Process. Just four games into the 2010 NFL season and no other word has had a bigger impact on Detroit Lions football. Yes, we were humiliated by it the first week against Chicago, but it is also becoming our fast rising friend.
I initially thought of the word progress when this article came to mind, but, even more than the continual development, we finally realize that this is indeed a process. It was fed to us by the spoonful during the Matt Millen era. He simply needed his people both on the field and on the sideline. When that didn’t work, we took process and tucked it away in our subconscious, not wanting to wait any longer for success on the field.
If this season has shown us anything, it’s that the process is finally on the right track. Let’s take a look at the growth on both sides of the ball through four weeks:
We had such a huge blow levied our way when Matt Stafford was blindsided by Julius Peppers at the end of the first half in the first week of the season. Both our future and present success depends heavily on Stafford and the momentum this offense was building all throughout this off-season has taken a step backwards.
It’s hard to watch Sam Bradford step right in and play great as a rookie for the Rams and not think Stafford could be doing the same. One half of the opening game is not a correct indicator of what Matt brings to the table, but we will see soon enough. Shaun Hill’s outstanding performance in Green Bay did a great job of alleviating our current woes while we patiently wait.
The state of the running back is extremely exciting. We had arguably the best playmaker of all time in Barry Sanders and a giant void has remained since his retirement. Position fillers such as James Stewart, Olandis Gary, Kevin Jones and Kevin Smith have proved to be dormant behind weak offensive lines and porous defenses.
A lot of credit has to be given to this front office for the current situation. The trade up to acquire Jahvid Best has proven to be a genius one, as Best accounted for five touchdowns in the first two games of the season. He is a true speed back who has the potential to break the big run at any given time. Throw in Kevin Smith, Maurice Morris and Jerome Felton as change of pace backs and the running back position is set.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
The mantra of any recent Detroit Lions wide receiving unit provides three separate outcomes: 1. Draft a high profile guy and eventually cut him because of off the field/health issues. 2. Draft a high profile guy and ship him off for something else. 3. Draft a high profile guy and slowly get him involved with the offense.
Luckily for Lions fans, the 3rd option is coming to fruition. Calvin Johnson is a freak of nature and we’ve all been waiting to see him break out. I see Andre Johnson and Brandon Marshall out-muscle opposing cornerbacks and bide my time, waiting for Calvin to go beyond what those two are capable of. We had a great glimpse of his potential this past Sunday when he scored two touchdowns, one of them coming when Johnson simply “got big” and went over two Packer defenders to grab the ball.
Then of course, there is the game winning catch that was taken from him against Chicago when Calvin out jumped Zack Bowman for the game winner. Although the game was stolen from us, Calvin Johnson showed us what he can do. Nate Burleson has been nicked up, but at worst he can take coverage off Megatron. Bryant Johnson adds some depth, but really after Calvin Johnson, our tight ends get the most work. Not many teams in the NFL, if any, boast two game changing tight ends.
Both Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler are big bodies that always seem to be around the football. Although Pettigrew is known for dominant blocking, he has really come on as of late as a receiver, grabbing twenty-one catches in the past three games. Scheffler moves very fast for his size and is a wonderful complement to Pettigrew.
Usually the weakest of all units on any Lions team, the offensive line has come together very well. That’s right, this line has outperformed my expectations and it really showed this past Sunday. Green Bay’s lucrative 3-4 defense presents many challenges for any offensive coordinator and the Lions battled them famously.
The only real hole on the line was right guard Stephen Peterman, who was called for two false starts and accounted for BJ Raji’s sack on Shaun Hill. Gosder Cherilus was a force at right tackle, with a few pancakes and a real nice pull on a screen late in the game. He was flagged for a personal foul and has been a part of two fights in two weeks. Some may not like that type of personality in a player, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an offensive lineman in Detroit that plays with much of a mean streak.
Even Jeff Backus handled the left side of the line. Overall, this unit is much improved. Rob Sims has done a fantastic job at left guard and this unit will be just fine with a little more talent and time together.
I have a great time watching the Lions offense put together a nice drive, but it pales in comparison to the excitement this new look defensive line gives me every single drive. This line has been the catalyst for the entire defense and has really taken pressure off of a less talented secondary.
A great defense starts up front, and here in Detroit, we’ve never been able to have a cohesive group of guys that attack an offense. A near complete turnover occurred this off-season and Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams and Cliff Avril have really gotten after opposing quarterbacks. The learning curve for a young defensive tackle is usually a large one, but Suh has registered freakish stats through four games, including three sacks already.
It’s also nice to see quality depth, as recently acquired Lawrence Jackson had good pressure on Michael Vick against the Eagles week two. Sammie Lee Hill has seen time and Turk McBride has been around the ball almost every time he gets an opportunity.
The linebackers have done pretty much what we all expected them to do. The group is not 100% intact and they have not had ample time to build great chemistry. DeAndre Levy has been hurt and, just like Stafford, it’s hard to get a read of what this defense can do without him.
The one area that strikes me as improved is in run support. It may be a testament to how well this defensive line applies pressure, but I’ve seen Julian Peterson and Landon Johnson cleaning up tackles around the line of scrimmage plenty of times this season so far. Zach Follett is young and is growing on the weak side, but much cannot be expected of him as he has been thrust into that starting role. This unit basically goes the way of the defensive line.
We knew going into this season that this group would have the most issues on the team. Louis Delmas was the only returning player that was inked in as a starter and Chris Houston was the obvious #1 guy when acquired from Atlanta. Both have played quite well as Delmas has registered some big tackles and Houston has done a nice job of shadowing some of the league’s best receivers.
C.C. Brown and Jonathan Wade have been counted on to fill the strong safety and second cornerback spot, respectively. Both have been a liability in coverage, confirming what many thought going into the season. Alphonso Smith has been a great addition, with two interceptions in the past two games. The talent isn’t quite intact, but like the other defensive units, the youth is there to build upon.
Many games are won and lost on a single play in the NFL. It’s easy to look back and see what your team could have done differently. To be completely honest, we’re three plays away from a 3-1 record, two if the league didn’t rip an honest win from us to start the season. To be three points off the Eagles and two behind the Packers is not something to be disappointed about.
Let us not also discount the fact that we’ve had a very difficult start of this season in terms of strength of schedule. The only game we lost convincingly this season was against the Vikings and that cannot be argued. Great teams step forward and win in these end of game situations, but to consider this team the same as those in recent history is ridiculous.
The best part is that the core of this team revolves around its young talent. Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Jahvid Best, Brandon Pettigrew, Gosder Cherilus, Ndamukong Suh, DeAndre Levy and Louis Delmas give us youthful playmakers at every unit on both sides of the ball. Stafford and Levy have been held back because of injuries, but the key playmakers on this ever-growing team are all under the age of 26. Heck, if Best and Suh continue this dominant pace, we may become the first team in the history of the NFL to have both the offensive and defensive rookie of the year on the same team.
The right leader is in place in young head coach Jim Schwartz, and after all the guys we’ve had manning this ship, we finally got it right. Schwartz simply exudes confidence and it is obvious that his players believe in and enjoy playing for him.
We’ve been told to keep our head up and stay the course, but the difference this time is the genuine feeling that this team is playing to win, not just for a contract. The future is leading us in the present and even though the record doesn’t show it, the game film backs up the fact that this process is not only correct, it is well under way.