Throughout their history, the Detroit Lions haven’t had much playoff success. They have never made it to the Super Bowl, which started in 1967. They won their last league championship in 1957, when the league only had twelve teams. Since their last championship, they have only been to the playoffs 12 times.
The Lions can start changing things by making the playoffs this year. However, they will need to do several things to get through the competitive NFC North. Here are three things the Lions must do if they want to make the playoffs:
Matt Stafford must raise his game
Last year, Stafford had one of his worst seasons in a decade as an NFL quarterback. He threw for under 4,000 years for the first time since his rookie year and his other stats declined as well. Stafford’s drop off became so noticeable, that many media members thought the Lions should trade him.
Stafford had many obstacles during the year. Many of his offensive teammates were injured during the year. Stafford played a part of the 2018 season with a broken back. In addition, Jim Bob Cooter, the Lions’ offensive coordinator, didn’t do a good job calling plays.
This year should be different. Stafford is healthy and the Lions replaced Cooter. For the Lions to get to the playoffs, Stafford must get back to his pre-2018 play. Without Stafford playing at his best, the Lions won’t make the playoffs.
The running game must take the next step
The Lions have said they want to run more. Their new offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell loves to run. He believes that a strong running game opens up other parts of the offense.
For this philosophy to work, they must have an effective running game. Over the last few years, they have been investing in the running game. They drafted Kerryon Johnson last year and added CJ Anderson in free agency this summer. Johnson had a promising rookie season last year but was derailed by injury. Anderson did well at the end of the year, replacing an injured Todd Gurley during the playoffs.
They also have invested a lot of draft picks and money in free agency to upgrade the line. In addition, the Lions also drafted tight end T.J. Hockenson, who was known in college as both as an excellent blocker and talented pass catcher.
To have a successful year, all of these pieces have to come together. Johnson has to avoid injuries (which limited him to ten games last year) and improve on his rookie year. Anderson has to continue his strong play from last year. The offensive line must become a more consistent blocking unit. Put all of this together, and the Lions’ offense can become really effective.
The defense needs to keep improving
At the start of 2018, the Lions’ defense did poorly. In week 1, they gave up 47 points to the New York Jets. As the seasons went on, the Lions’ defense improved. The defensive line began to play much better and the defense started keeping the team in games.
This season, the Lions should be better. The defense has had a full offseason under second-year head coach Matt Patricia’s defensive schemes. They signed Trey Flowers from New England to upgrade the defensive line. They also added cornerback Nevin Lawson, who should improve their slot cornerback position.
In addition, they added defensive players in rounds 2-5 of the 2019 draft. Linebacker Jahlani Tavai, safety Will Harris, and defensive end Austin Bryant should all contribute this year.
Improved defensive play is the most important factor to make the playoffs. A healthy Stafford should be able to get back to his usual great play. The new run-first scheme has the players and coordinator in line to succeed. However, if the defense cannot continue improving, a run-first offense will not be able to match many of the league’s high-scoring offenses.