The Detroit Lions will get back to work Tuesday after a mini vacation for the bye week.
Having a Week 9 bye right at the midway point of the season allowed players a chance to reflect back on the first eight games and get their minds and bodies right for a playoff run in the second half.
At 5-3, the team has positioned itself nicely for at least a wildcard spot with four games at home, four on the road and the win-loss record of those next eight opponents well under .500.
"I mean we are 5-3 and I don’t think there is anything else that you can say other than that," head coach Jim Schwartz said before the bye.
The first half showed us this offense can put up points, and be very explosive. The trio of Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and
We’ve also learned that it can be feast or famine sometimes on the other side of the ball as the defense ranks 25th in total yards (381.0), 25th in pass defense (272.5) and 18th in scoring (24.6).
"I don’t put grades on it, I don’t know if it is a D, an A, a B, a C or an F, I don’t know, it will tell over the course of the year," Schwartz said of the team’s first-half performance.
"We found a way to get five wins and we found a way to lose three games. That’s just where it is. We are only halfway through the season and the tale of this season is not going to be written in the first half, it is going to be written in the second half and that is what we have to concentrate on."
Stafford’s 2,617 passing yards trails only Peyton Manning (2,919) and Drew Brees (2,672) at the midway point. Maybe more important is his touchdown-to-turnover ratio of 16-6.
Reducing the turnovers and being more efficient were big goals heading into the season for Stafford after having just 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions last year.
Stafford is completing 62.4 percent of his passes despite the fact the Lions continue to be among the league leaders in dropped passes (25).
He’s had a revolving door at receiver through the first eight games and has completed passes to 13 different pass catchers, including seven different wide receivers. He’s played one game without Calvin Johnson and five without
Stafford has taken every one of the Lions’ 556 snaps through the first eight games and is rated among the top quarterbacks in the NFL (120.9) when it matters the most in the fourth quarter.
Stafford, 25, will ultimately be graded on wins and losses, but his start is one of the big reasons the Lions are in the playoff hunt.
The Lions knew they needed a versatile player like Reggie Bush in their offense and that’s why they made him such a priority in free agency.
At the midway point, the Lions seem to have hit a homerun with that signing. Bush has 518 rushing yards and 355 receiving yards and is on pace for more than 1,700 total yards this season.
The offense is only averaging about 98.1 rushing yards per game, but that doesn’t account for what the running back position provides from a receiving standpoint in an offense predicated on the pass. It also doesn’t account for the threat of the run and how that translates into freeing up Calvin Johnson and some of the other outside weapons downfield.
The Dallas Cowboys had a game plan to stop Bush and Johnson had 329 receiving yards. Earlier in the season, the Minnesota Vikings tried to take Johnson out of the game and Bush had 190 total yards. That’s the true impact.
The Lions are averaging 120 rushing yards in their five wins and 63.3 in their three losses. They are 4-0 when they’ve rushed at least 27 times in a game this year. Those are important statistics to remember going forward.
The Lions need to limit the 23 negative rushes (not counting six kneel downs) from the first half, but overall, they’ve gotten the impact they’ve hoped for from the position.
The NFL’s leading receiver is coming off the second-best receiving game in league history (329 yards) the last time he was on the field.
Calvin Johnson set an NFL record with 484 receiving yards in his last two games vs. Dallas and Cincinnati.
His mere presence has allowed Bush to see lighter boxes and has allowed him to make a big impact in the passing game.
After Johnson, the team’s leading receivers are two running backs (Bush and Bell) and tight end
Part of that is Burleson missing five games because of a broken forearm. Burleson was the team’s leading receiver through the first three games of the season with 19 catches for 239 yards.
Burleson could be back as early as this week, which should bolster the unit.
The unit is still dropping too many passes week-to-week, but the chemistry is building with Stafford.
Give Pettigrew some credit, he had a rough start to the season but has bounced back very strong over the last month or so. Pettigrew has always been an above-average blocker, but is proving to be a very sure-handed receiver recently as well.
With the release of Tony Scheffler and
One of the biggest question marks coming into the season has turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the first half.
With injuries to both Hilliard (knee vs. Cincinnati) and tackle
The unit has allowed just 10 sacks in eight games, which is best in the NFL, and comes out to only 2.9 percent of the time Stafford drops back to pass.
Quin and Delmas have combined for 11 pass breakups and four interceptions. In fact, when the Lions have two or more interceptions in a game this year, they are 3-0.
That’s not to say things have been perfect in the back end, though. The Lions continue to give up too many big plays in both the passing and run games and the play at safety does factor into that.
Inconsistent is the best word to use to describe the play from this position over the first eight games of the season.
The Lions rank 25th in pass defense and have just one interception from a cornerback.
Houston gained a lot of his confidence back last week with a very good performance against Dallas, but he needs to put good performances on top of good performances moving forward.
Second-year nickel cornerback
The Lions need to continue to improve on the outside if they ever hope to stop the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Colin Kaepernick and the other elite NFC passing attacks.
The emergence of outside linebacker
The biggest concern right now for the entire front seven has been the big play in the rushing game. The Lions are still the only team in the NFL that’s allowed four 40-plus-yard runs this season. The Lions are 29th in the league in yards per rush allowed (4.7). The defensive line is the first line of defense, but the linebackers have to be better cleaning up some of those runs in the second level.
The Lions have just 13 sacks on the season, but that’s a bit deceptive. They’ve gotten good pressure in some games that haven’t resulted in sacks.
A pressure that leads to an interception, which has happened on a number of occasions for the Lions through the first eight games (three times for Suh in particular), doesn’t count on the stat sheet, but any defensive coordinator would take that scenario over a sack any day.
The Lions have failed to get adequate pressure in three games this season – Arizona, Green Bay and Cincinnati -- All three of which were losses.
Ziggy Ansah has been pretty quiet the last month after getting off to a three-sack start in his first three games. He hasn’t recorded one since. It was kind of expected the rookie would flash, and then disappear at times, but this has been a pretty sustained disappearing act over the last five games.
The cover teams have not surrendered the big play in any of their first eight games and they’ve faced a gauntlet of good return men in Devin Hester, Patrick Peterson, Randall Cobb, Cordarrelle Patterson, Travis Benjamin and Dwayne Harris, to name a few.
The cover units will only getter, too, with Pro Bowl cover man
The Lions haven't gotten a whole lot out of their return game outside of a 57-yard punt return by
David Akers is 12-of-15 on field goals, but two of those misses have been blocked and not because of bad kicks on his part. They were protection breakdowns. He’s been pretty good.
He did drop a snap on field goal against Minnesota earlier this year and shank a punt against Cincinnati that contributed to that loss.