Detroit Lions: 10 Reasons Detroit Will Finish as League's Best Team
Detroit Lions fans are experiencing a roller coaster of emotions this season. The majority has been exuberance and revelry, but things have swung in a direction that Lions fans have not endured in many years.
There is a backlash against the suddenly-successful upstarts. The word "overhyped" has not been associated with Detroit in decades (except for possibly early in the 2007 season).
Lions fans enjoyed the constant coverage for the first five weeks. They didn't prepare for the inevitable. People always tire of teams in the spotlight. See the New England Patriots for the biggest illustration of the phenomenon.
The Lions were never as good as their start but neither are they as bad, or filled with as many holes, as analysts are now speculating.
In fact, the Lions have the possibility to end the season as the best team in the NFL.
The following slides will specify the reasons why.
1. Intensity and Dedication
Jim Schwartz's intensity has been well documented over the past two days, so there is no need to rehash that here.
What is important is that this intensity has transferred to the team as a whole.
The most fundamental change that Schwartz has implemented—along with the help of Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch—is a change in attitude.
Media types are always discussing how a coach is changing the culture but they never really specify how this is done.
The answer is intra-squad competition and being relentless in your pursuit of perfection.
The Detroit Lions' depth has improved exponentially over the past three years. Second stringers on the defensive line, like Willie Young, would easily have been a starter in prior years.
When your talent level rises this high, the practices are more intense as everyone vies for playing time. This intensity transfers over to games, as evidenced by the aggressiveness the defense has played with and the hits that have been handed out.
1. Intensity and Dedication Continued
The pursuit of perfection has been exhibited by the Jim Schwartz's inability to appear satisfied after a victory.
Jim Schwartz's reaction after the initial Tampa Bay game reflected what most thought—that they won despite not playing their best game.
That's why Kyle Vanden Bosch's leadership has been instrumental in teaching the young players how to practice and consequently play.
The team must ensure that they are not satisfied with wins but with playing to their potential.
Having your most accomplished player working hard and completely buying into a coach's scheme infects the entirety of the team and begins to breed that elusive culture of winning.
2. The Emphasis on Physical Play
The intensity cited before has borne itself out on the field in the form of physical play.
It appears that there has been a conscious shift in the way the Detroit Lions play the game over the last couple years.
Stephen Tulloch appears to be partially responsible for the renaissance of attitude. Since his arrival in Detroit, he has been flying around the field and hitting people.
Even the cornerbacks have been laying down the wood and talking smack.
But the focal point of the change in aggression and physicality stems from Ndamukong Suh. In fact, he plays with such a nasty streak that it has sparked national debates about whether he is a dirty player.
Regardless, his and the Lions' physical style takes its toll on teams as games progress. It is difficult to be accurate as a quarterback if you are constantly worried about getting crushed.
3. Ability to Overcome Injuries to the Running Backs
The Detroit Lions are not unique because they have to deal with injuries.
The Green Bay Packers famously overcame 15 players on the Injured Reserve last year on their way to the Super Bowl.
Mikel Leshoure was lost before opening weekend to an Achilles injury and Jahvid Best has been reported as having his second concussion in three months.
Maurice Morris will see significantly more playing time, but Lions fans should not fret. Detroit was not running the ball well anyway, ranking 21st in the league.
Morris' knowledge of the blocking schemes will allow them to continue to pass the ball effectively.
Once they get get Tony Scheffler back, the Lions will have more options to spread the field and use the short passing game to compensate for their lack of a running game.
4. Matthew Stafford's Poise
Legends have been based upon the unflappability of quarterbacks.
A great example is the famous Joe Montana—John Candy Super Bowl story.
Matthew Stafford's poise under pressure is quickly getting to a place beyond reproach. The Detroit Lions would not have completed their consecutive comeback victories over the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys without Stafford settling in and leading the offense down the field.
When your quarterback doesn't flinch with the game on the line—and he's already proven it to his teammates—it goes a long way toward building an attitude of never giving up on a game.
The ability to overcome adversity is obviously important in football as injuries, turnovers or bad penalties can occur at any time.
5. Matthew Stafford's Toughness
Matthew Stafford's offensive line began the season well by not allowing any sacks and few hurries in the season-opening victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
They have not been nearly as good since.
The Detroit Lions may have cruised to a convincing win over he Kansas City Chiefs, but the line allowed Tamba Hali to land several blows on Stafford.
The trend has continued with the Lions allowing five sacks in their loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Yet Stafford has yet to miss any snaps this season.
Stafford has always been tough, as evidenced by his game-winning touchdown against the Cleveland Browns that was thrown with a separated shoulder.
This toughness will be crucial as the long NFL season marches on, because the Lions require Stafford on the field if they are going to sustain any success.
6. Matthew Stafford's Problems Are Correctable
Every player has a ceiling that is determined by their talent level and work ethic.
The talent level component of the equation is not something the player can overcome in most circumstances.
If a quarterback is not capable of making certain throws, there is only so far they can carry a team.
Matthew Stafford does not have a talent-related problem. His main problems are holding onto the ball too long (thus taking unnecessary sacks and hits) and starting off slowly.
The former is something offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will fix with time. We know that Linehan is capable of making strong-armed quarterbacks into perennial Pro Bowlers due to his time in Minnesota with Daunte Culpepper.
The latter problem is probably a byproduct of being too excited in the beginning of games. This is probably because he hasn't started that many games in the NFL, and he will settle with time.
7. Calvin Johnson Is Indeed Megatron
Calvin Johnson has thoroughly embraced his role as the main attraction of the Detroit Lions offense.
This has led to him coming out of his shell.
He seems to be enjoying himself both on and off the field.
Winning has a lot to do with his "blossoming," but it appears that the camaraderie of the team is deeper than years prior, and Calvin is responding.
Johnson is already on pace to break Randy Moss' touchdown receptions in a season record.
Further, he will be given plenty of opportunities, since only three of Detroit's remaining 10 opponents have passing defenses ranked the top half of the league.
Johnson will continue his ascension to the pinnacle of his position, giving the Lions one decided advantage in every game they play.
8. The Defensive Line Is the Most Talented and Deepest in the NFL
The Detroit Lions defensive line was being hyped everywhere this offseason.
But the praise is well deserved, even if the stats seem to portray them as underachieving.
This defensive line is anchored by the freaky, talented Ndamukong Suh and an on-the-rise Cliff Avril. However, the true strength of the line is its depth.
When a team is able to rotate in fresh defensive lineman with the skills that Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson possess, the offensive line is never able to take a play off.
Then when things get tight towards the end of a game and the offense must pass, the defensive line will be doubling up their talent advantage since they are relatively fresh by comparison.
9. The Secondary Has Responded Extremely Well
The much-maligned Detroit Lions secondary has responded in ways that few prognosticators felt possible prior to the season
Chris Houston has taken a few lumps, but he also leads the team with three interceptions and took one back for a touchdown in the historic comeback against the Dallas Cowboys.
Eric Wright has also provided stability on the other side. The safeties, when healthy, have been surprisingly steady.
The biggest improvement this year has been in their tackling. In years past, teams would run through the secondary for long gains, but plays are being shut down after the catch now due to solid hitting and wrapping up.
Overall, the unit ranks 12th in the NFL in yards allowed, eighth in touchdowns allowed and fourth in interceptions.
10. Ford Field Has Become a True Homefield Advantage
Detroit has been waiting for a long time for the Lions to embrace them, and now they are not going to let go.
The last two games have seen Lions' opponents forced into 14 false start penalties due to crowd noise—tying an NFL record.
Despite this obvious advantage, it should be noted that Detroit's lone loss did come at home last weekend. Yet, that loss was to a legitimate San Francisco 49ers team in a game where the Lions made far too many mistakes to steal a win.
The roar has most definitely been restored in Detroit, and the Lions are a team that will be able to stand toe to toe with anyone in the NFL when this season ends.