ALLEN PARK, Mich. If you're trying to identify the top reasons why the Detroit Lions wont make the playoffs again, three of the most common probably would be:
1. The Madden Curse.
2. A porous secondary.
3. An inept running game.
At this point, theres nothing the Lions can do about the Curse but pray. Superstar receiver Calvin Johnson is going to be on the cover of the Madden video game. They just have to hope he doesnt fall victim to the injury hex that has knocked out so many others whove appeared on the cover before him.
As far as the secondary and run game, they remain legitimate concerns and could be the difference between struggling to make the playoffs and being a Super Bowl contender.
The perception is that both areas are still weaknesses going into the season, but lets take a closer look because the Lions seem to think otherwise.
Is it wishful thinking? Or could those two aspects be better than some expect?
What sticks in everyones memory is the Lions defense getting shredded in their final regular-season game at Green Bay and then in the playoffs at New Orleans. They gave up a combined 90 points and 1,009 total yards.
In terms of a personnel makeover, the Lions have added four cornerbacks by signing free agent Jacob Lacey from Indianapolis and drafting Louisiana-Lafayettes Bill Bentley (third round), Albions Chris Greenwood (fifth round) and New Mexico States Jonte Green (sixth round).
However, they also lost starting corner Eric Wright in free agency to Tampa Bay.
At this point, the starters would be Chris Houston and Aaron Berry.
Im excited about the corners, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said.
Cunningham believes it was the numerous late-season injuries a season ago that led to the defensive collapse down the stretch.
DBs in December missed 32-to-34 practices, D-linemen missed 33, Cunningham said. When we went to the end of the season, we were beat up.
Early on in the season, first 11 games, we covered them all, man-to-man, didnt matter who it was, we covered them. They have the skills to do that. What they need to do is stay on the field.
THE RUN GAME
Injuries to the top two running backs Jahvid Best (concussions) and Mikel Leshoure (torn Achilles tendon) put tremendous pressure on the passing game and perhaps the defense, too.
The Lions ranked 29th out of 32 teams in rushing at 95.2 yards per game. Their total rushing attempts (356) were second-fewest. Denver and Houston both ran it 190 more times than Detroit over the 16-game season.
Some of Lions offensive players, however, are emphasizing another statistic that paints a little better picture.
If you look at our yards per carry, we were pretty decent last year, quarterback Matthew Stafford said.
We were happy with the yards per average, offensive guard Rob Sims added.
The Lions finished tied for 12th in yards per carry with a 4.3 average.
We just got in some games where youve got to shoot them out sometimes, Stafford explained. You play the Green Bay Packers and theyre putting up 50 points, whatever it is, you play the Saints twice, you play some teams that can really put up points, youve got to try to be there with them.
That meant pass, pass, pass.
This year, when opposing defenses are focused on stopping Stafford and Johnson, the Lions want to run it a bit more. That would help take some of that pressure off the pass game and also help keep the defense off the field a little longer.
Kevin Smith, who has been injury-prone throughout his career, returns to join Best and Leshoure in the backfield. Presumably, general manager Martin Mayhew also will continue trying to add another option through trade, free agency or when a running back gets released.
Whether Best and Leshoure will be healthy and full strength remains to be seen because of the nature of their injuries. Leshoure also could face a suspension from the league to start the season after being arrested twice for marijuana possession.
If the trio is indeed available, the run game certainly could take on a different look.
With a three-headed monster like that, everybody should be fresh, Leshoure said.
It all sounds so nice during the off-season: Stay healthy, everything will be solved.
For now, however, any talk of a much-improved secondary and running game requires some blind faith.
Kind of like hoping the Madden Curse doesnt strike again.