The Lions' pursuit of the postseason has been a long and wearisome journey that has been ongoing since 2001. The six-season trek appears to be nearing an end as the ball club stand with a 6-2 record this season; however, some skeptics still question if the Lions are en route to a playoff berth.
Almost any other football franchise would have the unwavering faith of their fans with a 6-2 start; however, there aren't many other franchises that have experienced the same recent futility as the Lions. The last three times Detroit started 4-2 or better (1999, 2000, 2004) they missed the playoffs twice and lost in the first round once. This includes 1999, when they started 6-2, finished 8-8, and lost in the first round to the Washington Redskins.
It may be unfair to fault this year's version of the Lions for the failures of previous teams. This 2007 squad has already tallied a handful of accomplishments that those past teams were not able to, such as sweeping the Chicago Bears, winning on the road, as well as handling adversity, such as their two disastrous losses. Detroit's defense has been impressive creating takeaways and the offense has been efficient.
In fact, the offense may be the biggest reason for optimism despite the credit the defense is receiving for leading the league in takeaways. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz believes the offense needs to -- and will -- improve.
"Things really intensify with each game," said Martz following Thursday's practice. "You just need to get better with the intensity in our performance. You just worry about the little details of what we do, and we're a long ways from being a good offense. We're kind of just okay, really. We're getting better, but we're not nearly where we need to be."
The Lions' offense may not be perfect; however, they have been better than average. They are No. 12 in the league in terms of yards per game (339) and they are sixth overall in points per game (25). Despite the solid rankings, Martz is still not satisfied, although he believes there will be improvement during the second half of the season.
"There just always seems to be a little execution issue here and there," said Martz. "It just takes one guy, one foul up some place to really kind of stumble or trip on a particular play. But we're getting better, and I think that we'll start to snowball here a little bit. But the execution still isn't what it needs to be."
Perhaps Martz's seemingly over-critical evaluation of the offense could be valuable. In 1999, the last time they started 6-2, the Lions suffered a second-half meltdown where they finished their last eight games 2-6 – due largely to offensive struggles. The first eight games of that season the Lions averaged 22.8 points per game (only 2.2 points off the mark they are currently averaging) however, the last eight games they averaged only 17.5 points per game.
That season, the Lions did manage to make the playoffs, although they scored only 13 points and lost by two touchdowns to the Washington Redskins. However, this year's team isn't necessarily destined to repeat history. A big part in preventing a second-half letdown will be the health of rookie receiver Calvin Johnson.
Martz: "We had him (Johnson) for a few weeks ago, and then he got hurt in that Bears game, so for about the last six weeks he's not really been available. He's available (now), so we can really incorporate him right now. I think he's feeling real good, so that's a good plus."
The Lions will begin the second-half of their season in the desert this Sunday, when they face the Arizona Cardinals (3-5). Martz believes this will be a true test, especially for the offense.
"They (the Cardinals) can be really good," said Martz "Defensively, this is probably the best defense we've seen so far. They're a top-ten defense in the league. We know we've got our work cut out for us. They're a good team."
Despite the criticism, negativity and adversity, this year's Lions have competed and won. The hard work and determination of the team has paid dividends on the field and they have given themselves a terrific opportunity to end their six-year quest for the playoffs. However, in order to complete their march to the postseason the offense will need to continue to march down the field.