While exploring what will mark success for each team this upcoming season, there’s yet to be an organization that has a make-or-break tag with both its head coach and general manager on a boiling hot seat. Now, enter the Detroit Lions, who are in dire need of a large fraction of success when play starts.
What’s almost more maddening than the lack of success, except for one winning season, over the past three years was how close—or how much more on track they were in 2019—and then how far the Lions were to ending a postseason drought. Detroit opened last season 3-4-1; no, it’s not the best record but there was plenty of promise with the success of quarterback Matthew Stafford and the anticipation everything would gel better together in the coming weeks. Stafford, however, was hampered with a spinal fracture, which ended his 136 regular-season-start streak midway through the year. He was eventually placed on injured reserve while David Blough and Jeff Driskel finished the season under center.
Now, Stafford is healthy and the Lions have some reinforcement with offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai acquired in free agency and D’Andre Swift via the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, as well as other additions on defense. What does Detroit need to do in order to get coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn out of the hot seat and find success in 2020? It will take more than just a playoff appearance; the Lions need a playoff win.
This will come with 1) a winning record 2) some stability across position groups and 3) most importantly, a healthy quarterback. The steps Detroit needs to take to get there, though, will put more watchful eyes on the team’s brass and if Patricia is the right person for the job.
Let’s start with the first positive outcome from a successful 2020 season: a winning record. The Lions haven’t had one since the final season of the short Jim Caldwell era in 2017 when they finished 9-7, but even then, Detroit missed the playoffs; it’s a good reason why the Lions simply turning 2020 into a winning season isn’t good enough. At this stage, going about .500 should be the absolute bare minimum, not the goal.
The Lions have a talented offense when simply looking at the roster with players like running back Kerryon Johnson, and now Swift, and wide receivers Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola. It just hasn’t translated to wins. The Lions need some stability, and barring any unforeseeable injuries, should get it this season.
What will help the most, at least on offense, are the offseason additions of Vaitai and Swift. Detroit needs to better establish its rushing attack. Johnson also struggled to stay healthy last season and played in just eight games. The third-year back can create a strong 1-2 punch with Swift if he’s able to play a full season; it would be the first full season of his NFL career. Vaitai will help with these efforts as well. He’s been a good run-blocker but has struggled pass-blocking. The Lions will need to address this and hope for a strong rookie season from third-round offensive guard Jonah Jackson to secure the line, especially with the departure of Graham Glasgow.
There are also lingering questions regarding every level of the defense. Will the defensive line create consistent pressure after the free-agent signings of Danny Shelton and Nick Williams? Can the linebackers effectively co-exist? Will cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and third-overall draft pick Jeffrey Okudah revamp the secondary after Darius Slay’s exit? I’m going to confidently say we’ll see the latter come to fruition, but how the other questions get answered will be a key to Detroit’s success.
The Lions’ 2020 outlook shouldn’t be contingent on a healthy Stafford, but a healthy Stafford can take the Lions to the top of the division and through the playoffs. The organization expects it to be a playoff contender and anything other than that would not only send at least Patricia out the door, but keep Detroit in a tailspin.