5 Reasons the Lions Have Hope in 2020
Hope is the most powerful word in the English language.
And in the midst of this pandemic and during a time of unprecedented uncertainty, everyone is looking for some kind of hope to grab a hold of.
Lions fans are no exception to this. In fact, they have historically exemplified hope.
Without the same kind of recent success that other organizations have had, Detroit fans keep hoping that this just might be their year.
Last year, after I interviewed with the Redskins, I took the opportunity to evaluate a number of NFL teams, including the Lions.
And I will say this, the Lions resonated with me more than any other team I evaluated.
I did a full team report on the Giants, Eagles, Cowboys, Redskins, Vikings, Packers, Lions, Jets, Bills and Panthers. And evaluating some of those teams was like watching paint dry.
However, I found myself feeling excited when I watched the Lions.
My wife Samantha told me, “Maybe, it’s not such a good idea to tell Bruce [Allen] how much you like the Lions!”
I just could not get enough of watching the Lions on film.
I understand their record did not match what I was feeling, but I strongly feel there is more to the Lions than what meets the eye.
Last season, I spent about nine hours per game, evaluating the following seven games: 9/8 vs. AZ, 9/15 vs. LAC, 9/22 vs. PHI, 10/14 vs. GB, 10/17 vs. NYG, 11/3 vs. OAK and 11/17 vs. DAL.
I put a lot of time into studying the Lions, and I believe there is hope for them this year.
Without further ado, here are my top five reasons why.
This promises to be the most unpredictable season in my 38 years of watching the game.
Prior to this, the most unpredictable season I ever saw was the 1987 strike season, when teams had to field replacement players for three games.
I believe we are going to see a far more unpredictable season this year.
According to NFL.com, 67 players have opted out due to the pandemic. But, that is just the beginning of how the proverbial dice are being shaken up.
At any time, players and/or coaches could find themselves out of the action if they test positive.
Imagine, God forbid, a head coach and an offensive coordinator of a team testing positive and subsequently being quarantined.
Imagine if a starting quarterback and star receiver of a team test positive and are then immediately quarantined.
There has never been more of an uncertain time for the point spreads in Vegas.
It is because of that unpredictability, that I believe we will see a dark-horse team emerge as the Super Bowl champion this year.
It very well could be the Lions.
I am predicting the Lions will win the NFC North in 2020, and they will be the biggest surprise in the National Football League.
After Bruce Allen got fired from Washington, I attempted to email several people within the Lions building last January, hoping it would result in me landing an opportunity with the franchise.
That is how much I believe in this team.
The personality of the team is aggressive, physical and competitive
Those were the three words that went through my mind when I was watching the Lions' offense, defense and special teams last season.
I really liked the aggressive, deep downfield play-calling and passing game when Matthew Stafford was under center.
Things changed somewhat once he was injured and replaced by QB Jeff Driskel.
However, the defense and special teams continued to reflect these attributes as I evaluated the team.
They say that a team takes on the personality of its head coach.
This is true with the Lions.
They kept things relatively close on the scoreboard, and some of the games even came down to the last play.
While these attributes weren't reflected on the scoreboard or in the win-loss column in 2019, I think the team will get over the hump and that will change this year.
These three attributes vibed with me.
Head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn
I know better than anyone where they come from.
My interview with the Jets came down to looking Bill Belichick in the eyes and me convincing him to hire me.
While I have not had the privilege of working with Patricia or Quinn in Detroit, I understand what kind of environment they probably worked in while in New England, and that environment produced championships.
Those are Patricia’s and Quinn’s roots.
Every time I look at Patricia, he strikes me as being wicked smart.
Whatever you do, do not give up on him.
Remember, once upon a time, Belichick got fired before he landed in New England. And the Jets also let him walk out of their building.
It is clear to me that Patricia is infusing the Lions' roster with toughness, discipline, focus, teamwork, physicality and aggression.
Quinn got the shutdown corner that will change the complexion of the defense and make the unit even better in Jeff Okudah.
Quinn also did a nice job upgrading the backup QB position with Chase Daniel.
I liked him the first time I saw him as a rookie in Washington.
He's got the 'it" factor, and he fits the Lions.
Great special teams play
The following is from my Lions team scouting report that I did and turned into Bruce Allen last year.
The Lions have the best special teams I saw on film in 2019.
Their special teams really resonated with me.
On all four units (kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return), they were physical, aggressive and highly competitive.
THEY WANT IT.
That is what I wrote.
At the time of my evaluations (11/24/19), according to FootballOutsiders.com, the Lions' special teams ranked second in the league.
The kickoff team was like a tank of piranhas coming down the field.
They were very physical, and they loved contact.
I just could not say enough good things about the Lions' special teams last season, in terms of their physicality and aggression both in coverage and blocking.
The thing about having great special teams is that great special teams play can put the Lions' offense in better starting field position.
And on the flip side of the coin, it puts the opposing offense in worse starting field position to begin a drive.
Said another way, great special teams play puts the Lions in an even better position to win.
The Lions play as a team
It is my last point, but this is my most important point.
I saved the best for last.
In a day where individualism in a professional team sport is becoming more prevalent, football is still a team sport.
In a day where it seems to be all about mega contracts and individual players standing up for this or that cause, the Lions just strike me as a team in the truest sense of the word.
It is something I picked up on, and I am sure it was ingrained in Patricia and Quinn during their time in New England.
I have learned the mantra in New England is to “Know your role” and “Do your job.”
Everyone from A-Z has a very specific role to play. And when everyone does just that and does not overstep that role, the better the team performs.
It’s similar to an orchestra.
When everyone plays their instrument, it makes beautiful-sounding music. But, when everyone tries to play everyone else’s instrument, it sounds like a fourth grader's recital.
I grew up watching and studying Hall of Fame GM Bobby Beathard and the Super Bowl champion teams he built with only three first-round draft picks during his time in Washington.
Beathard traded out of the first round in seven consecutive years.
I learned the importance of the concept of team from Beathard, and it has since been reinforced by learning from Belichick.
The fewer superstars, the better.
The less ego, the better.
Superstars sell jerseys, but superstars are not always the best thing when it comes to building a team.
I remember when college teams did not even have the names of the players on the back of their jerseys, and it is something the NFL did not even start to do until 1970, according to the LA Times.
A team is much more than just 53 guys putting on the same helmet.
A team is a mindset, and the fact that the Lions felt like a team when I watched them bodes very well.
That is a very good sign.