What are the Detroit Lions? This is a question we ask ourselves every single season. Here we are again in 2018, and I still am not completely sure what this team’s identity is at this point.
It’s easy to look at this team from the outside and see a 2-3 record and think this Lions team is destined fall into a hole and miss the playoffs, but from the inside, it often seems this is a great team trapped in an okay team’s body.
On Sunday the Lions came away with yet another big win this season, another win that few saw coming. Most importantly, it was a win against a division rival that they absolutely had to have.
The Lions also have their first signature win of the year against the Patriots on national television in Week 3. These two wins together make the Lions look like they’re capable of anything.
But then there’s the three losses: The blowout loss to the Jets and the two close heartbreakers against the 49ers and Cowboys.
The 49ers and Cowboys losses could have gone either way. Realistically, the Lions are a called back interception and controversial penalty away from being 4-1 right now.
That blowout loss to the Jets looks like a crazy outlier at this point.
Since then, the Lions offense has accounted for 1,487 total yards and 108 points. The offense that couldn’t get going Week 1 is now 13th in points per game. They’re not the best, but they’re getting it done.
Matthew Stafford has completely returned to form after a horrible four interception performance. Since Week 1, he’s thrown for 1,099 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception. He’s completed 68.2 percent of his passes and has a passer rating of 108.4.
Perhaps the most impressive (and somewhat surprising) thing through five games has been the Lions run game. So far, the Lions have rushed for 486 yards, good for 19th in the league. That’s far from dominant, but that’s way up from where they’ve ranked in the past four seasons.
Kerryon Johnson has been a stud. The rookie has rushed for 286 yards so far (15th among all running backs and fourth among all rookies), but more impressively, he’s sixth in the league in yards per carry with 5.7.
On the defensive side of things, this where all Lions fans should have concern. The Lions currently have the 17th ranked defense by yardage, which may not sound all that bad, but the Lions have already allowed 187 more yards than they had allowed at this time in 2017.
They’ve also been unable to capture that same turnover magic they had early on the year last season. They’ve only forced six turnovers thus far, while at this point last year, they had 11. Even more concerning is that the Lions have the 26th ranked scoring defense. Teams are currently scoring damn near at will against the Lions.
Take all of this into account and it’s easy to see why so many are calling the Lions unpredictable after their win over the Packers on Sunday.
In my opinion, this team is still the same team I wrote about after the 49ers game. This is a team that is super close—maybe closer than they’ve ever been to being a contender. But they still have work to do, and as I said then, I’m still all in.
Going into the bye week, the Lions need to get a few things done. They need to get healthy first and foremost, but they also need to work on this defense. I, for one, think they need to get heavily involved during the trade deadline, because this is a team capable of going on a run if they can get the pass rush help they desperately need.
The Lions certainly have a list of games that they can win coming out of the bye. They have a Dolphins team that could be on three-game losing streak by then, a Seahawks team that’s been struggling to get their run game going, a Vikings team that confuses me and a Bears team that the Lions have consistently beaten over the years.
The question is: will they? They have the talent on offense. They have a defense that can be middling if they clean up a few things up. But it’s going to take the Lions going out and doing what they need to do to make it happen.
What the Lions do out of the bye will define them. They’re either the team I think is close or they’re a fallacy. Right now I can’t say that I’m sure either way.