no really, Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits
Being a Lions fan is maddening. Your mind must exist in dichotomous states: perpetual amnesia, so you can forget the torrents of sorrow that have drowned you your entire life, and eternal remembrance, so you can always appreciate the now for at least not being then. You must constantly believe the future will be better than the past—or else, you could never keep being a Lions fan—but always be wary, because that future may not be this present.
If you throw yourself into believing that every coach, quarterback, first-round draft pick, and season are Salvation and Glorious Future Incarnate, you will have your heart torn out again and again and again. Every loss and failure will sting bitterly, and the days those coaches, quarterbacks, first-round draft picks, and seasons are finally declared failures you’ll feel like you wasted years of your life believing in them.
If you abandon hope, harden your heart, become one of the jeerers and booers and talk-show callers every failure becomes redemption, proof the bums and morons running things are being paid millions to muck it all up while any drunken idiot in the stands can see exactly what needs to be done.
But when those good days finally come—and bringing back a playoff team intact is as good as we’ve seen around here—you must have believed to be joyful. You must have invested yourself to reap the rewards.
Lions fans who bristled angrily at the team’s three straight season-ending losses spent six months waiting for the Lions to bring in a new Savior, a new franchise cornerstone around which to build. But none was coming, because the foundation had already been laid; indeed the walls were done and the roof just needed shingles and pretty much the team was what it was, which is a damned fine young strong playoff team.
Those same fans, and many others, are today lying dazed by the side of the road, scraped and battered from having fallen—or jumped—off the Lions’ bandwagon.
What Lions fans have is called cognitive dissonance. From Wikipedia:
Cognitive dissonance is the term used in modern psychology to describe the state of holding two or more conflicting cognitions (e.g., ideas, beliefs, values, emotional reactions) simultaneously. In a state of dissonance, people may sometimes feel surprise, dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment. The theory of cognitive dissonance in social psychology proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing cognitions, adding new ones to create a consistent belief system, or alternatively by reducing the importance of any one of the dissonant elements.
Last season, Lions fans wailed and groaned and gnashed their teeth about the team’s inability to run and stop the run. All season long, the frustration boiled and rolled about the team’s constant struggle on second- and third-and-long, the team’s slow, predictable starts, and the apparent necessity of the high-powered offense to rely on the defense for momentum.
This hue and cry reached its peak during that fateful three-game stretch: obviously, the Lions could pass and score nearly at will—but just as obviously, opponents could pass and score completely at will. This was the state of the team as we remember it, and for eight long months we saw no evidence to the contrary.
Now, it seems, the Lions are able to ball with a modicum of effectiveness, especially on first and second down. Now, the Lions are much, much better at stopping the run. Now, every Lions fan is screaming for them to drop into shotgun and throw it fifty times a game because “it worked last year.” The problem is, it didn’t.
The Lions are better this year.
The “throw it fifty times” offense has been solved, league-wide; check the Packers’, Giants’, and Saints’ results so far if you don’t believe me. Defenses are dropping very deep in coverage and demanding offenses either find balance or be perfect. The Lions are not quite balanced, and not quite perfect, and the results are what they are.
But as I walked up the steps to the Ford Field concourse Sunday afternoon, I heard two fans loudly proclaiming the team “just wasn’t good” and “didn’t do anything well.”
"They played sweet defense," I said—which stopped them in their tracks, mouths agape.
It’s true: The Lions held a Minnesota Vikings team that had just beat the Invincible 49ers to just 238 total yards and just six offensive points. In fact, if you subtract the five non-defensive touchdowns, the defense has allowed just 79 points in four games; that’d slot them 11th between Atlanta (76) and Green Bay (81). But of course, it’s a lot easier to rage about how no Lion could bring Adrian Peterson down on first contact than it is to admit that nobody brings down Adrian Peterson on first contact.
It’s cognitive dissonance: contrary to all expectations, the Lions offense is not an unstoppable passing juggernaut, the defense is not wet tissue paper, and the Rams, Titans, and Vikings are not terrible. All Lions fans are feeling some combination of surprise, dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment. That doesn’t mean the season is lost, or the pieces aren’t in place, or that heads need to roll.
Well, no, some heads need to roll: the heads of everyone responsible for the Lions' kick coverage.
The Lions would be 3-1 if it weren't for galactically, horribly, awfully terrible special teams play. Literally no team in NFL history has ever given up kick and punt returns for touchdowns in back-to-back weeks before. The Lions have allowed those four returns for touchdowns, the rest of the NFL has allowed just five.
Jim Schwartz says special teams coordinator Danny Crossman’s job is not in jeopardy, but it has to be. Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said they saw on film that “If everybody held their blocks, Percy's going to score . . . I mean, it was obvious.” So Crossman isn’t putting the players in a position to be successful—and the execution, getting off the blocks, isn’t there either.
Finally, of course, there is the offense: It’s not firing on all cylinders. Stafford isn’t as clinical as he needs to be. His placement on downfield passes is sometimes amazing, sometimes iffy. It’s often iffy when it most needs to be amazing, and sometimes when it’s amazing his receivers betray him, and often when it’s iffy his receivers don’t bail him out (except Nate Burleson, who earns his keep at least once a game).
The Lions have an average, streaky offense with the potential to explode, and an above-average, consistent defense. The offense is grinding out mediocre performances in the space that defenses give them, and the defense is collapsing the space opposing offenses have to work with. The Lions’ offense and defense are both playing well enough to win more games than they lose—and we know the offense is playing about as poorly as it’s capable of. Give the season time to work its levelling magic on the flukes and drops bounces; remember 2010’s regression to the mean after a 2-10 start?
The Lions’ challenge as a team is to fix the special teams. Our challenge as a fan base is to reduce the dissonance between the level of the Lions’ performance in their first four games and the final scores of those games by altering our existing cognitions—or go mad.