It was the best of times for the Detroit Lions; it was (is) the worst of times for the Detroit Lions.
The 2011 Lions (11-5) had reached the playoffs a mere four seasons after posting the worst record in NFL history (0-16). Head coach Jim Schwartz and quarterback Matt Stafford were given the credit for reversing the fortunes of an underachieving franchise in a downtrodden city. Let me put it this way: saving hometown-giant General Motors appeared to be an easier task.
Flash to this season – after raising expectations higher than Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking free fall, the 2012 Lions (4-10) have returned to their old ways. Other than a few bright spots (Matt Stafford’s game-winning drive against the Seahawks; Calvin Johnson’s potentially record-breaking season) the Lions have been an absolute disaster. The million-dollar question is: what happened?
The Lions were overachievers last season. With a weak secondary, a non-existent running game, and a porous offensive line, the Lions were destined for return to normalcy – or, as it turns out, worse. Their highly touted defensive line, featuring Ndamukong Suh and Crazy Eyes (Kyle Vanden Bosch), can only do so much to win games. At a certain point, the Lions were going to have to learn how to A) create turnovers, B) stop the run, and C) keep their overworked defense off the field. They’ve done none of those things this year.
A lot of the blame has to fall on the shoulders of Stafford, whose side-armed throw leads to either epic Megatron touchdowns or ugly turnovers. When Stafford’s in control (think 300 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs) the Lions are a 12-4 team. But when Stafford’s out of control (think 225 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs) the Lions are, at best, a 5-11 team. You could say that the Lions go as their quarterback goes – which is to say, not good this season.
Maybe the biggest factor in the demise of the Lions has been attitude. Suh epitomizes everything that’s wrong with the Lions and their approach to the game. I’m not talking about hard hits; they’re awesome and the NFL is making a big mistake by essentially outlawing them. I’m talking about making a spectacular effort to cleat a Green Bay offensive lineman and Houston’s Matt Schaub. I’m talking about the Lions’ plethora of offseason arrests, ultimately leading to the release of defensive back Aaron Barry. That’s not how you play football or conduct yourself off the field as a professional athlete. It leads to a lack of chemistry in the locker room, which in turn leads to poor and untrusting play on the field. For all his good work with the team, Schwartz deserves a good deal of blame for losing control of his players.
So it may be a time for a change. You can’t change Stafford or get rid of him: he’s too valuable as a franchise quarterback and he has ridiculous potential. The answer is changing the attitude. As good as I think Suh is as a player, and as good as I think Schwartz is as a coach, it’s time to restart and get rid of them both. That may mean losing games in the short-term; but if you’re 4-10, who cares? The upside is forming a better Lions paradigm for the future decade – a classy, honorable, winning paradigm.
As Charles Dickens would conclude: it would be a far, far better thing to do, than they’ve ever done before.
DynamicPicks Computer Prediction:
Atlanta Falcons (-3.5) @ Detroit Lions
Projected win: Atlanta, 52.2% – CORRECT
Projected ATS win: Detroit +3.5, 56.0% – INCORRECT
Take DET +3.5; they’re being underweighted by the public.