When you look at an NFL roster – when you’re trying to evaluate exactly how good a team can be – what do you gravitate towards?
Talent, smarts, discipline – all typical attributes associated with winning – are the natural categories to consider.
How about self-awareness – where does that come in?
The Detroit Lions might be the example of this intangible that quietly can separate a team from the pack.
At 9-4, the Lions are not only leading their division but are challenging for a first-round bye in the playoffs. They didn’t get here because they’re the most talented team in the league, they got here because they aren’t afraid to look in the mirror and self-assess.
Winners of five in a row and eight of the last nine, the Lions could be complacent but, instead, they will remain critical of themselves.
“The psychology of results,” said head coach Jim Caldwell. “Oftentimes because the result is positive it doesn’t mean, and sometimes it washes over the things you didn’t do well. We don’t just glace over the things we didn’t do well, we try to make it a point. Try to improve those in practices, we point them out. Even though we do have a lot of positive we also talk about the negative.”
The self-reflection – and self-correction – has manifested itself throughout the season with ample examples to point to.
Perhaps the most glaring example was an adjustment the Lions made a quarter through the season.
At 1-3, the season seemed headed for disappointment. Opponents were averaging 26 points and 386 yards per game and the Lions were in last place in the division.
Caldwell and Co. entered the season wanting to run an up tempo offensive pace, including a lot of no huddle. They did just that, employing the no huddle offense on about 45% of their offensive series in the season’s first four weeks.
As it turns out, that didn’t fit this team. The defense was asked to do too much and it was showing in the results – see above. So, the Lions took a step back and realized that wasn’t the right identity for their team. Since then, they’ve run no huddle less than five percent of the time and the defense has responded.
Since the end of Week 4, points against per game is down to an average of 18 and yards against per game has dropped to 334.
The Lions are 8-1 during that stretch.
“We’re playing good team ball and that’s all three phases,” said defensive end Kerry Hyder. “Special teams, offense, defense. We’re doing a good job of completing each other.”
Not every team is so willing to adjust. That’s not just schematically but also mentally. The team’s resolve is part of that, which is a bedrock of their ability to win close games – they now have eight fourth quarter and overtime comeback victories on the season.
“A lot of teams around this league, guys will lay it down, especially in a situation that we were in,” said wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
Boldin is referring to the team falling behind in the fourth quarter after a pick-six. The Lions – and their quarterback Matthew Stafford – dusted themselves off and immediately marched down the field for the winning points after the turnover.
That’s the type of team this is – it’s a product of the leaders they have.
Boldin is a great example of that leadership. The Lions have gone as far as to put him in front of the team’s rookies to set an example of what it takes to achieve sustained success in this league.
Self-awareness is part of that formula for consistency – but it only works when it’s applied in communion.
The only way to achieve that type of uniformity is by those at the top setting the example.
For the Lions, that’s Stafford.
“Every team sees the quarterback, the leader of the team, battling through and fighting through aliments, sickness, whatever it is,” said Boldin. “It gives you that much more confidence in him and it makes you look at yourself. Am I giving everything… I still gotta go out and give it my all because here you have our top guy giving everything.”
When the margin between victory and defeat is so thin, those who aren’t afraid to look inward and change are those that will rise above.
When the Lions look in the mirror this week a first-place team will be staring back.