The Lions are about where everyone expected them to be after two games – 1-1, a .500 record. This is similar, mind you, to twenty other NFL teams and every team in their division at this point. One of the biggest factors for this middling start is the schedule – Home vs. the Rams, Away vs. the 49ers.
A cause for celebration would have been a 2-0 start (which would have meant a win at San Francisco – no easy task) and a cause for true frustration would have been a 0-2 start (which almost happened if they lost to the Rams). Since the Lions can’t control the schedule, let’s focus on what they can control.
On offense, quarterback Matthew Stafford has yet to hit his 2011 stride. He rebounded from three first half interceptions against the Rams to lead a strong second half comeback. Calvin Johnson has been spectacular against defenses that spend all week scheming to stop him on Sundays. Stafford and Johnson need more help in the passing game from the tight ends – Pettigrew and Scheffler – and from non-existent receiver Titus Young. Young was expected to have a breakout second season – and may still have it in him.
After Sunday’s 49ers game, a lot has been made of the Lions strategy to establish the running game against the 49ers great defense. I thought they did a decent job of staying with the run and putting the offense in 3rd & sixes as opposed to 3rd & longs. With Leshoure coming back from suspension this week and the emergence of Bell in the 49ers game, I think that the Lions can still be a better running team in 2012 than they were in 2011. The key is the blocking up front (this may be where rookie tackle Riley Reiff comes into play) and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan staying with the run game.
The defense has also had their share of struggles but has been the stronger of the two units. In both games the Lions have been without injured defensive backs Delmas and Houston. Surprisingly this has not produced nearly as many errors as I thought it would. Both players are expected back soon. Delmas especially will help against the big pass catching tight ends in the NFL.
The Lions front seven on defense were dominant against the Rams and just so-so against the 49ers. The defensive line remains the best unit on the team when all eight players are healthy and in the rotation (as they are now). The linebackers have played better than I expected save for their inability to stop the 49ers rushing attack in the first half.
Overall I thought there were a few more negatives to take away from the Rams win and a few more positives to take away from the 49ers loss than some people thought. The offense needs to find a way to start faster in these games. Similar to last season they rely too much on coming back in the second half, which puts too much pressure on everyone (fans included).
Imagine a Lions team with a decent lead heading into the fourth quarter – the Lions could attempt to run out the clock with a revamped running game led by Leshoure. They could unleash their strong defensive line on weary quarterbacks looking to make their own fourth quarter magic. I am pretty sure this is how the coaching staff envisions it, but for some reason the Lions start historically slow offensively in these games.
This is something that the Lions can control. However, if they can’t change their first quarter fortunes they will have to rely again on something out of their control – the schedule: Away vs. the Titans, Home vs. the Vikings and then Bye week. That is a favorable schedule that should produce a 3-1 mark heading into a difficult October slate of games.
I have been a die hard Lions fan since 1991. I played football in high school and began a college playing career at Wayne State before hanging up the cleats. I will try to provide a perspective on my favorite NFL team as the season progresses for the Patch.