So I was texting my buddy Mike, a Dolphins fan, during last Sunday’s Lions – Cardinals game absolutely raving about Reggie Bush and the wonders he is going to work for the 2013 Detroit Lions. Mike’s response was simply to laugh maniacally at my jubilation and tell me to be patient and wait for Reggie to break my heart. Five plays later Reggie is out and I promptly crash to earth, by avian aspirations shattered.
I am a Detroit Lions fan. Now, this is problematic enough in its own right, but this season, although it is quite early, may prove to be especially problematic for me. This season for Detroit seems to hinge entirely on Reggie Bush’s health. When Detroit first cut Jahvid Best and signed Reggie I was none too pleased. Best needed to be cut for his own health and he wasn’t helping the team so that didn’t worry me at all, but I didn’t see Reggie as a sterling model of health and a viable option to replace him. He hadn’t helped the Dolphins to win in his time there and he hasn’t exactly been a perfect model of health during his time in the NFL (but then again I suppose no RBs are).
And then I was swayed by a semi-glowing endorsement by Grantland’s Bill Barnweel, a litany of fantasy gurus singing Bush’s praises, and even some strong encouragement from friends of mine who are Dolphins fans and have watched Reggie the last few years in a feature back role. I began to think back to Bush’s college days at USC and how my dad and I had started the 2005 Lions season hoping we could end up with Bush in DET (yes, we had already given up hope on picking outside the top 10) and decided everything could work out alright.
We had the new feature running back I had always wanted who could really open up our offense.
We had kept the D Line strong by picking Ziggy Ansah with the #4 overall pick (please disregard the fact that Ziggy had only played 1 season of football IN HIS ENTIRE LIFE coming out of BYU)
we had locked up our star quarterback with a new 3 year, $50million extension (please disregard the fact that until last season Mr. Stafford was a running joke at Grantland.com which dubbed up “Matthew Stafford if-he-stays-healthy” When you spend the entirety of you NFL fandom life watching the likes of Charlie Batch, Joey Harrington, Mike McMahon, Jon Kitna, Dante Culpepper [post knee blowout], and Dan Orlovsky [who is not aware the stepping out the back of the endzone gives points to the other team] you are willing to roll the dice with a guy whose best attribute [and I’m not trying to be factious] is that he can throw a football as hard and as fast as Calvin Johnson runs.
(Dan no! Please stop!)
We had taken steps toward improving a badly undermanned secondary by drafting Darius Slay out of Mississippi State in the 2nd round [please disregard the fact that Slay was coming off a knee injury that required surgery just after the Lions had drafted him.]
All this, whether predictably or not, came apart last Sunday against the Cardinals when Bush went down. Losing Bush hurt both the running game and the passing game. I love Joique Bell, but he just doesn’t have the same hands as bush (few running backs do) and we Stafford sent one of his patented bail out rockets Bell’s way he dropped them much more often than not.
The Lions have an insanely scary offense when Bush is on the field. But without him they take a serious step back and are certainly not a playoff team.
Moreover, the defense looked anything but great on Sunday. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald could not be happier to have one another in their respective lives and our secondary felt it. I’ve really softened my hatred of Chris Houston over his time in Detroit and Louis Delmas is great when he’s healthy but Detroit still lacks an elite pass defense. This can be duct taped together when the D Line is running on all cylinders, but Rashard Mendenhall looked pretty good running against them in spots and for whatever reason they weren’t their normal dominant selves (only sacking Carson 1 time all game in spite of the fact that Arizona’s best offensive lineman broke his leg before the season even started).
So in short, I’m reaching desperately for the panic button at this exact moment in time. Bush’s injury doesn’t look serious and the Lions can obviously recover. I still think they’re a playoff caliber team, but losing that Arizona game right before a murderous 3 game stretch (Washington at home at 0-2 might need this win more than the Lions do, Chicago is Detroit’s biggest competition for 2nd place in the NFC North and a Wildcard spot, and at Green Bay for week 5… I mean… the Lions haven’t won in Green Bay since 1991… so yeah). The D Line will improve (as much as I hated the pick at the time, Schwartz is obviously a wizard with linemen cuz Ziggy has looked really good in limited snaps over 2 games), the secondary is still healthy and improving this early in the season (and better than last year. Hurt or not I think Darius Slay + Chris Houston and Delmas is a serviceable core), and the Detroit Linebacking corps has looked great (DeAndre Levy with 2 picks returned for TDs on the year [even though the one against MN was wiped off the books] and I continue to love the steal of Stephen Tulloch in 2011) so the defense will shape up. And your offense can never really go wrong when it revolves around Calvin Johnson (Even with Hill at QB I wouldn’t be worried). Now if Bush can bounce back and stay healthy and Patty Edwards, and Ryan Broyles step up to become legitimate contributors this is easily a 10-6 team. But things are not clearly as sturdy as they seemed and I for one will probably have to do my best of staying out of the sun.