The Detroit Lions have experienced only sporadic success since drafting quarterback Matthew Stafford with the top pick of the 2009 NFL Draft.
While a lot has changed since then, many of the team’s biggest problems have largely remained.
That was one of the reasons Lions GM Bob Quinn hired former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to replace head coach Jim Caldwell after the 2017 season.
One of the biggest differences thus far has been Detroit’s commitment to building a complementary run game to help the team take some pressure off of Stafford. Patricia spoke to Peter King about his desire to rely less on No. 9.
According to Stafford, Patricia’s competitive syle of really pushing him during each practice is something the nine-year veteran passer has embraced. You can hear Stafford talk a little bit about Patricia’s approach in this Sirius XM Radio interview.
— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) August 15, 2018
Caldwell, as successful as he was (3 winning seasons in 4 years as Detroit’s head coach), had a history of neglecting the run game. Like Jim Schwartz before him, Caldwell was more concerned with yards per carry than he was with building a successful all-around ground game.
When you have a good or great quarterback, it’s easy to think they alone can overcome the rest of the team’s deficiencies. Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees for example, despite both winning a Super Bowl MVP, have had issues making deep playoff runs other than during their championship seasons.
Their individual talent would make you believe their teams are contenders, however, the past ten years have proven that to be false. It’s not because Rodgers and Brees aren’t great, it’s because their respective teams haven’t done a good enough job building around them.
The defense in Detroit since drafting Stafford has been mostly bad. Only twice during his nine seasons (2011 and 2014) has Stafford had a decent or good defensive unit, and he led the team to the playoffs both seasons.
In terms of a running game, there’s legitimately only one season you can say Stafford had a decent ground attack (2013 with Reggie Bush).
So while quarterbacks are ultimately judged by wins and losses, even the best to ever do it cannot do it by themselves. Otherwise, you’d have guys like Rodgers and Brees competing every year with Tom Brady for championships.
Hell, even the great John Elway couldn’t get it done until he was complemented by running back Terrell Davis late in his career. Stafford has endured a lot of the same issues as Elway, while continuing to put up Hall of Fame numbers in the meantime.
There is no guarantee this year will be any different, and the Lions could very well struggle again to run the ball. But for the first time in a while, it appears the team has provided more than just lip service into rebuilding the ground game around Stafford.
After big free agent spending in 2017 on guard T.J. Lang and right tackle Rick Wagner, the Lions drafted Frank Ragnow in the first round in 2018. They added LeGarrette Blount and second-round pick Kerryon Johnson at tailback, both with impressive preseason debuts last week.
If it all works according to plan, Stafford should take fewer hits and be in a better position to lead this Lions team to its first Super Bowl.