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2011 Detroit Lions vs. History, Stigma and Expectations

Detroit Lion football history is riddled with teams in perfect position to secure a wildcard spot, only to blow it by losing in the final two weeks of the season. Just ask Bobby Ross about Christmas Eve, 2000. Paul Edinger’s 54-yard field goal with two seconds remaining in the season knocked the Lions out of playoff contention. As every Lions fan who suffered through is aware, the Wayne Fontes era is also full of “almosts” and “should’ve beens”.

Undoubtedly many pessimists nationwide are expecting the same this year. And to be quite honest, who can blame them? Stigmas exist for a reason, and this team hasn’t done much since the 1950s to prove otherwise. This is a great opportunity for the 2011 Lions, the Jim Schwartz Lions, to prove what we all know to be true.

History is meaningless in sports, especially in football. Every season there is a different team that rises up from the depths of NFL irrelevance and says “not us, not anymore.” The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went from the laughing stock of the league, to one of the most feared teams through the late 90s and early 2000s. Christmas Eve 2011 is Detroit’s turn to do exactly that. This franchise has an opportunity to prove that the culture is changing. One victory isn’t going to change everything. One post-season appearance isn’t going to erase years of failure and ineptitude, but it’s a start.

Each dynasty that has come and gone, and each franchise that has risen from obscurity, started their ascension to prominence by doing something that has avoided this franchise for decades, but for which Saturday brings another opportunity. Win when you’re supposed to. Win when you need to. Win when it matters.

Philip Rivers vs. Detroit secondary

Injuries are a part of football for any team, and a perennial contender would never use them as an excuse for failure. With the Lions’ secondary it isn’t so much the injury bug that is hurting them, but rather their lack of depth, specifically at the safety position. With Louis Delmas (knee) most likely missing another game and reserve Chris Harris missing practice time with an apparent concussion, the Lions have only one man left to turn to if both are unable to go on Saturday; special teams ace john Wendling. When Martin Mayhew signed Wendling to a ludicrous contract in the offseason, he surely didn’t do it expecting to see him in the defensive backfield, let alone starting at safety in such a huge game for the franchise.

Wendling was abused in his extended playing time in Oakland. He missed so many tackles, and was caught out of position so many times, that even the 2008 Lions may have cut him. Rest assured that Norv Turner and Philip Rivers watched the film, and saw what everybody else saw. A safety that can’t cover or tackle, playing behind a banged up group of cornerbacks (Chris Houston and Eric Wright) whose nagging injuries make it difficult to cut and cover man-to-man. If the corners aren’t healthy enough to play man coverage, and Wendling isn’t trustworthy enough to be left alone in a deep third or half of the field in zone coverage, Gunther Cunningham must get creative. If Delmas and Harris are both out of Saturday’s game Detroit’s best chance of shutting down Rivers is named Cliff Avril. Otherwise, expect to see your fair share of John Wendling chasing Vincent Jackson into the end zone.

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Tags: Bobby Ross Chargers Delmas Harris Houston Key Matchups Lions NFC North NFL Philip Rivers Playoffs Rivers Vincent Jackson Wayne Fontes Wendling Wildcard Wright