If you haven’t been following the Lions this year, that’s got to be surprising news to you. After all, this is a team that regularly trots out players such as Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Joique Bell, Reggie Bush and Golden Tate.
Despite the talent, the offense hasn’t produced as expected this year. Well, they hadn’t produced as expected this year. For at least one week, the unit has gotten back on track.
“We worked too hard not to (breakout),” said center Dominic Raiola. “There’s 11 guys busting their butt over there. We played two good teams back-to-back weeks and let’s not mistake that. We came home and handled business and that is what we wanted. Last year, we were 7-5 going into this weekend and now we’re 8-4. We’re in a good spot right now, but we know there’s a lot of work ahead.”
The Lions nearly doubled their per-game average by scoring 34 points against the Bears. They prepared for the Bears with confidence because they felt that they saw vulnerability in the defense.
“Kinda had a good idea what they would do today,” said Calvin Johnson, who reached 10,000 career receiving yards - doing so in less games than anyone in NFL history. “They played a little three, they mixed it up with a couple different coverages. For the most part, the Bears are who they are and they are going to play what they play.”
The Lions took advantage to the tune of 474 yards. Johnson contributed 146 of those yards and helped the offense establish a rhythm.
One key factor was an improved performance by the offensive line. The unit was far from perfect but had one of their strongest weeks this season led by left guard Rob Sims.
“Other than the sack-fumble, I thought I played pretty strong,” said Sims. “That’s the thing about offensive line, things can go bad really soon, really early. You just got to fight through that. Just go back to what you do. I feel like it went well after that.”
The improved line play bought Stafford the extra time he needed to succeed, he ended up registering 390 yards and two touchdown tosses. There was also his accuracy - he completed 34-of-45 passes.
“He threw for over 75 percent,” said Johnson. “That’s big time.”
Like most offenses, the Lions need their quarterback to produce in order for them to reach their max potential. He was afforded that chance today and the offense exploded.
Perhaps as important as Stafford’s big throws are his pre-snap reads and decisions.
This can be illustrated by a first-down play early in the fourth-quarter while the game was still within reach for the Bears. The offense took the field with a first-down and needed to avoid a three-and-out in order to keep the Bears offense off the field and prevent any chance of a comeback. Wide receiver Golden Tate was in the slot and had nearly a 10-yard cushion. Stafford, recognizing this, was able to get Tate the ball behind the line of scrimmage and let him do the work en route to a first down and 12-yard gain.
“Usually, that’s a check Matt does,” said Sims. “If he sees a cushion. Especially in Golden’s hands, you get it in his hands and let him do his thing.”
One week of success does not necessarily mean the offense has turned the corner but it means they are back on track – at least momentarily. Now, it’s up to them to sustain that momentum.
“It breeds confidence,” said Johnson. “We know what we can do, we have film on what we can do. We just stick to those things, have great weeks of practice and keep on pouring it on. Can’t take it easy, stay on the pedal.”