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Monday open thread: What has been the biggest reason for the Detroit Lions’ turnaround?

From worst in the league to a playoff threat, the Lions have shown they can’t be counted out.

Detroit Lions v New York Jets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions are back to .500 football, and they have done so in incredible fashion.

After starting the season with a 1-6 record, the Lions were down in the dumps, sitting closer to the first overall pick than the playoffs. Even after a win against the Green Bay Packers in Week 9, the discussion was more centered on hurting their draft position than an actual playoff push. With Week 15 in the books, how the tides have turned.

Dan Campbell deserves credit for keeping the locker room invested when many in the fandom were checking out. The Lions have not only fought hard in recent weeks, but they have actively improved. The offense is finding consistency. The defense is making plays and stops when they needed. Even with a loss to the Buffalo Bills sprinkled in, the Lions have played some great football. Their win over the New York Jets on Sunday was not a lights-out, dominant showing, but to put it in Campbell terms, it was a gritty win. The good teams in the NFL don’t always dominate, they often have to fight tooth and nail.

Despite the emotional roller coaster that was the victory over the Jets, it was a much-needed win for the Lions emotionally. A win against a good defense showed that the team can very much trade jabs with any opponent. The Lions are still on the outside looking in with regards to the playoffs, but that could change as early as this next week, and the team is playing so much better than their September counterparts.

The question is, what changed?

Today’s Question of the Day is:

What has been the biggest reason for the Detroit Lions’ turnaround?

My answer: Turnovers.

Looking purely at the calendar, the Lions’ turnaround coincides with the firing of defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant. However, I don’t think it’s a perfect correlation. I think the firing of Pleasant was less about the secondary—a unit that hasn’t seen a drastic improvement—and more about establishing accountability. Pleasant was a well-liked coach, but his firing showed that there were consequences for their slow start. Perhaps Pleasant was a scapegoat, but it’s hard to deny that the Lions have turned it around since.

That being said, I think the stat that best reflects Detroit’s turnaround is their turnovers. From Weeks 1 to 8, the Lions offense committed 11 turnovers, including five against the Dallas Cowboys. On defense, the Lions had forced six turnovers—not a bad total, but it still resulted in a negative differential.

The Lions had a solid offense from a yardage-perspective, but there was typically a turnover at a critical juncture that lead to their downfall. Jared Goff had a pick-six against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1. With a late interception, the Lions nixed any shot of a comeback against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 3. The Lions put up 45 points against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 4, but it was another pick-six that proved to be the difference. The New England Patriots returned a fumble for a touchdown in a Week 5 shutout. The Lions committed four second half turnovers against the Cowboys in Week 7. Their turnover total doesn’t even include turnovers on downs, such as the last-minute failed conversion against the Miami Dolphins that sent Detroit to their sixth loss.

The Lions of late are a completely different team.

From Week 9 onward, the Lions have three total turnovers on offense, one of which was a desperation lateral against the Bills that was ruled a fumble. The offense is playing far cleaner football, all without sacrificing the big-play ability. Meanwhile on defense, the Lions have recorded 12 turnovers during their hot streak. Between forced fumbles and interceptions, the Lions are creating crucial swing plays. Kerby Joseph has been a turnover machine. Jeff Okudah notched himself a pick-six. Even Aidan Hutchinson has a pair of interceptions to his name.

It is often said that the turnover battle plays an important role in wins and losses, and we are seeing it front and center with the Lions. This isn’t to say the Lions are flukes either. They have earned their opportunities by minimizing their mistakes while capitalizing on mistakes by their opponents. The entire team deserves praise of this development, for the Lions would likely not be in this situation without it.

Your turn.

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.