Watching the Detroit Lions destroy the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday, two recurring movie quotes kept popping up in my head.
The first, as you can tell by the picture of Paul Newman and Robert Redford, is from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. When being chased by a posse of the best lawmen money can buy, Butch turns to Sundance and asks, “Who are these guys?”
The second one, after the game was over, is from a Richard Dreyfuess movie Let It Ride. After winning a ton of money at the track, Dreyfuess shouts, “Did I win? Did I win? Son of a bitch, God likes me! He really, really likes me! What a day! What a fabulous day!”
So here we are, the Lions playing some very good football on both sides of the line. Now 4-7, after starting out 1-7 looking like an imitation of a Matt Millen team.
But changes, ones that have been a long time coming, were made. Joe Lombardi, who directed the offense last year to a 11-5 record, was jettisoned after losing to the Minnesota Vikings 28-19 at home. Lombardi, despite having the success in 2014 as well as being the QB coach to Drew Brees the previous 5 years in New Orleans, was never a good fit.
Stafford often appeared uncomfortable with the offense. He is not the type of QB that is going to be successful dumping off to backs and tight-ends…and Lombardi seemed to forget that he had one of the best wide receivers on the planet in Calvin Johnson.
Enter Jim Bob Cooter…really, that’s his name, you can’t make this stuff up. Granted he started off badly with the uninspired loss to Kansas City in London but the Lions were still basically running the Lombardi offense.
Then came the firings of Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew and since then, the Lions offense has gotten better each week…and have 3 wins in a row to show for it:
First was the biggest win the Lions have had in recent years, the 18-16 victory over the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau ; the first since 1991. Granted there was the gut-wrenching final seconds where every Lions fan was sure Mason Crosby was going to make that 50-yard field goal. But he muffed it and the Lions won for the first time in Green Bay in 24 years.
Next up was the rising Oakland Raiders. The Lions, despite playing at home, were underdogs in this game. But the Lions D had something to say about that. They held David Carr to just 169 yards passing and no TD’s. They stymied the rushing attack, holding them to a collective 54 yards but did give up 1 TD. Hey, this is the NFL and it’s hard to keep teams out of the end zone in this league.
Then came yesterday’s masterpiece, the 45-14 dismantling of the Eagles. The offensive line gave Matthew Stafford time all day. And Stafford showed just how good of a quarterback he can be when he is given time. A sterling 337 yards passing with 5 TD’s and zero interceptions and a career best QB rating of 137.5.
Let’s talk about Mr. Stafford for a minute here: For all you folks that want to heap the troubles the Lions had on his shoulders, you were wrong to do so. Stafford showed that given the time, he has the capability to put up Tom Brady stats…and I say right now that if Stafford had the protection that he had yesterday for his whole career, the Lions would have been in the Super Bowl already.
The Lions need to get more depth on the offensive line and need to do so in the upcoming draft. They have the talent at the position spots with Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Lance Moore, Ameer Abdullah and Joique Bell. Shore up that line because everyone knows that the offensive line needs quality players on the first, second and third string.
That line yesterday, in addition to allowing Stafford to throw for 337 and five TD’s also gave some hope to the dormant rushing attack. Granted, we didn’t have an individual rush for 100 yards, but collectively they went for 108 yards on 30 attempts and scored 1 rushing TD. Getting nearly 3.6 yards per attempt as a team is pretty darn good.
And how about Theo Riddick? The Lions have something special in this guy and better keep utilizing him. Five receptions for 62 yards and a score. He has become the third-down receiving threat coming out of the backfield. When the Lions played like they did yesterday, there isn’t a team that can cover all of their receivers. And if Eric Ebron can ever pull his head out of his ass and catch the ball, adding a good receiving tight-end into the mix, tell me how doubling up on Megatron is gonna stop this team.
The Lions still have a mathematical chance of making the playoffs. They are now 4-7, right there with nine other teams such as the Tampa Bay Bucs, New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears.
The Lions remaining five games are all winnable, provided they can keep playing the way they are:
12/3 – Green Bay: After a fast 6-0 start, the Packers have come back into the NFC Central pack. With last night’s loss to the Bears, they now are in second place in the division. Lions have to protect the home turf here and with the way they are playing, should do so on Thursday night football.
12/13 – @ Rams: This is going to be a tough game for the Lions…and it will be a low scoring one. The Rams defense is one of the toughest in the league and if the O-line can give Stafford some time against that front four, Stafford should be able to have success. Theo Riddick will be an important tool in this game.
12/21 – @ Saints: Saints can score points but they just can’t stop anyone. Drew Brees is still one dangerous quarterback but he doesn’t have the top flight weapons that he used to have. Still, they are in New Orleans and dem Saints fans are some of the most supportive in the NFL. High scoring shoot-out, Calvin and Golden Tate could both have huge games…and Abdullah could run wild against the Saints run defense. Could be a great Monday Night Football game.
Side note: My wife, an avid Saints fan, is convinced that the trade of Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks have hurt both teams. Saints may have improved their protection of Drew Brees but lost a valuable offensive weapon in Graham. Seattle still hasn’t figured out quite how to use Graham thus both teams have taken a hard road this year.
12/27 – San Francisco 49rs: This team is a mess…and the Lions cannot take this team lightly, something they have done in the past. If the Lions do actually beat Packers, Rams and Saints the three previous games, then this becomes a must win game, more so than any other game. I would call this the definition of a “trap game” and the Lions need to stomp the 49ers into oblivion.
1/3/16 – @ Da Bears: How sweet it could be if the Lions and the Bears both needed to win this game to get into the playoffs…and the Lions would shut the Bears fans up and eek out a close win.
If the Lions do indeed win out, that would give them a 9-7 record and quite possibly the 13th seed in the wild-card. Granted, we can forget a home playoff game but I would say that most Lions fans would call the 2015 season one of the best they’ve had. To start out 1-7 and finish 9-7? That is some serious football.
Who are these guys? These are the Detroit Lions!