O'Hara's Monday Countdown: A crucial repair job, Hanson's record setting ways and Delmas' value

Posted Oct 8, 2012

A crucial repair job awaits the Lions when they return from a bye week hiatus, and there are never any guarantees that enough things can be fixed to make a serious playoff run in the last 12 games.

Breakdowns and missed opportunities aren’t the only reasons the Lions skidded into the bye week with three straight losses. They also have to restore the attitude that carried them through last season.

There is one place no one needs to look at for improvement. Kicker Jason Hanson is holding form in his 21st pro season as one of the most consistent performers of his era.

If he continues kicking at his rate of the first four games, Hanson could set a record – another record, actually – that might never be broken.

This week’s Monday Countdown focuses on the rest of this season – specifically some key areas where the Lions have a realistic chance to improve. That includes their mentality. Guard Rob Sims talked about its importance when the Lions’ return from the bye.

There’s also a look at a stat involving quarterback Matthew Stafford, how the Colts responded to a message sent by coach Chuck Pagano, indisputable evidence of what free safety Louis Delmas means to the defense and how the entire defense has failed repeatedly on chances to pin the opponent inside its 20.

We close it out with the best and worst of the NFL after five weeks.

It starts with Hanson – with Sims and his observation in the on-deck circle:

1. One more record for the aged: After four games, Hanson was tied for the league lead in scoring with 44 points. No way would that hold up with the Lions on a bye and other kickers playing their fifth game.

First to edge ahead of Hanson was St. Louis rookie Greg Zuerlein, whose Rams beat the Cardinals on Thursday night. A field goal and two extra points put Zuerlein at 46 points, two more than Hanson.

If Hanson continues at the rate of his first four games, he would be the oldest player in NFL history to lead the league in scoring.

Hanson is 42. Gary Anderson was 39 when he led the league in 1998 with 164 points for the Vikings.

According to the Monday Countdown Investigative Bureau (that would be me with a self-awarded title), Anderson is the oldest player to lead the league in a season.

Hanson appreciates the possibility of making history, but not for the obvious reasons.

“I suppose that’s me being ready when opportunity calls, but it’s also being in the right place at the right time with a team that can score,” Hanson said. “And right now, we’re scoring more field goals than we’d probably like.”

The record would be nice, but it’s not the most important thing.

“What’s cool about that is, to be in form to do it,” Hanson said. “Again, that’s a team one – the right situation for that to happen.”

2. Staying power: Hanson has lost no efficiency. He’s 12-for-13 on field goal attempts. His only miss was in Game 2 at San Francisco. He hit the right upright on a kick that the fluky winds at Candlestick Park helped fade to the right.

Hanson has never said how much longer he wants to kick. Don Muhlbach, in his ninth season as the Lions’ long-snapper, doesn’t see the end in sight.

“Another four of five years – easy,” Muhlbach said.

3. Kickoff excuses: Hanson blamed himself for poor placement on a kickoff that was returned 105 yards for a TD by the Titans two weeks ago. In last week’s loss, the Vikings returned the opening kickoff 105 yards for a TD on what Coach Jim Schwartz called a perfect kickoff by Hanson.

Sorry, but no matter where the ball is kicked, there is no excuse for giving up a TD return. Weird things happen on a football field, and teams overcome individual breakdowns all the time.

If they weren’t able to succeed on plays that aren’t perfect, there would be no diving catches on underthrown passes or touchdown-saving tackles on defensive breakdowns.

4. Attitude re-check: Questioning the Lions’ attitude has nothing to do with trouble in the locker room or players not buying what the coaching staff is selling.

The overall mentality of the Lions seems different from a year ago. The Lions played with an edge last year, and it showed. They wanted to step up to playoff-contention status, and they fought to do that.

From the start of the exhibition season, it seems like they’ve tried to validate last season instead of playing with whatever identity they already had.

“Last year, we were saying ‘Forget everybody else; it’s about us in this locker room,’” Sims said. “We’re just a little wound up. Rightly so. Last year was a whirlwind. You come out this year, you don’t have the same success.

“We always had a saying, ‘Tee it high and let it fly.’ We haven’t been doing that. We’ve been trying to be too perfect -- too perfect for you guys, too perfect for us, too perfect for the fans.

“Just come out and play football. I think that’s where we may have fallen short. We were trying to take a big step, so we left behind our identity. We’ll be back. We’ll be fine.”

5.  Losing ground: Being on a bye did the Lions no favors in the NFC North standings. The Vikings and Bears both won to stay tied for first. Both are 4-1.

The Lions, at 1-3, are a half-game further out of first than they were at the start of Sunday’s games.

6. Giving ground: One area where the defense has fallen short repeatedly is pinning the opponent deep in its territory.

Opposing teams have started 11 drives inside their own 20, and the defense has stoned them without a first down only once.

The Vikings started five possessions inside their 20 and were stopped without a first down only once.

Two drives began at the nine-yard line and were converted into field goals. Two other drives failed to score points, but the Vikings got first downs on both.

In practical terms, the Vikings got off the hook on a sixth possession late in the fourth quarter. A running play lost a yard on first down, back to the 19. On second-and-11, Jerome Simpson caught a 27-yard pass behind rookie Bill Bentley.

7. Coach’s message: Colts coach Chuck Pagano is in the hospital being treated for leukemia. He is expected to be away from the Colts for at least six weeks.

Pagano confers regularly with interim head coach Bruce Arians, and he has sent messages to his players.

In a message read Saturday night, Pagano told them to focus on being .500 by 4:30 Sunday after their game with the Packers.

The Colts made their record 2-2 with a 30-27 win at home over the Packers.

Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck led an 80-yard, 13-play drive that ended in a four-yard pass to Reggie Wayne for the winning TD with 34 seconds left.

The game lasted 3 hours, 38 minutes. The Colts weren’t at .500 until 4:41 p.m.

Nobody minded.

8. Delmas return: Delmas underwent knee surgery in training camp and practiced Wednesday for the first time since early in camp.

Based on the recent track record of players returning from injuries, don’t be surprised if Delmas starts against the Eagles on Sunday and gets extensive playing time.

Running back Mikel Leshoure started and carried 26 times in a Week 3 loss at Tennessee. It was his first game as a Lion after being drafted on the second round in 2011.

If there’s a need, and a player is healthy, he plays.

9. Delmas’ value: His value to the secondary is documented by the passing yards allowed when he doesn’t play.

Delmas missed the last five games of last season, and the defense gave up an average of almost 130 yards per game more than it did when Delmas played the first 11 games.

Delmas gets to places other safeties can’t, and no one brings a higher level of energy.

10. Stafford stat: Quarterback stats and rankings fluctuate like stock prices in the dot.com era, and Stafford is no exception.

He ranks 21st with a passer rating of 81.6. Adjusted for deflation – deflating plays – it would be 86.4 if Brandon Pettigrew hadn’t dropped two TD passes.

And since throwing three picks in the first half of the opener against the Rams, Stafford’s rating is 116.06.

The NFL's best after five Weeks

1. Texans (4-0): Should get to 5-0 vs. Jets on Monday night.
2. Falcons (4-0): KO’d Robert Griffin III on the way to beating Washington.
3. Ravens (4-1): Orioles wouldn’t mind winning 9-6, like Ravens beat KC.
4. 49ers (4-1): Hammered the Bills after doing the same to the Jets.
5. Bears (4-1): Smothered the Cowboys Monday, Jags Sunday. They’re for real.
6. Vikings (4-1): Three straight over 49ers, Lions, Titans.
7. Cardinals (4-1): They have to protect the QB better.
8. Patriots (3-2): On their game against Broncos after comeback vs. Bills.
9. Chargers (3-2): Couldn't keep Brees from leading Saints to first win.
10. Rams (3-2): Defense throttled a good Arizona team.
11. Giants (3-2): Wins are over Bucs (1-3), Panthers (1-4), Browns (0-5).
12. Colts (2-2): Wins were quality – Packers Sunday and Vikings.

The NFL’s worst:

5. Raiders (1-3): Lost in their own Black Hole.
4. Chiefs (1-4): Lost game to Ravens and QB Matt Cassel to injury.
3. Panthers: (1-4): Magic’s missing for Cam Newton.
2. Jaguars (1-4): Can’t score, can’t win.
1.  Browns (0-5): New owner sure to clean house – but will he wait until after the season?