With the past success of the 2011 season behind them, the Detroit Lions must continue to improve as a football team in order to earn a chance to play in the 2013 Super Bowl. In order to do so, the Lions must tackle five grueling challenges that, once overcome, will catapult them into Super Bowl contention.
Beat the Packers
The Lions have not beaten the Packers since 2010.
There will be two teams representing the NFC North in the playoffs this season and in order for Detroit to ensure that it gets one of those spots, it needs to beat the king of the division.
Detroit should continue to split the series with Chicago and sweep Minnesota, but it must steal a victory against the Packers at home to put itself in contention with the Packers at the end of the season for one of the precious playoffs spots.
Two losses against Green Bay could prove to be detrimental and allow Chicago to stick around in the division race.
This regime has beaten the Packers before. They just have to replicate what they have already done.
Establish a sound running game
The Lions are a one-dimensional team by all means with its tremendous passing game, but the franchise will reap unlimited benefits if it can create a respectable ground game.
Injuries, inconsistencies, and a lack of depth have plagued the Lions ever since Schwartz put on the headset for the first time as the Lions head coach.
This season the Lions need to improve on the ground by staying healthy, achieving hard-to-get first downs on third-and-short, and garnering the respect of defensives just enough to buy Stafford a split second more of time to get off a pass.
With Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure healed from injuries sustained last season, the Lions just may overcome this hurdle this coming year.
Replicate the passing game’s success
Matthew Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards last season and the Lions must ensure that he can replicate that performance this season.
The Lions have added rookie wide receiver Ryan Broyles from this year’s draft and also have Titus Young who has a year of experience in Scott Linehan’s offense to build off of.
Calvin Johnson should continue to be the passing game’s focal point, assuming he does not fall victim to the Madden curse.
Another factor calculated into this challenge is the strength of the offensive line. The team is returning all five of its starters, but veterans such as Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola are another year older—their physical abilities are going to continue to regress.
Start fast, stay focused
Too many times last season the Lions started games slow and fell behind opponents by astronomical numbers.
Although the Lions were able to combat some of those slow starts by finishing strong and clutch, it cannot rely on Captain Comeback big finishes by Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson in every game again this year.
Whatever ritual it was that had the Lions start slow at the beginning of most games last season, the Lions should eliminate it from their pregame routine. They cannot begin a game flat this year with so much on the line this season.
If it was the music they listened to on the bus ride over to Ford Field, maybe they should play
different songs. If it was the stretching routine that put them in a daze, maybe they should start out making tiny arm circles, both forwards and backwards, to get their motor running. Hell, if Schwartz was giving his best Knute Rockne or Vince Lombardi impressions during his pregame pep talks, maybe he should channel his inner Mike Gundy and tell the players how old he is (see below).
Embrace the fans
The Lions have finally made it.
They are no longer the basement dwellers drafting first and second in the NFL Draft.
The team needs to embrace its loyal fans, both far and near, and enjoy the fact that regardless of how bad the team has been, none of the fans have bolted for the door.
Detroit needs to remember who it is playing for and, most importantly, have fun this season for themselves and the fans. Now that is one hell of a challenge!