2016 Lions Opponents: Did They Improve? NFC East
By Al Stahl
After a full offseason of free agency and the draft, the Lions’ 2016 opponents will look very different when they face off against Detroit. This week, we’re taking a look at the NFC East. And be sure to check out our recap of the AFC South.
In addition to facing the AFC South, the Lions will also be going up against the teams of the NFC East. That includes Washington, Dallas, New York and Philadelphia. Detroit isn’t the only team to make roster moves this offseason and we’ll be taking at look at the changes each of these NFC Easy teams made this year below. So let’s dive in and see how each team has changed since 2015 and whether or not they will be improved in 2016.
Let’s start by taking a look at the changes Washington made on offense:
|2015 Offensive Starters||Proj. 2016 O Starters|
|LT||Trent Williams||LT||Trent Williams|
|LG||Spencer Long||LG||Shawn Lauvao|
|C||Kory Lichtensteiger||C||Kory Lichtensteiger|
|RG||Brandon Scherff||RG||Brandon Scherff|
|RT||Morgan Moses||RT||Morgan Moses|
|TE||Jordan Reed||TE||Jordan Reed|
|WR||DeSean Jackson||WR||Josh Doctson|
|WR||Pierre Garcon||WR||DeSean Jackson|
|WR||Andre Roberts||WR||Pierre Garcon|
|RB||Alfred Morris||RB||Matt Jones|
|QB||Kirk Cousins||QB||Kirk Cousins|
There are two major differences on offense going into the 2016 season. Washington drafted receiver Josh Doctson out of TCU to team up with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. The receiving corps needed a boost and Doctson will provide it. Several draft scouts thought Doctson was the best receiver available in the draft this year. His addition will only improve a unit that was serviceable but underwhelming in 2015.
Additionally, fantasy darling and running back Alfred Morris left in free agency and the Washington front office did absolutely nothing to replace him. Matt Jones will be the starter heading into Week 1. Matt Jones does not command the attention that Alfred Morris did in his time in D.C. Hopefully by adding another receiving threat, the offense can balance out its production in 2016.
The only other difference is at left guard. In 2015, Shawn Lauvao was injured for the year pretty early on. Spencer Long started 13 games in his stead last year and performed admirably. There may be a bit of a camp battle between the two, but if Lauvao is healthy, he should be expected to get the starting job.
Now let’s take a look at the defense:
|2015 Defensive Starters||Proj. 2016 D Starters|
|DE||Stephen Paea||DE||Chris Baker|
|DT||Terrance Knighton||DT||Kedric Golston|
|DE||Jason Hatcher||DE||Trent Murphy|
|OLB||Ryan Kerrigan||OLB||Ryan Kerrigan|
|ILB||Perry Riley Jr.||ILB||Perry Riley Jr.|
|ILB||Keenan Robinson||ILB||Will Compton|
|OLB||Trent Murphy||OLB||Junior Galette|
|CB||DeAngelo Hall||CB||Bashaud Breeland|
|FS||Dashon Goldson||FS||DeAngelo Hall|
|SS||Trenton Robinson||SS||Duke Ihenacho|
|CB||Chris Culliver||CB||Josh Norman|
There are more changes on this side of the ball. The defensive line was shaken up this offseason. Terrance Knighton left in free agency and second year guy Trent Murphy is transitioning from a 3-4 outside linebacker to a 3-4 defensive end. I listed Stephen Paea as the 2015 starter here, but the truth is he lost his starting gig midway through the season to Chris Baker, who’ll continue to hold down that position in 2016. With Knighton out at nose, his backup Kedric Gholston will step into the starting lineup. The real concern among these moves is that Washington is kind of counting on a smooth transition from Trent Murphy. He’ll likely struggle to adjust and that position will be more of a rotational one with him, Stephen Paea, and Kendall Reyes, who the team signed in free agendy this offseason.
At linebacker, even though Murphy has moved to the DL, the group was set to get Junior Galette back from injury. He missed all of last season to a torn achilles tendon. But news Monday broke that Galette had again torn his achilles. Maybe the Redskins will keep Murphy at DE and replace Galette from the depth chart, maybe they’ll move Murphy back to OLB and have Paea and Reyes rotate at DE. I think that has yet to be decided. Aside from the Galette injury, Ryan Kerrigan and Perry Riley Jr. return to their starting roles. Will Compton is the presumptive starter on the inside, opposite Riley Jr. He’s replacing Keenan Robinson who left in free agency.
In the secondary, due to injuries in 2015, Bashaud Breeland went from being a nickel corner to a starting one as the season progressed. When Washington was able to sign Josh Norman away from the Carolina Panthers, they suddenly had a pair of good corners. This allowed them to shift the aging DeAngelo Hall to free safety where he’ll replace Dashon Goldson. He’ll be paired with Duke Ihenacho (most likely) who is returning from injury.
Hmm, I wonder if Dan Snyder should invest in some better turf…
Even though the offense added Josh Doctson to the receiving corps, failing to replace Alfred Morris means the running game, and to some extent the passing game, will take a step back. Matt Jones is an OK running back. He’s not a running back you want as your starter though. Getting offensive guard Shawn Lauvao back from injury should only help an otherwise productive offensive line unit (one of the team’s only real strengths).
On defense, injuries and position switches have the unit in flux. They lost a starter at each level of the defense in free agency and have struggled to replace them, opting to promote from within the roster. The addition of Josh Freeman provides a huge boost to the secondary, allowing the flexibility to move Hall to safety without sacrificing talent at corner.
This team went 9-7 last year in large part due to a down year for the division. With a 4-2 division record, the team mustered 5 more wins against Buffalo, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Chicago. As division champs, they have a much harder schedule this season. 9-7 is a pipe dream. This team will be lucky to win 7 games in 2016 and even that may be hoping for too much.
Lions’ chances for a home victory: 67%
Next: Philadelphia Eagles