They swarmed to the ball. They delivered the harder hits. They jumped routes and intercepted passes. They tackled. They sustained a minimal number of breakdowns.
For once, that collection of thoughts can be used to sum up the Detroit Lions’ defense and not merely the opposition. For four quarters on Sunday, the Lions dominated the New York Jets and made their offense look pedestrian, if not largely embarrassing.
“I think there were times when our defense lifted our offense,” Jim Caldwell said on Monday during his weekly media address. It seemed as if the coach was actually being modest. When has Detroit’s defense last been able to claim anything like that?
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The numbers tell the best story. New York collected 204 yards passing, 132 yards rushing and two turnovers. Their quarterback Geno Smith was an ugly 17/33 while taking two sacks. The Jets’ leading receiver, Greg Salas, had only 60 yards through the air.
Were the Jets and Smith really that bad, or were the Lions simply that good?
Jim Caldwell acknowledged the struggles on the ground, but was impressed with his group’s response across the board elsewhere. “When it counted, I thought our defense did a good job,” he said.
Even though it might be hard to beleive, through four games, Detroit’s defense is looking to be the real deal, helping to showcase the value of good coaching. Teryl Austin, the first year defensive coordinator imported from Baltimore, has brought an excellent approach to a team that’s been in need for years.
Suddenly, the Lions are the team playing with poise, developing young talent and making plays. For the first time in recent memory, they’re actually tackling. As a result, they’re forcing more three-and-outs, and looking more organized as a group. The big play meltdowns of the past aren’t happening. Now, it’s clear those meltdowns may not have occurred as a result of having the wrong players, but having the wrong people in place to help develop them responsibly.
The big play meltdowns of the past aren’t happening. Now, it’s clear those meltdowns may not have occurred as a result of having the wrong players, bur having the wrong people in place to develop them responsibly.
Still, Caldwell didn’t provide excessive credit for anyone Monday. “There’s an old adage that says the teacher appears when the students are ready,” he said, deflecting his role in creating the environment that’s allowed Detroit to move past their usual struggles. “Maybe we’ve pointed out some things and pointed out the gravity of some things, but I think you have a group of guys who have taken the cause upon themselves as leaders.”
It’s true. Don’t forget, Detroit faced a week with plenty of defensive roadblocks. Not only have they been shorthanded in the secondary, but they lost Stephen Tulloch to injury earlier in the week, as well, and were heading on the road. Everyone who’s filled in, from unknowns like Danny Gorrer to young players like Tahir Whitehead, have held their own and excelled. That speaks to maturity.
“He was active, he did a nice job in terms of relaying defense to the rest of the group. He’s learning at that spot,” Caldwell said, while admitting despite the learning curve, people can still expect Whitehead to improve in the weeks ahead. For once, that expectation doesn’t seem unreasonable.
Even though the head coach isn’t going to allow anyone too much credit early in the year, it’s clear the organization on the defensive side of the ball is unlike anything seen in Detroit since the years of Larry Peccatiello. For that, you must credit Austin, the primary man in charge.
Early in 2014, the Lions may not have played their best defensive football and still look dominating. Truly, under this new regime, it might finally be time to acknowledge the future is bright.