With an emerging running game, Detroit’s offense is looking more complete this year than it has since Reggie Bush. General manager Bob Quin signed a bruiser in the backfield by way of LeGarrette Blount and drafted a young star in Kerryon Johnson to carry the load.
The offensive line is doing a better job opening holes and providing Matt Stafford with protection, helped in part by drafting Frank Ragnow in the first-round last year. It also helps that the right side, T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner, are now in their second year of this complex offense.
The Lions also have a great receiving corps with a trio of prolific pass-catchers.
Marvin Jones is an outstanding deep threat who seems to draw at least one pass interference call per game.
Golden Tate is known for his elusiveness and ability to run for yards after the catch, but he also runs routes well and has great hands.
The former third round pick in Kenny Golladay finally provides the group with some size and strength, listed as 6’4” and 214 lbs. He is another guy with great hands and has a knack for catching the football, leading to a nickname of “Babytron” that is starting to gain some steam.
And credit where it’s due, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter has done a much better job of mixing up his play calls than in years past. It is not always inherently obvious what the play will be based on the formation, though there is still a lot of room for improvement.
The defense is what has struggled this year.
Detroit ranks 30th against the run, and the gaping hole in the unit was a big, strong man in the middle.
Head coach Matt Patricia was the defensive coordinator for the Patriots for six years, and he, with Bob Quin, just acquired the Vince Wilfork of Detroit.
Quin gave the Giants a fifth-round pick in exchange for Damon Harrison, 6’3” and 355 lbs. He is a big man.
If Ezekiel Ansah can ever get healthy and back to his 2014 form, which looks doubtful at this point, then this will be a defensive unit to fear.
Jarrad Davis and the rest of the linebackers are young but have talent and are improving. They are tough football players that do not give up on a play.
The secondary, led by Darius Slay and Glover Quin, is one of the best in the league. It has surrendered the fourth-fewest passing yards in the NFL and has covered for long enough for a slow pass rush to rack up 21 sacks.
With Harrison in the middle alongside a young Da’Shawn Hand, ranked among the best rookie interior defensive linemen by Pro Football Focus, and A’Shawn Robinson providing rotational depth, this could be the start of a defense as good as 2014 as all the pieces settle into Patricia’s scheme.
Harrison will have plenty of opportunities this week against the Seattle Seahawks. Carson has run well out of the backfield for them, and Russell Wilson is always a threat to take off.
The Lions better hope they have enough snacks on the sidelines.
If they do, they are in striking distance of the first-place Vikings and their first division title since 1993.