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O'HARA'S MONDAY COUNTDOWN: Davis improving as rookie season rolls along

Jarrad Davis knew little about the traditions of pro football in the Midwest when he arrived in Allen Park in late April for his introductory press conference as the Detroit Lions' first-round draft pick and middle linebacker of the present and future.

What he heard then and has seen in grainy videos has stoked his interest in the old Black and Blue Division and legendary Hall of Fame middle linebackers such as Dick Butkus, Joe Schmidt and Ray Nitschke whose big hits helped give the division its name and reputation.

Davis wanted to be part of that tradition, and he is. His rookie season is still a work in progress, particularly in defending the pass, but Davis has been a hitter in the middle.

This week's Monday Countdown is about progression – Davis improving, Matthew Stafford's sky-rocketing stats in the Lions' bid to make the playoffs, Darius Slay closing a history gap in his Pro Bowl bid and the number of players who have been cobbled together to help give the Lions' whatever chance they've had to make the playoffs.

There's also an acknowledgment from Davis about how Lions legend Chris Spielman has played a mentor's role, a look back at the game that made the biggest impact on the Lions' playoff hopes, four things to like and four not to like about the Lions' 20-10 win over the Chicago Bears on Saturday and a look ahead to next week's Christmas Eve road game against the Bengals.

We start with Davis, and his embrace of tradition:

1. Black and Blue revival: Davis admitted that he knew little about the Black and Blue division – then populated by the Lions, Bears and Packers, with the Vikings joining forces in the 1960s as an expansion franchise.

"To be honest, that's the first time I ever heard that," he said at the time. "I like it. Just looking at kind of the history of the NFL, seeing how long the Lions have actually been around and one of the first teams to start the league, it's something that I kind of expect."

That was then, before Davis had ever put on the pads in the NFL.

This is now, when he's taking his turn doling out punishment.

The Lions did that to the Bears Saturday, holding the Bears' and their running game ranked seventh going into the game to 43 yards. It was averaging 124.5 going into the game. Jordan Howard, the Bears' young star who has gone over the 1,000-yard mark in his two pro seasons, was held to 37 yards.

Overall, the game played into the Lions' hands, and the defense took advantage. It shut down the run and intercepted three of rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky's passes.

To Davis, it was old-school football – a step back in time.

"It was always a hard, physical game," he said. "It's known for the middle linebackers. I might not be shaped like those guys back in the day, but I'm still coming with that same mentality that they had.

"I love watching the old games – everything it's great. I grew up a Dallas Cowboys fan, but being able to see those old Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions play and stuff like that, it's really awesome to see.

"Every time it comes on the NFL Network, it's special. I'm locked in."

2. Spielman's help: Chris Spielman was a four-time Pro Bowl and All-Pro linebacker for the Lions who was known for his dedication and preparation. He led the team in tackles in all eight of his seasons as a Lion (1988-95).

Spielman has been closer to the Lions in recent seasons, and Davis has leaned on him for occasional advice. Most tips are mental.

"He gave me a lot of pointers, a lot of tips on how to prepare for a game," Davis said. "I've been using that these past couple of weeks – being able to watch things differently. It helped me a lot."

3. Stafford – drive time: A lot has been made of what he's done in the last three games. To have a cumulative completion rate higher than 80 percent for three games is a notable accomplishment.

But Stafford's been on a tear for much of the season. Consider the following:

Saturday's game was his sixth of the season with a completion rate of at least 70 percent.

In what constitutes their playoff run, the Lions are 5-2 in the last seven games. Stafford's passer rating has been 105.7 or higher in five of those seven games.

Also in those seven games, he's completed 169 of 231 passes (73.2 percent) for 2,069 yards, 13 TDs and five interceptions with an average of 8.96 yards per attempt and a 110.1 passer rating.

4. History for Slay: If he gets named to the NFC Pro Bowl team, and he should, Slay will be the first cornerback drafted by the Lions to make the Pro Bowl as a Lion since Lem Barney made it for the seventh time in the 1976 season.

Barney was a second-round draft pick out of Jackson State in 1967.

Safety Bennie Blades was a 1988 first-round pick who made the Pro Bowl in 1991.

Dre Bly was a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback for the Lions (2004-05), but he was drafted by the Rams and signed by the Lions as a free agent.

5. Roster shuffle: As GM Bob Quinn said after his first season as GM, he is committed to building depth and the bottom end of the roster, and that players had to get used to players coming in. That has remained the case.

According to an NFL website that tracks roster movement, the Lions have had 68 players on their roster who've played in at least one game. Going into Week 15, only four teams have had more – Texans, Giants, 49ers, Colts – and all are big losers.

View celebratory images from the Detroit Lions' Week 15 win vs. Chicago Bears.

The Lions have had 33 on offense – tied with the Texans and Colts for the most; 32 on defense, fourth most behind the Texans, Colts and Bears; and 63 who've played on special teams, one behind the Giants and San Francisco.

By comparison in the NFC North, the first-place Minnesota Vikings have had a league-low 53 players play in at least one game. They've also had league lows with 23 on offense and defense, and the second lowest with 45 on special teams.

A lot of the Lions roster shuffling could be due to injuries, and the Lions have been hit hard up front on offense and defense.

A case can be made that the coaching staff and personnel department have built a winning record with a lot of spare parts.

6. Four things to like about Saturday's game:

Lions' run game: 77 yards rushing and 5.9 yards per carry in the first half. There were no negative runs on 19 carries for the entire game – except for Stafford's kneeldown at the end of the game for minus one yard. It counts statistically as a running play – the Lions' 20th of the game -- but it shouldn't.

Lions' run defense: Only 43 yards and 2.9 yards per carry for the Bears, and 37 for Howard. He had rushing totals of 111, 86 and 125 yards in his first three games against the Lions.

Deep ball: Stafford to Marvin Jones Jr. for 58 yards on third and 18 set up the Lions' first TD.

Picks: The Lions had three – two by Slay, one by Quandre Diggs – as part of their 10 pass breakups, which the NFL categorizes as passes defensed and are based on passes batted down or caused to be incomplete by contact with a receiver.

7. Four things not to like about Saturday's game:

Theo Riddick: His fumble late in the first half led to a Bears' field goal, but worse was the wrist injury he apparently sustained on the play. He did not play in the second half. His absence for any period takes away a consistent receiving threat out of the backfield.

Sacks: Stafford was sacked four times for 35 yards in losses, and he was hit two other times. It's hard to fault a makeshift offensive line. In the second half, center Graham Glasgow was the only one of the five linemen who was active on opening day – and he was the starting left guard.

Bears possession time: They had three long drives on their last three possessions that gained 16 of their 22 first downs. On the plus side: The possessions ate up time and resulted in only one TD and two picks. It was give yards and take away the ball by the Lions' defense. For the Bears, it was a lot of effort with little gain.

Interference: A call against rookie Kenny Golladay wiped out a 48-yard catch and a first down late in the first half. It looked like a good call. Riddick's fumble came on the next play.

8. Lions look ahead – Bengals: Marvin Lewis has made it known that he will step away after 15 seasons as head coach. He's had a nice run, with four AFC North titles and six playoff appearances – but without winning a playoff game.

It looked in the last two weeks like his players called it quits before Lewis did.

The Bengals were uncompetitive in a 33-7 loss to the Bears at home in Week 14, and on Sunday – the day the announcement on Lewis came out – the Bengals managed just one first down in the first half while falling behind, 24-0, in a road loss to the Vikings..

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