2013-2014 Detroit Lions Preview

By: Prad

 

Projected Record: 8-8

NFC North Rank: 4th

It’s hard to believe that the last team in a division will be .500, but that might very well be the case in the NFC North. It’s not a division that’s filled with any overwhelming Super Bowl favorites, but many above-average teams. The Lions finished at 4-12 last year, but held a mediocre 0-6 record in their division. If they want any shot at a postseason berth, that NFC North record needs to improve drastically. Last year, 11 of their 16 matchups were against teams with winning records and 9 of those 11 times were against teams that qualified for the playoffs. This year isn’t that different. They have 10 matchups this season, whose teams had records above .500 last year. In a highly competitive NFC and an even more competitive NFC North, the Detroit Lions don’t stand a chance at making the postseason.

QB Matt Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson have probably the best rapport in the league Courtesy of Zimbio
QB Matt Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson have probably the best rapport in the league
Courtesy of Zimbio

QB Matthew Stafford has been excellent the last couple seasons. Two seasons ago, at the age of 23, Stafford threw for more than 5,000 yards and a whopping 41 touchdowns. Last season was not as great, but he still torched opposing defenses for 4,967 yards, 23 yards shy of 5,000. Part of the reason for his outstanding statistics is that Detroit gives Stafford more passing attempts than any other team gives their respective quarterback. Stafford attempted 727 passes last season, besting QB Drew Brees by 57, who attempted the second most in the league. This west coast offense is attributed to the lack of skill on the rushing end, but primarily because of their superb receiver, WR Calvin Johnson. Last year, Johnson etched his name into the record books when he broke Jerry Rice’s single season receiving yards record (1964). “Megatron” led the NFL last year in both receiving yards and receptions (122), but only caught 5 touchdown passes from Stafford. Two years ago when Stafford tossed 41 touchdown passes, Johnson was responsible for 16 of those receptions. I see last season’s TD stats as a fluke and Johnson’s touchdown numbers will rebound tremendously this upcoming season to approximately 12-14. As a result, look to Stafford to bounce back in that department as well. A season ago, he only passed for 20 TDs, but he’ll get about 35 next year.  The passing game cannot possibly be solely responsible for a team’s winning culture though.

RB Reggie Bush is an exciting addition to the previously mediocre running attack Courtesy of Sports Illustrated
RB Reggie Bush is an exciting addition to the previously mediocre running attack
Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

The aforementioned deficiency in running ability in this organization is a major reason for the aerial attack’s prevalence in the offense. The running game has been a major concern for Detroit for the last few seasons. Last year, the Lions ranked 23rd in the league in total rushing yards. But, the Lions made an imperative acquisition this offseason that will hopefully put an end to these concerns. RB Reggie Bush, inked a 4 year-$16 million deal with Detroit in March. The agile Bush rushed for 2,072 yards in his last two seasons with the Miami Dolphins. If Bush can average another 1,000-1,200 yards on 4.7 yards per carry this upcoming season, it would prove immensely beneficial to this offensive unit. The heavy dependence on the aerial game can’t possibly sustain a winning record. So, the signing of RB Bush will definitely improve this offense because it adds an element of surprise. Obviously, the Stafford-Johnson tandem is the best QB-WR duo in the league. And they’ll remain a ubiquitous part of the offense, but look for offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to attempt to more evenly distribute rushing plays and passing plays in the game plan. This productive rushing game will prove advantageous to Stafford as he won’t have to take on the entire offensive burden each week and opposing defenses won’t be able to predict plays prior to each snap since the Lions will have the ability to mix running plays and passing plays effectively.

DT Nick Fairley and DT Ndamukong Suh are a dynamic combination Courtesy of The Sporting News
DT Nick Fairley and DT Ndamukong Suh are a dynamic combination
Courtesy of The Sporting News

Detroit fans have a reason to worry about their defense, since it gave up the 6th most amount of points (437) last season. Their defensive line has a fantastic duo in DT Nick Fairley and DT Ndamukong Suh. Although last season Fairley registered under 6 sacks, he showed some of his capabilities and bright spots throughout the course of the schedule, especially during the latter part. Plus, we have to take into account that last year was only his sophomore year. He has much potential and has a ton of room to improve alongside DT Suh. On the other hand, Suh sacked opposing quarterbacks 22 times in the last three season. That in addition to his rushing defense prowess makes this defensive tackle combo a formidable threat in the league, perhaps even the best DT duo in the league. This unit owned the 15th best rushing defense in terms of rushing yards allowed and 6th worst in yards allowed per carry in the league last year. These statistics should allude to a rush defense unit that is at best run-of-the-mill. To make matters worse, they suffered key losses to their line including DE Cliff Avril and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, who had 9.5 and 3.5 sacks respectively. GM Martin Mayhew drafted DE Ziggy Ansah in the first round of this year’s draft to address the void that was left after the departure of the two defensive ends. The Lions also acquired DE Jason Jones and DE Israel Idonije this offseason to help the line.

Rookie DE Ziggy Ansah will have to make an immediate impact Courtesy of
Rookie DE Ziggy Ansah will have to make an immediate impact
Courtesy of ESPN

Moreover, the linebacker corp lost their best linebacker this offseason in free agency, LB Justin Durant who was second on the team last year in tackles at 103. GM Mayhew failed to acquire any linebacker this offseason who could potentially match Durant’s production. Their secondary for this season consists of CB Chris Houston, CB Darius Slay, SS Glover Quin, and FS Louis Delma, none of whom are noteworthy or All-Pro caliber. Last season, they picked off the 8th fewest number of balls from opposing quarterbacks. Their most impressive interceptors, Chris Houston and Don Carey each tallied two interceptions during the entire season, which is good enough for 52nd in the league.

It’s hard to believe that Detroit managed a 10-6 record and made the postseason back in 2011 with an inconsistent running game and average defense. They won’t be as fortunate until many defensive issues are resolved. This offseason, the Lions lost some crucial components on the defensive unit, but GM Martin Mayhew failed to address these concerns with the exception of drafting DE Ziggy Ansah who has much unrefined talent. Their secondary and linebacker crew are messes and will underperform severely this year. The only bright spot on the defense seems to be the line, which is talent laded with the aforementioned DT duo and the dynamic rookie, Ziggy Ansah. The only reason Detroit will be able to win even half of their games is because the majority of their match ups will turn into shootouts. With an upgraded and more skilled offense, comes a heap of red zone opportunities and consequently, touchdowns and higher scoring games.

2013-2014 Chicago Bears Preview

By: Prad

 

Projected Record: 9-7

NFC North Rank: Tied with Vikings for 2nd

The Bears have an air of uncertainty that surrounds the franchise. They went 10-6 last season, but failed to make the postseason because of their division foes, the Minnesota Vikings who clinched a playoff berth with the same record. Half of their losses came to teams within the NFC North, a mark that must improve in order for them to stand a chance at finishing above .500 this season. This offseason, they made some questionable decisions including the firing of former Head coach Lovie Smith. It won’t be an easy adjustment for the players to transition to new Head Coach Marc Trestman, who’s never held a head coaching job in the league. On top of that, comes new OC Aaron Kromer and DC Mel Tucker, clearly a major overhaul on the coaching staff. In terms of schedule difficulty, last season saw them matchup eight times against teams that qualified for the postseason.  This season is very similar. With a new head coach, the Bears will be an average NFL team this season, but on the lower side of the spectrum in their competitive NFC.

HC Marc Trestman Courtesy of Toronto Sun
HC Marc Trestman
Courtesy of Toronto Sun

The aforementioned HC Marc Trestman will be making a huge leap from head coaching in the CFL to the NFL. He has coached in the NFL before though, as an offensive coordinator and QB coach. During his tenure with the Oakland Raiders (2001-2003), Trestman was the QB coach for 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon and offensive coordinator of the Raider’s unit. He has been labeled as a big reason for the success of the 2003 Raiders, which went on to lose Super Bowl XXXVII. As the head coach in Chicago, a big task for Trestman will be monitoring the development of QB Jay Cutler. With his expertise as a quarterback coach, he’ll be instrumental in Jay Cutler’s immense improvement in the next couple seasons. Cutler has had the talent ever since he entered the league in 2006, a rocket for an arm and good pocket presence, but he lacks good decision making skills and converting in the red zone. Trestman has proven that he can help quarterbacks who’ve suffered with the same issues as Cutler, such as Gannon. If Cutler can reduce his turnover numbers (8 fumbles and 14 interceptions), the Bears offense will thrive off of his productivity.

WR Brandon Marshall and QB Jay Cutler will make a potent duo for years to come Courtesy of Chicago Now
WR Brandon Marshall and QB Jay Cutler will make a potent duo for years to come
Courtesy of Chicago Now

The Bears will finally be able to distribute more plays to Cutler in the opposing team’s part of the field and that will hopefully bolster his TD numbers and reduce the turnovers that have battered the team for the last few seasons. With the acquisition of TE Martellus Bennett this offseason, comes a big red zone threat who had 5 touchdowns and 55 receptions last year with QB Eli Manning. This adds to the receiving corp that has top tier WR Brandon Marshall who caught an amazing 118 reception last season for over 1,500 yards. Marshall accounted for half of Cutler’s yards last season and almost half of his completions (255). Cutler also has halfback Matt Forte, who is widely considered a good receiving running back. Forte caught 44 passes from Cutler last season, good enough for second on the team. Jay Cutler has no excuses to turn out a lackluster performance this year, something that Chicago fans are getting tired of watching.

RB Matt Forte is set to have a career season Courtesy of Bleacher Report
RB Matt Forte is set to have a career year
Courtesy of Bleacher Report

RB Matt Forte will have a career year this upcoming season. In previous years, his offense line was very shaky and inconsistent, but he still managed to rush for 1,094 yards on 248 carries. The Bears acquired OT Jermon Bushrod this offseason and drafted OL Kyle Long in the first round to bolster a group that was decimated by injuries last season. Offensive line concerns last season were responsible for Jay Cutler getting sacked 38 times, 5th most in the NFL. More importantly though, RB Matt Forte has room for growth and can come close to surpassing the 1,500 yard mark this upcoming season. If this offensive line can be proficient in blocking for the rushing attack and hold the pocket long enough for the quarterback, then Matt Forte and Jay Cutler will transition into a much better RB-QB tandem from a season ago.

The Chicago Bears defensive unit is a force to be reckoned with Courtesy of ESPN
The Chicago Bears defensive unit is a force to be reckoned with
Courtesy of ESPN

A big reason, nay, a monumental reason the Bears finished last season off 10-6 was because of them owning a top five defense, which had the most takeaways in the league. They might have lost their defensive captain and emotional leader, LB Brian Urlacher, but the rest of the defense remains relatively intact and unaltered. To replace him, they acquired LB James Anderson and LB D.J. Williams, neither of whom has even the potential to produce like Urlacher did even as an aged veteran last season. The Bears still have All-Pro caliber player Lance Briggs who now leads the linebacker crew. Briggs led the team last year in tackles with 103. Their run defense ranked 7th in the league last year in total rushing yards and yards per carry allowed. The defensive line is anchored by eight time Pro Bowler and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Julius Peppers. Chicago’s secondary is also the best in the NFC North with the dynamic cornerback duo of CB Tim Jennings and CB Charles Tillman. Together, they intercepted 12 passes from opposing quarterbacks throughout last year.

The Bears started out on a rampage last season, a 7-1 mark in the first half of the season. However, from weeks 10-15, they held a 1-5 record. The organization attributed their epic second half collapse on former head coach Lovie Smith and he was consequently fired after nine seasons in Chicago with one Super Bowl appearance. They can surprise a few teams on their schedule this upcoming season if Jay Cutler’s aerial attack thrives under new coach Marc Trestman. The defense is undoubtedly a playoff caliber unit and Chicago will be a playoff threat until very late in the regular season. Once the passing game matures and it can complement RB Matt Forte, the Bears will become an elite team in their conference. Yet, for any of that to happen, we’ll have to wait for an enhanced Jay Cutler.