The bye week is always a time for reflection. It seems the Lions always have an early bye week, but nonetheless, it offers up an opportunity for the first part of the season to simmer a bit and allow us to digest what has happened. The Lions went 1-5 over their first six games. Pretty much what I expected and I think I can say that most here had that same set of expectations. It was a tough schedule for any team, but the fact that the Lions came into the season lacking an identity, made it all the tougher. We saw some steady progress through the first few weeks, but the Packer's game left a big gash under an already black eye and the bye week has given the wound two weeks to fester. Knowing what we know now about the 2009 Detroit Lions, can we say that they have an identity yet - aside from perennial loser?
The answer is complicated, but I think that I would say that yes, the Lions do in fact have a positive identity. Telling you what I think that is exactly, is the real trick. There are a couple of indicators that tell me that the Lions have progressed in the minds of the media and the fans and that they are more than the faceless, winless scrubs from 2008. First, the Lions are expected to soundly beat the Rams on Sunday. Hear that... they are expected to beat a team. Yes, they are the lowly Rams, but didn't we have a worse record last year? Shouldn't it be the Rams that are expected to beat us? Shouldn't it be the Rams that would be embarrassed to lose to us instead of vice-versa? That tells me the perception is that we had a better off-season and made more significant strides thus far. Second, we seem to be absent from a lot of the "really bad" team talk in the national media. Thankfully, the barrage of hate seems to be focused on teams like the Rams, Buccaneers, Raiders and Browns, to name a few. I did see that Peter King had us in his Tuesday edition of MMQ, which focused on what cellar dweller of the league had the best chance to improve, so we haven't escaped that wrath completely. Bad news... we were on the list of cellar dwellers. Good news... he picked us as one of teams most likely to improve.
You are probably saying, "Yeah, so what? That doesn't explain what their identity is." You're right, it doesn't. That just says they still suck, but just not as bad as last year. A team that is improved but still not a winner usually has no identity other than being a loser of various levels. Yet I feel that something about the perception of the Lions has changed. It's not necessarily that we have improved dramatically on either offense or defense, because they both still have countless problems, but it's more of a media image makeover thing. The team as a whole has been consumed by the personality of one individual. And no, it's not Matthew Stafford.
Jim Schwartz has officially stamped this team with his personality and tenacity. The team feels different, because the guy who is the face of the team after games and practices IS different. Since I started following the Lions many moons ago, I have never had the feeling that our coach would do anything to win. Sure, they all want to win... badly. But they have not continuously tried anything and everything to win. Schwartz is doing that. He is changing up anything that is not working. I get the sense that he will not stop until the Lions are winners. I have never had that feeling with a Lions coach before. Over the course of last year Marinelli made some changes, but far too few and they came far too late. Schwartz is changing it up at a frenetic pace, trying desperately to find a winning combination. Usually, coaches don't get desperate until they are on their way out. Schwartz is breaking that mold and expects there to be a sense of urgency to win right now.
I can't speak for everyone else, but for me, this is a breath of fresh air. I know that we still have severe talent deficiencies, but to stand pat and not at least try to change things up is conceding defeat. That is exactly what Marinelli did last year. Each game, he stood at that podium and took the blame off the players and put it on himself. Commendable? I suppose so. Besides, he did deserve a lot of the blame. But the players ended up with no public accountability and therefore, played with little to no urgency. Even the threat of an historic winless season wasn't enough to will the players to rise above just one stinking team. And Marinelli just accepted it. Can you see Jim Schwartz ever just accepting it? Hell no, I can't. And he won't. Even if the Lions go 1-15 this year, you will see a different group of players lining up on the field each week until it is the right group... a winning group. Schwartz is a hard-nosed, stoic presence that just exudes persistence. The talent will file in over the coming years and with it the wins. But in the meantime, Schwartz will not be content to simply concede defeat. I think we can count on that.
I know it's only been six games, but have you ever seen a Lions coach so determined to do anything to win?