Column: Is the Detroit Lions hype real?
The Detroit Lions are 2-0. Let that sink in for a minute.
To most other successful sports franchises, that statement may not hold as much weight or value as it does to Lions fans.
But in defense of the “Honolulu Blue” diehards, no other fanbase has had to experience the devastating heartbreak of, for example, the Matt Millen era, head-scratching draft picks, controversial calls that derailed seasons, having the best two players in franchise history (Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson) retire unexpectedly at the age of 30 and (the worst one of them all) an “all-defeated” 0-16 season in 2008.
After starting the season defeating the Arizona Cardinals 35-23 Sunday, Sept. 10, and the star-studded New York Giants 24-10 Monday, Sept. 18, Lions fans are already licking their chops for the one thing the organization has yet to experience: a trip to the Super Bowl.
For those fans already jumping the gun for championship aspirations, I have one simple tip.
As much as I would love to jump on the championship bandwagon, hearing the words “Detroit Lions” and “Super Bowl” in the same sentence only two weeks into the season is a jinx just waiting to bite us in the butt. Especially when USA Today Sports projected the Lions finishing last in the division with a record of 5-11 before the season began.
But I would be lying if I said the Lions aren’t looking good so far.
Under the direction of general manager Bob Quinn, who was recently hired in 2016, the Lions (finally) have a sense of direction to create the ideal roster. From drafting NFL-ready prospects (linebacker Jarrod Davis, offensive lineman Taylor Decker and defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson) to signing veteran leadership (right guard T.J. Lang), Quinn and his staff have filled the glaring holes in the Lions' roster.
Against the Giants during Monday Night Football, the Lions played their most complete game under head coach Jim Caldwell.
The defense, led by cornerback Darius Slay and defensive lineman Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, shut down the Giants’ offensive stars, such as Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning, with a heavy pass rush and lockdown pass coverage. The running game, led by Ameer Abdullah (17 carries, 86 yards), looked the best in recent memory for a team that hasn’t had a single player rush more than 100 yards since 2013 (Reggie Bush).
And then there’s Matthew Stafford, who recently signed the largest contract in NFL history (5 years, $135 million). Although Stafford only threw for 122 yards against the Giants, the nine-year veteran found ease finding open holes with plenty of time from the offensive line against a top-rated Giants defense, completing 15 of 21 passes for two touchdowns.
The game served as a glimpse of what the Lions' true potential could actually be. However, reality is about to set in for the Lions as the next three games are against quality NFC opponents, including their toughest test of the season against last year’s Super Bowl runner-ups, the Atlanta Falcons.
In order for the Lions to compete against the Falcons and the rest of their schedule, the team must address their biggest flaw: penalties.
Two games into the season, the Lions already have 14 penalties for 105 yards, eight of them on offense. If the team hopes to continue their success on offense, they must resolve their holding penalty issue with the offensive line.
Along with penalties, the biggest qualm I have is if their defense can consistently perform the way they have. This season, the Lions defensive currently ranks seventh in the NFL in yards allowed per game (289.0), compared to the 354.8 they allowed last season. Although this is an improvement, the young linebackers, led by rookie Jarrod Davis, must continue to be effective at stopping the run and covering the middle of the field for an entire season.
The biggest questions remains: Is the hype real? My answer is that there is much to be excited from this team, but there is still work to be done.
And the next time you hear someone say “Lions” and “Super Bowl” in the same sentence, please, for the sake of all Lions fans, knock on wood.