Detroit Lions: Why Success This Preseason Is Much Different Than 2008
While the Detroit Lions have stunned much of the football world by looking incredibly impressive this preseason, not all fans are sold on change in the motor city.
Yes, Detroit Lions fans are a fickle bunch.
Win or lose, the tortured followers of the Honolulu Blue and Silver will fine some way to rain on their own collective parade, and this preseason is no different. Both longtime fans and the local media have gone out of their way to remind everyone that will listen that this team was 4-0 in 2008, before losing all 16 games in the regular season.
But...your response is cut off before you begin. Any optimism is immediately met with chides of "Kool Aid Drinker" or "Cornbread eater." From the water cooler to the online forum, it is impossible to enjoy the continued success this team seems to be having, because pessimism is the only allowable frame of mind when one has loved and lost with the Lions for so long.
Sidle up to the table, Lions fans, and don your favorite Honolulu Blue bib, because this serving of cornbread and Kool Aid is coming in a double dose.
The success this preseason is completely different from the preseason games won in 2008, and informed viewers can see the night and day difference.
The Preseason Means Something
It shouldn't need to be said, but it does—the preseason win-loss record means nothing. However, this is not to say that the preseason means nothing.
It is a tiny change in semantics, but a giant change in meaning.
Think the preseason means nothing? Ask the many players for whom "The Turk" calls this weekend—that one employee each team designates to find a player and let him know that Coach needs to see him, and oh, bring your playbook.
The preseason means the world to lots of players who win roster battles and earn roles on offense, defense and special teams.
Think the preseason means nothing? Ask Gunther Cunningham, who blitzed the living daylights out of Tom Brady on Saturday night. Soccer calls their exhibition matches "friendlies." Nothing was friendly about Saturday night, as Ford Field rocked with excitement and Suh and company looked hell-bent on removing Brady's head from his torso.
Think the preseason means nothing? Ask Bill Belichick, who said post game:
"I don’t feel very good about the job that I did, don’t feel very good really about anything we did tonight. Really weren’t competitive and (we) obviously got a lot of work to do. I (don’t think) there’s any solution to that than to go back and work harder and try to correct a lot of mistakes. We need to do everything better."
Preseason games may simply be a glorified scrimmage, but it means something to players, coaches and (yes, Virginia) fans too. Teams can gain momentum and lose it as well. Teams can test themselves against the best players on Earth and go back to the drawing board the next day.
The win-loss record doesn't matter, but the Detroit Lions' success this preseason has more to do with wins and losses.
Not All Wins are Created Equal
Yes, the Lions were 3-0 in 2008 as well, but a cursory look at those games shows a drastically different story than 2011.
Through the first three games, the Lions had posted 66 points. Through three games in 2011, Stafford and company have chalked 98 points up against the competition.
Moreover, more of those points have come from the first offensive unit. In 2008, Jon Kitna threw two touchdowns in the preseason. Stafford has thrown five. Stafford has also thrown for 76 more yards per game.
Ricardo Silva, an undrafted free agent out of Hampton, was sucked in on a play action fake by Tom Brady, one of the best quarterbacks on the planet. He'll likely spend 2011 on-and-off the Lions practice squad.
Coaches love to see what their second unit can do against another team's starters, but the converse is also true—coaches could care less if their starters have success against another team's backups.
The Lions have had two impressive wins this preseason—opening against the Cincinnati Bengals and then again (in spades) against the New England Patriots. In 2008, the Lions had (maybe) one impressive win.
Instead of comparing win-loss records, which mean nothing, compare how each team has looked through three games. The 2011 version of the Detroit Lions has looked dominant, while the 2008 Lions won squeakers because of late-game play by the third-string unit.
Preseason Success Had Nothing to Do with 2008's Regular Season Failure
This is another obvious statement that shouldn't bear repeating. It is not as if the four preseason wins in 2008 somehow cursed the Lions or made them less able to win games in the regular season.
Quite the opposite.
2008 was a perfect storm of injuries, coaching ineptitude and years of Matt Millen running the talent level of this team into the ground.
Could a similar perfect storm happen in 2011? Sure.
Injuries can happen to any team. Yet, it is how a team deals with injuries that matters. Last year, the Lions were one of the most injury-plagued teams in football and miraculously were able to overcome and win six games. Another injury-plagued team, the Green Bay Packers, overcame more injuries and injuries to better players and won the Super Bowl.
If the Lions lose their starting quarterback in 2011, they will turn to Shaun Hill instead of Daunte Culpepper. If the Lions lose a safety, they will turn to Eric Coleman and not Kalvin Pearson. If the Lions lose a defensive lineman, they will turn to Nick Fairley or Lawrence Jackson, not Jared DeVries and Chartric Darby.
How Many Wins Will The Detroit Lions Have in 2011?
Each of the coaches in 2008 were out of their league and were part of a constant revolving door of coaches that Matt Millen presided over. They were replaced by the current set of coaches. Schwartz, Linehan and Cunningham are three talented individuals who earned their current jobs and have since earned respect around the league for the job they have done in Detroit.
Finally, Millen. Oh, Matt Millen.
What can be said about the announcer-turned-general manager that hasn't already been said? No excuse can be made for a man who was both overmatched by other GM's and underworked by an owner who let him work short weeks and commute from his home in Pennsylvania.
Rather than compare respective win-loss records in preseasons, compare the actual teams on the field. Most of the players that contributed to 0-16 in 2008 are not only off the Lions roster, they are out of football altogether.
Be Optimistic! Be Realistic as Well
Optimism is warranted after a 3-0 start to the 2011 preseason, especially after a thorough drubbing of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots in the supposed "dress rehearsal" for the regular season.
Sure, the win-loss record doesn't matter, but the individual performances on the field do.
Be optimistic that Matt Stafford looks like a top-five quarterback in the NFL after three dazzling performances. Stafford is making throws that many quarterbacks can't make, and he's doing so with both tremendous arm strength in traffic and deft touch over-the-top.
Be optimistic that Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson look like one of the better receiving tandems in the NFL and will have plenty of help from Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler, Jahvid Best and whoever wins the third receiver battle.
Be optimistic that the second and third strings of the Detroit Lions have gone toe-to-toe with backups from one of the best-run teams in football. If Saturday proved nothing else, it proved that the Lions are a deeper team than fans have seen in a decade.
Be realistic, though, too. Sure, teams can jump from six wins to a playoff berth, but a lot of football has to be played before that sort of optimism is warranted.
Be optimistic that the Lions have looked great but that they still have deficiencies on the offensive line, in the running game and in the depth of the defensive secondary.
Winning preseason games shouldn't need to be excused, but the Detroit Lions have a long history of letting their fans down right after propping them up on faulty hope. This season, hyped though the Lions may be, looks much the same to a fanbase that refuses to believe unless it sees.
One thing is for sure. This isn't 2008, and a fanbase this tortured doesn't need constant reminders of one of the lowest points in any franchise's history. It isn't clever to remind people that the Lions were 4-0 in the 2008 preseason; it's pandering to the lowest common denominator and showcases a lack of any real insight.
Let this preseason and this team speak for itself and let the talent on the field, rather than the preseason win-loss record, be cause for all the optimism in the world.
Michael Schottey is an NFL Associate Editor for Bleacher Report. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, he has professionally covered the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions, as well as NFL events like the Scouting Combine and the Senior Bowl. Follow him on Twitter.
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