Detroit LionsRead the introduction here
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Pittsburgh Steelers tomorrow
2011 Record: 10-6
Key Acquisitions: Ryan Broyles, Jacob Lacey, Riley Reiff
Key Departures: Bobby Carpenter, Chris Harris, Eric Wright
Matthew Stafford had one of the best seasons in the history of football. Of course, it came in the same year that Tom Brady and Drew Brees had (in terms of passing yards) the two best seasons in football history. He was finally able to stay healthy for a full season, and he definitely gave Detroit a breath of fresh air. Offensively, this team is very talented, even with an anemic running game. The reason for this, that Calvin Johnson guy. He's alright.While the offense could be one of the best in football, the back end of the defend is not very good, and that could be the death of them this year. Their schedule this year is very tough, especially because they have to play both the Packers and the Bears twice, and the NFC is much better. If they can put it all together, and stay disciplined on and off the field, they have put themselves in position to be in playoff contention this year.
Stafford was amazing last year. He had the 5th most passing yards by any one quarterback in a season in the single of football. That's extremely impressive. Would have gotten a lot more attention if the seasons ranked 1 and 2 on that list didn't happen in the same year. The guy who got to 6th on that list last year won a Super Bowl. I don't think Stafford is going to be that amazing this year, but he's a great quarterback. He has great chemistry with Calvin Johnson, and the fact that the Lions made the playoffs without a reliable running game is a testament to Stafford's ability.
Speaking of those running backs, Detroit has three talented backs on their roster. Unfortunately, all three of them were injured at some point in 2011. Mikel Leshoure missed all of his rookie season with an Achilles tear, and Jahvid Best joined him on IR in November due to concussion issues. Kevin Smith even got hurt after taking over for Best. Best was very good at the start of his rookie season, but whether it be turf toe or concussions, he hasn't been fully healthy since 2010. If he is at full strength, along with Leshoure and Smith, this rushing attack can be very good. However, that's a huge if.
Calvin Johnson is too good for words, but let me try. He has sprinter speed, he's really tall, and has great hands. He can also jump really high. He's also a good route runner. Yeah, need anything else? Titus Young will most likely emerge as the #2 target as the season goes along after his pretty good rookie campaign. For now, Nate Burleson will be the one lining up across from Megatron, and he's always been a very solid receiver. He's not going to hurt this team as the second option. Kasim Osgood can be good when he doesn't play much, and he won't be needed to do much of anything on this team, which is great for them. He's a disaster if his role is too big. Ryan Broyles has the most receptions in the history of FBS (or Division I) college football. He tore his ACL in November, so he can't be on the field to begin the year, but he's contribute pretty nicely when he is ready.
Both Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew are complete tight ends. Both are great blockers and have great hands, creating a great 1-2 punch. Neither of them will be considered elite in the Tight End Renaissance (see: Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham), but they're both very good.
The offensive line will be a very important to this team's success because of Stafford's past injury troubles. I think that they can handle that challenge. Rookie tackle Riley Reiff will be a massive upgrade over Gosder Cherilus on the right side. Jeff Backus can struggle in pass protection, but he's a good run blocker. The guards are good, and the center Dominic Raiola is getting older and is definitely showing signs of slowing down.
The defensive line is arguably the best in football. The ends Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch form a great duo. They combined for 19 sacks in 2011, and when they weren't bringing down the QB, they were constantly applying pressure. Ndamukong Suh is a menace on the inside, and he's always causing havoc in the pass rush. He draws extra attention, freeing up Avril and Vanden Bosch to attack. There's is also Nick Fairley who is chock full of talent, but he just needs to put it all together. Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young are also good pass rushers. Opposing signal callers will be deathly afraid to play against the Lions. If they aren't they should be. The line will struggle to stop the run as they did last year, which is why they have Sammie Lee Hill and Corey Williams.
The linebacking corps is very solid. Justin Durant was pretty good at stopping the run last year, while DeAndre Levy took a major step back last year. He wasn't very good, but was much better in previous seasons. Stephen Tulloch is an all-around linebacker, but he's best at making tackles. He has had at least 92 tackles each of the past three seasons.
Jacob Lacey is a fine corner, and should be a capable replacement for Eric Wright, who was pretty bad last year. Chris Houston and Aaron Berry are both solid corners, but nothing spectacular. They both make some terrible plays, contributing to what was a terrible pass defense last season. Louis Delmas will provide a much needed boost to this secondary. He was dearly missed at the end of the year.
Jason Hanson has been a reliable kicker despite being so old. He never ceases to amaze me, being 42 years old now. I guess you can be old if you just need to swing your leg once in a while. Punter Ryan Donahue was miserable last year, and Ben Graham will most likely steal the starting gig away him. Stefan Logan wasn't terrible in the return game last year.
10-6, 3rd in NFC North