“New” Detroit Lions Flashed Old Habits in Rout of Giants


Sep 8, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) drops back to pass during the first quarter against the New York Giants at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

For one quarter Monday night we had a good look at the old Detroit Lions…that mistake team, that bullet-in-the-foot team. These new Lions eventually got it together and won in a rout – 35-14 over the New York Giants – but not without giving a hard nod to their recent, self-destructive past.

The offensive was sharp early, whipping up a 14-0 lead on a pair of Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson deliveries. The defense was running around and getting after Eli Manning and smashing apart the Giants’ ground game. The Detroit Lions of 2014, opening day, smart and serious and ready for action.

Then suddenly, that familiar implosion act – the stigma of the Jim Schwartz era – swooped in from the shadows…roughing the punter, hands to the face, pass interference, etc. Eight penalties total in the first half. In there somewhere was Jim Caldwell, the new head coach, clapping furiously as his new kicker blew a 43-yard FG. By the two-minute mark, the Giants had sliced it to 14-7 and were on the move again, a first down at the Detroit 46. Then, as suddenly as it came, the reminiscing was over.

The Lion defense forced Manning into three incompletes and a punt to close out the half. Then, on the Giants’ opening drive of the third quarter, linebacker DeAndre Levy snagged a juggling, whirling interception to set up Detroit at the NY 18. From there on it was all business, and the Lions grabbed their most decisive opening-day win in nearly 35 years.

“We’re a new Detroit Lions football team,” said safetyman Glover Quin, who also intercepted Manning in the third quarter. “We wanted to come out on defense and make a statement.”

The defense crowded the line all night. It held the Giants to 53 yards rushing and 23% on third down tries. DT Ndamukong Suh gathered his usual crowd, and the Lions were getting nice performances from people off the bench like rookie corner Nevin Lawson and journeyman DE George Johnson, who broke through for 1.5 sacks.

“Suh might not have recorded a sack,” Caldwell said, “but I’ll tell you what – he’s a factor because he gets double teamed. When he gets double teamed, he singles a bunch of guys up, so other people are getting pressure. That’s the way it should be.”

“The issues we had in the first half, most of the time, were self-inflicted. Once we got that straightened out, our line did a nice job in terms of stopping the run, and forced [Giants] to pass a little more than they’d like.”

Manning was a duress quarterback coming into the game, after his 27 INT performance last season (69.4 rating) and a shaky showing during the exhibitions. Add in a fractured NY offensive line and it was a recipe for heavy Lion pressure and a big Detroit night.

“That’s one of the things we wanted to do,” said Levy. “Sometimes pressure isn’t all about getting the sacks. It’s about moving [the QB] off his spot and throwing his timing off. I think that was one of our goals, to get [Manning] rattled a little bit early and make him get rid of the ball quick.”

On offense the story was the slimmed-down Matt Stafford, the strong-armed bomber who’s now added mobility to his game. He made moves with his feet on both Johnson touchdown plays, and he slipped away from the Giants’ pass rush to buy time on others. The capper was his TD run late in the third quarter that pushed the game to 27-7. The stat book shows it as a five-yarder, but Stafford traveled in all the way from the 13, after his deep passing pocket had broken down.

“I’m trying to be as good as I can with my feet and my eyes,” Stafford said. “Some of those plays are just natural instinct…a little bit off the beaten path.”

He had trouble connecting with his tight end, 6’7” Joe Fauria, but he made up for it with big deliveries to Johnson and Golden Tate, and with flips to his top back, Reggie Bush. In the fourth quarter he gave it to Joique Bell, his hammer guy, and Bell drained off the clock to cap Detroit’s 417-yard offensive day.

So what we can say about Lions-Week 1 is this: The pass-catch game looks as good as any in the league. Pass protection is good, but the run game didn’t have a lot of teeth when the scoreboard was still close. There’s lots of speed on defense, and that brutal front wall will again mean business this year.

According to Quin, these are the “new Lions.” They kept their cool and their second half was penalty-free, and they blew out the Giants for a fast start to the season.

But I can’t help thinking about that flashback, that thing called the second quarter, when you caught a glimpse of the old, vulgar Lions. When the flags were flying and you swore Schwartz was back on the sideline, and Suh was ready to stomp out someone’s earhole, and a 14-0 lead was about to fall to pieces.

Lion watchers shouldn’t be embarrassed of their uneasiness, of their jitters and shakes and fingernails in shreds. They’ve been conditioned. They understand coming apart. 35-14 blowouts like that aren’t the norm around town.

But with Stafford now gunning and running, and a big defense trying to use its smarts, they very well could be.

Tom Danyluk joins NFL Spin Zone after nine years as a columnist with Pro Football Weekly. He is an award-winning freelance writer and author of “The Super ‘70s,” which you can purchase on Amazon.com. Questions or gripes? Please contact Tom at Danyluk1@yahoo.com.