Detroit’s 5-4, but won’t make the Playoffs unless they do these 5 things.
Nov 6, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) calls a play during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Lions defeated the Vikings 22-16. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
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1. Matthew Stafford continues to play at an elite level.
Here at SideLion, and pretty much everywhere else, people are singing Matthew Stafford’s praises. He’s certainly earned it, with five comeback wins in nine games thus far. Stafford’s late-game ability has been key, but it’s his decision making that has him playing at a career-best clip. He’s taking care of the ball (7 INTs over the past 16 games) and that’s leading to more Lions wins. Stafford needs to keep it up and Detroit could be headed to potential NFC North title. Taking care of the ball will be especially important in the three upcoming divisional battles.
2. Jim Bob Cooter stays aggressive.
Oct 28, 2015; Chandler
Jim Bob Cooter has become a known commodity because of his efficient approach that seems to work well with Detroit QB Matthew Stafford. As mentioned above, Cooter has meshed with the 8-year veteran passer and the production of Stafford has gone through the roof. It’s more than just quarterback play, however, that’s been impressive regarding Cooter. Since taking over for Joe Lombardi, he’s shown an ability to find efficiency in the running game without an experienced offensive line or running back. Quick screens, draw runs and lots of spreading the ball around has helped Detroit mask their inefficiencies. Cooter must avoid getting figured out by continuing to find creative ways to move the ball in the short passing game.
Sep 25, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Detroit Lions offensive tackle Taylor Decker (68) during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 34-27. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The Lions have added some good long-term pieces to their offensive line in this year’s draft. Three offensive lineman in the first four rounds was a drastic change from the previous regime under Martin Mayhew. 2016 1st-rounder, Taylor Decker, has had the expected rookie lapses, yet Decker’s held his own in some key situations protecting Stafford’s blind side. Graham Glasgow was a much-needed change at left guard and is paying off. Guys that have already been here like Riley Reiff and Travis Swanson have stepped their game up. It’s a young group with more growing pains to come, but Detroit is winning games and that chemistry is bound to continue to grow.
4. Lions get key players back healthy.
Oct 9, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay (23) intercepts a pass intended for Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor (17) during the fourth quarter at Ford Field. Lions win 24-23. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Darius Slay and Ezekiel Ansah could really use this bye week. Nobody knows if it’s realistic to expect DeAndre Levy to return, but there have been whispers about a post-bye return for a few weeks. Detroit needs to help Johnthan Banks get accustomed to their system if he’s to play any kind of role over the second half of the season. Reiff has missed some time as well, and could without a doubt use the bye week to rest his body like the rest of the team. The Lions have won some games they should’ve lost and lost a couple they probably should have won, but they’re 5-4 and still in this race. A week of rest and getting some Pro Bowl-caliber players back should go a long way.
5. Defense plays just good enough to win.
Aug 27, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Chris Moore (10) is tackled after his catch by Detroit Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead (59) and cornerback Darius Slay (23) at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit’s defense hasn’t been as bad statistically as it has felt watching the games, yet in crucial moments, they’ve really underachieved. In the Eagles and Rams games they came up with big interceptions to seal the wins. Other than that, they’ve been rather underwhelming in the clutch. Stafford has bailed them out but they will need to improve over the final 7 games if they are going to make a serious Playoff push. This all may be a lot to ask for, but you have to win tough games if you want to go places in this league and the Lions will have a chance to do that over the second half.