September 12th, 2020 in Lions
Lucy, that sardonic brunette in the comic strip Peanuts, once said of the protagonist: “Of all the Charlie Brown’s in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.”
Well, of all the lowly Detroit Lions teams, the 2020 version may be the lowliest.
In past seasons, expectations may have been crater low. Or frequently ho-hum. As in, “How do you think the Lions will do this year?” Response: “Ho hum.” Some fans didn’t even bother to add the hum. It was just “Ho,” as in “hoooooo boy.”
But the 2020 Lions are so unknown, so middling, so foggy, it’s difficult to have optimism or pessimism about this team. What to make of them?
Matthew Stafford’s Return
The Lions will start the 2020 season much differently than they ended 2019: namely with Matthew Stafford over center. That alone will comfort many fans who are worried about an offense that ranked in the top ten with Stafford on the field, and fell to 18th by season’s end.
Last season, the Detroit quarterback was having arguably his best season when he suffered a season-ending injury in Week #8. Stafford was leading the league in QB Rating and was on pace for 5,000 yards in the air and 40 TD passes. The team was 3-3-1 when he went down with an injury to his spine, and they had nearly defeated the eventual champions the Chiefs. The Lions dropped nine straight with his understudies in the lineup, a clear indication that Mr. Stafford is paramount to the success of the team.
The 32-year old Stafford, if he remains healthy, could be a league MVP. He’s that talented. Few people in Detroit think so, sadly, but it’s true. Drew Brees was 32 when he last won the award, and Kurt Warner was 31 when he won it for the second time. Stafford is far from long in the tooth, his arm is one of the three or four best in the game, and his ability to move and throw is matched by only a couple players in the league.
Consider this quote about Stafford from a teammate:
“I love how he plays. You know, the grit he plays with, great arm, great accuracy (and) the ultimate competitor.”
Who said that? New Detroit running back Adrian Peterson, a veteran who, well…let’s talk about him in his own section below.
Taking A Chance On Adrian “All Day” Peterson
Adrian “All Day” Peterson is only 1,054 yards away from passing Barry Sanders for fourth on the all-time rushing list. The Lions are his fifth team, and this marks his return to the NFC North where the rivalries are old and heated. But how much can the old man and the old legs contribute?
The Lions leading rusher last season was the enigmatic Kerryon Johnson, who chewed up 403 in eight games. Johnson lives in the trainer’s room, but this year he will need to keep his body healthy to stay at the top of the depth chart. Otherwise Peterson or rookie D’Andre Swift will get the bulk of the carries.
Swift was selected in the second round of the draft (remember the draft? It was on all the channels). He’s an all-purpose style back with moves Lions’ fans haven’t seen since Reggie Bush was in the Honolulu Blue. Swift is the definition of uncertainty: rookie backs can go up or they (more often) stay down. Adjusting to the speed of the defensive line and linebackers in the NFL is difficult. If Swift gets a lot of work it’ll be because (1) he’s a star or (2) the Lions are desperate.
Has Anyone Seen Patricia, The Defensive Genius?
When he was ushered in as head coach two years ago, Matt Patricia was hailed as a defensive whiz. Based on the Lions’ defensive performance since, all Patricia seems to be proficient at thus far is “cheez whiz.”
In two seasons under Patricia, the Lions have surrendered 24.3 points per game, and last season they ranked 26th out of 32 teams. Blech.
Where is the defensive wizardry we were promised? Where are the schemes that are supposed to stymie opposing offenses? Of all the failures in the Patricia era, the lack of success on the defensive side of the ball has been the most troubling.
The Lions have 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 new starters on defense in 2020. That could be a good thing…or it could lead to nightmares. The defensive line allowed 117 yards per game last season, the 12th most in the league. But it was the secondary that really struggled. The Lions allowed 4,551 yards through the air, the highest total in the NFL. Also concerning: the Lions only intercepted seven passes in 2019, ties for the lowest in the league.
To be successful this season, the Lions will need to vastly improve the pass defense. The addition of outside linebacker Jamie Collins (poached from the Patriots) may help shore up run and short pass protection. The team used their first round pick to select cornerback Jeff Okudah, but temper the expectations: Okudah will begin the season second on the depth chart.
Lions 2020 Prediction
The Lions open the 2020 season this weekend against the Bears, a game they should win. Whether they win it or not, the schedule that unfolds after is not an easy one. The Vikings and Packers, division rivals, are legit Super Bowl contenders, and the Lions will also face the Saints, Titans, Falcons, and Tom Brady’s Buccaneers. Each of those teams are better than Detroit, which means six wins sounds about right.
How many games do you think the Lions will win?