Following the 0-16 season of 2008, the Detroit Lions knew a change was needed. That’s when the team hit the reset button, bringing in Martin Mayhew as the new general manager and Jim Schwartz as the new head coach. Together, the two men rebuilt the Lions’ roster, making Detroit a formidable team to match for even the best the NFL had to offer.
Unfortunately, that’s where our fairy tale ends. Schwartz’s teams, while tough, lacked the discipline to win on a consistent basis. After five years netting just one playoff appearance, the Lions moved on by hiring Jim Caldwell as the head coach to take the team from simply competitive to consistently making deep playoff runs.
There’s no denying the expectations are high in Detroit, putting plenty of pressure on Caldwell, but then again, Caldwell has led his team to a Super Bowl before. If you’ll recall, Caldwell took the Colts to Super Bowl XLIV in 2009. Caldwell only lost his job in 2011 when Peyton Manning was out of commission for the Colts, and having no replacement of any kind, the Colts finished just 2-14.
Caldwell may not be as well set up in Detroit as he was the day he inherited Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, but the Lions have a solid roster that looks pretty good on paper. Matthew Stafford is a franchise quarterback, the Lions have the best receiver in football and the team’s defensive front is as strong and terrifying as any in the league.
Sure, the Lions have plenty of question marks. The team’s secondary is suspect at times, and the Lions were unable to develop a consistent ground attack in the Schwartz era. Still, those roster holes are being addressed to varying degrees, and even if they weren’t, the Lions should be able to compete for a divisional title in the NFC North right off the bat.
The biggest problem the Lions have faced over the past five years has been their inability to meet expectations. 2013 was a perfect example of just that. With the Vikings uncompetitive, Aaron Rodgers injured and Jay Cutler also injured, the Lions were set up to walk away with the divisional title. Instead, Detroit lost six of its last seven games, and once again failed to make the postseason with a 7-9 record.
If there’s any individual problem we can identify with the Lions, it was their lack of discipline that sunk the ship. Whether it came in the form of stupid penalties, missed opportunities on the field or just general confusion, the Lions always find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. That’s the culture Caldwell walks in to as the team’s new head coach, but he may be able to change that mentality.
Caldwell brings a much less fiery personality to the table than Schwartz did, and that type of mentality may serve the Lions well. Instead of playing with emotion first and training second, the Lions should rely more on their ability to work as a single unit under Caldwell. By limiting the emotional aspect, the Lions should be able to play more to form. That should be enough to put the Lions back in the playoffs.