Free agency has come and gone. The NFL Draft is over. Rookie mini-camps will be starting up soon. Optimism is high around the Detroit Lions facility and exceptionally high throughout the fan base. They are talking about playoffs, but is that good enough? Is just making the playoffs a sign of improvement? How about winning a playoff game? In the Super Bowl era, the Detroit Lions sport a 1-12 playoff record. The lone win coming against Dallas after the 1991 season. So where does this optimism come from?
As fellow writer, Mitchell Sexton wrote, Las Vegas oddsmakers have the Lions favored in only 4 games. That does not shout playoffs. It doesn’t mean the Lions won’t make it, either. So, let’s look at the rosters from that playoff winning season compared to this years team.
1991 DETROIT LIONS STARTERS 2018 DETROIT LIONS STARTERS projected*
QB- Rodney Peete/Erik Kramer QB- Matthew Stafford
RB- Barry Sanders RB- LeGarrette Blount/Kerryon Johnson
WR- Robert Clark WR- Golden Tate
WR- Mike Farr WR- Marvin Jones
WR- Willie Green WR- Kenny Golladay
WR- Brett Perriman TE- Luke Wilson
LT- Lomas Brown LT- Taylor Decker
LG- Eric Andolsek LG- Graham Glasgow
C- Kevin Glover C- Frank Ragnow(r)
RG- Mike Utley RG- TJ Lang
RT- Eric Sanders RT- Ricky Wagner
LE- Marc Spindler LE- Anthony Zettel
NT- Jerry Ball DT- A’Shawn Robinson
RE- Dan Owens DT- Jeremiah Ledbetter
LOLB- George Jamison RE- Ziggy Ansah
LILB- Chris Spielman OLB- Devon Kennard
RILB- Dennis Gibson MLB- Jarrad Davis
ROLB- Tracy Hayworth OLB- Christian Jones
LCB- Ray Crockett LCB- Darius Slay
RCB- Mel Jenkins RCB- Quandre Diggs
SS- William White SS- Tavon Wilson
FS- Bennie Blades FS- Glover Quinn
SPECIAL TEAMS SPECIAL TEAMS
K- Eddie Murray K- Matt Prater
P- Jim Arnold P- Sam Martin
KR- Mel Gray KR- Jamal Agnew
PR- Mel Gray PR- Jamal Agnew
At first glance, you see the glaring difference in the running game. Sanders ran for over 1500 yards in 1991. If the duo of Blount/Johnson can approach that, then that’s a strong start.
Stafford is a massive upgrade at QB regardless if talking about Peete or Kramer, who replaced an injured Peete and won the Divisional Playoff game in 1991. Give Stafford that kind of rushing attack and he’d be even more dangerous. Also, give Stafford time, he was sacked 47 times in 2017. In 1991, the QB was sacked only 25 times. That’s the kind of blocking Stafford and this offense could benefit from.
Defensively, the ’91 team sacked the QB just thirty times but they ranked 11th in total defense. The current defense is coming into the season following a year they had 35 sacks and ranked 21st.
The way they approached free agency and the draft, it’s easy to see what their plan is. Protect Stafford, run the football to provide offensive balance and improve the defense. I’m still worried about what this defense can do, but the offense will be improved. The question is not only did they do enough to make the playoffs but did they do enough to win in the playoffs and end the drought?
In the NFC, barring any catastrophic injury, you have to think the Eagles, Vikings, Saints, and Rams are locks to get in. That leaves two more playoff spots, and it’s a crowded field. The Lions, Packers, Falcons, Panthers, Seahawks, 49ers and Cowboys will all be fighting for those spots. Now, some of these teams could take a step back (the Cowboys, Panthers, and Seahawks seemly the likely candidates) but every year there are surprise teams that take a leap up. Regardless, the Lions have a tough job ahead, and expectations should be tempered. If I had to make a prediction, I’d say they were a year away from really making some noise. However, this is the NFL and anything can happen. One thing is definite, the Lions will be fun to watch.