I should preface this post by stating that in no way do I support this lockout, especially the unending greed of the owners and the NFL, and that I am 100% rooting for a quick resolution and a full 2011 season. Since it appears, at this moment, that the rift between owners and players remains too vast for that possibility, however, it’s worth examining how the Lions could succeed in a lockout-shortened season.
I agree with Collinsworth’s line of thinking here (surprise! I’m a Lions fan) — having a fully-healthy Matthew Stafford on a team loaded with returning skill position talent would give Detroit a leg up on any competition that’s breaking in a new QB (like the Vikings) or installing a new offensive system. As Sean noted at POD, the rookies expected to see the field next season for Detroit either play positions where an immediate impact from a first-year player in not uncommon (Nick Fairley at DT and Mikel Leshoure at RB) or will be in position to succeed based on the depth of their position group (Fairley again, and Titus Young should find open space across from Megatron).
The biggest point, however, is that Detroit’s defensive front is downright scary, and they could feast on opposing offenses that weren’t allowed a full training camp to get their offensive line to mesh, to learn a new offense, or to become comfortable with a new signal-caller. While there are certainly concerns about the Lions’s secondary, those could become moot — or at least greatly mitigated — if the defensive line dominates.
There is, however, the flip-side to this. First of all, Detroit’s biggest concern on offense is their line, and while it appears the team won’t make any major changes up front, it still would be nice for them to get as much training as possible in with Stafford under center. The argument for Detroit being a sleeper — that their defensive line would dominate under-prepared offensive lines — could also work against them.
There’s also the issue of Stafford himself. Though the team and the fans still have every faith that the former No. 1 overall pick will be at least a very good NFL quarterback, he’s only played in 13 games — less than a full season’s worth — over his first two seasons as a pro. Injury concerns aside, Stafford is still a very inexperienced QB despite heading into his third season as a starter. Even though he’s participated in player-led offseason workouts, Stafford could also benefit greatly from participating in as full a training camp as possible.
Finally, this is still an extremely young team. The faces of the franchise — Stafford, Johnson, Suh, Fairley, and Best — will all be 26 years old or younger during the (at this point hypothetical) 2011 season. All could use coaching from both their more-experienced teammates as well as their crack staff of coaches — Jim Schwartz, Scott Linehan, and Gunther Cunningham are assuredly itching to get this lockout over with so they can coach up a team with this much raw talent.
While the Lions could certainly have a successful lockout-shortened season, it’s not only a situation the fans would like to avoid, but one that could hurt the team in the long-term. While it would certainly be fun to see Suh and Fairley tear into opposing backfields with reckless abandon, that might (and probably should) happen regardless of the length of the season, and I’d like to see that season be as long as possible.