It’s heating up in the motor city. They may not be pumping out automobiles and hit records, but Detroit is quietly putting together a contender at Ford Field.
In 21 painful years of being a dedicated Detroit Lions fan (I know that is only a flesh wound compared to some of the tortures longer tenured Pride faithful have endured, but I was 7 when Barry was drafted, gimme a break!), I have seen one playoff victory (1992), and the worst General Manager in the history of the sport (Matt Millen, as if you need reminding). In fact, for all the records associated with their actual win-loss record, there is one that bothers me more than any other. Since the NFL expanded to 32 teams in 2002, there is only one NFC team without a single playoff appearance. You guessed it, the Detroit Lions.
Conventional wisdom dictates that you are only as good as your record. For the most part, I agree with that philosophy. There isn’t much substance in “moral victories” and “well, we played hard”. I don’t much care for the vanilla response, “We just came up a bit short, we just gotta put it behind us and work hard to get better”. Telling me, you “did your best” at this point really just infuriates me. If I may quote Sean Connery’s character, John Patrick Mason from the 1996 movie, “The Rock”, and I’ll paraphrase; “Your best? Only losers whine about doing their best…winners go home and have carnal relations with the prom queen!”
Well the Lions went home with the figurative prom queen and her entire court after Sunday’s win. Ford Field was rocking after the Lions won 37-25 and scored back-to-back home victories for the first time since the 2007 Jon Kitna, “We’ll win 10 this year” season. I was ecstatic listening to the broadcast on NFL mobile. The last 5 minutes of that game, and what transpired for the Redskins, was what used to happen to the Lions.
It sparked my cognitive process, however, and I asked myself, “Are they really any good, or did they play above their capability and ended up on the better end of a few plays?” Well, you may find this interesting.
Believe it or not, for all the holes and lack of depth. Coaching and attitude change is beginning to spread across the team, especially in two areas, the passing game, and pass rush. Let me show you how.
We’ll start with defense, remember how bad the Lions have been for four years? Yes, the 32nd ranked defense four years straight. Check out some of these marked improvements:
Tied for 4th in the NFL in sacks (23)- Kyle VandenBosch, Ndamukong Suh contribute to a young and talented defensive line.
9th in the league in 3rd down % (35.6%)-The Lions are putting the ball back in the hands of their offense more often.
1st in the league in 4th down % (16.7)-They are getting stops when it matters most, a critical ability to have.
+1 turnover differential-Significantly better than in years past. The best teams have a wider margin, but considering where they’ve come from, this is a huge improvement.
There is a lot more that can be done on the defensive side of the ball. They are still getting beat on some big plays, they commit to many penalties, and are lacking sometimes in coverage and tackling. But they’ve made enough plays to be competitive. The defensive line has reached elite status as far as the ability to put pressure on opposing QB’s. They are beating good offensive lineman, a hugely contributing factor to their defensive improvement. The drawback, sometimes the over-agressiveness leaves them out of position on gap assignments and leads to large running lanes for opposing RB’s. Overall, the defense is coming along, even with injuries, which is quite an accomplishment.
On the offensive side:
7th in the league in passing-(250.6 yds/g) is a pretty darn good average. You can’t say enough about Calvin Johnson, a.k.a…Megatron. The moniker is fitting. He is nearly uncoverable. The supporting cast of receivers have molded into their roles quite well. What’s really important, I think they like each other, I’ve been following their tweets, Burleson, and the Johnsons’ have a good time with each other.
3rd in the league in passing TD’s (14)-A lot of this is attributable to opposing teams having a lot of different options to have to cover. Play calling has also helped, isolating matchups, especially for Megatron. And better offensive line play is allowing Lions passers more time to read coverage and hit the open guy.
6th in the league in scoring(26.1 pts./g)-You have to score to win. This offense is designed to be explosive, and thrives on big plays. There are more than enough playmakers to be successful in this system. Some of that is beginning to show.
Matt Stafford-Albeit limited exposure, Stafford is making better reads and taking care of the ball. So far, he has raised his passer rating to 89.2 from 61 his rookie year. He’s throwing TD’s, not INT’s. He’s completing 61 % of his passes. All of these things can get better, but what’s encouraging is that most of the improvement has been under the direction of backup QB Shaun Hill. If Stafford continues to improve, it’s scary to think of how many points this team may be able to post
5th in the league, fewest sacks allowed (12)-Probably the most underrated stat, but if you give QB’s time to throw, then good things happen. This line has been horrendous in year’s past, and although they are committing a lot of penalties, they are at least protecting their QB’s. Keep your QB standing and more good things happen.
The Lions still are searching for a solid running game. Rookie RB Jahvid Best has shown he is exciting and can break big plays, especially receiving out the backfield. They’re not there yet, but hopefully with experience, that gets better. Defensively, they still need better, more consistent play in the secondary and linebacking corps. Not everything is firing full tilt, but the improvement is universally evident.
I am a believer in the front office and this coaching staff. Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand have put together two good off-seasons, had good drafts, and have had good free agent acquisitions. Head Coach Jim Schwartz seems to have this team motivated, and is connecting well with his players. That is something we haven’t seen since Wayne Fontes. Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan is an effective play caller and has a lot of weapons at his disposal. Cunningham has his defense playing fairly well for being undertalented. They are at the very least playing together.
Most of all, I am proud of these fans, it was not a sell out, and Ford Field was rocking. We are so hungry for a winner that this was almost like a playoff atmosphere. The Lions are on the brink of sustained success and we know it. The biggest fear is that they revert to erratic play and dumb mistakes. We’ve been here before and Lions fans are terrified of a let down.
Let’s all hope that the momentum continues. The Lions have been the butt of jokes for years and what this current regime must realize is that for all the bad play, the coaching changes, the 0-16, the bust #1 picks, the terrible front office, the new stadium, the new logo, watching a Super Bowl hosted in Detroit, the one constant in all of that is the fans that have stuck by this team through the worst of times. For many in the city of Detroit, going to a game is a holiday, a vacation, a birthday and Christmas present all in one. Rising costs of tickets and parking coupled with a crippled economy and workforce in the “D”, infuses a connection within the fanbase that attaches its’ personal hopes and dreams directly to the success and failure of this team.
Coach Schwartz, Mr. Mayhew, Mr. Lewand, Matt, Calvin, Jahvid, Ndamukong, and Kyle. You are playing for us, your playing for the city, you are playing for the state of Michigan, you are playing for an ideal that anyone can do it. Embrace it guys, own it. Make it mean something to you, it means everything to us. We know it’s a game, but it’s an indirect representation of our own lives. If you guys can make it back from the depths, then so can we.
You have the ability to become some of the most beloved figures in the history of sports in Detroit. The blueprint is laid out. The New Orleans Saints put a broken city on their backs and rode a high-powered offense on a path to redemption that touched people on a spiritual level. It’s there, guys, right in front of you, take it, you have everything to play for, yourselves, who signed a contract with a team that was a joke, the coaches, who accepted this challenge even though the job has led to unimaginable failure in the past, the executives, who have designed a solid plan to assemble talent, and your fans, that will never forget you if you just bring it home. Let’s blow the lid off Detroit!