If they're not in a crisis - that word again - they're close.
It is too early to say that Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles represents a make-or-break point in the season? No team makes its season in the first five games – not even the Lions of 2011, who were 5-0 after five games. It took a three-game winning streak late in the season for the Lions to clinch a playoff berth with a 10-6 record.
But the breaking point can come early, and the Lions are perilously close to that situation with a three-game losing streak and a 1-3 record.
The Lions are playing catch-up already in the NFC North, and they have a long way to go to reel in the division leaders. The Bears and Vikings are tied for first at 4-1.
A three-game deficit is not too big to overcome with 12 games left, but simple math – too many losses against too few wins – dictates that the Lions cannot wait to regain their winning form of last year and make a move.
“You can,” Johnson said. “I’ve been in big holes since I been here. It’s hard to dig out of. You definitely want to get some wins, especially early in the season to get that confidence flowing and get everybody on the same page.
“We know we have a good team. We went to the playoffs with this team last year. We’re getting some guys back this week, and next week. It will continue to boost us on both sides of the ball.”
Best’s potential return is a secondary issue for this week. The focus is on Sunday at the Linc against a talented Eagles team that is tied for first in the NFC East with a 3-2 record.
My opinion: it is hard to pick against the Eagles, based on home-field advantage, their depth of talent and how they’ve ground out three wins by a combined four points.
However, the Eagles are not heavily favored, which indicates that it would not be considered a major upset if the Lions were to win.
For the Lions-Eagles game, the Friday Focus is on whether a change in overall attitude will benefit the Lions, favorable matchups for either team, and the return of Delmas along with overall health:
Sense of urgency: When
The edge from last year was missing in their first four games, and so were the results – a 1-3 record compared to a 4-0 record that grew to 5-0.
“You better have a chip on your shoulder to get where we want to go,” said defensive end
Calvin Johnson wrote on his blog about there being “No more Mr. Nice Guy” at the receiver position.
“We had a little reflection before the bye week,” he said. “Just strictly receivers. It’s something we felt we needed to get back to, what we did last year. It comes from being a lot more intense.”
Mostly, it relates to being more aggressive and physical blockers – something that Johnson prides himself on doing.
“Hitting guys down the field, getting on those safeties,” Johnson said. “Not letting them have an easy day, defending the pass. We didn’t really lose it, but we can step up the intensity a little bit.”
Raiola added a comment on how the Lions will play: Nothing after the whistle, no penalties for lack of discipline.
What to watch: The Lions went 2-5 in one period last year and made the playoffs, but they never lost three straight. Extending the loss streak to four games could be a killer.
Rush Vick: Eagles QB Michael Vick has been a turnover machine, with 11 turnovers in the first five games. He has six picks and five lost fumbles.
The Eagles are 31st in turnover margin at minus seven, with 14 – eight lost fumbles to go with Vick’s six picks.
Vick takes a beating because of his style. He’ll run and throw his body around. He has been sacked 14 times and run 32 times.
Vick is in his own time zone with the internal “clock” quarterbacks and defensive players have on when they expect the ball to come out. He keeps plays alive with his legs.
The Lions’ pass rush has been somewhat disappointing with nine sacks, two more than the Eagles have in one more game.
“He runs away from some sacks, but he also doubles back and gives defenders another shot at him,” Coach Jim Schwartz said. “You have to know defensively that he can extend the play.
“You're going to have to stay after the quarterback. You may think you're out of the rush, and he reverses the field and comes back to you.”
What to watch: Philly is 21st in the league in sacks allowed per play. The Lions are 14th on defense is sacks per play. Slight advantage to the Lions.
Defeat single coverage: When
The Lions have faced two-deep safeties almost exclusively this year, and the result has been fewer deep balls to Johnson.
Cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominic Rodgers-Cromartie give the Eagles a pair of cornerbacks with exceptional cover skills that allows them to play man-to-man.
It takes away high-percentage dump-offs in the middle of the field, but it gives the opportunity for big plays if a receiver can win in man-to-man situations.
“We’ve got to be opportunistic and take advantage of everything they give us,” Johnson said. “I believe that we’ll get some opportunities in this game.”
What to watch: The Lions’ defense ranks second in the league with eight pass plays allowed of 20 yards or longer. The Eagles have allowed 15, but have played one more game.
The Lions have given up a 66.1-percent completion rate to 53.6 for Philly.
Secondary is primary: Having Delmas back at safety should help the secondary, even though he might not be at 100 percent. Delmas has had two knee surgeries since the end of last season.
Having Delmas back is the key.
“He covers a lot of ground,” Schwartz said. ”He’s good against the run and the pass. He’s a multi-dimensional player, very rarely makes mental mistakes and he’s developed into an outstanding safety.”
What to watch: The Lions do not have an interception and have been credited with only 11 pass breakups.
The Bears lead the NFL in interceptions with 13 – two more than the Lions’ total pass breakups.
Streak busters: The Lions have broken a lot of them in the last three seasons, and they face another one. They’ve lost six straight to the Eagles.
Their last win was 13-11 in 1986 at old Veterans Stadium in Philly.
The Vet was demolished in 2004.
The Lions need to crush a losing streak.