Most anyone would have to look at the Detroit Lions and know they are improved. Not as many have looked over the Lions to see just how much they have improved. In this article I will take a look at each position of the Detroit Lions and give them an improvement grade. The grades are ranked from 0 to 5. I was prepared to give them a negative number if there was any position in which they have gotten worse, but I honestly did not need it.
Head Coach - Jim Schwartz - has taken over the reins and is expected to be a huge improvement over Marinelli. How could he not be? He has already said he plans on making the scheme fit the players he has and has emphasized a stronger, more powerful team rather than the smaller speedy team. Until he actually coaches some games as a head coach in the NFL, he will be a question mark, but all in all, he should be a great improvement. Improvement Rating = +5
Offensive Coordinator - Scott Linehan - He was the offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings during Culpepper's best seasons, which should tell you one important thing. He likes to take chances with the deep ball. Something the Lions fans have seen very little of in recent years. Improvement Rating = +3
Defensive Coordinator - Gunther Cunningham - Believes in putting pressure on the opposing quarterbacks and has no qualms about blitzing to do so. Has stated that they plan to blitz about 40% of the time this year. Improvement Rating = +5
Quarterback - Daunte Culpepper is supposedly finally healthy again but has always been known for fumbling. Matthew Stafford is a great talent but still a rookie. Which ever quarterback starts should be an improvement over last year when it was between a recovering Culpepper and Dan Orlovsky. Both QBs have the ability to throw a good long ball. Improvement Rating = +2
Running Back - Kevin Smith - Had a respectable rookie season even though he was on the Lions when he ran for 976 yards and 8 touchdowns with a 4.1 yards per carry average. The Problem with Kevin Smith is that he seems to lack the extra gear that would make him a threat to break away for long scores. Several times in 2008 I watched him break into open field only to be ran down. His longest carry was 50 yards and it was not a touchdown, which can only mean he was chased down from behind. Other than that one good carry, his longest run was 32 yards. Still, he has a year behind him and might still improve. Improvement Rating = +1
Fullback - Terrelle Smith - Played at Arizona the last two seasons, which to be honest, doesn't say much to me. It is not as if Arizona had a great running game. Right now I do not see this as an improvement or a decline. Improvement Rating = 0
Wide Receiver - Calvin Johnson, Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt - Calvin Johnson is one of the best receivers in the game and may yet become the very best. Bryant Johnson should be a bit of an improvement over Shaun McDonald who only caught 35 passes for 332 yards in 2008. With the Johnson and Johnson tandem on the outsides, and new TE Pettigrew catching passes, Dennis Northcutt should see some open space as the slot receiver. Improvement Rating = +2
Tight End - Brandon Pettigrew - The 20th pick overall in the 2009 draft, Pettigrew was considered the best tight end coming out of college. He is supposed to have the ability to block as well as catch and it has been a long time since the Lions have had the full package in a single tight end. Improvement Rating = +4
Offensive Line - I have been quoted in the past as saying the same five guys were starting. It has come to my understanding that only four of the five are the same as last year. The new addition is Daniel Loper who has never started a regular season game in four years. The offensive line was one of the worst in the NFL for the last few years running and there has been no improvement when it comes to player additions unless you consider Jon Jansen, but he is here because he wants to prove he still has it. Not because he is still great. There is still the problem of Dominic Raiola seeming to be undersized and pushed backwards on short yardage downs. .... The improvement might come from two things. One would be the emphasis on strength building and the other might be the scheme where the are moving to a power block scheme rather than the zone scheme they used last year. Improvement Rating = +1
Defensive Tackles - Grady Jackson, Chuck Darby and Landon Cohen - The only real improvement here is the addition of Grady Jackson. The problem is that Jackson is not young anymore and is expected to only play half the downs. Improvement Rating = +1
Defensive Ends - Dewayne White, Jared Devries, Cliff Avril and Ikaika Alama-Francis - All four of these guys were on the team last year and I am not expecting any great strides with any of them. No more than 4 or 5 sacks can be counted on by any one of them. Though, with the linebackers blitzing more, it may free them up for a few more sacks than in the past. Until that happens, dont count on it. Improvement Rating = 0
Linebackers - Ernie Simms, Julian Peterson and Larry Foote - Ernie Simms is a better linebacker than he showed in 2008. Now that he has some real talent around him, he will be able to show it. The addition of Peterson and Foote turns this unit into one of the better linebacker units in the NFL. Improvement Rating = +5
Cornerbacks - Anthony Henry and Phillip Buchanon - I really want to sit here and say this is a much improved unit. I do believe they are. Yet I cannot help but remember how we all thought Leigh Bodden would be an improvement last year. Now we are glad he is gone. Neither of these new guys are pro-bowlers and until they prove they can cover, I cannot give them an improvement grade. Improvement Rating = 0
Safeties - Daniel Bullocks and Louis Delmas - Bullocks had 94 total tackles in 2008, but he only had 1 pass defended and 1 forced fumble and zero interceptions. It seems all he can do is follow the ball well enough to tackle the guy who has it. The addition of rookie, Louis Delmas, looks to be a good one. I have no heard anything but raving news about this youngster. He was quoted saying he would be the first to pick Stafford off and then in their first practice together he made good on that promise. With the addition of Delmas, I cannot help but see a great improvement over last year. Improvement Rating = 3
Special Teams - Jason Hanson returns for his 18th season as the Lions place kicker and in my opinion he is the greatest kicker to ever play the game. Yes, I know there are others who have better stats, but not many. What puts him above the others in my mind is that he does more than kick the ball. I have not found any statistics on kickers tackling stats, but I have to believe he is among the all time leaders. How many times have we seen the Detroit Lions Special teams fall apart and allow a huge kick return? How many times have we seen Jason Hanson as the last line of defense and watched him come through. What makes him even better is that he does not only try and get in the runners way, but he often drops his pads and sends a shoulder into the runner to tackle him. Many times I have heard others say that kickers are not real football players. Jason Hanson has been the exception to the rule. ...... The Lions return games has been abysmal in recent years. Personally I have always held it against Aveion Cason that he could never get more than a yard or two past the twenty. Recently I have read that the Lions old regime was more worried about not making mistakes rather than gaining yards. The new regime is supposed to be much more aggressive. I still would rather see someone who wont fall from the first arm tackle to touch him but either way, I am expecting a big improvement. They sure cant get any worse. Improvement Rating = 3
The Lions have improved a total of 35 points out of a possible 75 points. Anyone would be extremely hard pressed to find another team in the NFL that has improved this off-season as much as the Detroit Lions have. Do I believe they can duplicate what the Falcons did last year? No. I still do not think they will. Unless the Detroit Lions offensive line suddenly becomes a much improved unit, the Lions will still have a hard time extending drives or having a consistent running game. Without those two things, you just will not make the play-offs. What I do see this year however is a far more competitive team that wins 5 or 6 games. If they Address their offensive line next year, then I can see a playoff season in the near future, but that is next year. This year they will win 5 or 6 at best and only be blown out once or twice.
Ndamukong Suh's Sack List
Keep track of which quarterbacks Suh has faced and which ones he has taken down.
Keep track of which quarterbacks Suh has faced and which ones he has taken down.
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