Jim Schwartz on Detroit Lions 3-0 Start: “We’re really not worried about where we are, but where we’re going.”September 28, 2011 – 6:00 am by Michael Bean
How ’bout them Detroit Lions? 3-0! One of the absolute laughing stocks of the National Football League for most of the past decade, it finally appears as if the Lions have built a contender from the bevy of high draft picks they’ve had in recent years. I’ve always defended the Ford family ownership group in Detroit to fans who believe that the Lions’ front office is inept from top to bottom. Yes, Matt Millen made an incredulous number of mistakes as general manager, but the Fords have done nothing but invest in the team, be patient (at times to a fault), and remain resolute despite all the losing and other hardship that the city of Detroit has been dealing with for years now. One of the best decisions the Lions have made was hiring Jim Schwartz from Tennessee to coach the squad. Schwartz has room to grow as the man in charge, but he knows what it takes to build a successful program over time having worked under Jeff Fisher, he has the right no-nonsense attitude about certain things, and perhaps unbeknownst to most fans, Schwartz has a wide array of interests outside of the game, a trait that probably is more important to success as an NFL coach than we probably all realize.
Schwartz’s Lions stormed back from a 20 point first half deficit to defeat the rival Minnesota Vikings 26-23 in the Metro Dome on Sunday. The win propels Detroit to 3-0 for the first time….does anyone know the last time Detroit was 3-0? The Lions have outscored their opponent by a margin of 101-46. Their Week 1 win at Tampa Bay is starting to look more and more impressive based on how solid the Buccaneers have played the past two weeks. The Lions can definitively announce they’re a force to be reckoned with in 2011 though in Week 4 when they travel to Texas Stadium to take on the Dallas Cowboys.
Schwartz joined WXYT in Detroit to talk about what the atmosphere is in the Lions building after their 3-0 start to the year, why he’s not feeling too satisfied with things just yet, the various areas of improvement his team can still make, coming back from 20 points down at halftime to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 3, his assessment of the offensive line after their shaky performance against Minnesota, how every player on the Lions can still play better as well as the team collectively, the challenges of slowing down DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys who his team will face in Week 4, the injury status of Nick Fairley, and the sequence of plays beginning with the booming punt near the end of regulation that allowed Detroit to get to overtime and then complete the comeback and win it last Sunday.
On what must be a positive feeling in the Lions building after three wins to start the year:
“Yeah, sure. You never want to discount the value of a win, particularly a road win, a division win, all those different things. But the way we did it, there’s a bright side to that — being down 20 at the half and coming out and getting stops on defense and scoring on offense and getting it into overtime; there’s some satisfaction in that. But there’s also a side of it that we need to start a little faster. We shouldn’t be down 20 at half. We couldn’t click on any cylinders, much less one or two in the first half. So our players all realize they haven’t played their best game yet, and as a team we haven’t played our best game, so we appreciate the win but it helps keep us grounded.”
Does he think the Lions are a good team:
“We still have a lot of work to do. You know, we’re still early in the season, we’ve put a couple wins together, but we haven’t played our best yet. I think when the season is over, when the last game is played then we can look back and sort of see what kind of team we were. But we’re so much looking forward, we’re so much trying to make progress and correct mistakes and play a little better each week, that we’re really not worried about where we are but where we’re going.”
On the offensive line and what that unit can do to improve its collective play after a somewhat shaky effort against the Vikings:
“Well I think people might be singling our tackles out a little bit too much based on this game. The first two games we had zero sacks, and this game not all the sacks were the offensive tackles’ fault. We had a snap count problem on one, we had a receiver run a wrong route on another. Those things can make an offensive tackle look bad. One, a guard should be helping on one. So you know, it’s easy to blame a corner when a wide receiver gets a touchdown, it’s easy to blame the quarterback when a ball gets intercepted, it’s easy to blame the offensive tackle when the quarterback gets sacked or hit. But sometimes the truth lies elsewhere. I think we need to play better as a group. We didn’t play our best in Minnesota, and let’s give credit where credit is due — that’s a really good front and they played very, very well. Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Robinson played very well — let’s give credit where credit is due. I think we started making some adjustments, started getting the ball out a little quicker in the second half, spread them out a little bit more. But our offensive line as a group can certainly play better than they did on Sunday against both the run and the pass.”
On the challenge of his line shutting down DeMarcus Ware this coming Sunday in Week 4:
“Well, he’s very good. Every week it seems we have one of those kind of guys. So whether it’s Jared Allen or Tamba Hali who’s as good as there is in the NFL, DeMarcus Ware who’s as good as there is in the NFL — there’s elite rushers every single week. And in our division — Clay Matthews, we’re going to have to face him twice; Julius Peppers, we’re going to have to face him twice. So it’s a challenge that we have every week. But that’s not the only good player they have on defense. Spencer on the other side is really good; Ratliff in the middle is really good; and they have a scheme where they use a lot of different players interchangeably. They sometimes have two defensive linemen on the field, one defensive lineman on the field, they can bring any of those linebackers and safeties and make it look like a blitz and maybe it’s only a three-man rush or a four-man rush. So for sure we need to know where No. 94 is and keep him off our quarterback, but if we devote too much attention to him, there’s a lot of other players the Cowboys have that can hurt you.”
On if Nick Fairley is progressing physically:
“Improving. He’s working hard to get back on the field, and I think he’s going to play a lot of football for us this year. And when he gets back he’ll be ready, and when he’ll be ready he’ll be back. So I think I’ll just leave it there. He’s making progress, he’s improving. We’re not going to put him on the field before he’s ready. That’s something…I don’t want to say it’s a luxury that we have, but it’s a good situation that we’re in. We’re getting good production out of our other defensive linemen and we don’t have to press a guy back before he’s ready and set him back or set the team back.”
On the huge booming punt by Ryan Donahue near the end of regulation, as well as the final gorgeous connection between Stafford and Johnson that set up the game-winning FG in OT:
“Well the punt at the end of the game was obviously huge for us because we went from being in a mode of ‘hey, there 1:12 or 1:14 left in the game, we had a couple timeouts, hey let’s go get a drive, let’s go get a score at the end of regulation and win this thing.’ To getting a couple of false starts, a sack, you know Jahvid Best made a great run to avoid a safety on the 2nd down play before the punt, or we could have been looking at punting from backed up or being down two points in that game. And then after the two false starts and the 1st down sack, let’s just get this thing to overtime. We had bad field position, if we didn’t keep the clock running we were going to leave way too much time for Minnesota to kick a game-winning field goal; so we needed to burn some clock. Ran a couple run plays and then punted the ball. Ryan has been doing a very good job with his hang-time. He averaged close to 4.7 [seconds] a kick in his hang-time which is really, really good. But one of the things a punter needs to be able to do in the NFL is when you’re backed up, he needs to be able to boom one. And Ryan was able to do that. If he shanks one there, all of a sudden they’re in field goal range. If he hits a good punt, there’s only going to be about 10 seconds left, or 12 seconds left, and they had no timeouts. So as long as they threw one pass that was in the field of play, they weren’t going to be able to come up and spike it. So at that point, he really changed the game and got us to overtime. Once we were in overtime, we won that toss, we felt very confident. Titus Young made a really, really big catch before Calvin’s one that set up the game-winning field goal. But they started getting a little anxious around mid-field; they didn’t want us to get in field goal range so they started blitzing. A lot of teams will do that. They didn’t blitz a whole lot during the game, and they didn’t give us very many one-on-one’s. But when they did we were able to capitalize. We capitalized in the third quarter with the touchdown pass to Calvin. And then Matt and Calvin were able to hook up on that one-on-one situation that got us to the game-winning field goal.”