Lions can roar again this year

The Detroit Lions were a team with all sorts of problems last year.

They had front office personnel that made questionable decisions, the coaches couldn’t motivate the players and the players lost focus early.

All of those factors contributed to the Lions having the worst season in NFL history at 0-16.

Obviously the off-season would have to see changes and many subtractions. The general manager and much of the front office people have been removed and the head coach along with much of his coaching staff is also gone.

Last week the Lions made the first of what is expected to be many additions in the hiring of Jim Schwartz as head coach.

Schwartz has spent the past eight seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans.

The Titans ranked in the top seven in yards allowed each of the past two seasons and finished second in points allowed per game in 2008 at 14.6.

That defense was a big reason why the Titans have had winning seasons the last two years. The squad was 9-7 last year (and just missed out on the playoffs) before going 13-3 this year and earning the top overall seed in the AFC playoffs.

Moreover Schwartz is not new to having success on the defensive end. His 2003 Titans defense ranked first in the NFL in rushing defense and led the league in third down defense.

In hiring Schwartz the Lions are showing they are serious about being a competitive team in 2009. It’s clear they want to improve on a defense that was the worst in the league.

Remember the Lions lost all of their 2008 home games by an average of 21 points and allowed 517 points over the course of the 16-game season.

I think they are on the right track. There’s no way any offense will have a chance to succeed if the defense can’t keep a team in the game.

Besides as the playoffs are proving (and has proved in the past) defense wins championships.

Schwartz will have his work cut out for him in Detroit in trying to create some semblance of a defense for the Lions.

For one thing the defense hardly makes any big plays. The Lions had only four interceptions as a group, an NFL record-low.

The linebacker core looked tentative and susceptible to strong running teams.

There has to be a run-stopping presence clogging up the middle for teams not to simply run over Detroit.

Also I saw a secondary group that was consistently burned on deep plays. In some case they lost focus on their guy and other times they got outworked.

In any case there needs to be some fresh faces guarding the receivers who can stay focused and consistently hustle.

There could be some changes on the defensive line. From what I saw opponents hardly worried about being sacked because Detroit didn’t present much of a pass rush.

Aside from the coaches calling for that rush more, there needs to be some new tackles and ends that can cause havoc.

The offense too has many holes to fill from quarterback to the offensive line.

In regards to the quarterback dilemma I thought, based on 2007, that Jon Kitna was the answer and was the man to run the Detroit offense and turn things around.

The Lions were 7-9 that year and Kitna threw for 4,068 yards and 18 touchdowns (though he did throw 21 interceptions, had 17 fumbles and was sacked an incredible 51 times).

But injuries put him down early in week five and from there the chaos began. Dan Orlovsky is too inexperienced to be a starter and his lack of game management skills showed when he played.

From there Daunte Culpepper was given a chance and amazingly he did worse. He looked old, uninspired and shockingly unable to make plays when the pocket collapsed.

It’s hard to say who should go from that rotation (though I would give Kitna a second chance) but for sure Detroit could use a quarterback who is starter material both in the draft and via free agency/trades.

From there the Lions need to get a running game. Kevin Smith has potential with the Lions (976 yards rushing and eight touchdowns) but he needs help.

Many thought former Bengal Rudi Johnson would be a good fit. But Johnson was a bust and couldn’t make the sort of explosive runs he had done on occasion in Cincy.

The Lions need an every-down back, preferably one with size, to get the tough yards. That way Smith, who can catch and make plays in the open field, can serve as a situational back.

From there arguably the biggest overhaul will have to come on the offensive line. History has shown that regardless of who has been under centre Detroit has given up too many sacks and allowed the QB to be hurried too often.

There needs to be a complete revamping of that line with better guards and new tackles.

Now the Lions are not completely a lost cause and Schwartz isn’t going to a team with nothing going for them.

The Lions saw good things from stand-out receiver Calvin Johnson. He had a good year in ’08 with 78 receptions, 1331 yards (fifth in the NFL) and 12 touchdowns (tied for the NFL lead).

Aside from Johnson the special teams (outside of the return aspect) was good. Kicker Jason Hanson was a sure three points and punter Nick Harris downed many punts inside the 20.

At the end of the day, I think 2009 will be better for the Lions. I seriously doubt they will be the next team to make a big turnaround like the Atlanta Falcons or Miami Dolphins.

However they should be in most games. To be safe I’d say they can post two wins next year though I wouldn’t be surprised if they nab three or more.

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