Lions Laying Low
No one is talking about Detroit as a playoff contender, yet.
What a difference a year makes.
The 2013 Detroit Lions’ season mercifully ended to a bad Minnesota Vikings team who was losing a coach and its’ stadium. Jim Schwartz, a coach who is wound just a little too tight, had seen his last game on the sidelines as head coach. No fan could have waived goodbye to him any faster than I did. His attitude and demeanor clearly took management out of his corner (see his infamous scuffle with Jim Harbaugh) and he had outworn his welcome.
Fast forward a year, the Lions will play this Sunday for a division title and a first round playoff bye, all while remaining under the radar. So what has changed?
Two key things have transformed the Lions into a legit potential Super Bowl team. Calvin Johnson FINALLY got some help. Yes, Johnson can do super human things on the football field, but he has never had a teammate with the ability to make opposing defenses game plan for someone other than him. In steps Golden Tate III, not only has Tate been a God send to Johnson in the passing game, but Tate has carried the Lions during Megatron’s injury plagued 2014 season. There has been no panic in the Lions at all this year. Yes the Lions’ scoring is slightly down from a year ago (24.7pts/game in 2013, 20.1pts/game in 2014 through 15 games) which should be expected when missing someone the caliber or Johnson for any stretch of time. The Lions defense has been the teams unsung hero, holding opponents to a touchdown less (23.5pts/game in 2013, 16.8pts/game in 2014 through 15 games) than a year ago, second only to the Seattle Seahawks. Yet, there has been next to nothing said about the Lions making a deep playoff run.
How does the saying go, teams take on the persona of their coach? Well that is exactly what this team has done. When management hired Jim Caldwell to take over the team, they found the polar opposite of Schwartz. Caldwell is the calming influence this group of guys needed and he has the resume to back him up.
Somehow Caldwell has found a way to curb Ndamukong Suh’s actions that have earned him a reputation as dirty player. Partially that could be that in a contract year, the only way Suh would be able to maximize his earnings in the off-season would be toning it down a bit. The same message hasn’t quite made it all the way through the head of Dominic Raiola. Even with Raiola’s antics, Caldwell’s first year on the job in Detroit has been a wildly successful one. A division title and a deep run in the playoffs should be enough to at least get a smile out of Caldwell at some point.
Go ahead and overlook the Lions, don’t expect much from them. Lead by a very quiet and unassuming head coach, they are more than happy to hide in the weeds. Rest assured these Lions aren’t sleeping tonight or anytime soon. Stalking their prey they are waiting to deliver the final crushing blow to all who stand in their way.