“Off the Matt” 2016 Lions Preview
Shall we start with some good news?
Over the final eight games of the season, the Lions finished with a 6-2 record. They were a 60-yard Hail Mary from Aaron Rodgers away from winning seven of their final eight games. Over that stretch of games the offense averaged 26.1 points per game, which was a big improvement on the 19.9 they averaged during the first half of the year.
Maybe it was a coincidence that the offense started to finally click?
Maybe it was…
That’s right, when Jim Bob Cooter took over the play calling, the offense flourished. With a full season of Cooter the possibilities are endless.
We started with the good news, but now it is time to take a dose of bad. Unless you have been too busy playing Pokemon, then you know Calvin Johnson has hung up his cleats and called it a career. It won’t be a matter of if he will be in the Hall of Fame, but when?
If I had to pick one play to sum of Calvin Johnson’s career it would be…
The Lions are obviously going to miss his physical talent. Even more so, they will miss what he did to opposing defenses. On every single play there were at least two sets of eyes on him. He opened up the rest of the offense and made the players around him better.
Marvin Jones said it best. “I’m not coming here trying to replace Calvin Johnson. You’re not going to replace Calvin Johnson.” I like that he laid that out there from the get go. Just because he is coming in to play the position that did Calvin doesn’t mean that comparisons should be drawn. It wouldn’t be fair to Marvin Jones, and would be setting him up to fail.
When we look back at Jones’s 2016 season, I don’t think “failure” will be a word that will be thrown around. Jones put up a respectable 65/816/4 last year. While those aren’t eye-popping statistics, one must keep in mind that he was the second and sometimes third option in the passing game for a team that threw the ball fewer than only six other teams.
I don’t see their being a defined #1 receiver in the Detroit offense this year, but rather Jones and Tate using their unique skill sets to work in tandem. Tate is an established slot man and one of the toughest to tackle in the league. He led all receivers last season forcing 30 missed tackles. Jones will do most of his damage outside of the numbers. He is a smooth operator and can run routes at all three levels. He has a knack for creating separation at the last second on deep balls and coming down with some acrobatic catches.
The Lions passing game will also get a boost from the backfield in the form of Theo Riddick who tied with Danny Woodhead for the league lead in receptions by a running back with 80. Riddick was ultra-efficient catching 81% of his targets and having five or more receptions in 10 games.
While filling the gigantic shoes of Calvin Johnson can’t be done by one man, the Lions possess a variety of weapons with varying skill sets that should keep the Lions passing game as a legitimate threat.
All of the talk in the offseason has revolved around replacing Calvin Johnson; however, if I was a Lions fan my biggest worry would be the running game. Last season, the problems started upfront with the offensive line finishing as the 26th rated run-blocking unit. They spent their first round pick on Taylor Decker, who is a mauler and one of the best run-blocking lineman in the draft. Hopefully this addition will improve a run game that failed to see a back break 80 yards in any game last season.
Ultimately the success or lack there of will fall on the shoulders of Matt Stafford. Much like the rest of the team, the first half of the season was a disaster for Stafford. Here is the only statistic you need to see to truly illustrate the tale of two seasons that Stafford had in 2015:
First eight games: 11 interceptions (1-7)
Last eight games: 2 interceptions (6-2)
The success in the interception department came at the same time as JBC took over the play calling. The offense was predicated on getting the ball out of Stafford’s hand quick and taking what the defense was willing to give them. This concept helps explain how Stafford finished dead last in the metric Average Depth of Throw (aDOT) at 6.8 yards per attempt. When you have players like Tate and Riddick who can make plays after the catch this concept can work. If Stafford can carry over the momentum he built up over the second half he could be in for a career year from an efficiency standpoint.
The return of DeAndre Levy is going to be huge for a defense that allowed 25 points per game in 2015. Levy joining forces with Tahir Whitehead and Josh Bynes who both graded out as top 15 linebackers last season should make for a formidable unit, especially against the turn. This is good news when you know you are going to see Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings twice a year. Kyle Van Noy finally had a healthy offseason. He came into OTAs and minicamp in great shape and did some work with the first team. With a strong preseason he will make a push to be on the field as a starter in Week 1.
On the flip side, the secondary is a big question mark. Darius Slay is quickly becoming one of the better young corners in the league and will hold his own against anyone. The problem is who is going to play the other corner? Nevin Lawson could be a likely candidate, but he had a terrible 2015 and allowed more touchdown passes than passes he broke up. Glover Quin will hold down one of the safety positions. Rafael Bush will have a shot at the strong safety position there is no clear cut starter at this time and will be a camp battle. All of these question marks is not good news when you have Aaron Rodgers on your schedule twice.
Ezekiel Ansah is the biggest player-maker among this group. He puts a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing defenses with the speed he presents off the edge. He erupted for 14.5 sacks last year and accounted for 25% of the pressures. It is hard to believe that he didn’t start playing football until he was 20 years old.
Golden Tate (ADP: 35) PPR
Take note that the 35 ADP represents PPR format. I will take Tate as the 21st receiver off the board in that format all day long. With the lack of running game they had in 2015, they used Tate as an extension of the run game and would throw him a few bubble/tunnel screens each game. He led the league in receptions at or behind the line of scrimmage. These are uncontested catches and essentially free points. JBC is a Tate fan as well. In the eight games that he called the plays, Tate recorded catch totals of: 4,8,7,8,9,6,4,4. With all of the “easy” catches that he gets he will never put up a dud week, which is huge in head to head formats. He will be a strong WR2 and have a shot at finishing as a top 15 PPR receiver.
Marvin Jones (ADP: 95) Standard
Marvin Jones as the 38th receiver off the board seems crazy to me. As mentioned earlier in the article he posted 65/816/4 in an offense in which he was never the primary read. The Lions didn’t throw a 40 million dollar contract at him to be a decoy. I see no reason why Jones can’t post a 1000 yard season.
Ameer Abdullah (ADP: 79) Standard
Maybe it is because Abduallah burned me last year and I am subliminally just being a hater, but I can’t justify selecting him this year as the 28th running back off the board. Especially in front of names like Chris “The Tusk” Ivory and Gio Bernard to name a few. His fumbling problem that he had in college is still a real thing. He put the ball on the carpet five times last season and went a stretch where he only saw 14 carries over a three week span because of fumbles in the previous two games. He is losing third down snaps to Riddick and will lose goal line carries to either Zenner or Ridley. He is basically a between the 20’s back who will be running behind a suspect offensive line, is a fumble or two away from losing carries, and doesn’t play on third down. No thanks.
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio: Join Corey D Roberts, Kyle Amore, and Joe Iannone live on Sunday July 24th, 2016 from 7-9pm EST for episode #74 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host.
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