There is a comfort level in reading about the Detroit Lions through the regular, local sources. You have built-in expectations from known writers who really know the team inside and out. Because of that, it is a treat to hear the team described from a national perspective.
Bruce Murray and Brady Quinn host the SiriusXM Blitz on SiriusXM NFL Radio. They are currently working through their look at “32 teams in 32 days”. Monday, June 25, 2018, they offered their perspective on Detroit Lions.
Murray started off the spot with an overview of the team from last year with a sprinkling of ancient history thrown in.
He spoke about the Lions home and road record then added, “…The first time—this is actually amazing—the first time they were over .500 in back-to-back years since ’94 and ’95, Wayne Fontes was their head coach…”
He mentioned the fact that the record led to the firing of Jim Caldwell, “…despite being 36 and 28, making two trips to the playoffs…”
Murray then reminded Quinn that the Lions started slowly in many games. He said, “In many of their losses, they just weren’t ready…” He then gave examples of (Atlanta) Falcons, New Orleans (Saints), Minnesota (Vikings), and (Baltimore) Ravens games. He continued, “…comebacks of Stafford went away and that was it for Jim Caldwell, hello Matt Patricia…”
Murry next announced that he would cover some numbers from last year.
“…Offensively, y’know, kind of stuck in the middle. 13th overall with 338 yards, but boy, they were bad running the football. They were dead last. 32nd rushing with 76 yards a game. 76 yards a game. Their yards per attempt was also 32nd in the league, that was 3.4. Passing, obviously in the top ten, 261…(their) points per game was not bad, they were seventh overall with 25 points…”
Murray continued, “Defensively (they were) towards the bottom in almost everything…(he gave several examples)…in the bottom third in total points (allowed)…Not great in getting to the quarterback…”
Murray concluded his segment by saying that the Lions seem to be “…a team that’s always stuck in neutral…” He then asked Brady Quinn his opinion on the Lions from 2017.
Quinn started, “It’s because of kind of where they are as a team though. The consistent things that we say about the Lions as far as what their identity is this: They throw the football well. They can’t run the football.”
Quinn continued, “Their defense is, at times has some pieces right, like (Ezekiel) Ziggy Ansah off the edge. You talked about his 12 sacks. His kind of bounce-back year. Darius Slay is an absolute ball hawk. I don’t know why anyone throws at the guy. He had eight interceptions last year. But then there are these other holes in their game and defensively it could be a number of things. They really struggle giving up passing yards to pretty much anyone besides Darius Slay…”
“…and when they can protect up, against Ziggy Ansah, I mean, Anthony Zettel is the next guy who had, like, six and a half sacks, something like that last season, he was kind of the next guy to play a factor, but after that, they had to bring pressure.”
Quinn posed that these same issues have been there for “…two, three years now, I mean, maybe for as long as Matt Stafford has been there, as far as a lack of a running game.”
Quinn went on to address Eric Ebron and the tight end group last year. “…That tight end position has been a tough one for a while for them…”
“…They really haven’t been able to rely on anyone. They thought Eric Ebron would be that guy. It ended up, kind of not being the case.”
“…Golden Tate, as far as his ability to make yards after the catch is phenomenal…”
“…You look at Marvin Jones, the big play ability, is what stands out the most with him…”
Quinn then pointed out what he called a “…crazy thing…” that the Lions could be a little predictable, “…because they don’t run the football really well..”
“…but you look at Tate he’s got 92 receptions for 1003 yards right? And you sittin’ there saying to yourself, ‘OK, he’s more the intermediary guy, they give him the quick screen, short passes, he takes the ball and does somethin’ with it after the fact.
“…Marvin Jones has 61 receptions. So, 31 less receptions but he ends up having almost 100 yards more receiving…”
Quinn tied Jones success with Ebron’s partially-tapped potential.
Quinn then pointed out another element of predictability regarding the Lions ground attack. (This I thought was key. And, I like Brady Quinn as an analyst but you have got to trust me here: If Quinn can figure out tendencies that I have seen for the past several years, don’t be stunned if opposing defenses pick up on that, too!)
Quinn said, “…when any else besides Ameer Abdullah was in the game, more than often, they were throwing the football. That was the case with, y’know, whether it was Theo Riddick, whether it was Dwayne Washington, whoever you want to throw into that conversation, it seemed like at times, whenever they were in the game, it was somewhat predictable as to what they were going to do.”
“You look at Theo Riddick for example, I mean, he’s obviously a passing threat …he had 71 targets and 84 carries. So it’s a very, very distinct difference between when he’s in the game and a guy like Ameer Abdullah who has 165 rushing attempts and 35 targets.”
Brady Quinn went on to say why he felt that imbalances and tips like that was a factor and contributed to the Lions predictability.
Quinn described the Lions as “streaky.”
“They only beat one team that was a legitimate contender and that is the Minnesota Vikings.”
Quinn then listed several of the teams that the Lions beat.
“Outside of that, you’re not really walking away sayin’, this is a team that can really be competitive. So even with that winning record, that 9-7 record, I just think you got the sense that this team wasn’t moving in the right direction.”
Bruce Murray then took his turn again. He spent more time on the Lions abysmal rushing game.
“Some of their rushing numbers make it look like it was a strike-shortened season, that they didn’t finish the year…”
Murray continued, “The two things that stand out to me are this: They didn’t have a player on the team that had more than five carries that averaged better than four yards a carry….”
“…We always say, yeah, but look at the guys blocking. Now I know Decker was hurt. I get that. But this was a team that had (Taylor) Decker for half the season, they went out and they signed TJ Lang, they brought in Ricky Wagner…”
“…What am I missing? I mean, it’s not the worst group up front. And, is it commitment? Is it that they guys playing behind that line just aren’t good enough? Because I don’t really get how you can be as bad as the numbers that we threw out there 32nd in yards and 76 yards a game and 3 point yards attempt. I mean, none of those numbers are close to the teams in front of them. I mean, it’s…pathetic is the only word I can think of when it comes to that in terms of balance.”
Quinn inserted that Stafford averaged about the same as the running backs. He also pointed out that the Lions have ended the past several seasons ranking last or nearly last in rushing despite making the run game a point of emphasis every offseason. Yet they still rank last in the NFL. “For whatever reason, it’s not improving…”
Quinn added that it really hampers Stafford being able to do anything.
“…Every single year, we come out there and say, all right, what do the Lions need to do better…they need to run the football…they need to provide Matt Stafford something other than, y’know, having to sling it around the field and have comeback victories because they don’t have a ton of balance…”
“And it makes the job of the O-Line that much harder, it makes the job of Matt Stafford that much harder. Really, the defense, too. The defense is gonna face more snaps, and they’re gonna be exposed at times because as good as Matt Stafford is, there’s still gonna be some, some unluckiness, some bad plays that happen and there’s gonna be some bad decisions too.”
Quinn added, “It’s tough to continually watch this team struggle to run the football. It’s not just one thing. It’s a number of different things…”
Quin concluded his segment by hoping a defensive-minded coach like Matt Patricia could really help in this area.
Murray took his turn again. He pointed out that aside from 2014 when Ndamukong Suh was on the team, the last time the team was in the top ten in points allowed 1983. The last time they were top ten in yards allowed on defense was ’93. Before that, you have to go back to ’82.
Quinn wondered how much a difference being a dome team plays into the statistics. His point was that the opposing team never had to factor weather into their game plan.
Murray brought up Minnesota being a successful dome team lately. The two of them stumbled back and forth for a minute over this hypothesis before moving on.
They moved on to the 2018 team. They touched on a number of subjects, including the fact that Caldwell is gone, and Patricia is in. Quinn wondered if Patricia can replicate the New England Patriots success.
Quinn question ownership. Are they willing to supply resources like New England’s Robert Kraft does for the Patriots? Can Stafford become the iconic player that Brady is?
Quinn wondered how much time they would give Patricia. Quinn stated that you should give a new coach four years.
He said that offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter staying was interesting.
What I found most interesting about that opinion is that Quinn only mentioned positive things about Cooter’s relationship with Matthew Stafford but absolutely nothing about the run game. That seems to support my premise that the largest improvement in the Lions this year was the hiring of Jeff Davidson as offensive line coach. You can see the rest of my article here.
They covered the team’s free agent moves. Who went out, who came in and who was retained. They then moved on to the draft.
Quinn talked about the O-line being banged up last year. He said, “Clearly one of the first things that Matt Patricia saw is an inability to run the football and push the line of scrimmage. That’s why you invest first and fifth-round draft pick on the offensive line. I love both guys they got…Frank Ragnow was a guy that, y’know, people kind of kept quiet about because they were enamored with him and they were hoping he would drop them. The Detroit Lions were obviously one of those teams but they weren’t the only team I kind of heard whispering about Frank Ragnow before the draft.”
Quinn said some nice things about Tyrell Crosby, the Lions fifth-round draft pick this year, then praised Crosby’s college coaches. He then moved on to the second round.
Quinn said that, “Kerryon Johnson, at running back, may be the most important player to Auburn at times last season. And talk about a gamer. When the stage was set and they needed him to (shell) out and show up, he did…”
“…I don’t know if enough people appreciate his ability and running style, y’know different than Ameer Abdullah as far as what we’ve seen, but a guy that can churn out the hard yards. He’s an efficient running back, doesn’t waste a lot of steps…”
“…I think behind Derrius Guice, Kerryon Johnson was kind of the next guy in the SEC that I kinda said, I think, they’re gonna, he’s gonna make some waves when they get in the NFL., just because he’s got the type of style that’s gonna fit, that’s gonna be conducive to being a productive running back in the NFL…”
Quinn sees Da’Shawn Hand the Lions fourth-round pick as more of a run stuffer as opposed to being speed off the edge. He thinks Hand is an interesting one.
He thinks that the Lions third-round pick, strong safety Tracy Walker is a solid overall hybrid player. Maybe a little undersized but maybe staying on the field in big nickel situations. Walker is a solid overall player. He is curious to see where he fits in.
Quinn complimented Lions seventh-rounder, fullback Nick Bawden. He made the connection that Matt Patricia is molding the Lions roster into something very similar to New England.
Quin covered a few free agents briefly. He first talked about Jojo Wicker .
“I tell you what, this guy has all the tools, all the ability, based on his look, based on everything else. It’s just about finding a way to make it all click. He’s a little bit undersized and lacks some of that top-line quick twitch that you’re looking for out of that defensive lineman position but he’s got some ability…”
Quinn spoke about Al-Rasheed Benton out of West Virginia. “…Six foot one, 235 pounds, this guy can run all over the field, he was a tackling machine at West Virginia, one of the leaders on that defense. So, he’s another guy you can look out for…”
“…And then, finally, Chris Lacy. Which was odd because he was originally, I think, signed by, I think, New England. And then he was waived quickly. The Lions went and claimed him. Big body target. Six foot three, 205 pounds. He can go up and elevate and get the football. I’ll be curious to keep an eye on him to see if he can make this wide receiver roster because outside of Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay, who showed a little bit of ability, I think there’s some spots available for him to potentially get on this roster.”
They discussed the Lions schedule and the fact that they have two three-game road stretches. Quinn said, “Never a fan of the early bye. They got that comin’ in week six. They’ve got one division game, though, in their first five weeks of the season…”
Quinn added, “…that’s a tough stretch heading into their bye…coming out of the bye, they have three of the four on the road and, really, five of the six divisional games come in the second half of the season, which makes it difficult, in particular, the last two games, finishing against Minnesota and then Green Bay (Packers).”
Quinn called the schedule streaky. He said that the Lions will need to find consistency and balance with the schedule.
Quinn said that he would set the over/under at eight. Murray took the under, predicting the Lions will finish at 7-9.
“Chad” called in and made a couple good points. He said that he is forgetting anything before Bob Quinn. Bob Quinn seems to be drafting players that are contributing more so than older drafts.
Also, old history is unrelated to today’s team. He pointed out that the Lions fired a coach with a winning record because mediocrity was not good enough anymore. Chad said that it’s frustrating to hear about the 40 years prior. He felt that the Lions have a pretty good team.
Quinn does not think that there is a great deal of draft difference from before but that it is more due to coaching.
My analysis? It is evident that Murray and Quinn do their homework when it comes to research. They have the numbers down pat. They certainly pack a great deal of information into a short time. The problem is, there seems to be too much emphasis on what once was.
Ask yourself this: Does a coaching change make a difference? If not, why ever change coaches? If so, why doom Matt Patricia for all the failures of the teams before he rode into town?
This is a new team, not the one from 2017. I am strongly inclined to think that the run game will be, dare I say? Good. You want to know why? Read this. That changes everything.
Follow Lion Lowdown on Twitter @LionLowdown or Bruce Walker @Smoke25