Detroit Lions Awards at the Quarter Mark of the 2014 NFL Season
Football is a team game, but individual efforts are needed to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. And here, we're focused on the individual widgets.
Click through to find out which Lions take home some hardware on both sides of the ball.
Acquisition of the Year
The traditional award centers around a rookie. In this nontraditional start for the Lions (few points and fewer turnovers), it seemed more appropriate to look outside the constraints of history and include every new face.
The entire coaching staff was mostly turned over, so the candidates start at the top.
Head coach Jim Caldwell was sold as a guy whose even keel could keep the team from going into another late-season tailspin. Considering that option is still on the table, his value is too difficult to gauge at this point.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is a better candidate because his schemes and adjustments have pushed Detroit to the top of the defensive heap. That alone is impressive, but there's a lot of talent there and it's only four games.
And we can scratch all of the aforementioned rookies. Injuries and limited production eliminate any challengers here.
No, the best addition to this team—roster or otherwise—is Golden Tate. And the New York Jets game confirmed that.
With Calvin Johnson limited by an ankle injury, Tate proved himself capable of holding down the fort as a No. 1 receiver. He brought in eight of his 10 targets for 116 yards and kept the offense humming.
For the season, he's also forced eight missed tackles, which is second among wide receivers to the ageless Steve Smith Sr. His after-the-catch ability has helped Detroit extend drives (15 first-down conversions), and his great hands (zero drops) have had the effect the Lions were looking for.
Comeback Player of the Year
There aren't many candidates for Detroit's Comeback Player of the Year.
Defensive end Jason Jones missed quite a bit of time last year, but he isn't playing well enough individually to garner the honor.
He is, however, part of a unit that has bounced back in a serious way.
Detroit's defensive line was talked about more than it produced in 2013, finishing near the bottom of the league with just 33 sacks. It did help key one of the better run defenses, but the pass rush was too anemic to protect a weak secondary.
This year has been vastly different.
Detroit is still stuffing the run (sixth this year), and that again has to do with the line. But the biggest improvement has been the ability to finish off quarterbacks. The Lions are tied with Buffalo and San Diego with 10 sacks thus far, per NFL.com.
Most Improved Player
Darius Slay played a bit too much for Comeback Player of the Year consideration. He did suffer a variety of ailments, but still played in 11 games, including the season finale.
But his performance compared to last year is night and day. Slay's production has been strapped to a rocket this season, much like the pass rush.
Slay allowed opposing passers to post a quarterback rating of 118.1 when targeting his assignment in 2013, and he had as many passes defensed (4) as touchdowns allowed. Those numbers added up to the 92nd-"best" ranking among corners.
Slay has been the complete inverse this season. He's only given up an aggregate rating of 56.7 and has as many interceptions as touchdowns allowed (1).
And he already has three pass deflections to pair with 18 tackles. He's stepped into the role he was drafted for and is coming through in all facets of the game.
Offensive Player of the Year
Offense was supposed to be the story of the season. The defense was expected to be better, but the Lions were going to right the ship behind Matthew Stafford and outscore opponents.
That hasn't been the case. The offense—outside of the season opener—has generally struggled to put much of a dent in the scoreboard.
But that isn't Calvin Johnson's fault. Unsurprisingly, Johnson has been the most consistent offensive weapon on the field.
Despite essentially missing the Jets game, Johnson still holds the team lead in yardage over Golden Tate. While the Acquisition of the Year does have three more catches, Johnson still bests him in scores 2-0.
That alone would be enough to catapult Megatron to the top, but throw in his cadre of only-Calvin-Johnson-can-make-that-catch receptions, and Tate has to settle for one quarter-season trophy.
Defensive Player of the Year
Most of these awards are essentially a beauty contest. Who has turned the most heads while helping their team win?
And we all know how fashionable beards are right now. From Austin to Alaska, the cheek sweater is getting some serious love.
But DeAndre Levy is so much more than just another hairy face. He's one of the best linebackers in the league.
Through four games, Levy leads the team with 36 tackles, including 20 stops. A stop, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), is a solo tackle that "constitutes an offensive failure."
His value stretches beyond the running game, as quarterbacks are only posting a 59.6 quarterback rating when throwing at Levy. He was even trusted to oppose Jordy Nelson in the slot on Green Bay's last two plays of Week 3.
The numbers prove Levy is great at finishing plays. When you throw in his one pick, it's obvious nobody has had the same statistical impact.
Most Valuable Player
Most Valuable Player awards differ slightly from the Player of the Year awards. Where we're more focused on numbers in each of those slots, the MVP award—at least here—is about who has the biggest impact on the game.
DeAndre Levy is close, Matthew Stafford would have an argument if he hadn't performed so poorly for stretches and Johnson's one-game absence in a win showed even he could be replaced for short bursts.
But nobody carries the bottom-line importance of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
There is hardly a play where he isn't double-teamed. Offensive lines spend so much energy worrying about the former second-overall pick that guys like Nick Fairley, who is incredibly talented in his own right, get one-on-one blocking to exploit.
Despite all the attention, Suh has the best PFF grade by a whole point due to his team-leading 12 quarterback hurries, which is more than the next two guys combined.
I don't know where Suh will be playing next year. However, every Lions fan needs to thank their lucky stars that he's in Detroit right now.
All advanced stats, grades and positional rankings are courtesy of Pro Football Focus and require a subscription.