I hear what people are saying about the Lions and I get it. I feel the frustration. I understand that they have only won 2 games this year and currently have lost 26 straight games on the road. As a big fan of the Detroit Lions it is hard to see them lose week in and week out but I must confess to something. For the first time in quite some time I see some very encouraging signs in all three phases of the game.
As incredibly frustrating as it is to see the Lions fall apart late in games after playing so well for so long, let’s not forget who it was that they were playing. They have lost to the 9 win 2 loss New England Patriots and the 9 win 2 loss New York Jets. Let’s also remember that the Lions were beating these teams through three quarters. That says a few things. First is that the Lions can’t finish games well right now, something all teams must learn to do before taking that big next step. Second, it says that the Lions are more talented right now than they have been at any point in the last ten years. The Buffalo game was a disaster and the only time this year that I felt anything like a winless season.
We all can see that there are problems that need to be addressed. Calling out teammates through the media is not a good sign, but it’s also an opportunity for the Lions to overcome some adversity together and if Jim Schwartz is what we all hope he is then he has to lead them through this. Failing to get off the field on defense in big situations and the mental mistakes are big problems.
There are encouraging signs also. While everyone is busy bashing the Lions for the failure Thursday let’s look at some numbers. Coming into the Thanksgiving game the Lions defense is showing some stunning statistical improvements. The Lions finished dead last in total defense in 2008 and 2009. Coming into Thursday’s game the Lions were 21st in total defense year to date. That is a massive improvement that has not translated to wins, but you can see it on the field. There is also the return game. Stefan Logan makes a difference and it’s been some time since we could say that. The Lions rank 17th in total offense and that’s with Stafford only playing 3 games. It’s not just us fans either as you can hear everyone talking about how this is not the same old Lions.
That doesn’t give them a free pass though. They can’t continue to false start and jump off-sides. They can’t continue to lead the NFL in penalties. They can’t continue to blow up late in games and lose games they could and should be winning. They need to get Matt Stafford back and they need him to stay healthy. They need to get more talent in their group of linebackers and secondary players.
I know that you are thinking right now that it’s all about wins and losses and nothing else matters. In most cases that’s true but right now that’s not fair for this team. We have to take these incremental improvements as big positive signs. Right now that is all we have. When Matt Millen was fired the Lions roster was completely devoid of NFL talent.
Martin Mayhew, Tom Lewand and Jim Schwartz inherited a disaster. Coming into 2010 there were 10 new starters on defense from 2008. There has been a total roster turnover and that is a project that is going to take some time and two years is not enough time. Another good draft and another good year of free agent signings will be critical. In the mean time, all we can do is look at these incremental improvements as very good signs that this team is improving. As sad as that is for us Lions fans, that is Matt Millen’s legacy.