DLD Contributor Will Richards (@WillRichards19) takes a look at how the Lions can make Calvin Johnson and the offense even more potent.
Having a guy like Calvin Johnson that forces Defensive Coordinators to adjust their schemes like this is a luxury that no one else in the NFL has, and it’s disconcerting that the Detroit Lions haven’t managed to consistently turn it into big gains. One of the biggest problems that the Lions have dealt with is a lack of elite talent, other than Calvin Johnson, from the skill position players. Ryan Broyles looks to be a good player in the slot for future seasons, but nobody else is displaying long term star potential.
This above diagram is the Defense that the Lions saw the most of in 2012. It’s a pretty vanilla Cover-1 look except that the deep Safety is strongly shaded over to Calvin Johnson’s side. This isn’t a fundamentally sound defense. It combines the weaknesses of a Cover-1 and a Cover-2 look in a way that a smart offense would rip to shreds.
The Boundary Corner on the number two receiver is all by his lonesome. A lot of people know this as “Revis Coverage.” Revis Coverage is something that only truly elite Corner Backs can play consistently without getting torched. Being responsible for half the field isn’t something that number two Corner Backs should be able to pull off consistently.
The reason that teams were able to consistently shut down the side of the field that Calvin Johnson wasn’t on, was because there was no deep speed. Once Titus Young fell off the wagon, there was nobody capable of threatening opponent’s deep. Opposing CBs began sitting on the underneath stuff, knowing they could make up for any mistakes because neither Burleson, nor Broyles, nor any of the journeyman scrubs who ended up manning that spot could pull away from a pursuing CB in a foot race.
A guy with actual threatening deep speed would do wonders for this Lions offense. Teams wouldn’t be able to rely on mediocre CBs to shadow half the field. They’d be forced to either move their Low Safety back up top, which opens up things for the running game and the underneath passing game, or they’d be forced to move their High Safety back into the middle of the field, which would open up things for Calvin Johnson deep.
It seems unlikely that Cordarrelle Patterson from Tennessee will see the Lions second round pick, but Terrance Williams from Baylor, or Markus Wheaton from Oregon State would be players that fit with what the Lions need. Uzoma Nwachukwu from Texas A&M would be a guy that could also be an option in the later rounds. All have speed to burn, and could really open up the Lion’s offense.
The RB and TE positions could be improved in a similar manner. Simply by being Megatron, Calvin Johnson stretches defenses vertically. This opens things up horizontally for other players. It’s a shame that there was no one on the roster capable of consistently winning that type of mismatch. A speedster at RB who can take advantage of the man coverage of slow footed Linebackers would be effective. Jahvid Best’s concussion issues curtailed a promising career because his skill set fit the Lions system like a glove. There are a number of receiving backs in this draft, that could potentially fill that role and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if the Lions drafted one. Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle, Oregon’s Kenjon Barner, and Notre Dame’s Theo Riddick would all be viable players in the Lions pass happy system. These guys will be available in the middle and late rounds, because they don’t display the tremendous overall game that teams look for when drafting Running Backs in early rounds.
Similarly, there’s no one on the Lions roster at TE who consistently beats man coverage. Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler are both pretty good players, but neither are great. Whoever the Lions played at TE saw a lot of time matched up on a Safety or Linebacker. A good receiving TE would be able to turn these favorable matchups into more production than either of the incumbents managed to.
The TE spot will be a bit tougher to fix because there aren’t many players in this draft that are better receiving threats than what’s still on the Lions roster. Possibly only Zach Ertz from Stanford, Tyler Eifert from Notre Dame, Gavin Escobar from San Diego State, and Vance McDonald from Rice. There’s a very good chance that none of these players last until the Lions 3rd round pick. With a ton of holes, it’s hard to see the value in choosing a slight upgrade at a position like TE.
There are other holes that the Lions need to fill, but a big part of the Lions’ struggles on offense were caused by a lack of talent among the skill players other than Calvin Johnson. Matt Stafford had a pretty good season with everything considered, but there was only one guy on the offense who could consistently make plays. The elite offensive teams boast three or four guys who can get it done on a particular day. That’s what the Lions are shooting for, and the players mentioned or players like them would help the Lions reach that point.