Continuing an offseason NFC North themed Five Downs, Side Lion Report sets down with us this week to talk Detroit Lions football, as it relates to the Green Bay Packers.
Michael Kirkland joins us this week. Kirkland is a contributor for the Side Lion Report. Read below to see if he would rather have Aaron Rodgers or Matthew Stafford under center and other conversations around the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.
Dairyland Express: Of the four teams in the NFC North, which team improved the most in the offseason?
Side Lion Report: The Bears had the most room to grow (5-11). The Vikings had the least room to improve (13-3). Both the Packers (7-9) and Lions (9-7) had an injury-plagued year in 2017, with offensive issues and poor defenses badly in need of upgrades.
Bears: They went out and grabbed a new coach, Matt Nagy, retooled their receiver corps to help second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, but didn’t do too much to help their defense except for draft Roquan Smith at inside linebacker.
Admittedly, the defense was top 10 in both points and yards, so it makes sense that they would try to help their 32nd ranked passing attack. If newly-signed wideout, Allen Robinson, can stay healthy he can give the offense a go-to guy to compliment runners Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.
‘Da’ Bears’ have a lot of potential but aren’t ready to compete with the better teams in the North, yet. I’d say that they seemed to bring in more talent than any other team, and address more issues. New coaches are always a wild card, and you have to count the change as a measure of uncertainty, no matter the spin from the team.
Vikings: Is there a whole lot more to consider than cleaning house at quarterback, and signing Kirk Cousins to take over? The Vikings won Cousins and seem to have few excuses for not repeating as ‘North’ champs. Sheldon Richardson was also brought in to help on the interior of their defense.
However much Cousins improves the team (which was 11th in passing in 2017), is probably going to be it. They get running back Dalvin Cook back, but lost Jerrick McKinnon, a versatile scatback, who had almost 1,000 yards from scrimmage. The Vikings also failed to solidify the interior of their offensive line via the draft or free agency, but nobody’s perfect.
I would rank them last, other than two major signings, which they hope will mean a trip to the Super Bowl. Again, the Vikings didn’t have a lot of room to improve.
Packers: Green Bay made a splash with tight end Jimmy Graham being added to bolster their receivers. Graham, who’ll turn 32 this year, isn’t the 1,000-yard type player anymore, but is effective in the red zone where he scored 10 times in 2017. This move takes the sting off of losing long-time wide receiver and go-to guy, Jordy Nelson; Rodgers seems a little salty about that, though.
The Pack has swapped defensive gurus, Dom Capers for the younger Mike Pettine. Muhammad Wilkerson, defensive tackle, was brought in to help the defensive front, but hasn’t had a big campaign in three years. Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson were drafted (2018 first and second round) to go with 2017 second round pick, Kevin King. That’s a lot of youth and cornerbacks are not usually immediately successful in the NFL.
The Packers offensive line is coming off of a horrible year, in terms of consistently putting five guys in front of their quarterback (they gave up 51 sacks). Equally challenging was the Pack’s backfield, which rotated runners almost as often as linemen. No players were obtained to solidify those issues. Oh, by the way, running back, Aaron Jones, was suspended by the NFL for violating the substance abuse policy, too.
I think the Packers had the second least productive offseason. They are hoping that health is better, starting with Rodgers. “Help me A-a-ron Rodgers, you’re our only hope”, Packers fans are chanting.
Lions: I waited to assess my team because in this context it could seem like bias if I say I like their offseason best; I don’t. However, I would say that it was second to the Bears. The Lions addressed big concerns but have uncertainty due to shifting leadership.
The big offseason move was at head coach, where former Patriots defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia, was brought in by general manager (and also former Patriots guy), Bob Quinn. Patricia hasn’t been a head coach. There I said it. It’s a risk. However, Jim Caldwell never seemed to be more than a nice players coach, and he had no postseason success.
The offense picks up four new linemen, (two via draft, center, Frank Ragnow, and tackle, Tyrell Crosby). Ragnow is expected to start Day 1 along the interior. This was the Achilles heel of the offense which still ranked seventh in scoring. Similar to the Packers, the Lions had trouble keeping five players in front of Stafford. However, draft picks and free agents point to better success in 2018. The backfield also sees an influx of talent in Super Bowl rabbit’s foot and thumper, LeGarrette Blount, and second round pick Kerryon Johnson. The Lions ranked 32nd in rushing last year.
Defensively, the Lions have beefed up their line by adding Sylvester Williams and linebackers Devon Kinnard and Christian Jones. They added college underachiever but massively talented defensive end Da’Shawn Hand via the draft, tagged end, Ziggy Ansah, and drafted depth ( 3rd round defensive back, Tracy Walker) behind the ageless free safety, Glover Quin. The Lions lost tackle, Haloti Ngata, and linebackers Tahir Whitehead and Paul Worrilow. Patricia is known for getting a lot out of rosters without lots of superstar defenders. The new, two-gap system seems like a good fit for quite a few of Detroit’s defenders, who have been successful in the same system.