ALLEN PARK, Mich. – it’s been an unpredictable first month-plus for the Detroit Lions. Blown out by the Jets. Dominating the Patriots. And then everything in between. So it has left pretty much everyone somewhat confused about what, exactly, the Lions are this season.
Are they good? Bad? Or somewhere in the middle – the place Detroit has essentially resided the past five seasons.
The next two games – winnable ones at Miami and at home against Seattle – should tell a lot about what type of team Detroit is this season. Are the Lions more the team that was embarrassed by the Jets in Week 1 and then struggled defensively against San Francisco and Dallas? Or are they the team that handily beat New England and Green Bay, arguably the two toughest teams to date on the Lions’ schedule?
If there’s one thing of Detroit’s season that has been the most confusing, it is that. The inconsistency from week to week has been somewhat baffling.
“It’s really on us, you know,” safety Glover Quin said. “We beat two really good teams this season and we’ve had some losses to some teams that we felt we probably should have won. So it just lets us know that we can play with anybody and beat anybody when we’re on our game and executing and playing at a high level.
“But we can also be beat by anybody when we’re not. So it’s really on us.”
Statistically, the number differentials are stark.
In wins this year, the Lions have averaged 212 passing yards and 126 rushing yards per game on offense and scored 28.5 points a game. They’ve been good in the red zone – 62.5 percent – and converted on third down 44.4 percent of the time.
In losses, the Lions have averaged 305 passing yards and only 77.7 rushing yards per game. They’ve been successful in the red zone 37.5 percent of the time and scored, on average, 22.67 points per game.
In losses this season, Detroit has allowed 180.7 rushing yards per game and 189 passing yards. They’ve giving up, on average, 34.67 points. When they’ve won, Detroit has been a much better run defense, allowing just 93.5 yards per game. They've allowed 271.5 passing yards. They’ve been stingy on third down (26.3 percent conversions) and held opponents to 16.5 points a game.
Some of the numbers, particularly in losses, are skewed because of the blowout loss to New York in the season opener. It was Detroit’s lowest point total (17) and most points allowed (48). The Lions have scored at least 24 points per game in the four contests since and have lost their last two games by a combined five points.
At least some of the confusion of what type of team Detroit actually lies in whom the Lions have beaten and whom they’ve lost to. The players understand that.
“That’d be probably what everybody expected, to beat the Jets and lose to the Patriots. But then we get beat by the Jets and we beat the Patriots,” Quin said. “So that puts you in a situation of, well, who are these guys? Are they the team that got beat by the Jets or are they the team that beat the Patriots? Are they the team that lost to the 49ers, the team that lost to the Cowboys or are they the team that beat the Packers?
“Like I said, that’s something that even us as a team, we have to decide. We have to go out each and every day, every week and say, ‘This is who we are.’"
That, so far, has been a week-to-week question. And it has led to wondering why that has been there. Some of it can be attributed to a new coach and a changing defensive scheme -- a process of understanding that was always going to take some time.
But when they look around and see what they are capable of – positively and negatively – they can’t figure out totally why the massive swings between good and bad have happened.
“I don’t know,” Quin said. “It’s been crazy, though.”
Lions coach Matt Patricia might have explained it best when answering a question about why he considered Miami his toughest opponent to date. He initially said that it’s because it’s the next week in the season. But then, in the course of that answer, he might have given the true answer of why his team – and others – have such varying results early on and how they can stabilize later.
“The first part of the year is always a little bit interesting,” Patricia said. “As far as teams that win and lose. But as the season goes on, you’ll see through the course of October and into November, different teams start to kind of emerge in those areas.
“And especially the mentally tough teams. Those teams that can just grind through those difficult games for 60 minutes. And I think that’s certainly something that the Dolphins showed they can do on Sunday.”
Whether the Lions can or not – whether they are the closer to the team that beat the Pats or lost to the Jets – will start to pop up as well. Sunday will give a good initial answer for it.