The rumors and predictions for the 2011 Detroit Lions team are swirling at a frenzied pace. Some speculate that they will surprise the world and make it to the superbowl, while others say they are not quite ready to crack the playoff circle. Most, however, fall in between the two extremes. One thing everybody can agree on is that the Lions success hinges on the play of QB Matthew Stafford. Since he was a rookie, he has shown flashes of why he was drafted number one overall, however, he has had a rash of injuries that have rendered him unable to play for the better part of his career (11 appearances in 32 possible games).
This preseason, Stafford has once again lit the torch for the Lions, leading them to a 4 – 0 preseason record in impressive fashion (25-33 for 395 yds, 5 TD 0 INT). He even withstood a couple shots in their 3rd preseason game against the New England Patriots. That suggests that Stafford may finally be past his history of injury and is ready to become one of the leagues next elite quarterbacks. That is, however, a suggestion. Until Stafford can play a full 16 game schedule and remain in one piece, Lions fans around the world will be on the edge of their seats everytime the QB takes a hit.
The thing that is the most impressive about the Lions’ preseason is that they have had one of the most potent offenses in the NFL while being completely void of a running game. Slowing down that arial attack will no doubt be a focal point of teams going into the regular season, so it will be more important to establish an effective running game. In game 4 against Buffalo, the lions compiled 176 yards rushing on the ground, but that holds little weight as the Bills have been among the worst teams at stopping the run all preseason.
Despite a struggling running game, the Lions should be well set on the offensive side of the ball; especially with the receiving corps including Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young, and likely Maurice Stovall and Rasheid Davis. The real question mark will be the defense. Everybody is on the defensive line bandwagon, but what happens after the front four? It is likely to be DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch starting at two of the LB positions, but a battle is brewing between Bobby Carpenter and Justin Durant for that last spot. The secondary now seems to feature surprise 2nd year player Amari Spievey, but the entire group (Chris Houston, Eric Wright, Louis Delmas) has held its own and prevented the big play from happening. The question is, when opposing teams really open up their playbooks and the Lions defense gets a true look at the task at hand, will they be up for the challenge?
Special teams has been a bright spot overall for Detroit during the preseason and Jason Hanson seems to finally be back to his old form. He has been pin point accurate and seems to have just as much leg as he’s ever had. Rasheid Davis and Maurice Stovall all seem to have a nose for the football, wherever it ends up (why i think they will both make the roster), and the Lions have the unfortunate/fortunate problem of deciding between two excellent punters; veteran Nick Harris and rookie upstart Ryan Donahue. Either way, special teams should be a bright spot for the Lions.
So there you have it. Potent but untested offense, potentially boom or bust defense, and excellent special teams. How Detroit fares this season rides squarely on the shoulders (no pun intended) of Matthew Stafford and a young defense. If they are up for the challenge and stay healthy, expect big things from Motown.