Detroit Lions Season Preview: No Suh For You

Matthew Stafford
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Last Year: 11-5, lost with some controversial calls to Dallas in the wild-card round.

Key Acquisitions: WR Lance Moore, DT Haloti Ngata.

Key Losses: RB Reggie Bush, C Dominic Raiola, DT Ndamukong Suh, DT Nick Fairley, DT C.J. Mosley.

The Lions were one of last year’s upstart surprises. People thought the Lions might be good, but nobody actually expected them to be quite that good. Maybe because they are the Lions and nobody is willing to take that bet. Despite Megatron not quite being himself, the offense functioned well with Reggie Bush and Golden Tate. The defense was stifling. Suh, Fairley and Ziggy dominated the line of scrimmage. Of course, they came out of the gate too strong and faded in the end, losing what should have been a division title to the Packers last season. Then, in the playoffs, some extremely poor officiating led to a couple of highly questionable calls that didn’t lose the game for the Lions, but certainly helped.

This year doesn’t look promising. The Lions lost Suh, possibly the best DT in the game right now, to Miami. They replaced him with Haloti Ngata, which is a good fix, but not quite the same. They also lost Fairley, who could be sketchy at times, but when he was on, he was a freight train. The defensive line should still be solid, but don’t be surprised if the defense takes a step back. The offense may also take a big step back. Reggie Bush is a big threat when he’s healthy, and the Lions used him well. Luckily, they still have Megatron and the surprisingly solid Golden Tate to help out Stafford, as well as the corpse of Lance Moore possibly taking some pressure off the other two.

Most experts probably expect a regression from the Lions, and it’s not an unfair expectation, but there is still plenty of potential for something big here. But this comes from an outsider perspective. To get an insider, we go to Lions fan “Cruel and Unusual” for the fan perspective.

The Lions were a good team last year. I hope that they will stay good this year. I look at Teryl Austin, our defensive coordinator, and am filled with confidence that they will stay good. Austin saw the defense we dreamed of having when we drafted Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and made the defense of reality just as good. He lost his starting nickel corner in week one, his backup nickel corner in week two and his starting middle linebacker in week three, but the defense remained good. That week three game was against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who have a very good offense. Right before the game, the Lions signed some guy called Danny Gorrer off the street and said they’d start him at nickel, which didn’t sound so good. But the defense held the Packers to seven points and Rodgers to less than 200 passing yards, which seemed too good to be true, but it was true, and good. Later in the year, Nick Fairley got injured and Austin found it harder and harder to disguise the team’s weakness at corner, which, for our passing defense, was not good. But the run defense stayed extremely good. In fact, Austin, in his first year as an NFL defensive coordinator, put together the sixth-best run defense seen since the league switched to a 16-game schedule, which is pretty good when you think about it. The five defensive coordinators who have allowed fewer rushing yards in one season than Austin did last year are Marvin Lewis, Mike Tomlin, Dick LeBeau, Pete Carroll and Tony Dungy, who are all considered quite good. Austin schemes around his players’ strengths and does not put them in a position to fail, which is what good coaches do. He weathered a bunch of injuries last year, and I think he’ll weather the loss of Suh this year, even though Suh is extremely good. The problem is that other teams will want Austin to be their head coach if he continues to be good. The Falcons nearly hired him last year, but they chose Dan Quinn instead, which made Lions fans feel good. Teryl Austin is good.

Joe Lombardi, in his first year as offensive coordinator, produced a bad offense. It’s more than possible that they’ll be bad this year, too. He took over an offense that had Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and other players, and yet, somehow, the on-field product was bad. To be fair, the offensive line was decimated by decent players getting injured and bad players staying healthy. But Lombardi dealt with this by calling slow-developing passing plays with seven-step drops, which only got Stafford sacked, which was bad. There were also a bunch of passes on third down that seemed designed to be a yard short, which is a bad outcome when you’re trying to win a football game. The playbook was so large and difficult to learn that before the Pats game, Lombardi was forced to cut out 20 percent of the plays in hopes of better execution, which is embarrassing and bad. The Lions promptly scored 9 points against the Pats and were blown out, which was bad. Lombardi refused to play literally-always-gets-a-first-down Ryan Broyles for practically the whole year, while giving hundreds of snaps to Jeremy Ross, who is bad. When asked why Broyles made the team only to sit on the bench all year, Lombardi said that Broyles was merely Tate’s backup, which was a narrow-minded and laughably bad explanation. Lombardi tended to blame injuries and his own players for the offense’s poor execution, which, coming from someone who’s supposed to lead his team, looks pretty bad. His offense was imported wholesale from the Saints, so much so that Drew Brees said, “You could put a Detroit game from this year in front of me right now, and I could call 95 percent of the plays. And probably 70 percent before you even hit the play button. I’d just look at the formation and be like, ‘Alright, it’s this,’ ” which, coming from another team’s player, in a league predicated on misdirection and confusion, is bad. Unlike Austin, Lombardi didn’t adapt his scheme to his players, which is a quality you find in bad coaches. The 2014 Lions offense was painful to watch and bad. That’s bad. Joe Lombardi is bad.

Joe Marciano, our new special teams coordinator, is horrible. Texans fans were dancing in the streets when they were finally rid of him, which is horrible news for the Lions fandom. To be fair, last year’s special teams were also horrible, and it’s important to maintain continuity. Maybe on the Texans, Marciano was actually doing the best he could under the mismanagement of Gary Kubiak, but having to stake my hopes on that feels horrible. The Lions special teams will probably be horrible.

Jim Caldwell, our head coach, is there. The Lions will be there this year. I think they’ll make the playoffs.