric Ebron, a tight end that was the 13th overall pick in the draft. Both additions were brought in with the intention of relieving pressure off Calvin Johnson. This is an offense that should be very potent in 2014, with no real weaknesses at any key position. The only thing that should stop the Lions from scoring points this year at an improved rate is turnovers, something that the Lions struggled with under Jim Schwartz.

Defense

This is a Lions defense looking to improve on last year’s good but not great performance. The defensive line lead by Ndamukong Suh and Ezekiel Ansah is solid, and the return of a healthy Jason Jones will help. One major concern on the defensive line is depth and the starters are going to have to perform at a high level for the Lions defense to improve.

Moving on to the linebackers, this is another area of strength for the Lions. Lead by Deandre Levy, who had a breakout performance last year with 119 tackles and six interceptions, the Lions also have Stephen Tulloch and rookie Kyle Van Noy. Tulloch lead the Lions in tackles last year with 135 and also had one interception. Rookie Kyle Van Noy, the Lions second round draft pick, should start if he is healthy. Unfortunately as of this writing, Van Noy may be out for a few weeks with a possible sports hernia. If that should happen, Ashlee Palmer or Tahir Whitehead will fill in.

The biggest area of concern for the Lions on defense is the secondary. While safeties Glover Quin and new addition James Ihedigbo are solid safeties, the cornerbacks on the team remain a concern (so much so that the Lions are sniffing around the trade market looking for cornerbacks). Darius Slay, Rashean Mathis, Bill Bentley, and Cassius Vaughn will be the starters for the team with Nevin Lawson as the fifth corner.

Slay improved steadily over the season last year, but is still an unknown going into this year. Expect more growing pains as he covers better wide receivers this year as the Lions number one corner. Mathis graded out as the Lions best corner last year, but that is more of a negative than a positive. Both Bill Bentley and Cassius Vaughn have a lot to prove and the Lions will likely rotate a lot of players in and out to see which combination works out best. A healthy Chris Greenwood will also get an opportunity this year. Greenwood has the measurables that coaches love at 6′-1″ tall and a 4.34 forty yard dash, but hasn’t been healthy enough to contribute until this year.

The Lions new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin will bring a new look to the defense. Last year under Gunther Cunningham and Jim Schwartz, the Lions blitzed just 18.3 percent of the time on drop back situations. Austin has already shown that he loves to blitz in the preseason. This will relieve pressure from the defensive line, but also put pressure on the young Lions secondary. Also, look for the Lions to be more aggressive this year in regards to creating turnovers. Again, this is risky, but something that the Lions need to do to cover up some holes in the defense and get the ball back into the hands of the potent offense.

Biggest Key for 2014

The biggest key for the Detroit Lions in 2014, and this can’t be stressed enough, is not turning the ball over. The Lions were horrible last year in this aspect, and despite having a top 15 offense and top 15 defense in the league, couldn’t win the division or even make a wild card spot. If they can take care of the football, look for the Lions to improve their record from last season.

Predictions

11-5 (2nd in NFCN, wild card playoff berth)