Last week, I suggested that Detroit Lions vs. Jacksonville Jaguars was the biggest game of the Dan Campbell era and a prove-it game for the entire team. We’ve seen so many instances in the past of the Lions rattling off some wins, nearly beating a big team, and then falling off a cliff for the rest of the season. It felt like everything the Lions had accomplished in November would mean nothing if the Lions didn’t beat the Jaguars. Well, the Lions didn’t only beat the Jags, they dominated them in every facet of the game. I’m ready to just go ahead and say that this rebuild is the real thing.
We’ve learned so much about this Lions team in year two. Here are the things that show me that this team is on its way to being a perennial playoff team and maybe even a team that can finally bring that Lombardi trophy to Detroit.
The drafts are working
The draft is such a big part of team building. It’s imperative that you get it right. So far, the Lions are doing just that. Of the 15 players that Holmes has drafted, eight of them have been starters. If that weren’t big enough, guys like Amon-Ra St. Brown, Aidan Hutchinson, Penei Sewell and Malcolm Rodriguez have shown that they can be Pro Bowl caliber players and pillars of this team’s identity.
The good news for the Lions is that they have another draft upcoming where they’ll have multiple first round picks. The even better news is that the Lions’ highest pick has nothing to do with them. The Rams’ collapse has given the Lions a top five pick as of right now. The next draft could be a really interesting one.
The coaching is working
To be fair, it didn’t feel that way in October. The Lions were 1-6 and projected to have the number one pick in the draft. On top of that, they fired their secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant. The Lions have gone 4-1, nearly 5-0, since then. You have to give a lot of credit to the coaching staff for this run.
Aaron Glenn has turned this defense around in a matter of weeks and now they’re capable of hanging with any offense in the league. Ben Johnson has drawn up a really great offensive game plan and Dan Campbell is killing it with the culture building and obviously he’s coaching well, too.
There’s a chance that the Lions could lose Ben Johnson to a head coaching job after this season, but the Lions have shown enough to believe that they could find a decent replacement if they lose Johnson. My guess is that Johnson gets a head coaching job, but it won’t be this offseason. In think teams might be a little worried about hiring a guy that’s only been a coordinator for a year. You never know though.
The culture is working
I keep calling this team overcomers. I don’t just do that because I like the Royce da 5’ 9” song. I do it because I’ve watched this team overcome things that have usually damned them in the past. Gone are the days when a holding call completely shuts down a drive. The same goes with deficits, turnovers and bad records. The Lions just keep overcoming and they just keep coming at you.
That’s the culture in play. This team believes in itself and it believes in the process. You can see it every week. You get the feeling that everyone is having a good time and everyone wants to be around each other, and they all want to be in Detroit. Winning will make things look that way, but it felt that way in the bad times too.
Best game of the year and we're only getting better! pic.twitter.com/vzqAkipwVs— Detroit Lions (@Lions) December 5, 2022
This goes such a long way. It’s hard to build a team when people hate being there. We saw that with Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn when players retired early, left in free agency or got traded out of town. Those days are dead.
The Lions could be a free agent destination
Here’s the only section where I’ll speculate. The culture stuff I just laid out is very visual to everyone else around the league. It’s not a stretch to think that there are players out there that look at the Lions and their culture and think, “I want to be a part of that.” Every player the Lions signed this past offseason mentioned that the team’s culture was a big part of the reason they chose to come to Detroit. Now the Lions don’t only have the culture: they have the success and potentially some serious cap space. One fish seems to already have the Lions on his radar. Keep in mind that could mean nothing and this one will probably never happen for reason that the Lions can’t control.
At the end of the day, the Lions are a very fun and exciting team to watch. They’re winning big games, have an explosive, high-scoring offense and a pretty loud stadium every Sunday. It seems like everything is going right for the Lions, and I, for one, can’t wait to see where all of this goes. The way things look right now, it’s going to be pretty far.