Well, now that we're not worrying about the Owen XVI curse, let's get back to the unwarranted optimism, shall we? Or should we stay with the historical pessimism? Still too early to call, but I'm leaning toward the optimism. So far, I'm 5-0 with my Lions picks, and the four losses were all closer than I would have anticipated.
Facebook post of the day: "Um, I just saw the score to the Lions game. Where did my team go and do they have to come back?!". My wife missed the first half and came home just after Burleson punted the ball into the end zone. She immediately exclaimed "Nuh-uh!" and "Is this a real game?". After telling her about the kickoff return, she figured she was dreaming and sat to see if it was real. Then came the pick by Suh, and the pick-six by Alphonso Smith got her screaming in disbelief.
It was really fun. Will it last?
The Giants will attempt to dispute that next week at the New Meadowlands. Prepare for a big dropoff in production, but it's still expected to be 60 degrees and sunny, so it could be a great football day.
As for rating the units, I'm feeling a bit generous, but I still believe that all units performed at or above average this week, including the linebackers who were strikingly missing the last few weeks.
Shaun Hill had a tremendous day. He didn't exceed 300 yards, but he still garnered a 117.6 rating, the highest for the Lions since Jon Kitna put up a 137.3 against the Bears in 2007. No interceptions for the first time this year, and three touchdowns to three different receivers. Hill gets an A-: The Lions offense started off slow with a field goal on that great field position, followed by two three and outs. After that, though, he was on fire.
The run game was decent, but not amazing. Best had 67 yards but added another 37 on four receptions, ending with a 100-yard day combined. Smith performed his duties but didn't really shine. The backs get a B-: They did their job, but 3.4 yards per carry is a bit low, and there's a big dropoff from the No. 1 to the rest of the corps.
Four with four catches kept the Rams guessing all day. Three of the four scored a touchdown, including Pettigrew, who has become a very nice option for Hill. The number of options Detroit now has is a key reason that Detroit is No. 1 in scoring in the NFC and No. 2 in passing offense in the NFC (No. 6 and No. 5 in the same categories overall). Receivers get an A here: No key drops, amazing catches, and the only blemish is Burleson's penalty, which gave the Rams the best starting field position from a kickoff of any opponent this year (albeit for a drive that resulted in no points).
The offense gets an A-. The first three drives were not pretty, resulting in two three-and-outs and a field goal . Once they got going, however, they blew out St. Louis and put up more points (37 points from offensive drives) than three of St. Louis' opponents combined (17 + 16 + 3 = 36 for three games).
The defensive line put up a very nice effort on Sunday. No sacks for this line, but Suh's batted ball and interception return make up for it. They easily presented Bradford with his toughest challenge and made quite a few impressive tackles of Jackson. The DL gets an A: The only thing that would have made it better was if they actually sacked Bradford.
Wow, we really do have some linebackers. In Sunday's game, the linebacking corps racked up more than half the number of tackles (20) they did in the previous four games (34). They even scored a sack (albeit a "no-hit" sack) and a key pass deflection in the end zone. Still not quite elite material, but they definitely fit the average and maybe a little bit more: C+. The only knock I have is that, once Jackson got through the line, he'd end up in the secondary. This needs to get better before Detroit faces another elite RB: There is no reason that the linebackers should have fewer tackles than the secondary.
The secondary played as well as you could possibly have wished for. Granted, the Rams aren't known for their passing offense. However, they matched the number of passes for 15 or more yards that Green Bay and Philadelphia put up (5) and exceeded the number the Vikings put up (4). Only Chicago put up more long passes (10). Is this indicative of a big-play weakness, or just average? I don't know. However, they kept the Rams out of the end zone, including stopping Jackson's big plays before he broke a TD. The pick-six was a nice gift at the end. The secondary gets an A-: They're still giving up big passes, but this week those didn't result in TDs.
Granted, we're talking about the Rams' offense here, but this is still an NFL team. Holding them out of the end zone for the first time this year is impressive. They made the plays when they counted the most, rather than missing the most important plays. They didn't let up when they were up by three touchdowns, indicated by the Suh interception and the Smith interception and touchdown. The defense gets an A: While the individual units might be lower, the total team effort was tremendous.
So, are any of you going to doubt Logan's ability now? Sure, his mistake could have been the pivotal moment of that Vikings game, but his TD return Sunday was definitely the pivotal moment of the Rams game. With the game tied up, he scored the winning points and turned the momentum around for good. He also put up a 12-yard average on punt returns. The kick coverage was as good as ever, with the worst starting position courtesy of a penalty on the TD play. Still, no kickoff has been returned past the opponent's 40 in five games this year. Can't say that about last year. Punt coverage was a bit lax, but we only punted three times. Special Teams get an A: TD returns and great coverage make for a special teams paradise. Guess that's how Chicago felt last year. (As an aside, I really should have dropped the Rams this week and picked up the Lions to cover NE's bye week. The difference between the two was 35 fantasy points.)
Overall, the Lions get an A. The Lions really played a great game yesterday, and while individual efforts may not all have been A's, the team effort was outstanding. They dominated on both sides of the ball and showed no mercy against a team that beat them last year. With the point differential, the Lions move to a positive differential (+3.5 points per game), which is a full touchdown better than the first five games last year (-11.8 points per game). Hill had his best game as a Lion (glad I picked him up for this week), and five receivers pulled in four passes each. Now, before you write it off as only the Rams, remember that this Rams team was leading the league in scoring defense and had won two straight.
The Lions face the New York Giants this week, followed by the bye. The Giants have a tough defense with enough offense to win the games. It should be a very interesting matchup, and I think the Lions will show up better than the Bears did last week. A 2-4 record going into the bye would pave the way for a nice run by Stafford in the midseason. I predicted a loss prior to the season, but I think this is a winnable game.