Detroit Lions: The Ten Commandments for Winning the NFC North in 2012
There are 10 rules to live by for the Detroit Lions to win the NFC North in 2012.
When Moses originally came down off of Mount Sinai with the two tablets, or three if you’re a fan of Mel Brooks, the writings were to be a guide of basic principles for those who believed.
In a similar fashion, with some religious levity, we can extrapolate a similar set of rules to live by for the Detroit Lions.
10-6 was a great season given the previous years of national embarrassment, but the job is not complete and the first step towards getting to the final game of the NFL postseason is to win the division.
Following are what I feel are the basic Ten Commandments for a successful 2012 that, if followed, should yield what all Lions fans have been waiting for, a divisional crown.
In the name of the Schwartz, the Mayhew and the financier Lewand, here are the Detroit Lions' Ten Commandments…
I: Honor Thy Schwartz
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There has not been a more capable leader roaming the Lions’ sideline in my lifetime than Jim Schwartz.
The head bangin’ head coach with a John Forbes Nash Jr. ability to break down football-based performance metrics has an insatiable desire to win and finally has given the Ford family a reason to pat itself on the back.
His regular season head coaching record of 18-30 does not do him justice as he was given the keys to the worst organization in professional football and in only three years has the nation talking about his group in the same breath with the NFL’s best.
"Here’s a bucket of lemons, a bottle of Karo syrup and a jug of rubbing alcohol; now go make us some word-class limoncello Jimmy."
That’s essentially what was asked of Schwartz and guess what, with the help of a couple advantageous drafts, he’s delivered.
For the Lions to overtake the Green Bay Packers this year, they must continue to put their unwavering faith in their leader, Jim Schwartz.
II: Do Not Worship Others' Hardware
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Like Rafiki reminded Simba, “it doesn’t matter, it is in de past.”
The leaders of today’s Lions should not be burdened with the failures of previous regimes. What happens this upcoming season will have nothing to do with what happened prior.
Penn State will be spending the next several years talking about the glory days of decades gone by, but that is only because the present is sure to be dreadful.
The future is bright for Detroit and warrants only a glance into the rear view mirror with a knowing chuckle that the best is yet to come.
Let them polish their dated Lombardis, the Lions should be focused on a freshly minted edition.
III: Refrain from Being Vain
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The Lions are no longer a national punch line, so there is no need for them to run around bumping their gums telling anybody that will listen that they will win X number of games this year.
With five nationally televised games this year, the NFL has sounded the horn that the Detroit Lions are a team to be reckoned with.
Just like Lady Eloise told Marcus in Boomerang, “You shouldn’t have to blow your own horn.”
Pride comes before the fall and sticking your chest out before the season begins helps no one.
Once the season does begin, the players need to put the team first and refrain from retaliations that hurt their chances of winning.
Stomping, bumping referees and flipping footballs at players for the benefit of personal bravado does not help improve your record, it just makes you a target for referees in future games.
The Lions are good, everybody knows it, so speak softly and carry a big stick and point to the scoreboard to shut the opponent up.
IV: Keep Prime Time Holy
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This will probably be the toughest commandment to keep—win on national television.
When Al and Chris are in the house, Detroit must play its best ball. The three road trips in prime time will be a true test of how far this team has come or how far it still has to go.
Professional players relish the opportunity to display their talents in front of their peers and the Sunday/Monday night spectacles will put the young Lions on center stage.
The rematch with the San Francisco 49ers has fans from both cities salivating in anticipation of the Week 2 contest, and the divisional games at Green Bay and Chicago will probably be the difference between another Wild Card Game or hosting the inaugural playoff game at Ford Field.
Detroit has shown themselves to be road warriors under Schwartz, winning seven of the last 11 regular-season roadies. If the Lions could take two of three on the road and take care of business at home, the remainder of the schedule sets up nicely for a late season run with five of the last seven games at home.
V: Honor Thy Coordinators
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Not enough has been said about the coordinators Scott Linehan and Gunther Cunningham.
Both are former head coaches with loads of experience, and both have had a significant hand in improving their respective side of the ball.
Scott Linehan has provided the tutelage necessary for Matthew Stafford to blossom into one of the elite young gunslingers in the NFL. Stafford has always had the natural ability, but under Linehan he continues to refine his game.
It’s no coincidence that Stafford is constantly at the side of his OC when he’s not on the field, and Linehan provides the calm, reassuring presence a developing quarterback needs.
Additionally, Linehan has shown the ability to make in-game changes to his attack and move receivers around to take advantage of the defensive scheme.
Playing an effective game of chess on the fly is a great barometer of coaching ability, and Linehan’s system has excelled in putting up big numbers in the second half.
Gunther Cunningham’s approach is a touch different.
He, along with Schwartz, has created an attack first approach on defense. Although it is still far from a finished product on the back end, it’s aggressive, intimidating and by design creates havoc for the opposing quarterback.
The defense has an identifiable attitude, finishing in the top 10 in sacks and top five in points allowed per game last season.
Cunningham is an old-school guy who’ll chew a player’s ear off, but he’s fiercely loyal to a player who gives him everything he has. If you love the game and love to hit, you want him on your side.
The cerebral Linehan and the old war horse Cunningham are both undervalued assets to this team and will be critical to the Lions success in 2012.
VI: Do Not Kill Drives
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If the Lions want to sniff the top spot in the NFC North, they’ll have to minimize the maize laundry.
Although the offensive has enormous big-play capability, the odds will eventually work against them if third and 15 becomes the norm.
Penalties usually occur when you try and overcome the skill disparity in an individual matchup and although penalties are a part of the game, there is enough talent on the roster now to leave the Raider-like stupidity behind them.
Furthermore, beyond killing drives, the defense must avoid brain farts that sustain drives.
Grabbing a receiver on a five-yard out on third and 10 is the kind of mental play that needs to be eliminated.
The Lions are all too familiar with the huddle of referees in the center of the field. Detroit has been 30th and 31st in penalties the last two years while Green Bay has ranked fifth and first in the same stretch.
Playing smart football separates the elite athletes from the elite players. To win the division, the Lions must not only play aggressively, they also must improve their football IQ and cut down on the penalties.
VII: Do Not Cheat
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What was the biggest lesson of the offseason? Don’t screw with Roger Goodell.
The New Orleans Saints learned it the hard way as they gave Goodell the proverbial “bird” when questioned about the bounty system utilized by their coaching staff.
Nobody was spared as the GM, head coach, defensive coordinator and players were all slapped with suspensions, and instead of handing out fines that are similar to a nice night out for some of these players, Goodell hit them where it hurts by ripping game checks and excluding them from their place of employment.
The town square lashing Goodell put on Tom Benson’s team put all 31 teams on alert that bounties will not be tolerated and blatantly lying to the commish is a big no-no.
The Lions play aggressively and have even been deemed dirty at times. Few teams are capable of overcoming suspensions, and Detroit cannot afford to lose Ndamukong Suh or any other starters for a significant portion of the season if they expect to compete for the division.
VIII: Steal and Steal Again
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Not unlike most teams, winning the turnover battle certainly helped the Lions win some games last year.
The comeback in Dallas, the last-play fumble recovery by Cliff Avril against the Vikings and the embarrassment of Timothy Tebow at Mile High quickly come to mind as games that featured turnovers that changed games.
Detroit was amongst the best in the league last year in interceptions and forced fumbles. More importantly, they were best in turning picks into touchdowns with five and took two fumbles back to the house as well.
The Saints and Packers showed everybody how to beat the Lions by spreading everybody out and playing pitch-and-catch up and down the field.
For the Lions to eliminate games like those, they’ll need to keep the pressure on the opposing quarterback and be willing to take chances in the secondary.
IX: Protect Your Teammates
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I stated previously the Lions need to eliminate the dumb penalties to pass the Packers, but like Dalton famously told his staff; “Be nice, until it’s time to not be nice.”
If there is any team sport where chemistry is critical, it’s football and a splintered locker room can quickly destroy a season.
Unlike past teams where the divide was obvious, this team appears united and focused on the prize rather than checking their investment portfolios.
The scuffles in Chicago and Green Bay last year give us some insight into the fact that these guys genuinely care for each other and will not tolerate any extracurriculars from the opposition.
Talent will take you only so far in the NFL, and most Super Bowl Champions are usually greater than the sum of their parts.
The Lions seem to be a tight-knit group who are willing to put in the extra work for the man who lockers next to him, an intangible that cannot be overlooked at the ultimate level of competition.
X: Do Not Covet Divisional Quarterbacks
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The Lions used to put their corsage on the “healthy girl with great personality,” but now with the drafting of Matthew Stafford they can dance confidently in the center of the gymnasium floor with the prom queen.
The lack of a franchise quarterback in Detroit is well-documented, and most fans can rattle of the litany of losers that commanded the offensive huddle for the Lions over the years.
But now, this franchise not only has a competent signal-caller, it’s quite possible they have the best quarterback in the division.
Yep, I wrote it. Stafford is on his way to becoming the QB gold standard in the NFC North.
Christian Ponder is still a work in progress and Jay Cutler has a great arm but has some limitations between the ears and in the heart.
Aaron Rodgers is the leader in the clubhouse with a good, accurate arm, great mobility and Super Bowl ice on his hand. He’s the safe play, Microsoft if you will.
But with 5,000 yards passing and 41 touchdowns in his first full year under center, Stafford is the asset to own going forward. He’s the smart money choice, Apple for comparison.
A $1,000 investment in Microsoft in 2000 would have doubled your money by 2011, the same scratch plowed into Apple yielded a return of over $13,000; I’ll take the upside of Stafford everyday, and he’s also four years younger than Rodgers.
If the Lions can adhere to these Ten Commandments, it’s probable they will be hanging their first banner since 1993.....and maybe more.