The Detroit Lions have said time and time again that they are all in for this year. President Tom Lewand, general manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Caldwell expect to make the playoffs and to be successful once they are there. Every move they have made this offseason has been based on the fact that they believe their core talent is strong enough to reach the promised land. It’s bold and possibly foolish to raise the teams expectations to this level, but shouldn’t they have always been this high?
Every year in the NFL there is huge turnover in the teams that reach the playoffs. There are your perennial teams like the New England Patriots, who boast arguably the best quarterback in the league in Tom Brady and one of the most decorated and controversial coaches in Bill Bellichick. The Patriots are the gold standard for successful NFL franchises, and yet, even with all their success, the Brady/Bellichick combination has not won a super bowl since 2005. They have however reached it twice since, losing both times, but even reaching the big game is something most Lions fans have barely dared to dream of.
With the huge turnover, there is no reason to believe that any team can’t be successful and have a shot at the title. Yet, the Lions are one of the rare teams to have not even reached the super bowl. The others are basically expansion teams with nowhere near the history that Detroit has in the NFL. Mayhew believes he’s put the right pieces together with quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell and Ndamukong Suh and Ziggy Ansah on the defensive line. Unfortunately, there are also albatross’s such as Brandon Pettigrew and Nick Fairley not holding up to their end of the deal as former first round draft choices.
Is this finally the year that long suffering Lions fans get to taste the success so many other franchises have provided their cities? I don’t think so, and even worse, they may be set up for dramatic failure if they don’t. The Lions could find themselves putting undo pressure on themselves and costing themselves games because of it. Caldwell stresses discipline and his teams have been very successful in avoiding mistakes and penalties under his watch. Often though, those mistakes are made when a team gets desperate or tries to do things beyond their capabilities. Part of the reason Bellichick has been so successful with the Patriots is because he has only asked his players to do what they are capable of. He didn’t ask Wes Welker to be Randy Moss, he just wanted him to be Welker and in doing so he was able to thrive. The same goes for Brady when he led the team to their first super bowl victory. Brady came in and replaced superstar Drew Bledsoe, and Bellichick used the skills Brady had masterfully, relying heavily on a running game and a stellar defense. Eventually, Brady developed into one of the best quarterbacks ever, greatly because he was put into situations that enabled him to be successful when he was young.
The Lions don’t have the luxury of letting anyone develop this year. They shouldn’t have to, but unfortunately, Stafford hasn’t been as consistent as they need him to be. Stafford came into the league with more raw talent than Brady had, but hasn’t been able to flourish, greatly due to the coaching he had. Stafford’s technique has been criticized and Caldwell says he knows how to fix it. I hope so, because I don’t really see how Calvin Johnson could get any better and the time to use his skills is now before age starts to take its toll on him, if it hasn’t already.
It’s the right move to go for it, that’s why the Lions drafted Stafford first overall and they have loaded the guns for him. If they aren’t able to take that next step, reach the playoffs and win while there, this year will be considered a failure. They don’t have a stellar defense, not even close to it, and they don’t have the money to do that at this point to buy one. The offense will have to carry this team and the defense will have to do just enough to get by. Otherwise, there may be another overhaul coming, as soon as next year, starting from the top down.