Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Jeff Seidel explain just how the Lions came away with a 28-13 win over the Saints on Sunday. Video by Dave Birkett/DFP
The Lions are streaking toward the playoffs — they have won seven of their last eight games. Props to the coach and GM.
NEW ORLEANS — Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell stood at the podium with a relaxed, confident vibe.
“Pretty doggone good,” Caldwell said, after the Lions’ stunningly easy, 28-13 victory Sunday over the New Orleans Saints.
No doubt about it. This team is pretty doggone good. The Lions are streaking toward the playoffs — they have won seven of their past eight games — and Caldwell deserves all kinds of credit.
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For how this team has handled adversity, overcoming a rash of injuries.
For how this team has handled the pressure of close games. By comparison, this game was an absolute blowout.
For how this team plays with poise and confidence and seems prepared for every situation.
And for the culture around this team. These players believe and expect to win. They play fast and loose, and they seem to be getting better every game.
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t expect this team to be in this position. And I certainly didn’t think this team would beat New Orleans in the Superdome. But this team continues to exceed expectations. Blow them away, actually.
And it starts with Caldwell.
Credit also should go to general manager Bob Quinn. He has made several moves that have already paid off, especially in this game.
There was strong safety Tavon Wilson making a ridiculous interception, tipping the ball to himself with one hand. Quinn grabbed him in March from the New England Patriots.
There was safety Miles Killebrew with an interception and a pass deflection. Quinn took him in the fourth round.
And there was safety Rafael Bush, coming out of nowhere, diving for the ball and preventing a touchdown. Quinn signed him from New Orleans in March.
“Our defensive coaches did a great job in terms of preparation,” Caldwell said. “We had a lot of young guys playing. Young guys playing a little bit more than they’ve been playing previously, but they hung in there, they fought, played together. It was a great defensive effort.”
Indeed. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin deserves all kinds of credit for how the defense shut down quarterback Drew Brees, who was held without a touchdown pass for the first time in years. That’s a huge accomplishment, considering nobody else has been able to do it in 60 straight games at the Superdome.
“Obviously, to come up with three interceptions against him is pretty special,” Caldwell said.
And offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter deserves credit for how the Lions controlled the ball. The Lions held the ball for nearly 37 minutes, putting together several long, time-consuming drives, keeping Brees on the bench. The offense has to be better in the red zone, though.
So, there is room for improvement.
And this offensive line is only going to get better.
Entering this season, I thought the biggest question mark was the offensive line, but it has been solid. Remember when the Lions drafted Taylor Decker? He has been just fine at left tackle, and moving Riley Reiff to right tackle has worked. In addition, the Lions are getting production out of rookie Graham Glasgow at guard, a guy drafted by Quinn.
“I think our young guys up front did a nice job,” Caldwell said. “Reiff and the rest of the group.”
At one point Sunday, quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 13 straight passes. And I know that Stafford has done a great job of avoiding the rush and making decisions, spreading the ball around. And he has done a great job of getting out and running, but he doesn’t complete that many passes in a row without protection.
“They don’t get shaken by tough situations,” Caldwell said. “You have to certainly give our guys a lot of credit for their poise.”
The Lions are doing so many things right. They are making open-field tackles and creating turnovers, especially in big moments. They had only six penalties. They are making the clutch plays and the routine ones. They seem intent on improving every game. And they are playing with composure and poise, with determination and confidence.
Which is a direct reflection of their coach.
It’s all, well, pretty doggone good.
Contact Jeff Seidel: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.