Take The Detroit Lions With A Grain of Salt

>> 9.22.2011

Taking the Detroit Lions with a grain of salt. credit: The Lions in Winter

Salt is a miraculous little substance. It helps regulate the water content in our body. It helps our nervous system conduct electricity. Its presence in food awakens flavors on our palettes; food without salt tastes lifeless. We need salt in order to live—without enough, we die. Salt is also a preservative, allowing perishable foods to be stored in times of plenty and eaten in times of need.

Now is a time of plenty for Detroit Lions fans. The Lions are on a six-game winning streak and are No. 1 in the NFL in scoring differential. Yet, they still haven’t played their best football. Matthew Stafford looks every bit a franchise quarterback, and historically weak units of the team (offensive line, secondary) have been amongst the best in the league this year.

After the longest offseason ever, throughout which Lions Kool-Aid was being quaffed at unheard-of rates, this spectacular start has Lions fans giddy. Every best-case scenario is coming true. The Lions are heavy favorites to go 3-0: the first time Vegas has liked the Lions to win in Minnesota since I was ten days old.

As fans, we are tempted to tap the brakes. To pull back on the reins. To take this early success with a grain of salt:

(With) a grain of salt, in modern English, is an idiom which means to view something with skepticism, or to not take it literally.[1] It derives from the Latin phrase, (cum) grano salis.

Since in Italy "to have salt in your pumpkin" (avere sale in zucca - pumpkin is a humorous way to say "head") means to have intelligence and reasoning capabilities, "grain of salt" often means "a little bit of intelligence". So, "cum grano salis", in its Latin form, it is often used when it is needed to show that intelligence and personal judgment are needed, as in "I drink wine cum grano salis since I must drive" (with care, moderately).

We are scarred, brutalized by years of tantalizing mediocrity and years of hopeless futility. We want to hope. We want to believe. We want to know that it’s for real this time, but we don’t want to be burned again. “Well, let’s see them do X,” we say, as if the Lions cannot possibly play winning football until they pass a series of specific tests.

Honestly, though—which of those tests remain unpassed? The Lions have won their season opener. They’ve won at home and on the road. They’ve beaten two teams who boasted double-digit wins last year (though the Chiefs will almost certainly lose as many this year). They’ve closed out a game where they held a lead, and they’ve put on the biggest regular-season rout in franchise history. If they take care of business as favorites this Sunday, they’ll add a division road win to their smoking pile of defeated challenges. Including this preseason, the Lions have won their last ten games.

If we remain skeptical of the Lions’ success, we may suffer the same fate as many Tigers fans have. They steeled themselves all summer for the inevitable collapse, wasting their long-awaited AL Central championship season. They took little joy from the Tigers’ 2011 run to the title, because they spent all year pretending it was an illusion. They’ve railed against Jim Leyland so often for so long that they can hardly find it in themselves to be happy he was right.

Let’s not do that with this Lions campaign. Let’s take it cum grano salis, in the Italian sense. With avere sale in zucca, a little bit of intelligence, we can see and appreciate exactly how rare and special this Lions season will be. Let’s not only cheer and celebrate with all of our hearts. With just a pinch of perspective,  we can see how good—how greatthese Lions are, and will be.

If they continue to perform as they have, the Lions will be not be “pretty good.” The they will not be “a playoff contender.” They will not be “a team on the rise.” They will be one of the best in the NFL—and they will have the players driving that success locked up for years to come. The Lions’ offense will be a Top 5 scoring unit, and Stafford a Top 5 quarterback. Just how good the defense will be against competition like the Packers and Bears remains unknown, but to date they’re blowing away expectations.

With our eyes shut tight and our nose pinched closed, Lions fans have no hope of experiencing all the wonderful emotions this season has to offer.

Relax. Let your guard down. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Open your eyes, and see the meal that’s laid before you. Add just a grain of salt, and savor the flavors that come alive inside of you. Revel in your favorite team entering the Vikings’ lair as conquerors, ready to ransack and pillage and do as they will. Grow strong as the warmth of victory swells in your belly.

Then, salt it away.

Preserve these memories; keep some safe in the larder for leaner times. Remember every big play, cherish every win, knowing the Lions won’t stay undefeated forever. Someday, Lions fans will again have to to subsist on what they remember of the good times—so make sure every moment of these is present and preserved in your mind, having been taken with a grain of salt.

14 comments:

@johnweeast,  September 22, 2011 at 2:41 PM  

Great read as always Ty. Watching film, they're winning the necessary battles at every level. But even winning those battles, there is room to improve. The locker room mentality has changed from we CAN win, to we SHOULD win. Expecting to win is an attitude that won't show in stats, but you can see it on every snap.

Nate Washuta September 22, 2011 at 2:46 PM  

Nice wordplay, and inspiring as usual.

Ty September 22, 2011 at 3:06 PM  

@johnweeast--

Yeah, absolutely. The biggest thing that worries me right now is, what happens when they actually lose? I don't think it'll all fall apart, but how long can the feedback loop of confidence -> success -> confidence -> success -> confidence sustain itself?

Peace
Ty

@johnweeast,  September 22, 2011 at 3:14 PM  

Ask the 19-1 Pats. I don't think they'll go undefeated, but this team is already not satisfied after these 2 wins. They've pointed out what has gone wrong, while the media has pointed out the success. When the players start talking about sucess with the same gusto that the media has, without talking about what needs to be fixed, then I'll start worrying. Again, its the attitude that has changed. The results are a byproduct of that.

Ty September 22, 2011 at 3:18 PM  

Nate--

Thank you. Being able to play with words, and inspire fellow Lions fans, is a privilege I treasure.

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  September 22, 2011 at 6:08 PM  

Not sure where you got your numbers but the Lions aren't 9 point favorites in this one. Last I checked it was 3 1/2.

Ty September 22, 2011 at 7:56 PM  

Uh. Derp. You're right! Don't know where that came from!

Peace
Ty

Jon September 23, 2011 at 7:38 AM  

Good post. The Lions are a definite playoff contender and Matt Stafford is already on the verge of superstardom. It has been a pleasure watching Stafford slinging the rock all over the field and made some ridiculous throws that only 2-3 QBs in the league can make. This kind of throws remind us why he is chosen at #1 overall.

The offense is so much better with Stafford at QB. There's more vertical passing than with Hill/Stanton at QB. Jahvid Best is running much better in between tackles and is very close to breaking a long run several times. One of those time, he'll finally break one and remind us why the Lions traded up to get him. He is breaking arm tackles at a much higher rate than last year though it helps that he's healthy.

The Lions defense made a startling improvement though it wasn't against top flight offense. LB plays has improved and it shows on the field in which they consistently stopped the run when the RB get past the 2nd level. Secondary showed the biggest improvement with the addition of Eric Wright and improvement of Amari Spievey. Chris Houston is emerging as a bondafide starting #1 CB and is realizing his potential coming out of Arkansas when the Falcons took him in 2nd round. I really hope they can lock him up long term. The scary thing is they did it without their "starting" CB, Alphonso Smith. Once he comes back, the CB is deeper and will push Berry down to 4th CB spot.

Anonymous,  September 23, 2011 at 10:07 AM  

Exactly Ty! I have hated hearing the talk of 'the Lions did something good; they won on the road after losing 20 road games in row'. I don't care about not being one of the worst. All I care about is this:
"They will be one of the best in the NFL—and they will have the players driving that success locked up for years to come."

I think it is always funny to see the big media guys act like successful teams always have average or bad players come out of no where and help a team win in the playoffs or Superbowl. Those players were always there, the media just ignored them, hyping something or someone else up. I am looking forward to them start saying 'hey the Lions have more players than just Calvin, Suh, and Stafford'. I wonder which players will get some rare attention.
Can't wait. Go Lions!

Lankownia September 23, 2011 at 1:34 PM  

Well written, Ty. Good read, although I disagree with the assertions made about Tiger fans not enjoying the run.

Psychological studies say that people get MORE enjoyment out of unexpected outcomes. That's why gambling triggers such joy in people and why some can play slot machines endlessly. Similarly, happiness studies show that what matters is not the level of the bar, but how often the bar is elevated.

I'm a Tigers fan who thought they were a 500 team and criticized Leyland's lineup decisions (even though they hardly matter). I don't think that's taken away any of my enjoyment out of what's been a highly enjoyable season from start to finish.

Matt,  September 23, 2011 at 9:43 PM  

Excellent post, Ty, and excellent comments from a number of folks.

I wanna' start out my comment as one of the "They have to do X" guys 'cause, well, I am one of them. But I want to bring a finer point to this thought process. After the '09 season, that process was in full effect. The Lions brought in a new coaching staff, a new QB, and, hopefully, a new attitude. At that point, though, there was definitely a "They need to actually win some games before I buy into this latest 'fix'" sentiment out there (and by "out there," I mean in my head). As a Lions' fan, I'd been through many "saviors" before, so I wanted actual results before I drank too much Kool-Aid. Getting some wins, and DEFINITELY getting the road-loss streak off our back, we "musts" before we (team & fans) could "move on."

Fast forward to the end of last season. The Lions knocked out some wins, including on the road, and the ship definitely seemed headed in the right direction. The lockout-shortened-off-season moves added momentum, but we still "needed" to see on-field results. The 2011 Lions have given us those, so far, and so I think the "They must do X before we can 'believe'" equation has been solved.

Now, I think the "They must do X" thing has taken on a little different tenor. It's no longer "They must win a few games before I believe." Now we fans openly "believe" the Lions are a good team, but they must still prove it. It's about maintaining respect, as opposed to earning it. The "musts" list is now not one of prerequisites needed just to get up to "respectable." It's more like a list of milestones on the way to "good/great team." For instance, a "good/great" team contends for/wins it's division. This, in general, means beating the teams within your division more often than not (which, in turn, means winning on the road). So, this weekend's game against the Vikings presents a chance to pass a milestone: beating a division rival at their place. If the Lions lose, though, this doesn't make them "the same ol' Lions," as it would in years passed. It would simply mean they stumbled. A win, on the other hand, doesn't automatically make them NFC North champs, but it's another indication that the team is on the right path.

Essentially, the cause-effect relationship of "milestones" has shifted for the Lions. A year ago, we needed (road) wins ("cause") just to be considered a respectable team ("effect"). Now, we are considered a good team ("cause") and so we SHOULD win a road game against an underdog division rival ("effect"). Instead of checking off milestones IN ORDER to be considered good, we are good and THEREFORE are checking off milestones.

I want to see the Lions beat a division opponent that they are favored against on the road. I want to see the Lions beat a team they "shouldn't." I want to see the Lions close out a play-off push at the end of the regular season and carry that momentum into the post season. These "checklist items" are not a prerequisite just to get me on board, though. I'm on board, so now I have expectations.

Matt,  September 23, 2011 at 10:29 PM  

Jon, wanted to comment on some of your thoughts, as well.

First, on Stafford vs. Hill/Stanton, couldn't agree more. I frequently said last season and during the off-season, "It's not that Shaun Hill or Drew Stanton is all that much WORSE than Matt Stafford, it's that Matt Stafford is way BETTER than Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton." The offense, from Linehan & Schwartz on down, has more confidence and swagger with Stafford at the helm. That makes the whole thing run much better.

Second. . .but do not overestimate The Stafford Effect to the detriment of The Best Effect ("Second" because you also hinted at this). Lions fans and "the media" are already forgetting that Best was injured for essentially the entirety of his rookie campaign. Now that he's 100% (or closer to it than last season, anyway), he is playing with confidence - much like the rest of the O with Stafford healthy. And, like Stafford, a healthy Best makes the whole offense run more smoothly. You are absolutely right that it is simply a matter of time before he tears off a few long ones. Then opposing Ds start cheating up to stop Best and the Lions burn them (again) with Calvin, so they bracket Calvin and Nate tears them up, so they get Nate covered and Titus streaks by, so they go quarters and the TEs hurt them underneath, then they start blitzing and Logan kills them on a bubble screen. . .with everyone healthy, this offense is damn near unstoppable.

Third, astute observations with the secondary. I find something interesting about "the media's" analysis of cornerbacks. They salivate, rightly so, over the top guys (Revis & Cromartie with the Jets; Nnamdi, Samuel, & Rodgers-Cromartie in PHI; Champ in DEN; Woodson in GB) and occassionally lambast a guy who gets torched (Benny Sapp, formerly of the Miami Dolphins thanks to Tom Brady & Wes Welker). However, they don't really talk about anyone in the middle. Do they consider them all equal or are they ignoring them to focus on the big names? It seems to me that Chris Houston is making a solid case for himself as a "Tier 2" NFL CB. He's certainly not on the Nnamdi/Revis "shutdown" level, but I think he's significantly better than most other #1 CBs out there and would be no worse than #2 on every other NFL team save Philly & the Jets. Spievey is also coming into his own. Let's not forget that last season he was a 3rd-round rookie who not only had to adjust from NCAA to NFL football, but also was asked to make a position change MID-SEASON! I look at Spievey's play today and think "What if Troy Vincent had switched to safety at age 23 instead of 32?" Eric Wright is looking to be the very savvy pick-up that Ty predicted it would be. Add in a healthy Alphonso Smith (with Spievey deep, we can live with Smith's gambling) and a surprisingly productive Aaron Berry - not to mention Delmas - and we've got a nice, solid secondary that can show a TON of different looks - especially when you consider that pretty much every LB on the roster can play effectively in the nickel and dime packages. It might not have (m)any big names, but it's going to be one of the more effective DB corps in the NFL for a steal of a price.

A D,  September 23, 2011 at 11:11 PM  

Gotta give most of the credit for the D to Cunningham & Schwartz, though. Two very savvy, enlightened, D coaches who bring a playbook which suits all the guys they have. And are obviously very, very good teachers for players.

A team that rarely blitzes, but because of the built up D-Line, disrupts the QB on any play where the DB's do a good job of covering the receivers.

This week will be interesting, though. Because outside of Harvin and, maybe to a much lower level Shiancoe, the Vikings don't really have much of a receiving corps. So do they put 7 or 8 in the box for the first two downs then send 4 or 5 on 3rd down?

I know Peterson's the best RB in the league, and he's beaten teams by himself before, but I just don't see him burning this D if they do put 7 or 8 in the box for 2 downs. And don't forget they kept him to 31 yards in week 17 last year. That was a much worse D, and the Vikes had a much worse QB, but arguably, a much better receiving corps.

No doubt the Vikes will be running a lot of reverses with Harvin, as KVB seems to get fooled on those somewhat easily (if last week was anything to go by), but if the CB's can cheat up on the run plays, then they might stop some of them pretty quickly for a small to no gain (reverses that is).

Alternatively, the Vikes might come out throwing to try and get the Lions off guard, though I don't think it'll work as well as they predict. This team's Pass D has been really good so far, and all of them seem to have hands that can intercept (Houston must've had some magical off-season, or got new hands).

Anyway, am very excited for Sunday. Hoping for another convincing win. :D

Rob September 23, 2011 at 11:11 PM  

... Well.... To follow that up... Go Lions?

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