It was supposed to be the Green Bay Packers, and then the Minnesota Vikings, but who would have predicted the Detroit Lions to be atop the NFC North Division standings this far into the season, with Super Bowl odds increasing every game?
Sitting at 1-3 just four weeks into the season, Lions fans were getting prepared for their recent disappointment in performance from the city of Detroit that they have had to adjust to for the past decade. Jim Caldwell was just another coach who had failed to implement a successful system, Matthew Stafford was never going to reach that elite game-changer level, and the loss of Calvin Johnson was worse than ever. But then everything changed and the organization took a complete 180 degree turn in the right direction.
Offensive Coordinator Jim Bob Cooter has become an extremely important aspect of Matthew Stafford’s success. His balance combined with a fast-paced methodical play calling has allowed his quarterback to gain confidence and spread the ball instead of having to focus a majority of his attention on Calvin Johnson. Unpredictability is now a factor and has neutralized pass rush defenses.
On the defensive side of the ball is where the weakness lies. The Lions are on the edge of joining a group of teams that are a tier above them. Detroit’s secondary had improved drastically since the beginning of the season partly due to the rise of Darius Slay, however, allows almost 260 passing yards against them per game. This number must decrease over the next few weeks, otherwise, the Lions will not make the playoffs or advance if they remain atop the NFC North. The defensive line has been performing well recently and should continue to improve with a healthy core group that keeps on gaining experience. Nonetheless, if the Lions are to make a deep run this season, their defense must be the group that steps up.
The largest factor that Jim Caldwell and the rest of the Detroit Lions have going for them is the play of the rest of the NFC North. After recently signing quarterback Jay Cutler to an enormous contract that can be widely agreed was an awful decision, the Chicago Bears are now reeling and are facing one of their most disappointing seasons. Meanwhile, the Green Bay Packers are still alive in the NFC North picture, however, are underperforming while the Vikings are now on a four game losing streak. If this type of play continues from the rest of the NFC North, the Lions have legitimate shot at making the playoffs after crowning themselves champions of the division.
Nonetheless, there’s still the question of how deep a run they can forge. At this point, it looks as if the Lions have found success in the pass offense, but need to the secondary in the defense to improve drastically to find a way to reach the conference championship or perhaps the Super Bowl. Detroit is definitely not a favorite in the league, or even the conference, but are in a good position to discover what they have moving forward and possibly in the playoffs.
Key factors moving forward:
Theo Riddick and co. need to find some success on the ground. Riddick has become an asset to the team that is immeasurable. However, the run game must improve after ranking 27th in rush yards per game. This seems like a theme that is covered season after season, but the Lions need to find a strong run game by committee to keep the offense unpredictable in the pass game.
If you would have asked me two years ago about the odds of both Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs sharing large amounts of reps on defense, I would have offered you something around little to no chance. Yet both young guns have been thrusted into starting roles at various times this season because of health issues to the secondary as well as the departure of Rashean Mathis this past offseason. Veteran Don Carey was acquired last week to boost that depth and performance, and his contribution will be huge for the Lions moving forward.