Leland Stein III

Has priecemealed Lions overachieved in 2016?

In sports column on January 2, 2017 at 11:01 pm

 

matthew-stafford

Matthew Stafford hopes to point Lions to playoff win Sunday. Dan Graschuck photo.

By Leland Stein III

DETROIT – To my observation, this has been a noteworthy job Lions coach Jim Caldwell has implemented or jerry-rigged to turn this hodgepodge collage of athletes into a NFL playoff team.

After starting the season 1-3, many gloated and exclaimed, “See, I told you this team was garbage!!!”

Then out of nowhere, Caldwell cajoled, prodded, provoked and stirred this team to overcome injuries to its best players (Darius Slay, Travis Swanson, DeAndre Levy, Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick and Ezekiel Ansah). His task was made even tougher because of an acknowledged thin roster, which new General Manager, Bob Quinn, by the way has done an excellent job of building some depth; however, the task is nowhere near completed.

me at USA basketball

Leland Stein III.

Before taking my seat in the Lions press area at Ford Field, and contemplating the two game losing streak Detroit was carrying as a burden, my gut told me this would be a very hard game for the home team to capture.

Unfortunately, my internal pre-game prognostication came true as the undermanned Lions could not muster up enough defense or offense to outlast their seemingly never-ending antagonist the Green Bay Packers and super evasive quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.

He is one of the best I have ever seen at eluding a pass rush. The way Rodgers slides and glides up in the pocket, to the right of the pocket, to the left of the pocket, while always looking downfield before scooting, many times untouched, for a valuable first down . . . is simply uncanny.

Lion’s defensive back, Nevin Lawson told me in the post-game locker room: “Man we were man-upping, but Rodgers ability to keep plays alive and scramble made it difficult to keep contact with their receivers. That is not an excuse, because we are paid to do that no matter the situation.”

The win was especially gut-wrenching for long suffering Lions’ faithful who would have witness its team corral its first division title in 23 years. Instead, the 31-24 loss gave Green Bay (10-7) a home playoff game versus the New York Giants.

Meanwhile the 9-7 Lions, thanks to a New York Giants win over Washington, get a wildcard and will have to travel to the Great Northwest and contest the Seattle Seahawks.

Caldwell said in his press conference: “It’s a new season. We are not going to talk about Green Bay anymore, it’s over, it’s a new season. We’re talking about Seattle, very tough team to play out there. We’ve got to get ready to go. You can’t linger on this stuff.”

He continued: “All I can tell you is, number one, it’s very difficult to get into the playoffs. Number two, there’s only 12 teams working tomorrow morning and we’re one of those 12. If you’re in, you’ve got a chance.”

What bothered me somewhat was I heard some guys saying the Lions inability to win any of its last three games was an epic collapse. What?

Anyone who feels that way about this 2016 version really does not know anything about football. Any retort like that smacks at this reality TV generation of demean, humiliate, degrade, or lower the efforts of others.

At the beginning of this narrative I asked the question: “Has the Lions overachieved?”

Well, any real analysis of the 2016 Lions’ personnel, coupled with the injuries, one would have to say, unquestionably, this team has overachieved!!!

Every talking head around gladly proclaimed before the start of the 2016 season that this Lions team did not have the personnel to compete at a high level with most putting the team’s chances between 7-9 to 5-11.

Caldwell did a masterful job, as he did in 2015, of righting the ship and molding a bunch of no name role players into a cohesive unit that was more gritty than talented. How else can I explain the Lions winning 8 of 9 games after that horrible 1-3 start?

My analysis concerning why Detroit has made the NFL Playoffs starts with the Lions coaches, then Stafford and finally the players buying into Caldwell’s urgings and overachieving. The last three Lions’ games clearly show that the Giants, Cowboys and Packers have some pieces that the Lions cannot match! Especially at running back, with Abdullah, then Riddick and rookie Dewayne Washington all going down.

Zack Zenner has done an admirable job the last two games, but his inability to get to the edge or cut up then slide outside is not good enough for a run at Super Bowl glory. There is no doubt the offense would be more versatile with a healthy Abdullah or Riddick giving Stafford a speed receiver out the backfield that can pressure the edges.

The fact of the matter is Quinn needs to add linebackers, a stretch receiver and a speedy running back for this team to take the next step.

In spite of the disappointing three losses to end the season, this team has played over it head and present talent level. It has a game Sunday versus the Seahawks, but it will take a perfect game from Stafford to pull off the upset. The defense has been surprisingly stellar all season, but over the last three games against prime time opponents the patchwork linebacking core has been exposed by Ezekiel Elliott and Rodgers.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

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