The Super Bowl is a learning experience for 30 other NFL teams, all of which for one reason or another, must sit at home and watch the game from the couch like other ordinary Americans. One team that should have been studying the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers intently? The Detroit Lions, a team recently knocking on the door of playoff contention and respectability.
How can the Lions take that next leap and get to where the Ravens are? Most hardcore fans will laugh at the notion, but it's not as difficult as they might think, provided they learn something from Super Sunday. Here's five important traits which have helped the Ravens be successful over the years which the Lions should put to good use.
1. Build the lines properly. When was the last time Baltimore was even rumored to have a suspect defensive or offensive line? Never. From Tony Siragusa to Sam Adams and Haloti Ngata, Jonathan Ogden to Michael Oher, the Ravens have always made development of their lines a top priority. Recently, the Lions have done the same, which has helped in their turnaround. Depth is the biggest key, as the Ravens feature unsung heroes like Paul Kruger and Marshal Yanda who contribute. It's up to the Lions to find more players like this. Developing Willie Young and Jason Fox is a good start, but consistently building quality depth is most needed for a brighter future.
2. Special teams is vital. Last year, the Ravens missed an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl almost exclusively because of bad kicking and returning. In the offseason, they went out and fixed the problem, finding steady Justin Tucker to kick and Jacoby Jones to be a speedy return specialist. Throughout the year, these moves reaped big rewards, as the Ravens used special teams to their advantage. In the Super Bowl, it was even more evident, as Tucker was perfect and Jones made a huge kick return for a touchdown. After steady Matt Stover left, some shakiness took hold, but the Ravens didn't waste time righting the ship. They've also got solid Sam Koch punting. This year, the Lions have to change some elements of their special teams, including finding a punter and a new returner. Without that group playing well, they'll never seriously contend.
3. It's perfectly acceptable to replace assistant coaches, even mid-season. The Ravens did that this year, firing their longtime offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and replacing him with Jim Caldwell. It turned out to be just the shakeup the team needed, as Cameron himself would later admit. Since Cameron left on December 10, the Ravens went 5-2, including 4-0 in the playoffs. During playoff time, they didn't score less than 24 points in any game. As painful as the move might have been from a loyalty standpoint, the team needed it to get better. If the Lions are in such a predicament next year, they too must make the move for the betterment of the team first and personal loyalty second. Sometimes, fresh perspectives work wonders.
4. There's value in a good, multi-faceted rushing attack. Both the Ravens and 49ers don't just feature two backs. Instead, they have multiple runners who can hurt teams. Ray Rice and Frank Gore are their obvious stars, but LaMichael James, Bernard Pierce, Anthony Allen and Kendall Hunter also each play starring roles to other extents. The Lions can't simply fall in love with Mikel Leshoure and one other runner; instead they must try to find a stable of backs, all of which can be used differently to hurt teams. Give the Ravens credit for having a fantastic and consistent backfield for years, be it from Priest Holmes, Jamal Lewis or LaRon McClain. This is the new norm in football, and something which the Lions must strive to build this offseason.
5. Within personnel, stay aggressive. The Ravens are the team that has gobbled up Ray Lewis, Joe Flacco, Anquan Boldin and Ed Reed. It's possible to quietly build a good team without a multitude of huge moves, but player development while staying aggressive is key. When the Ravens needed to spruce up their passing attack, they went after Boldin. When the quarterback position was in limbo, they drafted Flacco. After Rice needed a running mate, Pierce was selected. The team will likely do a similar search for Lewis's replacement this offseason, and consider the same for Reed. Complacency is never the answer in the NFL, and constant positional reenforcement builds a consistent winner. The Lions can't get by with a patchwork secondary or substandard running backs, so they must stay hungry and look for positive upgrades across the board.
Paying attention to these factors won't guarantee the Lions success or a date with the Lombardi Trophy, but there's value in studying championship teams closely, especially when you're trying to replicate their successes.
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