Detroit Lions: Looking Back at the First Half of the Season

Derek TislerContributor INovember 1, 2011

Detroit Lions: Looking Back at the First Half of the Season

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    The Detroit Lions came out of the gates strong during the 2011 season, winning the first five games and looking impressive doing it. After stumbles against San Francisco and Atlanta, the Lions recovered by dominating the Denver Broncos to finish the first half of the season with a solid 6-2 record.

    Detroit's impressive start puts them currently in first place for the NFC Wild Card. If the season ended today, the Detroit Lions would be in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

    However, the season does not end today. The Lions still have a lot of football to play after their week off. In the second half of the season, they will look to build off their early success and continue to build a team that can contend for Detroit's first-ever Super Bowl.

    Until then, we can look back at one of the most exciting starts in Detroit Lions history. Here are some of the star players and highlights of the 2011 season so far.

Offensive MVP: Calvin Johnson

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    There are very few players in the NFL who have the ability to dominate defenders the way that Calvin Johnson does every week. Johnson displays an unheard-of combination of size, speed and athleticism that makes him arguably the most difficult wide receiver to cover. 

    Now that the Lions have been able to have some consistency at quarterback, Johnson is having his breakout year. 

    The wide receiver known as "Megatron" has put up explosive numbers this season, ranking third in the NFL in receiving yards with 804 and first in touchdowns with 11, five more than any wide receiver. In addition, Johnson ranks second in the NFL in receptions for over 40 yards.

    Johnson's current pace would set him up for 22 touchdown receptions this season, just one shy of the record set by Randy Moss in 2007.

    A huge part of the Lions' success this season has been because of Johnson. When the ball is put in his hands, he makes huge plays and finds ways to score even when it seems impossible.

Defensive MVP: Ndamukong Suh

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    Ndamukong Suh may not have the most impressive numbers in the NFL this year with 24 tackles and three sacks, but his impact on the game is unbeatable.

    Suh brings unmatched enthusiasm and work ethic to the field every week. He is the type of player that opposing teams spend countless hours preparing for. Ndamukong Suh can make a difference in a game just by being on the field.

    Suh demands constant attention from the opposing offensive line all game long and still manages to blow up plays in the backfield. When he isn't getting to the quarterback, the extra blocking that Suh requires opens the door for explosive players like Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Corey Williams and Lawrence Jackson. 

    With how impressive the Detroit Lions pass rush has been this season, the defensive MVP could have been given to any one of the players on the defensive line.

    However, none of the players carry the reputation and overall dominance that Ndamukong Suh has shown during his first two years in the NFL. 

Special Teams MVP: Jason Hanson

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    Through the past decade of horrible Detroit Lions football, Jason Hanson has stayed consistent as one of the few bright areas.

    Hanson began his 20th straight NFL season with the Lions in 2011 and fifth straight as a team captain. Hanson is Detroit's all-time leading scorer with 1,697 points. He has scored 17 game-winning field goals in his career, eight in regulation and nine in overtime.

    This season, Hanson has been no less extraordinary. He was named NFC special teams player of the month in September after kicking a perfect 8-of-8 field goals. Since then, he has missed just one field goal.

    Because Hanson has been with the team for so long, it may be easy for Lions fans to take for granted just how good he has been.

    After 20 seasons in the NFL, Jason Hanson is still one the most reliable kickers in the game.

Best New Lion: Stephen Tulloch

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    During the offseason, the Lions made a huge improvement to one of their weaker units: the linebackers. Detroit signed middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, a five-year veteran from the Titans.

    Tulloch, who played under Jim Schwartz when he was a defensive coordinator for Tennessee, was known as a reliable defensive player who was there to make big plays when needed. He was coming off a 111-tackle season, a career best.

    Since coming to Detroit, Tulloch has had a huge impact on the Lions defense. Tulloch has the second-most tackles for Detroit at 52. He has shown his capability of making big plays, recording three sacks on the season and an interception.

    Stephen Tulloch has brought leadership and experience to a very young, talented Detroit defense. His excellent play on the field is a testament to the decision-making of general manager Martin Mayhew.

Most Improved Unit: Secondary

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    Coming into the 2011 season, there was a lot of concern about the Detroit Lions secondary. Many saw this as one of the weakest units on the Lions and doubted whether they would be able to slow down opposing passing attacks

    After not drafting a cornerback in the 2011 NFL draft, the Lions signed Eric Wright, a cornerback from the Cleveland Browns. Wright was overlooked during the offseason due to the availability of higher-profile defensive backs. The signing, however, turned out to be a great one.

    This season, Detroit has the sixth-best pass defense, allowing just 193.6 yards per game. The secondary has taken advantage of the overpowering quarterback pressure provided by the defensive line. Chris Houston has four interceptions this year, Amari Spievey has three and Eric Wright has two. 

    The overlooked Detroit secondary has made huge improvements since last season. They are now a unit capable of shutting down quarterbacks and making game-changing plays.

Best Game: Detroit Lions 34, Dallas Cowboys 30

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    Just one week after overcoming a 20-point deficit, the Detroit Lions pulled off an even more amazing victory of the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4. 

    At halftime, Detroit was down 20-3. Shortly after, Tony Romo hooked up with Jason Witten in the end zone for a one-yard touchdown pass. Dallas had a 24-point lead and the Lions' win streak looked like it was coming to an end.

    Then everything changed.

    Linebacker Bobby Carpenter and cornerback Chris Houston each picked off a pass on Dallas' next two drives. Both interceptions were returned for touchdowns.

    After that, Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson took over. The two connected for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Along with a Jason Hanson field goal, this gave Detroit a 34-30 lead and a miracle victory. 

    The incredible comeback following a 24-point deficit showed how determined Detroit was to succeed. The Lions never gave up. Key players stepped up to make huge plays and Detroit was able to pull off one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history.

Best Play: Calvin Johnson

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    There have been a number of great plays by Detroit Lions players this season, but for me, the play of the year came in the same game against the Dallas Cowboys.

    In the fourth quarter of the game, when Detroit was down 30-17, Matt Stafford connected with Calvin Johnson for an incredible 23-yard touchdown pass.

    The catch showed just how amazing of an athlete Johnson really is. While in the end zone, Megatron was being covered by two Cowboy defenders with a third nearby. 

    However, no catch is impossible for Johnson.

    Stafford heaved the ball into the air where only Johnson would be able to get to it. Johnson leaped over all three defenders and brought the ball in for a touchdown, bringing the Lions within a touchdown of the Dallas Cowboys.

    This catch was easily one of the best in the NFL this season.