Now that that’s over, and you’ve had your fun imagining the Detroit Lions sharing the field with the Vikings, Eagles and the 49ers and the Chiefs, next season officially begins, and it’s time to consider what the Lions need to make a run to the playoffs — and maybe one in the playoffs.
But that’s getting too far ahead. Way too far ahead.
The NFL combine is next up, followed by the draft, where Lions general manager Brad Holmes has shown he may have a bona fide talent for finding players.
What kind of players will he need to augment the Lions’ Super Bowl express next season? Oh, come on, I’m not the one posting Super Bowl party photos of cakes with the inscription, “Lions 2024.”
That would be “MaryL,” a super fan of sorts who appears to be a fabulous cook and even more fabulously dedicated — and hopeful — Lions’ fan. She may be the only Lions supporter who baked a cake for a Super Bowl party that declared 2024 to be the year of the Lion, but she surely isn’t the only one who feels similar optimism.
So, again, what do the Lions need? And what did the Lions learn from the NFL playoffs that wrapped up Sunday night in Glendale, Arizona?
More defense, for starters, obviously. But also: more offense. Or at least more offensive players to back up the promising offensive players already on the roster.
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No, that doesn’t mean taking a quarterback in the first round, where the Lions have two picks at No. 6 and No. 18. It could, however, mean taking a running back in the second round.
But before we start going down the running back rabbit hole — Auburn’s Tank Bigsby, Syracuse’s Sean Tucker and Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs would all provide insurance behind D’Andre Swift, not to mention a degree of explosiveness; Gibbs is an excellent receiver out of the backfield as well — let’s remember why Kansas City scored three more points than Philadelphia did in the Super Bowl.
Yeah, the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes. And yeah, they’ve got (head coach) Andy Reid and (offensive coordinator) Eric Bieniemy, who called a couple of clever motion plays in the end zone that fooled the Eagles’ secondary and lead to easy touchdowns. Yet Jalen Hurts played as well as Mahomes and, by the numbers, a little better.
Time. As it almost always does.
In the second half, Mahomes had more of it than Hurts, just as Mahomes had more of it during the AFC title game two weeks earlier.
Hurts is such a gifted runner and escaper of pockets that his offense outscored Kansas City’s offense. In the second half, though, the Chiefs’ defensive line began flushing Hurts out frequently, forcing him into several throwaways, setting up third-and-longs that were eventually too difficult to keep converting.
Mahomes, meanwhile, wasn’t touched. The Eagles defensive line didn’t get near him, and only occasionally forced him out of the pocket.
When the Eagles did, they mismanaged their gaps, and Mahomes slipped through, most memorably on Kansas City’s final drive, when he scooted 26 yards to set up the game-winning field goal. Cincinnati, it turned out, had the better defensive line, at least against the Chiefs.
And so, it won’t be surprising to see Holmes use one of his first-round picks to take another edge rusher, or a run stuffer in the middle. Heck, he could take two defensive linemen and it wouldn’t be insane. Though he could use another cornerback — or two — as well, along with another linebacker or anywhere on the defense where a player might be available who might be better than who is on the roster.
It may seem counterintuitive to focus so heavily on defense when the Eagles and Chiefs just combined for 73 points. But then defenses aren’t meant to shut down teams in this age of offense-favorable rules and overall playmaking skill.
They are meant to slow down a team just enough, as Kansas City did Sunday night. So, again, no other team may have Mahomes, but his team didn’t blitz everyone in the postseason.
Kansas City won in the final moments of the last two games. Like most NFL teams do every week.
One sack, one fumble recovery, one forced interception, even one hold can alter a drive, momentum or game. No wonder Holmes took five defensive linemen in his first two drafts. He’ll likely take at least one more this April.
A running back, somewhere in the second or third rounds — Holmes has two picks in the second round as well. He may want another offensive lineman, preferably a guard, to guard against injuries and eventual salary cap restraints. Another receiver would help, too, especially if Holmes doesn’t re-sign D.J. Chark.
Is that excessive doubling-down?
Of course not. The Lions are promising in the areas that matter most outside of quarterback, and they are more than solid at that spot for the moment.
Yes, a cornerback is critical, maybe two. Cornerbacks don’t matter as much though, if the quarterback doesn’t have time to throw. And quarterbacks don’t matter as much if they don’t have anyone to throw it to.
Jared Goff does. He can always use another target.
Just as Aidan Hutchinson and James Houston and Josh Paschal and Alim McNeill can use more buddies up front to get after the best quarterbacks in football. Because the Lions are going to face them if they get to where they want to go.
The last couple of weeks reminded everyone of that. Just as it so often does.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.