A Look At Which Lions Feasted And Who Struggled In The 2017 Season.
Lions That Feasted In 2017
Darius Slay was arguably the Lions’ most consistent player of the 2017 season, but his play was consistently at an elite level. He helped turn the Lions turnover issues from a season ago around, earning a league-tieing best for interceptions with eight on the season. Slay was always in great positioning, utilized his top tier speed and hip quickness to close in on the ball, breaking up 26 passes on the year.
Slay was shutting down top receivers all year like Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Thomas, Mike Evans, and Stefon Diggs. He also tackled well in the open field, which was needed for a Lions run defense that struggled for much of the season, helping the Lions young corner earned 60 tackles in 2017.
Glover Quin was also quite helpful in turning around the Lions turnover issues from the previous season. While he managed less interceptions than Slay, with three, he brought a more physical presence to the defense at the safety position. He recovered a fumble, and seemed to force fumbles right when the Lions needed it most in 2017. He totaled four fumbles forced on the year, also with 60 tackles. Quin was used more in the box in the 2017 season, showing his versatility that should help impress whichever head coach takes over for Detroit in 2018.
Matthew Stafford showed some serious growth in his passing game this season. While he did manage to throw 10 interceptions, he did so as the 2nd most sacked quarterback on the season, while leading the league in sacks evaded. While a couple of his interceptions certainly were ill-advised throws, they typically came under duress.
Where Stafford showed great growth this year was his ability to deliver accurate touch throws and had some really impeccable ball placement this year on the Lions deep passing game. There were several close games this season that required every bit of Stafford’s ability to earn a Detroit victory and should have fans feeling confident about their quarterback heading into the 2018 season.
Lions In Famine
Travis Swanson had one of the worst performances of any Lion in the 2017 season. He looked weak at the point of attack and was consistently blown back by bull rushers in the passing game. Sacks was one of the top issues with the offense going stagnant this year and Swanson was a big culprit.
Interior penetration killed the Lions run game and was the major reason Detroit had the worst rushing attack in the NFL this year. Swanson’s regression could cause the Lions to look to two-year veteran Graham Glasgow or elsewhere for a replacement in the 2018 season at center, were they to not pick Swanson’s contract back up this off-season.
Anthony Zettel started off the 2017 season hot with sacks, but that flame quickly died out. The Lions 2nd year defensive end really struggled with containing the edge against the run this season and it consistently created problems for the Detroit defense.
Not only did he struggle to prevent running backs from getting to the edge, but he also consistently bit on read-option plays, allowing quarterbacks to also create big plays on the ground. Several times this season, it was for touchdowns. Zettel could be a solid rotation piece, who can be further developed going forward. However, Detroit would be wise to look at free agency or the draft for an upgrade next season.
Theo Riddick may have finally been figured out this season by NFL defenses, who really locked down Riddick this season. The Lions running back showed little growth in his ability to see the holes and hit them, causing severe issues for his running production this year. The poor run blocking was certainly a factor. But the Lions needed a more reliable back to take advantage of the holes when they are created, so the pressure would not fall solely on the passing attack to succeed.
In the passing attack where Riddick normally creates much separation with his quick burst, it seemed like there was always a defender waiting this season. The Lions like to use their running backs in the passing game a lot, but they may need to look beyond Riddick for production out of their “receiving back” role for next season.