And though I’ll be the first to recognize that the size of the “national fanbase” is somewhat depleted due to an unprecedented string of football futility, I would also argue that when you’re talking to a Lions fan, you can be pretty sure that you’re talking to a LIONS FAN, not some team-hopping, trash-talking, know-nothing, glory hound bent on bolstering their own pathetic existence with an undeserved and completely vicarious thrill.
So now you know how I feel about team hopping (there’s dirtier words for it).
Lions fans understand the long haul, and believe me it’s been a loooooooooooooooooooong haul, and for better or worse, we’re not going anywhere.
Honestly, the day I have to contend with the free-lancers, I suppose I’ll be a happy man, because it’ll mean that the Lions are winning for once.
What does this have to do with the Lions being undefeated? Well, I guess not too much, only that I don’t see many bandwagoner’s jumping on the Lions' express due to some nifty play in the preseason.
But let me tell you something...they should be.
Now, some might call me foolish for getting my hopes up a little too high, but let them scoff, I’ve got this all figured out. And though I understand that preseason games are essentially meaningless, there are a couple things that could be gleaned from the few snaps that our first team took while on the field.
The defensive line looks solid.
Though much has been made of the loss of “Big Baby” Shaun Rogers (if there was ever a more appropriate nickname, I haven’t heard it) to the Cleveland Browns, anybody that’s followed the Lions over the past few years knows differently.
In one game a year, “Big Baby” would show up as the most dominant force on the planet (early in the season), only to somehow get more out of shape, get injured, get lazy, get entitled, get 50 Big Mac’s, get limited to 10 plays a game, get steroids, get suspended, and in the final analysis, get traded.
"Big Baby," though possessed of limitless potential, had not helped the Lions win games in years. Without Rogers, the Lions have witnessed some good play from former standout DT Cory Redding, who has been popping off the ball nicely, and causing trouble up front in the preseason.
Add to this a healthy Dewayne White, who was having a phenomenal season last year until he was limited by injuries, the addition of run-stopper Chuck Darby, and the continued performance of Jared Devries, who’s coming off a career year, and the Lions' defensive line seems to be in better shape than most give them credit for.
Is it the prototypical "Tampa Two" line? Can they provide the pressure they need to take some heat off the secondary? The answer to the first question is probably no, but I think the preseason has demonstrated their unexpected ability to pin their ears back and go after the quarterback.
They also have impressive depth, with tackles Shaun Cody and Langston Moore, to help out up the middle, and unproven, though promising, second-year player Ikaika Alama-Francis and rookie Cliff Avril flashing impressive speed off the end.
The Lions kept 11 defensive linemen on their final roster, meaning that we can expect plenty of platooning to keep them fresh.
"Big Baby" was not a loss. He was a 400-pound malignancy removed from the ass of the Lions. And oh yes, somebody actually gave us some value for him. Which brings me to my next point.
The secondary is improved.
The cornerback position is in much better shape than it was a year ago. In addition to signing two of their own (Travis Fisher and Keith Smith), Detroit acquired six-year vet Leigh Bodden from the Cleveland Browns, who should bring some play-making ability to the corner.
Bodden also has the size to play a physical style in the "Tampa Two" system and should provide a welcomed remedy when facing some of the league’s larger receivers. Though it is yet to be seen if Bodden can reproduce his fabulous 2005 season, he is undoubtedly going to be an asset to a Lions secondary that was one of the worst in the league.
The addition of "Tampa Two" veteran Brian Kelly should also add some consistency at the other corner while improving second-year player Gerald Alexander, and veteran acquisition Dwight Smith should shore-up some holes in the deep middle.
The Lions also have some depth now, and though I’m by no means arguing that this is a top-10 secondary, I think we might be able to move them into the high teens, which would be a drastic improvement over the woeful pass defense of a year ago.
The offense will consistently score points.
When Mike Martz came to Detroit, most of us were riding the fence as to what to expect. On one hand, he was bringing a proven scoring system to a team in need of a kick, but on the other hand, he had proven to be an inflexible control freak that couldn’t adjust his system to match the players on the field.
It turns out we were right on both accounts.
The inability to call audibles when teams were blitzing 85 percent of the time because they KNEW we weren’t going to run the ball, ended up mercilessly taxing an already questionable offensive line and put Kitna (a much underrated performer) under incredible stress to release the ball immediately or be absolutely crushed by a consortium of blitzing linebackers freed from their run commitments.
For all his idiosyncrasies, Kitna, who is tough as nails, got absolutely creamed more times than I may have ever seen (and I root for the Lions), and still managed to throw for over 4,000 yards in a system that severely handicapped his ability to make plays.
The problem with the Lions last season was that they never possessed the ball for any period of time. They were either three-and-out due to horrible offensive-line play fed by poor play calling, or were driving the length of the field in less than a minute due to incredible wide-receiver play fed by the resilient Kitna.
This placed an injured and inexperienced defense in the unenviable position of being on the field the entire game, which undoubtedly contributed to their woeful statistics.
Though I can’t say that I was pleased when the Lions let Kevin Jones get away, I have been extremely pleased with the progress of rookie Kevin Smith, who looks to have the vision to find some holes in the NFL and the size to run inside, if not the impressive breakaway speed.
If there’s one thing that Detroit’s line has proved, it’s that they CAN run block when given the opportunity, and a switch to a more-balanced system should play to their strength, take pressure off Kitna, and give the Lions a bit more of a ball-control feel, which should exponentially help their defense.
I would also be remiss here if I didn’t predict a BIG season from "Megatron," WR Calvin Johnson, who also had an impressive preseason and should provide a nearly unstoppable one-two punch with Roy Williams in top form. All this should add up to a more consistent and controlled Detroit offense, which, in the end, will add up to more points and less squandered opportunities.
So, the Lions are undefeated. But for how long can it last?
Here’s how long.
The Lions will march into Atlanta and DOMINATE on Sept. 7. For those of you intent on earning some extra cash, the spread for this game is a measly three points and I would take it in a heartbeat. Lions win 28-10.
Aaron Rodgers and company will come to Detroit on Sept. 15 and find out a couple more things. One, that there’s no place like dome for the Detroit Lions, and two, Rodgers is a poor replacement for Lions nemesis Brett Favre. Thank God the cheeseheads have lived up to their name and let that guy go! Lions win 21-14.
San Francisco, in my opinion, is still a step behind the Lions, and they have major concerns at the quarterback position. They will be unable to stop "Megatron," who will go for 165 yards and two TDs in this game. The Lions' D also steps up and delivers its best performance. Lions win 21-3.
Though in the past I’ve chosen the Bye week over Detroit, NOT THIS YEAR!
And finally, with the offensively challenged Bears visiting Detroit on Oct. 5, I predict a defensive struggle that ultimately favors Motown. The Bears' defense steps up, but in the end, they can’t overcome inept offensive output. Lions win 10-7.
So there you have it. It will be at least a month before the Lions lose a game. Their first loss will come to a very good Minnesota team on the road and will signal the start of the real season for the Lions. But with a nice head start I think they can go 9-7. Maybe that’s not good enough to attract the bandwagoneers, but for a Detroit fan, that would be heaven.
A winning season and a fringe playoff chance?
That’s all we ever ask for.
That’s seldom what we get.