December 4, 2013

ZAKOUR | ‘Dirtbags’ And the Lions

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By JOHN ZAKOUR

If you ask Packers guard Josh Sitton about the Lions, he’d call them a bunch of of dirtbags. But I’d call them winners. At least, that’s what I’d call them now. Before the game, the aforementioned lineman called the Detroit Lions a bunch of dirtbags, from their coach to their defensive linemen saying, “They’re a bunch of dirtbags or scumbags. That’s just how they play. That’s how they’re coached.” And there’s no denying this D-line isn’t very nice. They weren’t very nice to Packers quarterback Matt Flynn.

These dirt bags might be better than you think.

After routing the shorthanded Packers 40-10, the Lions are in sole possession of the lead in the NFC north and in great position to the win the division. Yes, the Lions have benefited from Green Bay and Chicago’s injuries, but I’m not demanding any apologies. It’s the NFL, injuries happen. The Lions can make good on their positioning by winning out — which I believe they will — and securing a top-four seed in the NFC, a seeding which would guarantee a home playoff game. Possibly more, depending on how the first round and the NFC East shakes out.

That rout of Green Bay also happened to be the biggest yardage differential in the NFL this season, with the Lions out-gaining the Packers by an astonishing margin of 561 to 126. The Lions showed why people like myself think they are contenders in the NFC, displaying dynamism on both sides of the ball.

Those dirt bag defensive lineman played great, harassing Packers quarterback not-Aaron-Rodgers all day. The Lions sacked him seven times, and this pressure lead to a safety and a forced fumble. Flynn was running for his life all day, and was happy just to leave Detroit in one piece.

On offense, the Lions feature the biggest weapon in the NFL — Calvin Johnson. We’ve seen how one hot receiver can carry an offense in the playoffs — Larry Fitzgerald in 2009 should ring some bells — and Johnson has already surpassed Fitzgerald’s (or anyone’s) best regular season numbers. Megatron just needs a breakout postseason performance to best showcase his record breaking credentials, and he is more than capable. Calvin Johnson is the rare kind of player who is not a quarterback but can still carry an offense (it’s basically him and Adrian Peterson). And with the addition of Reggie Bush in the backfield — a back who can handle the majority of carries and catch passes — the Lions have a truly multi-pronged attack of an offense that’s hard to stop.

On defense, the Lions feature a dominant defensive line that has capability to take over games. Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has developed a reputation as both a dirty and great defensive lineman rather quickly. Out of Nebraska, he was as hyped a defensive prospect as could be, and has always had sky high expectations placed on him. But there’s no debating that he’s a disruptive force up the middle. Combined with fellow first rounder Nick Fairley, the Lions are elite up the middle and an offensive line’s worst nightmare.

That’s not to say the Lions are a juggernaut. They are a pedestrian 7-5 and have endured bad losses to the Steelers and Buccaneers, where in both games, the Lions disappeared down the stretch. Even in their dominating win on Thanksgiving, the Lions didn’t click on all cylinders — perhaps impressively — by turning the ball over four times and not finishing drives in the first half. The Packers had a 10-3 lead for part of the first half, despite being routed in the yardage department. Even though the Lions are finally alone in first, they could have and should have really pulled away from the NFC North by now.

Part of this inconsistency is due to their young quarterback, Matt Stafford. Stafford has the capability to put up five touchdowns and 400 yards any given Sunday or (sometimes and) throw three picks. Good Stafford has the Lions rolling on offense, while Bad Stafford loses them games.

But recent history shows that NFC champions haven’t been great teams, but rather good teams that caught fire. This Lions team reminds me a lot of the Giants teams that won two out of four Super Bowls. Matt Stafford is a convincing Eli Manning impersonator, and both are gunslinging first overall picks out of the SEC capable of making boneheaded decisions. And the Lions defensive line is reminiscent of the Giants’ stacked line that managed to upended the Patriots.

While the Seahawks have already solidified themselves as the best team in the NFC after their beat-down of the Saints, the Lions could very well be the most dangerous. Few teams are capable of going into Seattle and escaping with a win, but a hot Lions team could do it. Calvin Johnson is perhaps the only receiver capable of lighting up the ball-hawking Seattle secondary, and we know Stafford isn’t afraid of airing it up and simply trusting his receiver, while the Lions stout defensive line could contain Marshawn Lynch. Don’t be shocked if the Lions end up representing the NFC in February. Or lose first round. Either way, these dirt bags are pretty good.

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