3 reasons not to give up on Lions

Despite a 0-4 start, PFF's Neil Hornsby says Detroit is far from the worst team in the league.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

3 reasons not to give up on Lions

Okay, maybe Detroit’s hopes of a playoff berth are slimmer than a malnourished credit card, but that’s not what I mean. What I should have said is that, through all the ups and downs of the last few years, there are things to be optimistic about.

Let’s look at what the Lions are doing well.

1. They are defensively sound.

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin does a great job. He doesn’t have the highest quality talent to work with, but he gets a lot from what he has. He lost his top four interior defenders from last year (don’t forget C.J. Mosely and George Johnson both played well, too), as well as PFF All-Pro linebacker DeAndre Levy to injury. Despite that, the Lions are still a top-half defense, and when it comes to run defense, Detroit ranks No. 9 overall this year.

2. They have young talent.

The Lions have a lot of good, young players, but a minor issue is that most of that talent seems to be located in two areas: the backfield and at linebacker.

Rookie HB Ameer Abdullah has been better than advertised. That may seem like a strange statement for a second-round pick with 115 yards through four games at 3.4 a pop, but that’s not his fault. He’s running behind the 27th ranked run blocking O-line and is starting to avoid more tackles, including four against Seattle on MNF. Add the emerging Theo Riddick (a nightmare for linebackers to cover out of the backfield) and rookie FB Michael Burton (our second-ranked fullback) and you have a unit that can weather the loss of Joique Bell.

Linebacker Josh Bynes came into the league in 2011, so he’s not really “young,” but I list him as such due to limited use. He moved from Baltimore two years ago (after about 200 snaps a year), but didn’t get much playing time with Detroit until now. With the Ravens, he usually played well on the occasions he was asked to start, or given extended playing time. He’s a stout run defender (+4.8 grade so far), but does have mental lapses in coverage. With more opportunity, I believe his overall ability should win through.

Finally, Travis Lewis can be a super two-down player, as he showed again last night. He recorded three stops, including the great play where he decked Seattle FB Derrick Coleman and dropped HB Thomas Rawls for a one yard loss.

3. They’re following the plan.

Detroit had a cash limit for Ndamukong Suh, and wouldn’t move from it. They knew Nick Fairley was a talented risk, and stayed away from overpaying. When they signed a veteran, Haloti Ngata, they knew he was still a good player. They understood the O-line needed work, knew there would be pain in getting to the next level, and did it anyway. They have not panicked, and I don’t think they will. Things may get worse before they get better, but this is nowhere close to the worst team in the league, despite their 0-4 record.

| PFF Founder

Neil founded PFF in 2006 and is currently responsible for the service to the company's 22 NFL team customers. He is constantly developing new insights into the game and player performance.

  • Jaymin

    following plan? How about the CJ81 & Stf Big deal?

  • nonono

    Neil, second point is numbered as number 3… minor error but good article lol

  • crosseyedlemon

    I think everyone understand that PFF is going to work hard to write positive articles about every team in the league no matter how difficult a task that is. The Lions probably aren’t the worst team but if you want to stick with them you don’t need 3 reasons….you just have to be a fan of Larry, Curly and Moe.

    • Mike

      how long did it take you to come up with that one?

  • Kofi Bonney

    The Lions do have some talent. But what about the intangibles? We have no vocal leader. Our OC has made weaponry dull. We have no fire! When Travis Lewis blew up that play, it should’ve ignited our whole team, but we had no energy until mid-late 3rd quarter. I’ve been saying fire Caldwell and Lombardi and make Austin the interim head coach. Hurry!

    • Tim Edell

      Caldwell turned them into a 11-5 team in one year. They were one bad call away from winning in Dallas and you want him fired???

      • Joe

        I know right. This is common of all Detroit fans, not just Lion’s fans. Lombardi is a maybe, but Caldwell stays

      • Dohkay

        2011 record in games decided by 7 or less: 5-3 (They went 10-6, Football Outsiders said they should have had 9.4 wins)

        2012 record in games decided by 7 or less: 3-8 (They went 4-12, FO said they should have had 7.6 wins)

        2013 record in games decided by 7 or less: 2-6 (They went 7-9, FO said they should have had 7.7 wins)

        2014 record in games decided by 7 or less: 6-1 (They went 11-5, FO said they should have had 8.7 wins)

        2015 record in games decided by 7 or less: 0-2 (Currently 0-4, FO says they should have 0.5 wins)

        Perhaps they’ve been pretty much the same team all along with just a sprinkle of randomness involved? Sure the defense has been much improved but the offense has been much worse. Hard to say that Caldwell is the reason they won 11 games last season.

  • Kofi Bonney

    4. The Lions have a boatload of draft picks for 2016. (Not saying that I’m not giving up lol)

  • http://www.nra.org Arthur Tweedie

    A 58 year track record of below mediocre play says otherwise, Neil.

  • TNutZz

    Lions fans are the biblical Job of the sports world. Of course the fans will still watch, through blown calls, freak bounces, bizarre losses and absurd injuries and deaths. Maybe after the plague of turf-eating locusts, and the stadium beer turning into sheeps blood….

    Then the almighty will allow us to stop getting effed

  • Joseph

    Mayhew has not drafted well at all. Knowing that the Lions were going to lose Suh and Fairley he still took Ebron over Aaron Donald. Gnata is OK but showing his age. Ebron is a marginal TE while Donald may be the best DT in the NFL right now. Ebron, Young, LeShoure, Broyles, Best all first and second rd picks that have not panned out. Tomlinson this years first rd pick has shown nothing so far and can`t even brean into a weak OL rotation to play. Ad in they have a zombie of a HC in Jim Caldwell who ony had susscess when he had Manning in his prime and things are not good in Detroit.

  • H10

    The offense can run the football because the Lions switched to a zone-blocking scheme from a power-run blocking scheme and they dont have the OG’s to make this work.

    Larry Warford was a pro-bowler as a power-run blocker and then the Lions put him in a zone-blocking scheme? Laken Tomlinson is a power-run blocker and everything in every scouting report says he wont ever be a zone-blocking offensive guard. So, the Lions say “screw it” and they draft Tomlinson in the first round to put him in a blocking scheme that doesnt even fit his strengths. You can see Tomlinson, Warford, and Manny Ramirez (who has filled in for Warford when injured) struggling in thi scheme.

    This is why the Lions cant run the football. Theyre putting their OL in a position to fail. Warford and Tomlinson will never fit a zone-blocking scheme. These guys are 330lbs power-blockers. It ridiculous that they Lions organization (including GM Martin Mayhew) thinks these guys are zone-blockers. Zone-blockers must be very athletic agile. They must be about 300lbs, not 330lbs road-graders.

    This franchise is a joke and its run like a joke. HC Jim Caldwell and OC Joe Lombardi are putting their offensive line in a position to fail And top top it off, Mayhew drafts an offensive guard in the 1st round this year and the guy doesnt even fit the zone-blocking scheme.

    Mayhew also lets Suh and Fairley without any contingency plan. Then he trades for Ngata, who until the Monday Night Football game against the Seahawks was playing like garbage. Ngata is basically done as an effective player every down.

    Lions are run like a semi-pro football team. The GM doesnt draft the right players to fit this scheme the coaches are running. The coaches fail to realize that the players dont fit the scheme. The GM doesnt ever have any contingency plans.

    And thats why the Lions are 0-4