Reasons To Be Optimistic Heading into 2020

The Lions loss to the Packers 23-20 wrapped up the Lions’ 2019 season with a record of 3-12-1. This was one of the most disappointing seasons in recent Lions history. The Lions started off relatively strong with wins over the Chargers and Eagles and controversial close losses to the Chiefs and Packers.

However, Matthew Stafford went down with a broken back after Week 9. Plus, the defense regressed to one of the worst defenses in the league — leading to a nine-game losing streak. Even after such a bleak season, there are a few reasons to be hopeful going into next season.

Stafford and Darrell Bevell are a match made in heaven

Before his injury, Stafford was playing the best football of his career and as well as anyone in the league. Through 8 games, Stafford threw for 2,499 yards and 19 touchdowns with a passer rating of 106. If he continued at this pace, he would have ended the year second in passing yards and first in touchdowns with the fourth-best QBR. It seems like Bevell has installed the perfect offense to match Stafford’s skill set. The offense allowed Stafford to push the ball downfield and utilized play-action often using Stafford’s elite arm strength and deep ball accuracy. With another offseason to learn the system, Stafford could be even better in 2020, and one of the best QBs in the league.

Kenny Golladay is a legit No. 1 WR

Despite playing with three different quarterbacks, Kenny Golladay registered his best season with 1,190 receiving yards and a league-leading 11 touchdowns. He continued to be a force in contested catch scenarios where he can use his size and strong hands to muscle the ball away from defensive backs. Where he has greatly improved since entering the league has been his route running ability. When he entered the league, he relied on his size and speed in order to be a deep threat and open up the offense, but he has become a much better route runner in his first three seasons. This allowed him to create separation on intermediate routes making him a reliable safety blanket for all three quarterbacks.

Tracy Walker is a stud

Tracy Walker had the tall task of replacing Glover Quin as the starting safety heading into the season. He made some great plays as a rookie, but it was unknown how he would fare in a much larger role. After the season, his play was one of the few bright spots on the abysmal defense. He is a great athlete, and it certainly shows up on the field. He has tremendous range when playing center field and flies around the field when playing in the box. This resulted in a great season where he recorded 102 tackles, 8 pass breakups, and an interception despite missing 3 games. He is a versatile, exciting young player who should be even better next year.

Rookies have shown some promise

The 2019 rookie class had their ups and downs, but it is still too early to judge their very young careers. TJ Hockenson started off the season with a bang recording 6 catches for 131 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals. Unfortunately, he ended the season with only 367 yards and two touchdowns. Lions fans should not call him another bust like other first-round tight ends yet. Hockenson blocked well in both the run and pass game. In the passing game, rookie tight ends rarely put up big numbers, and he should be more productive in a more explosive offense with Stafford at the helm.

Jahlani Tavai got more and more reps as the season progressed. He looked good against the run and even flashed some ability rushing the passer. In coverage, he struggled in man, but his football IQ and instincts allowed him to play well in zone coverage. If utilized correctly, he has shown the tools to be a good starting linebacker.

Amani Oruwariye got a few starts later in the season and played surprisingly well for a rookie corner. He was not a shutdown corner by any means, but he was able to make plays on the ball and had two interceptions in two starts. Will Harris had the tall task of replacing Quandre Diggs after his midseason trade. He struggled mightily at first but was starting to look better at the end of the year and getting game reps will be good for his development. Harris and Oruwariye did not have fantastic seasons, but there were enough flashes to build on heading into next season.

Outlook for Next Year

This past Lions’ season was a major disappointment and one of the hardest seasons to watch since the infamous winless season. Despite this, there is still hope for next year. The Lions offense looked borderline elite when Stafford played and has the potential to be elite. The defense was horrendous at times but also played well for stretches. The defense played extremely well against the Chiefs and the Packers. Hopefully, with scheme adjustments and player development, the defense can play with a lot more consistency. Even after this dud of a year, there is still some hope the Lions can finally turn it around next year.

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