What the Detroit Lions Can Learn from the Detroit Tigers
But unbeknownst to those who read me on Bleacher Report, I have been closely following the Detroit Tigers' unsteady rise to the World Series all season.
I'm no baseball writer, and despite a halfhearted effort, I have yet to grasp the significance of the WAR statistic, but I do know that the Tigers have done some things right to be four wins away from a championship, despite none of those things going right in Game 1.
By contrast, the Lions have yet to win four games all year. Perhaps the team struggling now (the Lions) could learn some things from the team that found success after struggling throughout most of the regular season (the Tigers)?
After all, one of those teams worked out of its funk. The other just scored seven points on Monday Night Football.
So what can the Lions pick up from what is currently the most successful team in Detroit sports?
It's Okay If the Offense Is Disappointing, as Long as It Is Timely
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After huge money deals in the offseason, both the Lions and Tigers offenses have been a bit disappointing this season, outside of a bright spot or two.
And in both cases, the guy with the money hasn't really been the issue.
Calvin Johnson may not be up to his 2011 form, but he's still the best player on the Lions team.
Prince Fielder, meanwhile, posted his first season batting over .300 and helped propel Miguel Cabrera to the first Triple Crown in baseball in almost 50 years.
The problem isn't those guys, it's the guys around them. Calvin Johnson doesn't have a reliable second receiver to take the pressure off him and the Tigers don't have have any reliability in the bottom half of their batting order.
Still, the Tigers were able to mash in enough runs at enough times to make it to the postseason, and the Lions could do the same if they could score some.
The Lions turn the ball over in scoring situations, and the Tigers ground into double plays with the bases loaded. But the Tigers eventually made it work, and the Lions can, too.
Trust the Guy Throwing the Ball
Matthew Stafford has had a shaky, though not awful, start to his fourth professional season, which is disappointing considering his excellent third season.
Anyone know what Tigers ace Justin Verlander did in his fourth professional season?
In 2008, he posted a record of 11-17, featuring an ERA more than a full run higher than any of his other seasons (4.84), with a career high in walks and his second-lowest career strikeout total.
This was especially disappointing considering his fantastic 2007 season, in which he 18-6 with a respectable ERA of 3.66, finishing fifth in AL Cy Young voting.
So what did the Tigers do? Panic? Bench him? Start changing his throwing mechanics? No, they just sent him out for another season, and they were rewarded for it.
In 2009, Verlander went 19-9 and posted career bests (at that point) in just about every area. His 265 strikeouts that year is still a career-high, which propelled him to finish third in AL Cy Young voting.
Now, Stafford isn't playing completely awful football, but he is clearly less sure of himself than he was last season. Perhaps he's pressing a bit because of drastically raised expectations. Perhaps Verlander was doing the same in 2008.
Stafford has overthrown a lot of open receivers this year, and Verlander hurled a career-high in wild pitches in 2008.
What's the link between the two? Both power-armed youngsters have shown signs of struggling after their expectations spiked. Verlander bounced back to become the most dominant pitcher in baseball.
How far can Stafford bounce back from his slow start?
The Lack of a Running Game Isn't That Bad
The Tigers don't exactly make their living blazing a trail around the bases, and the Lions don't rush for 200 yards a game.
And that's okay. On both counts.
Besides, both these teams may have found an answer to the running question. The Tigers found Quintin Berry, and the Lions finally got Mikel Leshoure on the field.
Neither is a perfect prospect by any means, but both have brought energy and a dimension to the team that wasn't there before. They haven't changed anything on the basic level—neither the Tigers nor Lions are a running team—but Berry and Leshoure have made their respective teams a little better at it.
And for where these teams are, that's just fine.
Drops Are Costly
The Tigers haven't exactly been a defensive juggernaut to this point in the season, but they know the value of drops better from their opponents than from their own play.
Coco Crisp's error in Game 2 of the ALDS was perhaps the biggest play in the Tigers' postseason to this point. Crisp's drop of a shallow fly ball in centerfield provided the Tigers with crucial runs that helped them put away a game of what turned out to be a five-game series.
If Crisp caught that ball, the Tigers likely wouldn't have won, and the A's would've won the next two games to put the series away in four. Sure, there's a good chance the following games would have turned out differently had the Tigers lost Game 2, but it's unlikely it would have turned out better for the Tigers.
The Lions' interaction with drops is a more... direct experience. As in, receivers are habitually dropping passes they should be catching. Even Stefan Logan, whose only job is to catch kicks and punts, is having trouble with an alarming number of them.
Drops have cost the Lions a couple games this season, and they may have cost the A's the ALDS. If the Lions keep up their pace of drops, it could end up costing them something of a similar stake... if they even get that far.
It's Not How You Start the Season...
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At one point in the 2012 season, the AL Champion Tigers were a lot closer to the bottom of the AL Central than the top.
Similarly, the Lions are bringing up the rear in the NFC North, and a devastating loss to Chicago ensures that they'll be there for at least a little while.
The Tigers also had their issues with Chicago. They spent the better part of the second half of the season chasing the White Sox for first place, and they didn't get it until the final week of the season.
Granted, the Tigers' second-half schedule got easier, while the Lions' schedule gets tougher from here on. A three-game series against Seattle, Jacksonville and Minnesota seems like the best chance the Lions will have to string some wins together from here on, and none of those are guaranteed wins.
But if the Lions can find their form and run off some wins against some mediocre-but-dangerous competition (like the Tigers did against Kansas City and Tampa Bay), they can go into a three-game homestand with a 5-4 record and drastically different season prospects.
It took the Tigers about half the season to figure things out and get back above .500. After that, they were a very good baseball team, and they finally caught their division leader and surpassed them in the final week of the season.
The Lions have the talent to put things together on the field, but they have to take that first step first: fix the silly mistakes and win enough to get back into contention. From there, they can put the playoffs back into view.