A Win Is A Win, Even When It’s Dirty: Keys To The Game

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Detroit Lions Got A Win, But It Was Still Dirty!

In another ‘lionsy’ rollercoaster ride of a performance, the Detroit Lions slid out a win against the previously undefeated Philadelphia Eagles 24-23.

Mathew Stafford lead the offense in an almost unstoppable fashion with three long touchdown drives starting from the Lions 25, 20, and 25 yard lines respectively. Beating the Eagles defense in almost every way possible.

On defense Terryl Austin decided to finally try out man coverage and it worked much better, limiting the Eagles’ offense to under 150 yards and ten points, while also actually getting some pressure along the d-line. It was far from ideal but with missing two of the three best players on the defense, it was a good start.

The Dirty Play Began In The Second Half

Then, half time happened and the Lions we all know and recognize entered the stadium. Within one quarter they squandered their 11 point lead, and the offense came to a screeching halt with a couple of ugly Eagles’ defensive stops. This including a multi sack drive ending in a fumble deep in Lions territory, and Terryl Austin deciding to try zone coverage again for no particular reason resulting in points against us. Snowballing into three of the Eagles first four drives of the second half scoring.

All seemed lost when kicker Caleb Sturgis gave Philly a go ahead field goal, and the Lions took yet another four and out late in the fourth quarter to give them the lead. Then came “Big-play” Slay. In two plays Darius Slay stepped up and completely changed the game. The inevitable collapsing loss fans witnessed in the last three weeks was turned into a victory.

First from a huge fumble in Eagles territory resulting in a Matt Prater field goal, putting Detroit up by a point. Then on the first play of the Eagles final drive, Slay made an absolutely beautiful interception right out of a “how to play cornerback” handbook, sealing the victory. With that the Lions went from an embarrassing 1-3 to a still clinging to hope 2-3, showing a little moxie I think we all needed to see in the process.

Week Five Keys To The Game:

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Darius “Big-Damn-Play” Slay

As previously mentioned, Slay was essential to the win this week and was exactly what the Lions have been missing since Indianapolis: the best players stepping up in the important moments. In week one Stafford needed a field goal for the win on the last drive of the game and he got the team the yardage needed to pull out the win.

After that though what happened? Against the Titans the Lions needed one final stop against a very poor offense to essentially end the game, and nobody stepped up. In Green Bay they needed one final stop in obvious run situations against a slow runner to pull off a monumental come back, and nobody stepped up. With Chicago, if any of our top players did something right near the end of the game it probably would have helped the Lions to eek out a win, but nobody stepped up.

Seeing Slay step up in that key moment though was so sweet. Throughout the game he was great in coverage, shutting down his side of the field for almost the whole day. Despite a bit of a slow and frustrating start to the season, Slay is showing why he is a top ten cornerback in the NFL. If he keeps this level of play up, combined with the return of some key players and some better play calling from Teryll Austin, this defense could be set up for a rebound moving forward this season.

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Fiery Caldwell

In a move that had me saying, “who is that man and what has he done with my football coach”, Jim Caldwell changed his entire persona Sunday and it might have made the biggest impact on the team’s performance. The players were far more prepared to play which was obvious from the start of the game. While second half adjustments didn’t go as smoothly as hoped, everyone stayed calm and in the game, leading to a comeback victory.

He rallied the team, shouted, gave out high fives, even yelled at a ref a time or two, and it had a pronounced effect on the sidelines. I don’t know if he’s feeling the heat on his job security or what, but Caldwell being emotionally present on the field is key in and of itself to this team being successful. He made some deft coaching decisions, using timeouts very effectively in the coaching chess match, and subbed in Graham Glasgow for Laken Tomlinson when it was clear he was being overmatched.

Sure fans have been clamouring for changes like this for weeks, however credit needs to be given. Both for trusting in his guys, giving them every opportunity to succeed, and then knowing to pull the plug when its really not working out to see if trying something new produces a better result. In this case it clearly did, the pass blocking greatly improved against a tough Jim Schwartz wide set D-line, and hopefully it encourages Caldwell to make more changes if needed going forward.

With another solid defensive line that likes to use wide-sets coming up in the LA Rams, it will be interesting to see how he uses Tomlinson and/or Glasgow based on the effectiveness against the Eagles. On top of this there was also the move to bring in Corey Robinson as more of an extra tackle/blocking tight end. It worked very effectively among other minor tweaks that had big impact. All we have wanted these last few weeks are to change things up when the norm isn’t working and Caldwell responded.

While that should not be enough to save Jim Caldwell’s job, it is most certainly worth noting and appreciating going forward.

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Ol’ Reliable Boldin

Missing Eric Ebron was expected to be a huge loss, without him in the lineup Detroit was left with Cole Wick as their number one receiving option in that spot. While sure he’s an interesting young prospect, he should by no means be counted on as a key contributor to the offense. This is where Anquan Boldin stepped up huge.

Instead of his typical slot role, Boldin became the defacto split-out tight end in Ebron’s absence. With actual tight ends or offensive tackles handling plays requiring in-line blocking. He handled this role phenomenally while making several key catches throughout the game, setting up several touchdowns while running the physical routes we’ve come to love watching from him over the years.

Throughout this season, Boldin being used in a more limited capacity has given him a sort of fountain of youth. Making his move to Detroit to take on a slightly lesser role look extremely smart. While it might be slightly optimistic, playing in this role might very well extend his career several seasons, if he so chooses. He is an absolutely clutch player in this limited capacity. Even when Ebron returns to the field, expect Boldin to continue to be an absolutely key player for Detroit going forward. As a third receiver he is a complete mismatch against what many teams will cover him with.

Going Forward:

With this somewhat unexpected win the Lions now sit at 2-3, while many fans believe they should be 4-1. If you look at this from an outsiders stand point, the Lions stole one from an undefeated team they were expected to lose and lost a couple that they probably should have won. With that logic being 2-3 when you should have been 3-2 isn’t that big of a deal.

Although I bet a lot fewer people would have been panicking if thats the way things had played out. The Lions are still in a stretch of very winnable games, continuing the home stand against the Rams and Redskins, followed by a matchup in Houston. LA next week will come in heavily injured with players potentially missing across their d-line, their number 1 corner gone, and an already bad offense missing some offensive linemen.

On top of that, while the Redskins and Texans have looked good in spurts, they have looked ugly for longer stretches. With Kirk Cousins and Brock Oswieler being some of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL through this part of the season. I would argue none of those teams are as complete as the Eagles are and the Lions managed to beat them. Detroit has an oportunity to go on a bit of a run here and pull out two or three wins.

If they could do that sitting at 4-4 or 5-3, they have a shot at being contenders down the stretch. whether this happens or not is entirely up to which Detroit Lions team shows up week to week.

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About the Author

Chris is the founder of everything you see here. A former radio presenter and Detroit native, he now resides in sunny California – and like so many of us, he found himself marooned on an island devoid of other Lions fans. After spending a few years in the Detroit Lions Reddit community he decided to start the Detroit Lions Podcast. Its become the #1 Detroit Lions podcast, and regularly ranks with the top podcasts in Detroit. With a mixture of pre-recorded shows, live & recorded phone-ins, and live post-game broadcasts - this is his slice of Honolulu Blue heaven.