Can Matt Patricia Turn The Detroit Lions Into a Wild Card Team?

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The Detroit Lions have a rich history of a truly amazing running back which ran circles around defenses.  They have some pre-Super Bowl era NFL, and Conference, championships too.  Did you know Detroit has a fight song? Yep, it’s called “Gridiron Heroes.”  Between the years 2000-2010 the Lions had ZERO playoff appearances—since drafting Matt Stafford in 2009 the Lions have made the playoffs 3 times 2011, 2014 & 2016.

Luckily, 2017 was one of those good years.  They finished 2nd in the NFC North, with a record of 9-7, and they almost earned a wild card spot in the playoffs.  The Lions are in trouble though. Aaron Rodgers will be back on the field and that will make any Packers team more difficult.  The Chicago Bears have a young offense on the rise and a defense to match, yes optimism is high in the windy city, and Minnesota, just signed the quarterback they hope leads them to the Super Bowl for the 5th time their franchise history.

So…Detroit.  Not so sweet or innocent, Detroit.  You have problems.  It starts at the defense and ends at the offensive line.  The Lions defense ranks #6 for MOST yards allowed per game with 355.8.  Worth noting there were 2 playoff teams that allowed more yards the Kansas City Chiefs (365.1) and the New England Patriots (366.0).  The Lions defense incurred 110 penalties which was 10th most in the league and tied with the Pittsburg Steelers.  There were 2 playoff teams subject to more penalties and penalty yards: the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots.  Both of when to the AFC Championship game, interesting.  The AFC is weak.

Here’s the deal.  The Lions just hired a new head coach Matt Patricia.  Good for them, right? What was his job before the Lions gig?  He was the defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots.  OH COOL!!  The Patriots made it to the Super Bowl—a game the Lions have never been to—and yet, the defense he was in charge of gave up more yards and had more penalties per game.   

NOW, he has to go against the Packers with Aaron Rodgers twice a year, then the Vikings and Kirk Cousins, and an increasingly improving Bears team.  He was the defensive coordinator in New England for 5 years.  Who did have to worry about in the AFC East?  Ryan Tannehill, the Bills, and the Jets!?  There’s a reason the Patriots are NEVER shaking, scared in their little space boots.

I don’t personally know Matt Patricia.  I do wish him and the Detroit Lions the best of luck in a more competitive NFC North.  Having a competitive division makes everyone better.

The bright side for the defense is the Lions defensive backs ,who caught 19 interceptions.  The is good for 4th most in the league tied with the Philadelphia Eagles.  The Lions defense may have allow 3,892 passing yards, but they have an athletic, young core of cornerbacks, defensive backs and safeties.  There is definitely reason to believe this secondary group will only improve the more they play together.

But signing or drafting a defensive end or defensive tackle would be helpful.  Basically, someone to interrupt the opponent’s pass game and get after their QB.  It would help take some pressure off of the secondary and make the defense much more effective.

I’m not saying the Lions have a championship caliber team.  They don’t.  However, there is no reason to think they shouldn’t be a wild card team and get a round or two into the playoffs.  What could help push them in that direction?  Keeping Matt Stafford on his feet.

The Lions offensive line allowed the 7th most sacks last season, with 47.  Only the Buffalo Bills tied them. So, when you have a quarterback who ranks in the top 5 in almost every passing category, you have to keep him upright.

The Lions offense averaged 76.3 rushing yards per game which was good for last place in the NFL.  The people over at Pro Football Focus recently put out their rankings of offensive lines from the 2017 season. The Lions came in at #22, that low ranking was mainly because of the run game. The running backs only averaged 3.35 yards per rush, the fewest in the NFL and 0.96 yards before contact, the 2nd lowest in the league.

On the bright side, the O-Line is that it’s a young group of guys.  There is only 1 player with more than 5 seasons of service in their position—T.J. Lang. Lang has been in the trenches for 9 seasons.  Every other guard or tackle has only been in Detroit for 5 years or less.  As long as they can master their craft and ‘gel’ well together, this line of guys could very well become one of the best in the league.

There is a potential wild card birth waiting for Detroit.  They have the QB to get them there, all the Lions need is a chance. But in an division that is becoming increasingly competitive, is it now or never for Matt Stafford and the Lions?