A Detroit Lions season preview including some predictions and hot takes for the 2020 NFL Season.
Week 17- Vs Minnesota Vikings
The entire season comes down to this. The Detroit Lions are now allowed to hold up to 20000 fans, 1/3rd of capacity, starting this game, and the crowd, who knows the implications on the line in this game, is absolutely buzzing. The Vikings, Lions, Bears, and Packers are all within one game of each other with various tiebreakers held between the teams. Whichever two teams lose this week are out. Whichever two teams win will determine the division and the 7th wildcard spot.
Lions and Bears fans rooting for Chicago, Bears and Vikings fans rooting for Minnesota, Packers and Lions fans rooting for Detroit, and Packers and Vikings fans rooting for Green Bay due to the respective tiebreakers they would hold over each potential team.
Both games are hotly contested to the finish, however Jaire Alexander picks off Mitch Trubisky for a game-winning pick-six with less than five minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Detroit Lions fans know that it’s 7 seed or bust for them now, as they are on the edge of their seats late. Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook is already over 100 yards on the game and the Vikings have the ball with five minutes left to play and a three-point lead. The Vikings OC Gary Kubiac however, wants to test rookie Jeff Okudah late and puts the NFL’s catch leader Adam Theilen out wide to match up with him. It backfires. Trey Flowers gets pocket push, as Jeff Okudah reads the ball in the air and gets an extra inch higher on Theilen to win the jump ball in the end zone. Lions ball with three minutes to go from their own 25 down by 3.
Bevell initially starts with a conservative offense. They do not want the ball back in Minnesota’s hands, and they elect to run one play, a five-yard run by Kerryon Johnson who has returned from injury to take it down to the two-minute warning.
The Detroit Lions now have two timeouts after an earlier Matt Patricia challenge call earlier in the 4th quarter was upheld by the review. On second and five, Stafford calls an audible at the line… A dump off to Swift who gets out of bounds a yard short of the marker. 3rd and one with roughly 1:45 left to play. Stafford drops back, but Marvin Jones gets interfered with downfield and the refs miss the call, while Golladay can’t separate. Stafford is forced to hold onto the ball as he takes a shot from Danielle Hunter. A sack. 4th and 7 now with one time out after the sack draws a time out, and roughly a minute and a half left to play. Bevell puts his faith in Stafford to make things work.
Staff gets time, as Vaitai and Decker lock down their respective EDGE’s and he slings it to TJ Hockenson in traffic. Caught. First down. The crowd explodes as Staff looks confident. He goes back to Hock again, a gain of 15. One minute to go, ball at around midfield.
The repeated targets of Hock draws attention away from D’Andre Swift who is able to shake and bake a Vikings corner and pick up another first. 45 seconds left. Bevell has a tough call. He plays it conservative and decides to put trust in Matt Prater.
The Lions hand the ball off to Kerryon Johnson to set up Matt Prater on his preferred side of choice and give him a few seconds to think about the kick. Prater absolutely drills it. Then a noise. An audible dong as the ball hits the upright… and just goes past the crossbar. It’s good and we head to OT.
The Detroit Lions win the coin toss, as Stafford goes out there first with a chance to win. After a couple of runs to Adrian Peterson it’s 3rd and 4. Staff drops back, feels pressure up the middle, and runs. He slides at what appears to be the first down marker. The ref marks him short. It’s 4th and a literal inch, if not less. What does MP do? He trusts his OC and his offense, which has led them to this point. Bevell decides to call a quick pass to Dola or Hock depending on the read. Stafford sees the Vikings are leaving the box exposed. He calls an audible, a run play. He hands off to AP who explodes through a hole plowed by Vaitai and rookie Jonah Jackson against Yannick Ngakoue. A first down. Ten yards. 15 yards. 20 yards. 25 yards. And he’s finally brought down at around the Vikings 40-yard line.
With time left on the clock this time and the game tied, Bevell decides now is his chance. It’s time to be aggressive. The Detroit Lions sub out Kenny Golladay for Marvin Hall. The Vikes send a blitz. Marvin Hall beats Mike Hughes over the top. Touchdown as Stafford throws his best pass of the season right over the top to Hall for a 40-yard touchdown.
Lions win 35-28 in OT and are headed to the playoffs as a 7 seed.
Wildcard Round- At New Orleans Saints
The Detroit Lions are now in the playoffs, and at 9-7 have clinched the NFL’s new 7th seed. This puts them in a tough situation as they are going to be on the road for the first round, but with one game now determining the season and every game as a do or die, as well as full health across the board with the exceptions of Jayron Kearse, Will Harris, Reggie Ragland, Romeo Okwara and Kenny Golladay (who is later revealed to have been injured the play before last in the Vikings game) the Lions are poised for a potential upset.
Their opponent, the New Orleans Saints. The Saints found success against them at Ford Field in Week 4, a distant four months ago now. The world has changed since then. Specifically, the Detroit Lions have changed since then.
After reviewing the tape from Week 4, Matt Patricia makes a bold move. He would be taking over playcalling duties in this game.
The Lions come out aggressive on offense, playing with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Swift, Marvin Jones, and TJ Hockenson all have 100+ yard days. Adrian Peterson puts up a touchdown in short yardage, but it’s close late. The Detroit Lions are up by one with five minutes to go, Lions ball at the Saints 5. It’s third down. Hockenson suffered a minor injury earlier in the drive and is getting his ankle taped up by the training staff. Jesse James comes in. Bevell’s plan? Throw it to him.
Instead, the Saints over-prepare for that possibility. They know the Lions TE threat in the red zone and decide to double Jesse James. This leaves D’Andre Swift wide open for a touchdown. The Detroit Lions go up by 8 after kicking the PAT and just need the defense to shut down. After an explosive 40-yard run by Kamara exudes excitement in New Orleans, the Lions tighten up. Pass breakups by Okudah and Walker force a third down and ten. Brees drops back, and Da’Shawn Hand gets pressure up the middle. He hits Brees as he throws, and the pass sails right to Duron Harmon. It’s picked off, and the Detroit Lions run down the clock the rest of the way with a pair of first downs to pull off the upset over the Saints 36-28.
Divisional Round- At San Francisco 49ers
The Lions now had a tough task ahead, as they had to face the reigning conference champions and #1 seed San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers took note of how the Lions win games. Shutting down tight ends with Walker, and the corner room taking away receiving options. Shanahan came in with a plan. Run the ball right down the Lions’ god damn throat. Hard. All game long. It worked. The 49ers totaled almost 50 rushing attempts of around 200 team rushing yards and three touchdowns as the Lions lack of depth up the middle got exposed. Danny Shelton was a band-aid but Nick Williams, Da’Shawn Hand, and Jahlani Tavai all got beat up over the course of the game and missed time with various injuries, resulting in a brutal showing on both sides of the ball. The final score would not tell the story of the beating the Lions took, and it became clear- the direction is clearly pointing up, but this team is not close enough to be a Super Bowl contender, let alone a threat, as the 49ers end the Lions season 28-17.
Season Stats and Summary
The Detroit Lions would end up finishing the year 10-8, with a 9-7 regular season record, and a 1-1 record in the playoffs. It becomes clear that the Lions are building something, and while it may not be complete just yet, and they’re not an upper-echelon team, the Lions are clearly heading in the right direction and the Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn regime is here to stay for at least a couple more seasons. A playoff victory would certainly buy them both some goodwill with the fans and ownership, and the patience will have been rewarded.
As for stats, while the Lions do not come away with any awards of note, as Stafford gets beat out for MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, and Comeback Player of the Year, Swift loses Offensive Rookie of the Year, Okudah fails to even be named a finalist for Defensive Rookie of the Year and nobody on the team is worth considering for Defensive Player of the Year, the Detroit Lions put up some pretty good stats over the year.
Matthew Stafford finishes as a top-five quarterback in pretty much every metric from PFF grading to DVOA to yards and touchdowns, proving that last year under Bevell was no fluke, even with some occasional struggles throughout the year that hold him back a tad from the MVP and OPOY races. Stafford throws for around 4250 yards, with around 35 Touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Kerryon Johnson, D’Andre Swift showcase themselves as the Detroit Lions dynamic running back tandem, but Adrian Peterson also assists with some clutch moments as well. The Lions finish the year with roughly 1750 team total rushing yards, including a couple from Matthew Stafford and the receivers on top of that. Most importantly though, the running backs room is able to keep drives alive and pick up key first downs that help the team win games, with a rare big play that comes around every once in a while to really come through for the team.
Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones both struggle this season due in part to missing time with injuries. However, Danny Amendola, Marvin Hall, Quintez Cephus, and Jesse James step up this year to do their jobs and fill their roles as the next men up. Meanwhile, T.J. Hockenson proves that he is going to be a weapon for years to come with Matthew Stafford, as he finishes top-five among tight ends in yards per catch, and yards after the catch while continuing to grow and develop as a blocker.
The Detroit Lions defensive line still fails to get many sacks, as they come in last in the league in sacks on the season. However, they bump their team pressure percentage, with help from the linebackers, up to just below league average, which is enough for the coverage to do its part on the back end.
Detroit’s second level sees glimpses of hope for the future. While Jamie Collins appears to have struggled according to some, he becomes a big part of the team’s adaptability and versatility at the second level, allowing players like Jahlani Tavai and Jarrad Davis to be used to their fullest potential as much as possible during the season.
The Lions secondary shows up in a big way to really help the team’s defense grow in year three of Matt Patricia. The Detroit Lions safety duo of Tracy Walker and Duron Harmon prove themselves to be one of the league’s better duos, while Will Harris shows signs of development and Jayron Kearse comes in on occasion to make a couple of plays when players have temporary plays off for rest or injury.
The Lions special teams unit largely performs to expectations. While fans still criticize Matt Prater for the missed field goal that could have won the team the division had he made it against the Indianapolis Colts, he came through in Week 17 and was an important part of the team’s success. Meanwhile, Jack Fox, the team’s new punter shows rapid development under new Special Teams Coordinator Brayden Coombs, who starts to receive some potential Head Coaching buzz after he leads the Detroit Lions special teams unit to another top-five finish with help from Jamal Agnew, who is named one of the team’s three All-Pro players at return specialist alongside Matthew Stafford and Taylor Decker.
Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to follow @C_Robbins_ on Twitter, and leave me your thoughts on the Detroit Lions Subreddit! Check out some more of Chris’s articles for The Detroit Lions Podcast here.