The Detroit Lions are confident they found a long-term solution in Bill Belichick protégé Matt Patricia, and so the plan is to practice patience, but that is easier said than done. The Lions have a faithful fanbase, but their patience has run thin. The Lions have lost all three postseason appearances (2011, 2014, 2016) during the 10 seasons since Matthew Stafford was drafted as their franchise quarterback. All three of these losses came on the road and in the wild-card round.
The Lions have lost their past eight playoff appearances and they haven't hosted a postseason game since 1993.
As we get set to enter the 2019 season, there is more pressure on Patricia than typical for a Year 2 head coach since the Lions already have the answer -- or so they think -- at the quarterback position. A brutal early-season schedule will put Patricia on the hot seat, but more on that below.
Although not much might be expected of the Lions in the media, the reality of the NFL is that head coaches have a short leash. If the Lions don't win fast, Patricia will be out. Having said that, the Lions have made strides to improve their roster during the 2019 offseason. If these additions can mesh with the progression of the Lions' young core, this team could surprise a lot of people.
Without further ado, let's jump into our five bold predictions for the Lions in the 2019 season.
1. Kerryon Johnson will finish top-10 in yards from scrimmage
The Lions originally planned to deploy a running back by committee attack when they entered the 2018 regular season. After all, this is what Patricia was accustomed to from the time he spent in New England with the Patriots. It didn't take long during the 2018 preseason for the Lions to recognize they had something special in Johnson. However, minor nagging injuries during the 2018 regular season limited Johnson to only 10 games played and the Lions fell back into a committee with multiple backs in the mix.
Despite playing in a committee, Johnson averaged 5.4 yards per carry (118 rushing attempts, 641 rushing yards) as one of the most effective running backs on a per-touch basis. He also added 32 receptions on just 39 targets for an additional 213 receiving yards.
A committee approach may be the default for this Lions coaching staff, but that doesn't mean they're unwilling to adapt. This became obvious early in training camp when Lions running backs coach Kyle Caskey said there will be no limit on how many touches Johnson will receive in 2019 -- a far cry from what they said and did with regards to his touch total as a rookie in 2018.
"Kerryon's as tough as any of them, so I don't foresee any problems with anything coming about," Caskey said. "I'm not going to sit there in a game and say, 'Oh my gosh, he's got a number of touches, we got to get him out,' or anything like that."
The Lions released Theo Riddick just three days after Caskey's comments. In 2018, Riddick caught 61 passes just one season after catching 74. A combination of Detroit's offensive scheme and primarily the tendencies of Stafford result in a heavy concentration of pass attempts to the running back on an annual basis. With Riddick off the roster, Johnson is slated to inherit most if not all of these targets.
The Lions didn't bring in free agent C.J. Anderson to ride the bench, but he has never been heavily involved in the passing game, and he is unlikely to be Detroit's hurry-up and two-minute back. This role is reserved from Johnson and a breakout season is on its way. Johnson will easily eclipse the 1,000-yard mark (total from scrimmage) and finish in the top-10 overall in that metric.
2. Matt Patricia will be the first head coach on the hot seat
The Lions open the 2019 regular season on the road against the Arizona Cardinals in Kyler Murray's NFL debut. Although the Cardinals were owners of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft because they had the worst record in the NFL last season, they have completely changed their quarterback, coaching staff on both sides of the ball, and several other key positions on their roster. Arizona is never an easy place to play on the road. The Lions better hope they snag this one on the road, because if not, they could be due for a long September.
After traveling to Arizona to open the season, the Lions host the Los Angeles Chargers (12-4 in 2018) in Week 2, travel to play the Eagles in Philadelphia in Week 3, and host the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4. Then the Lions have their bye week.
Looking back at those first six games, it's reasonable to project the Lions will start the season anywhere from 0-6 to 2-4 with very few scenarios in play that suggest they finish this stretch with a winning record. Depending on how bad it gets, Patricia could be the first head coach on the proverbial hot seat after Week 7.
3. Marvin Jones will outproduce Kenny Golladay
Golladay is a popular breakout pick in fantasy football drafts this year while his counterpart Jones is typically drafted several rounds later (check out our average draft positions here, with Golladay going 49th and Jones 92nd). The expectation is that Golladay will dominate the passing game targets again in 2019 after doing so during the stretch run of the 2018 regular season. However, this expectation seems to overlook the fact that Golladay's massive target share in the second half of the 2018 season came after the team traded wide receiver Golden Tate and after Jones had sustained injuries that kept him out off the field.
In fact, Jones drew more targets than Golladay in six of 11 games in which they played together during the 2018 season. From a fantasy football standpoint, they averaged nearly identical points per game (WR27 and WR28, respectively). Jones also slightly outscored Golladay in fantasy football during the games they played together.
Golladay is an exceptional talent who should continue to produce at a high level in 2019, but Jones has spent more time developing his rapport with Stafford and he will be the most productive receiver in the Lions offense if both players stay healthy.
4. Trey Flowers will eclipse the double-digit sack mark
It was never customary for the Patriots to spend on a big-ticket free agent until they decided to sign shutdown cornerback Stephon Gilmore from the Buffalo Bills. Since then, Gilmore has emerged as one of the two or three best coverage cornerbacks in the NFL. Patricia took a page out of his old team's playbook this offseason by signing the former Patriots edge rusher.
Until now, Flowers has been a darling in the advanced metrics community (quarterback hurries and hits per snaps), but box-score chasers who only care about sacks aren't sold. Flowers finished with 7.5 sacks last season (14 over the past two seasons combined), but that number will rise in 2019. Flowers will reach the double-digit sack mark on this Lions defense.
The Patriots have built a defensive roster that centers around talent in the secondary. They love to play in nickel and dime subpackage personnel groupings which has led them to focus their assets on building through their defensive backs. Thus, in 2019, Flowers will join the most talented defensive line he's ever played with. In addition to Damon Harrison, who is bound to take on multiple double-teams to free up Flowers, he will also benefit from playing alongside A'Shawn Robinson and 2018 breakout defensive end Romeo Okwara.
This is the year Flowers eclipses the double-digit sack mark.
5. Frank Ragnow emerges as a top-10 center
In his rookie season, Ragnow was asked to play out of position at offensive guard. The transition was a rough one for the former Arkansas Razorbacks center who was arguably the most dominant player at his position at the collegiate level. After retooling their offensive line during the offseason, the Lions have carved out a path for Ragnow to move into his natural position at center for the 2019 season. The early results from training camp are overwhelmingly positive about Ragnow's transition back to his old position.
Ragnow entered the 2018 NFL Draft as Pro Football Focus' No. 14 overall player after not allowing a single sack on 1,242 pass-blocking snaps in his collegiate career. He dominated against the best conference (SEC) and the best defensive linemen.
By the time the 2019 season is over, Ragnow will be a household name among all Lions fans and those NFL fans who take offensive line play seriously.