O'HARA: Barry Sanders is confident that this Lions' team can win the division

Posted Oct 15, 2013

Sanders says he likes the added dimension Reggie Bush provides, and sees similarities between the tandem of Bush and Calvin Johnson, and how he and Herman Moore teamed up in his last eight seasons

Barry Sanders was high on the Lions before the season started, and nothing has happened in the first six games to make him lower his projection on what they should accomplish.

They’re tied with the Bears for first place in the NFC North, both having 4-2 records, and Sanders expects the Lions to remain at the top of the division.

Sanders especially likes the talent on offense, and how the addition of Reggie Bush as a play-making threat out of the backfield complements Calvin Johnson, and the big arm and leadership displayed by quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Bush, in particular, has added a dimension that has been lacking on a regular season since – well, since the Lions had a back named Barry Sanders who tore up defenses from 1989 until his retirement after the 1998 season.

"I picked them to win the division, and I like what I see," Sanders said Tuesday during a promotional appearance at the Lions’ weekly Meet up and Eat Up program at Eastern Market in Detroit.

"Adding that dynamic dimension at running back, that guy that can just spread the field and the field and work well in open spaces and catch the ball out of the backfield – I like what I see.

"The guy is just dangerous when he gets in the open field. Try to match him up with a linebacker – that’s a mismatch all day. Obviously, he can still run the ball well out of the backfield.

"Having that dynamic punch has made a difference."

In addition to his ability, brought an attitude to Detroit that added to his impact.

"I think it’s all about chemistry," Sanders said. "And some guys just fit, certainly when they’re proven. The guy won a Super Bowl (in New Orleans), and even before that in college (at Southern Cal), they were one of the most dominant teams ever in college football.

"Some guys get used to losing. They don’t care. Having him here certainly motivates guys who really want to win and gives you that extra confidence."

Green Bay, a half game behind the Lions and Bears in the North at 3-2, has been the dominant team in the North for three years. The 2010 team won the Super Bowl, and the Packers have won the division title the last two years.

"I think we’re hungrier, younger and probably as talented as the Packers," Sanders said. "I think they’re good, but I don’t think they are as drive or as hungry as we are.

"I think we’re going to take them this year."

It is worth noting that Sanders says "we" when he speaks of the Lions. He remains loyal to the team he played for in a Hall of Fame career as one of the most electrifying performers in NFL history.

He sees similarities between the Bush-Johnson tandem and how he and Herman Moore teamed in his last eight seasons to form one of the most prolific runner-receiver tandems in NFL history.

Moore was a four-time Pro Bowl receiver and was first-team All-Pro three times. He was the first receiver in NFL history to catch 100 more passes in three straight seasons (1995-97).

"There’s a good comparison," Sanders said. "Calvin is a different kind of player – as big and fast as he is. What makes it all work, obviously, is Matthew Stafford. Having a top-notch quarterback with a big arm who’s been in your system for a while – he makes those two work very well together.

Calvin JohnsonWR Calvin Johnson (Photo: G.Smith/Detroit Lions)

"Calvin’s never played with a guy like Reggie, and vice-versa. I think we saw a little bit of it with Jahvid Best."

Sanders liked seeing Stafford spiked the ball after running for a first down early in the second half against the Browns. Stafford didn’t slide, and the spike fired up the rest of the team.

It was an example of leadership that Sanders appreciates in a quarterback, and he compared it to the famous run by John Elway in the Broncos’ victory over the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII. At the end of the run, Elway flew through the air like a helicopter wing.

"Everyone want to see that toughness in their quarterback and their leader," Sanders said. "You go back to the John Elway run in the Super Bowl against the Packers – that run at the goal line.

"Seeing him give up his body, that always motivates guys. The only one you see on the field sliding is the quarterback. When you see him running for tough yards, that wakes guys up."