Detroit Lions: the beginning, not the end

After the anguish of being eliminated from the playoffs passed and I had time to really think about the 2011 Detroit Lions, my mood lightened.  Yes, the team was ousted by a wide margin in New Orleans and the game was tough to stomach for Lions fans, but hope remains.

The Lions had a special year, headlined by Matthew Stafford putting together the least heralded 5,000 yard passing season ever, and then not being selected to the Pro Bowl.  Stafford is obviously the only 5,000 yard passer to not make the trip to Honolulu, but his season will be remembered by Lions fans forever.  Stafford piled up numerous Lion records, and didn’t disappoint in his first full season in the NFL.

Wide receiver Calvin Johnson accompanied Stafford to the record books, gaining 1,681 receiving yards.  This led the NFL, and was just five shy of the Lions record.  Megatron also grabbed a Lion-record 16 touchdowns, passing Cloyce Box who held the record for 61 years.  Calvin’s season will be remembered for a long time as well, especially with the way it started.

After Hall of Famer Cris Carter failed to mention Johnson as one of his six “elite” wide receivers in the NFL, Johnson started the season off red-hot, scoring eight touchdowns in his first four games.  Ironically, that effort tied Carter’s record for most consecutive games with two or more touchdown catches.

The magical connection between Stafford and Johnson continued throughout the year, and the two led furious comebacks on many occasions.  First, the Lions overcame a 20-3 halftime deficit in Minnesota, winning a 26-23 overtime thriller.  Then, the very next Sunday, the Lions found themselves down 27-3 in Dallas.  The offense was disastrous, so the defense took over in the third quarter, returning two interceptions for touchdowns and getting the Lions back into the game.  Two fourth quarter Megatron touchdowns lifted the Lions to a miraculous 34-30 win.

The season continued in an amazing fashion, with the Lions moving to 5-0 for the first time in the Superbowl era after a win against Chicago.  The game was played on Monday Night Football- something the city of Detroit hadn’t hosted in a decade.

At that point, everyone knew things were changing for the Lions, and 13 weeks later, I still believe they are.  I was in the cheap seats that Monday night, and the noise inside Ford Field was noise created by a fan base that has yearned for something to cheer for, and now that something is finally here.

Detroit has a special group of men, a group that will assuredly bring many more wins and many more cheers to the city of Detroit.  Led by a nucleus of Stafford, Johnson, Pettigrew, Young, and Suh, the young and talented Lions should continue improving for years to come.

Winning can put a smile on your face- even Jim Schwartz's

Head coach Jim Schwartz called this year “important” for the Lions.  He didn’t say “amazing” or even “good,” he used the word important.  When a franchise is getting beat up and routinely selecting high in the draft, someone needs to come along and get that team back over the hump.  I believe that man is Schwartz, and I believe that this was the year he got the Lions over the hump.

Schwartz believes in himself, believes in his players, and certainly expects to win every game.  He is passionate, fiery, and intense, and I love all of those qualities in a head coach.  Schwartz’s no-nonsense attitude will take the franchise a long way.

For now, however, Lions fans should focus on this year’s team and their accomplishments.  The team fought its way through adversity and into the playoffs, something that will be commended for years.

2011 marks a beginning of a new era for Detroit football, and was certainly an important year for the new contenders on the block, the Detroit Lions.

Season Facts

Total Offense: 396.1 ypg (4th)

Passing Offense: 300.9 ypg (4th)

Rushing Offense: 95.2 ypg (29th)

Scoring Offense: 29.6 ppg (4th)

Total Defense: 367.6 ypg (23rd)

Passing Defense: 239.4 ypg (22nd)

Rushing Defense: 128.1 ypg (23rd)

Sacks: 41 (T-10th)

Scoring Defense: 24.2 ppg (23rd)

Interceptions: 21 (5th)

Fumble Recoveries: 13 (3rd)

Turnover Margin: +11 (4th)

 

The Lions’ best wins this year were against 8-8 teams, and they beat only one playoff team when the won on the road against Denver.  The other 8-8 teams they beat were Dallas on the road, Oakland on the road, and Chicago at home.

The Lions lost five games to eventual playoff teams: Atlanta, San Francisco, Green Bay(x2), and New Orleans.  Their sixth loss was at Chicago.

Running back Jahvid Best says he “has no doubt personally” that he will return next season.  I believed that he would not play another NFL game after suffering a concussion early this year, but his words are encouraging.  Kicker Jason Hanson also plans to return to the team for the 2012 season.

Left tackle Jeff Backus had surgery to repair a torn bicep he suffered in Saturday’s loss to the Saints.  Backus holds the Lions record for most consecutive starts with 177 (every game for all 11 years of his career).

In addition to comebacks of 17 points at Minnesota and 24 at Dallas, the Lions also mounted two 13 point comebacks (Carolina and @Oakland).  The Lions trailed the Raiders 27-14 with under six minutes to play before scoring 14 unanswered points to win 28-27.  Stafford led a seven play, 98 yard drive in just over 90 seconds to win the game.

Johnson’s remarkable year included three 200 yard games, with his best effort a 244 yard performance in week 17 at Lambeau Field.  The performance was good for second best all time by a Lion.  His other 200 yard performances were at Oakland (214) and in the playoff matchup at New Orleans (211).  The 211 yards gave Calvin a record for most receiving yards in a playoff debut.

Count his 211 yard performance against the Saints and Johnson has two NFL records- most receiving yards in a season (1,892) and most 200 yard receiving games in a season (3, tied with Charley Hennigan who did it in 1961)

Let the offseason begin.

 

 

 

 

  • Kowalskiitmnk

    stafford had his chance this year.  he is a franchise quarterback, but he is not a Super Bowl quarterback.  how much of his success could be attributed to calvin johnson, mostly, and brandon pettigrew, and the receiving corps.  he will have moderate success and probably get injured in future years.  he will put up gaudy statistics, but he does not have the makings of a Super Bowl quarterback.

    difference between mccoy and griffin III or andrew luck.  have not researched andrew luck much so i am piggy backing on experts, but it is said that he has everything.  griffin III, well over 6′, runs like a deer, completed clutch throws late in games against tough competition, won at baylor where usually undermanned compared to opponents, had concussion and bounced back immediately.  the only worry about robert griffin III is that baylor had a phenomenal running game.  this made passing much easier than a team with no running game.  (did you see stats, never seen this before, one running back 2 carries 101 yards, other running back 101 yards 5 carries in their bowl game?)  something funny there??????  did not see game. 

    i see andrew luck or robert griffin III as Super Bowl caliber qb’s.  i see trent richardson as a warrior running back who could lead team to a Super Bowl.  why not trade salary laden players like Stafford and Suh to try to get one of these players and some draft picks.  carefully select from free agents.  word is 25% of the league are free agents this year.  these are bold moves which are needed to upgrade our team.  it is a little bit like rolling the dice.  (rememeber herschel walker deal that dallas made?)  status quo means a little more than mediocrity.  if we tweak, we are going nowhere. 

    food for thought?  did the defense play better when Suh returned for second New Orleans game?
    Do you think having Leshoure and Best healthy would have made that much of a difference in the running game?

    beyond these top tier players, i do not have anyone in particular in mind for replacements.  i do believe that the more people we bring in, we increase the odds that one or two will become superstars.

    question:  off the top of your head, where do undrafted free agents rank (by amount) in the Pro Bowl game?  in other words, there are more first round draft picks in the Pro Bowl than undrafted free agents or players drafted in other rounds.  where do undrafted free agents fit in.  between which rounds?

  • isportsScott

    sorry kevin, but i will never see it your way.  Trading a franchise quarterback (you call him whatever you want, he is the Lions franchise quarterback) for a rookie is NEVER something i will advise.  Far too often, people look at college statistics and interpret them the wrong way.  Colt McCoy completed over 70% of his passes at Texas. Should we trade for him???

    I cant think of many teams that got better by trading stars for rookies and mid level “plug in” players. 

    Ultimately, the decisions are up to the Lions front office, who in my opinion, will do everything they can to keep Suh and Stafford around, and barring a strange incident, the only way the Lions will part with them would be free agency.  However, from what i hear, both players would like to remain Lions for the forseeable future.

    Thanks for reading kevin, i will always enjoy arguing sports!

  • Kowalskiitmnk

    stafford and suh are good players.  they simply cripple us salary capwise.  they are not worth the investment we have put in them.  they are entertaining, except i did not see much from suh this year.  to win big at the nfl level one must think on a different level.  i think stafford has plateaued.  i think we saw the best of stafford this year and he might get injured again.  i think that suh will hurt us in the long run.  why not, while each of their values are high go get some replacements at a lower cost.  they don’t even have to be of equal value.  we save money and use that money to sign free agents.  we get draft picks and maybe multiple draft picks to plug other holes. 

    robert griffin III completed almost 70% of his passes, threw very few interceptions, and runs exceedingly well.  could we get a draft pick high enough for stafford or suh to get griffin?  maybe?  he is the kind of guy who will get first downs when we need them!!!!!  i’d like to see what he could accomplish working with the corps of detroit receivers.  or we could try to get a warrior running back like trent richardson.  or we could try to draft 3-4 defensive warriors who will elevate the defense and alleviate the burden on the offense. 

    shaun hill did well when stafford went out last year.  he won games.  we are not going back to 0-16.  we are simply trying to get to 16-0.  your mentality will mean mediocrity in detroit for the next 5 seasons.  we will make it to the playoffs or barely miss the playoffs.  we will lose in the first round or get lucky and win one game.  we are actually in a position to become a powerhouse.  just cannot settle for status quo. 

    i am always a detroit lions fan.  enjoy watching them win and lose.  just would want them to try.

    insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

    kevin p. kowalski

  • isportsScott

    on second though i have to agree with everything u said.  Time for the Lions to go back to their 0-16 ways, this season was fun but lets be honest!  Stafford and Suh might win us games!!!

  • Kowalskiitmnk

    Again, the Lions need to weed out the players who will destroy them.  Suh is psychotic.  Stafford is not a Super Bowl quarterback.  Getting rid of two players signed under the old agreement from the top of the first round will alleviate a lot of cap space.  Then the team can spelunk for treasure at the other positions. 

    Do we possibly want a warrior at running back like Trent Richardson?  A quarterback like Robert Griffin III would be ideal.  What can we get for Suh and Stafford?  Could we possibly trade Suh for Andrew Luck?  The teams that can wheel and deal win championships. 

    We have money to play in the free agent market as well. 

  • http://twitter.com/isportsJoe Joe White

    Wow…..

  • isportsScott

    I dont think the below synopsis even merits a response.  Stafford just threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns… u wanna dump him? for who? the only upgrades in the entire league would be Rodgers, Brees, or Brady.  All of whom are much more expensive and older than Stafford.  U want to dump Suh also?  You cant just cut any player who gets suspended, especially one who plays at a Pro Bowl level (general consensus is that without the suspension, Suh would have gone to Honolulu).  Simply because we could dump the two for cheaper players doesn’t mean that would make the team better, i really dont understand how that even makes an ounce of sense to you.

    What is your plan for upgrading the corners, offensive line, defensive line, and linebackers?  Do you realize that those 4 positions hold around 30 roster spots??  And you think you can just upgrade them like that?  By trading Stafford and Suh for draft picks???? get real.

    You seem to think Stafford throws interceptions.  Take away the three games where he wore a glove on his throwing hand because of a broken finger, and he threw seven on the year.  Yeah, last i checked 7 picks in 13 games was pretty good.

    If Stafford fails to keep drives alive and is such a terrible passer why do the Lions rank 4th in scoring and passing offense??? And they still rank 4th in total offense despite having an all but non-existent running game… not following you here.

    Love the Millen joke oddsmaker, i see some similarities….

    • Kowalskiitmnk

      this is where naive people get fooled.  stafford is fool’s gold.  this would take a long discussion right here to describe.  i will describe later.  marino passed for a lot of yardage and went to the Super Bowl once.  is that correct?

      i am talking about building the chemistry of a team to win the Super Bowl.  the Lions right now are actually pretty fun to watch.  being fun to watch is not being a Super Bowl caliber team.  sometimes one needs to work against the obvious or superficial.  looking deeply into the futures of suh and stafford, i see not much improvement.  i see problems.  we are at a time when we can get a lot of value for both players.  lets reload.

    • Kowalskiitmnk

      dear mr. isports scott,

      just discovered how i can reply directly to your emails so sorry for delay.  i do not have answer yet on upgrades.  since lions will probably not consider my suggestions i might not have to work on possible next step.  (i wouldn’t mind you emailing martin mayhem with my ideas.)  once we make salary cap clearing moves and get draft picks we begin to decide on a chemistry that will work.  we have a fantastic base.  our defensive line is great without suh.  our receiving corps could use a tweak, but is outstanding.  our running backs are excellent, when healthy.  beefing up the offensive line so we can run would be a priority.  our offensive line, though aging has some great qualities. 

      my philosophy is to create numbers.  last year we had a ‘great’ draft which Mel Kiper downgraded from an A- to a B.  putting too much emphasis in a few players is dangerous.  why not bring in a number of players by free agency and drafting and hope that a few blossom into contributors. 

      besides major moves: 

      a.  getting Super Bowl qb or
      b.  getting warrior running back like Trent Richardson

      priorities
      a.  cornerbacks and linebackers, find playmakers, find solid players
      b.  offensive line, find players who can help in the running game, i think we need at least two.
      c.  another threat in the passing game, unless titus young can actually start catching his ‘almost’ catches

  • oddsmaker

    Kowalskiitmnk….. You are psychotic. Adjective:Of, denoting, or suffering from a psychosis: “a psychotic disturbance” First learn how to spell. What a moron! Is your real name Matt Millen?

    • Kowalskiitmnk

      mr. oddsmaker,

      time will tell, won’t it?  many people were against tebow!!!!  and now what?  i am correct and i know it.  i actually hope that i am wrong, but i am not.  this is the problem with being a genius.  but, i will take your comments and meditate on them.  when lions barely make the playoffs next year or barely miss them, will you recant?

    • Kowalskiitmnk

      mr. oddsmaker,

      do you wear pantaloons?  i am actually a pretty good speller.  no my name is not matt millen.  i did carry a sign around green bay’s lambeau field that said, “i miss millen” when the lions went 0-16.  people got a good laugh out of that.  i really did not miss millen.  this was sarcasm.  i need to explain that to you, because you would not understand otherwise.  you claim i am psychotic.  wow!!!!!!  you must not have any friends and you beat your pets.

  • Kowalskiitmnk

    The reason Lions need to get rid of Stafford and Suh is that both of their contracts were under the old system and they are much higher than for high first rounders today.  This cripples the Lions ability to get solid players in other positions.

    Suh is physchotic.  Stafford is not a Super Bowl quarterback.  Right not each of their stock values is pretty high.  Stafford threw for a 58% percentage in last year of college.  He does not complete the short pass very well.  Therefore, he fails to keep drives alive.  Suh is so focused on himself that he has forgotten his team.  Now is the time to do some wheeling and dealing.  Get high draft picks and restock.  The core, defensive line, receivers, offensive line, and the rest of the team is pretty solid. 

    Get a high percentage passer who does not throw interceptions.  Get a thoroughbread running back.  Upgrade cornerback, offensive lines, defensive lines, and the linebackers.  (You will have the money to do it when you eliminate Suh and Stafford.)

    Schwartz is way too emotional.  Green Bay game he lost a flag by throwing it on an obvious touchdown.  Schwartz should be given one more year to see if he can mature. 

    As of now, the Lions are a borderline playoff team.  They might make the playoffs.  They might win a game in the playoffs.  It would be nice if they could compete for the Super Bowl.  Teams compete for Super Bowls when they can make ingenious (not obvious) moves. 

  • Bob

    A couple safeties and corners and Detroit will be able to contend at the playoff level. It’s good to be taken seriously finally. Minnesota… I feel for you!

  • Kowalskiitmnk

    The Lions need to get rid of Matt Stafford and Ndamakong Suh.

    • Dpick2937

      someone needs to get rid of you !   MR. DIMWIT !!!

  • http://twitter.com/isportsJoe Joe White

    Heck of a summary there, Scott. Well done. You did a great job all year and I can’t wait to see your season preview in August!
    The big questions to me are:
    1. Will Avril return?
    2. Will Best actually return? One more concussion and he’s probably done for good. Is it worth it?
    3. How will Mayhew draft? The needs seem to be LB and secondary depth, as well as O-line depth. Drafting depth is a nice change of pace.