I’m going to start this article by congratulating you all. WE MADE IT! (so far, anyway). 8 games into the season, week 9 wrapped up and we’re still going. 6 months ago in April, we were gearing up for a virtual NFL Draft, without knowing yet whether we would actually be having a season come September.
The NFL weren’t alone in this, the NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS and countless other sports leagues across the world were cut short, temporarily stopped or put on hold for the foreseeable future. The pandemic is still running its way around society, but, more importantly - we have FOOTBALL. Now, I don’t want to make this all about COVID, and I won’t - but it’s incredibly tough to mention this year without it creeping into the conversation.
Despite all of the fears and worries, no pre-season and training camp being shaken up and player opt-outs, millions tuned in worldwide on Thursday 10th September (Friday 11th for us Brits) to watch the first game of the season. A repeat of the 2019 AFC Divisional Play-off Game, Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs. I can only imagine the sigh of relief on the 16th September as the week 1 games went on and completed without a hitch.
It’s been a rollercoaster since one that will probably not end for a while as the chance of serious interruption to the league is still relatively high.
Each team has had its own complications to deal with (RE: COVID), accompanied by their own individual scenarios regarding the states of their franchises. The Lions are no different in that. 32 different teams were in 32 different scenarios. Despite the main focus being on the global pandemic in the build-up to the season (and throughout), there have been many other situations that have been in and around not only the NFL but the league as a whole.
The Lions’ situation entering the season
Michigan and COVID: The state of Michigan was seemingly much tighter in restrictions than many other states. The Lions worked with Governor Gretchen Whitmer on the plans to play games, as well as potentially allow fans into Ford Field. Though the games were able to go ahead, it was announced on 28th August that no fans would be allowed in Ford Field until at LEAST the Indianapolis Colts game in week 8 (3rd home game of the season).
Opt-Outs: In July, the NFL and NFLPA announced they would be doing an ‘opt-out’ scheme for players. More information can be found in this article on ROTL about what the opt-outs are and what they mean for the players who accept. The only opt-outs for the Lions were: WR Geronimo Allison, DT John Atkins and C Russel Bodine. No detrimental opt-outs for the Lions, so not much worry was made at the time.
Coaching Changes: the Lions had brought in new coaches in the off-season, most notably being Defensive Coordinator Cory Undlin. A full list of coaching changes can be viewed here. One other change which is missing on the list of changes is the promotion of OL Coach, Hank Fraley.
Player Additions/Losses: the Lions added plenty of new players during the off-season. In the draft, free agency and in trades. I won’t go through them all but I will add a few key players that have left or arrived (inc. the 2020 Draft).
Left Detroit: CB Darius Slay, RT Rick Wagner, DT Damon Harrison, P Sam Martin, DT A’Shawn Robinson & QB Jeff Driskell,
Arrived: CB Desmond Trufant, RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, S Duron Harmon, QB Chase Daniel, RB Adrian Peterson, DE Everson Griffin*
*Signed during the season
Round 1 - CB Jeff Okudah (Ohio State)
Round 2 - RB D’Andre Swift (Georgia)
Round 3 - LB Julian Okwara (Notre Dame)
Round 3 - OL Jonah Jackson (Ohio State)
Round 4 - OL Logan Stenberg (Kentucky)
Round 5 - WR Quintez Cephus (Wisconsin)
Round 5 - RB Jason Huntley (New Mexico State)^
Round 6 - DL John Penisini (Utah)
Round 7 - DL Jashon Cornell (Ohio State)
^ No longer with the Lions
Head Coach & General Manager: Going into the season, Head Coach Matt Patricia and General Manager Bob Quinn were both in hot seats entering the season. Matt Patricia was heading for his 3rd season as a Head Coach and so far had a record of 9-22-1. Bob Quinn - who sacked Caldwell after a 9-7 season for ‘not being good enough’ - has stuck by Matt Patricia for so long that many believe they’re a ‘package deal’. They started the season already in the hot-seat with the likelihood that anything less than a playoff run is going to result in their last season at the Lions.
Ownership: In June, it was announced that Martha Ford was stepping down as owner of the Lions, with daughter Sheila stepping up in her position. Sheila has been in/around the organisation for a large number of years now and hopefully, she can bring something different and fresh to the Lions.
Word around the Lions before the season started was positive. It looked like they were turning a new leaf, and the coaching was on to something. Overall opinions were mixed - some believed that they were quietly going to achieve something, others believed the Lions were going to fall flat on their faces. One thing that stayed was that the largest chunk of the fanbase was in that strange, kool-aid period where optimism peaks and despite being wary of what could happen (same old Lions!), there’s a belief that they can actually make something of themselves.
We’re now halfway into the season and the Lions stand at 3-5. Things could be worse, but they could be a whole lot better. Even a couple of weeks ago, optimism was rising and we believed they were turning a corner after the bye. Here’s how the season has gone so far...
Week 1: L 23-27 vs. Chicago Bears (0-1) (0-1 in division)
Detroit opened the season with a big divisional matchup at Ford Field. Before the game, everybody was just so happy to watch Lions football. 60 minutes and 4 quarters later, that relief turned right back into the ‘frustration’ we all know so well.
The Bears were predicted widely to finish 4th in the division and have a disappointing season. The biggest story going into the game, other than the ‘C-word’ (last time, I promise), and the lack of pre-season was the Bears’ QB troubles. Just days before the game, Matt Nagy announced that Mitch Trubisky would start for the Bears in week 1. A decision that excited Lions fans across the world.