On our Facebook page we get a lot of “Easy killer, the Lions haven’t done anything yet” and “enjoy it now because they won’t win a game in the second half of the season” and “without Calvin Johnson, Stafford is an average QB”. These people that call themselves ‘fans’ of the team are the ones saying it too.
I can understand where these die-hards are coming from, with the long history of disappointing seasons that started out great and ended in sub-par finishes. But I have to disagree with them this season. I believe this team is different and here are my reasons why:
1. It starts at the top. Nearly every one of the Lions’ new coaches have been a part of a Superbowl winning squad. Caldwell (head coach) won one as a defensive coordinator for the Colts, and appeared in another in his first year as head coach for the Colts. This guy doesn’t put up with player misbehavior and has done a lot to change the culture of the locker room. Joe Lombardi (offensive coordinator) won a Superbowl against Caldwell’s Colts in Superbowl XLIV as the Saints’ QB coach. Teryl Austin, the Lions defensive coordinator has appeared in 3 Superbowls, and has been on the winning side twice. Once with the Arizona Cardinals as the defensive backs coach and again with the Ravens as their defensive secondary coach.
Summary: the Lions coaching staff is experienced in leading Superbowl-winning teams.
2. We’ve won without Calvin Johnson. This is one of the best arguments that this team is moving forward. In the past if you had said that Calvin Johnson would be on the sidelines for three straight games, I would have assumed the Lions would have gone 0-3. Instead the opposite happened. Even more so, the Lions won those games with more injuries than just Megatron.
The Lions have been plagued with injuries including the likes of all three tight ends, (Fauria, Pettigrew and first round draft pick Eric Ebron), Reggie Bush, LaAdrian Waddle, Stephen Tulloch, Kyle Van Noy and Bill Bentley. After this week’s game against the Falcons it looks like another key player is going to be out for a while in Nick Fairley. Despite these injuries, the Lions continue to win. This brings me to my next point.
3. The Lions second and third string players are stepping up. We made a huge improvement in our receiving core with the offseason free-agent signing of Golden Tate. He’s proved to be a work horse, no doubt. But without CJ on the field, opponent defenses have been double and triple teaming the guy. He isn’t huge, so when two guys are on Tate, Stafford has had to throw the ball to players like Jeremy Ross, Theo Riddick and George Winn, and they’ve been catching it. In fact, it was Riddick that made a spectacular catch yesterday extending what would become the Lions’ winning drive.
4. They’re making second half adjustments. This one should be pretty obvious after this week’s miraculous comeback victory. The Lions went into the locker room down 21-0 at the half and managed to make the necessary adjustments to bring the team back in the second half. The defense played so well in fact, that they held an impressive Falcons offense to exactly zero points in the second half.
5. The Lions are finally a defensive team, and I love it. There is something so satisfying to watching a team that can absolutely shut down a high-powered offense at the line of scrimmage as well as in the secondary.
The Lions defense has been putting pressure on opponent QBs, they’ve been making tackles at the line of scrimmage as well as tackles for loss of yards, they’ve been playing tight on receivers without getting interference calls and most importantly, they’ve been forcing turnovers at key moments in the game.
I will say that the Lions still have room to improve at all of these skills, but their fundamentals are sound. Teryl Austin has been instrumental in turning a high-talent defense that has consistently under-performed in previous seasons into a solid #1 defense.
Moving forward: The Lions enter their bye-week with a 6-2 record and a lock on the NFC North for the moment. They have issues to fix like communication on the offensive line and they definitely have healing to do. Imagine what the combination of Golden Tate and a healthy Calvin Johnson could do with both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell in the backfield. I would not want to try and defend that, that is certain.