Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez react to GM Bob Quinn’s news conference and provide takeaways, Jan. 4, 2019.
Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press
Jamie Samuelsen, co-host of the “Jamie and Stoney” show at 6 a.m. weekdays on WXYT-FM (97.1), blogs for freep.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Detroit Free Press nor its writers. You can reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @jamiesamuelsen.
What are the Detroit Lions’ top-3 needs this offseason?
Every year, Lions fans watch the playoffs. Most years, the Lions aren’t involved in the playoffs. So most years, we’re left trying to figure out what the playoffs say about the Lions and what they lack compared to the best of the NFL.
This year, it was particularly uncomfortable as we got to see Eric Ebron score the first touchdown of the 2019 postseason and Golden Tate score the final touchdown of the weekend. Both players are big reasons why the Colts and the Eagles advanced to the second weekend of the playoffs, a trip the Lions haven’t made in more than two decades.
After spending the whole season celebrating the explosive offenses in the league, things went back to normal over the weekend. Teams averaged 23.34 points per game during the regular season. In the four games over the weekend, they averaged 18.13. Part of that can be explained by the fact that three of the top offenses in the league (New Orleans, Kansas City, LA Rams) didn’t play. Part of it can be explained by the fact that most of the teams that made the first weekend of the playoffs rely more on defense than they do on offense to get things done. And most of it can be explained by the fact that it’s January, it’s cold, and young quarterbacks sometimes get jittery. These are the NFL playoffs and this is how it works. Both Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia said last week that this was more or less what they expected from the playoffs and this is why they still believe that the way to make the Lions better is to make all the parts around Matthew Stafford better — not switch out the quarterback for a new, more economic model.
It’s a make or break offseason for Quinn who can’t afford to miss the playoffs for a third consecutive year. If it’s make or break for him, it likely is for Patricia as well because, as Quinn said the day Patricia was hired as head coach — the two of them are connected at the hip.
For the Lions to be playoffs participants instead of viewers in one year, is a daunting task. This is not a “one player away” situation. This is “a lot of guys need to improve and stay healthy, and we need some key additions” situation. Here’s my ranking of the three biggest needs in Quinn’s biggest off-season.
1) Edge rusher
The Lions entire defensive line looked like a mess when the season started. But the acquisition of Damon Harrison and the strong play of A’Shawn Robinson make the Lions middle look like the strongest part of the team. Da’Shawn Hand had a terrific rookie season at defensive end before going out late in the season with a knee injury. We assume Ziggy Ansah is gone given his price tag and his inability to stay on the field. His departure is a strong reminder that when Ziggy was on his game, the Lions defense was a different beast altogether. That absence must be addressed through the draft or free agency. The Lions ranked 11th in the NFL in sacks which is very good. But they also ranked 29th in passer rating which is not very good. A feared pass rusher will improve that.
2) Offensive line help
Okay. Let’s try this again. When T.J. Lang was healthy, he was the Lions best offensive lineman. Lang says he’d be open to returning, and for the right price, I’d be interested. But at this point in his career, he is such a long shot to play 16 games, that there has to be some depth there as well. Rick Wagner has not been effective and has certainly not lived up to his contract. After spending first round picks on Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow in two of the last three drafts, I’m strongly opposed to going high on a lineman again. The Lions sack total actually improved from 2017 to 2018 (47 to 41 sacks allowed). But that number is still too high and doesn’t take into account the number of times Stafford was hit or hurried. Yes, he has to be better. We all agree on that. But his protection can be better too.
3) Secondary depth
Darius Slay is a star. Quandre Diggs is very, very good. Beyond that, the Lions simply need playmakers. They had 14 takeaways this year which was the second worst total in the league in front of the 49ers. Their turnover margin was -5 which wasn’t as far down in the standings. But just to give you some sense of the importance of this stat, only two playoff teams — Baltimore and Philadelphia — had negative turnover margins. The top seven teams in turnover margin all made the playoffs. I’m guessing that Glover Quin is either going to retire or be a salary cap casualty. So that’s yet another open spot that will need to be filled.
I’d love to see another receiver to compliment Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. They could use a little depth at linebacker. And I sure hope they use a draft pick on a quarterback that might put a little pressure on the current starter. But you may have read something about that situation already.
Other than the fact that they are the Lions, this isn’t mission impossible. The Bears, Colts, Ravens, Chargers, Texans, Cowboys and Seahawks all failed to make the postseason last year. They comprised seven of the eight teams that played over the weekend. That’s what this league is built upon. The interesting wrinkle for Quinn and Patricia is what their philosophy for the offseason will be. If it’s a slow build with a strong focus on the future, that might not be good enough for a quick fix and a playoff berth, which should be necessary to keep their jobs. If it’s a quick fix outlook that damages the long term health of the franchise, that has its risks as well.
No pressure guys. Win soon. Win big. And make sure it’s sustainable. Something we haven’t seen here in quite a long time.