Watching the Detroit Lions play this season, I'm reminded of a book by Jim Collins called "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't." Collins spent five years researching good companies that were trying to take the next step toward greatness. The book might have been written for the business sector, but many of Collins' findings can be applied to NFL teams -- especially the 2012 version of the Lions.
Under coach Jim Schwartz, the Lions went from really bad to good in a short time. Clearing that hurdle -- climbing out of the cellar of the NFL -- was not as difficult as many might have expected. However, Schwartz's next challenge -- elevating his team from good to great -- will be one of his toughest yet, because it will require having the right people with the right character on the roster.
Collins believes that to be great, companies must have employees who are incredibly passionate about their pursuit of greatness, and obsessed with making the company successful. Do you see any signs that the 2012 Lions have those traits?
The Lions took their first backward steps this offseason with their many off-the-field issues. Many might argue that such issues don't affect teams, but they do. They affect players' focus, resolve and overall commitment to greatness.
In the NFL, success can be more difficult to handle than losing, and the Lions have not handled their success well. Their lackadaisical attitude has been obvious on tape, as has their lack of concentration; their failure to protect the football is killing them. From quarterback Matthew Stafford's interceptions to tight end Brandon Pettigrew's constant fumbling (he coughed up two fumbles on consecutive receptions Monday against the Chicago Bears, though the ball bounced harmlessly out of bounds both times) to the inability of the defensive line to stay onsides, it's clear the Lions are not focused.
They make too many mistakes. They seem to have been lured into thinking that no matter how many mistakes they make, they can overcome and still win, like they did in their season-opener against the St. Louis Rams and in Week 6 against the Philadelphia Eagles. But as Collins writes, "Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline." The Lions have demonstrated no discipline when it comes to attention to detail, protecting the football or doing the little things that matter most. A lack of attention to detail was why they lost Monday night's winnable showdown with the Bears. Chicago didn't win; the Lions lost.
However, the season is not over for Detroit. The playoffs might be difficult to reach at this point, but over the next 10 games, the Lions must refocus, re-energize and re-commit. And Schwartz must close ranks; he must play only those players who demonstrate that they can go from good to great. He must find out who is with him and cast away those who are not. No one can be immune; everyone, from coaches to players, must be held accountable. This will be a defining moment for Schwartz, who has the skills to lead the team and the toughness to make the right choices.
The coach must convey to his team what Collins believes: "Good is the enemy of great." And he must do this now.
THINGS I LOVED
I loved that the Minnesota Vikings' success story continued with their fifth win of the season. To be really honest, I never saw this coming. I was skeptical of the overall talent level of the Vikings, and I never thought they could play this well on both sides of the ball. It's remarkable that running back Adrian Peterson is back to his old form so soon after an anterior cruciate ligament injury, but it's even more remarkable that Minnesota beat the Arizona Cardinals with quarterback Christian Ponder throwing for just 58 yards. The Vikings are a good -- but not great -- team, and it will be interesting to see how they handle their early success.
I loved watching Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs get back on the field Sunday. Not only did Suggs get in on 44 plays against the Houston Texans, he looked like his dominant self. That he was able to play so soon after suffering an Achilles injury was extraordinary. The surgery he had was not as invasive as that performed to repair most Achilles injuries, and this new medical technique was one of the reasons he was able to return so quickly. But it wasn't the only reason. Suggs was able to play at such a high level on Sunday thanks largely to his dedication, commitment and toughness. Even though the Ravens lost, Suggs was fun to watch.
I loved watching Robert Griffin III make plays all day for the Washington Redskins against the New York Giants. Just seven games into the rookie quarterback's career, one hears not a word nor a whisper about the Redskins paying too much for a great player. One thing that was always clear to me throughout my NFL career: You can never overpay for greatness. RG3 looks great right now. His ability to make plays with his feet, his arm, and, most of all, his mind has made him look better than advertised.
THINGS I HATED
As much as I loved RG3, I hated the Redskins' defense. It's been a problem since Mike Shanahan arrived in Washington three years ago. I realize the unit has been devastated by injuries, but its lack of secondary talent -- especially at cornerback -- has made me question it all season. The Redskins have a gambler's mentality in terms of defensive play calling, but that only works with corners who can cover, and the 'Skins have no coverage men. Therefore, as well as RG3 has played, opposing quarterbacks have also thrived; Washington has allowed signal-callers to throw 16 touchdown passes and post a quarterback rating of over 92.2. The Redskins have also given up 91 fourth-quarter points, meaning Washington will have to outscore teams to win.
I hated watching the Andy Dalton-led offense of the Cincinnati Bengals, who appear to have been over-hyped. Dalton threw for 105 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, and got the ball to star receiver A.J. Green just one time for eight yards. There's been plenty of talk about the Bengals having great talent on offense, but they fail to make plays. What's the issue? Play design? Play calling? Maybe Dalton just cannot make the other players around him better. From my perspective, the concern has to be with Dalton.
I've hated how the Jacksonville Jaguars have played on both sides of the ball. If star running back Maurice Jones-Drew has to miss much time with a foot injury, the Jaguars' lack of talent will be obvious. Playing without him for much of Sunday's matchup with the Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville accumulated just 209 yards of offense and converted just one third down in 15 attempts. The Jaguars were unable to hold on despite having a two-touchdown lead at one point in the third quarter. They simply lack talent, from the quarterback position to their defense. This team will struggle to win many more games this year, especially if Jones-Drew isn't on the field.
THINGS ON MY MIND
» At this point, can teams just expect to run for more than 200 yards when they face the Buffalo Bills' defense this year? After changing coordinators and spending all that money, the Bills look even worse defensively than they did last season -- which is hard to do.
» Dallas Cowboys fans are going to have to get used to the style of play they used to beat the Carolina Panthers on Sunday: Control the ball, be conservative on offense and preserve a chance to win in the fourth quarter. The 'Boys are not an explosive offensive unit, in part due to a lack of offensive-line talent and injuries at running back. Being conservative is the right choice for them right now.
» How is it that quarterback Cam Newton is the Panthers' leading ball-carrier after they used so much of their cap space on running backs (DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert)? In today's NFL, it's risky to pay one back, let alone three. The Panthers have some really good players, but they're proof that building a team involves more than just adding talent.
» I think Randall Cobb is now the Green Bay Packers' second-most dangerous receiver, after Jordy Nelson. Cobb has to play more, and get more touches, each week. He is simply a big play waiting to happen.
» I loved that New Orleans Saints interim coach Joe Vitt was waiting at the Tampa airport so he could fly back with the team after its game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when his six-game suspension officially ended. Vitt will need to help prop up the Saints' defense, which, even after the victory over the Bucs, looks like one of the NFL's worst.
» The Buccaneers' Josh Freeman keeps me guessing: Is he a top quarterback, or just a guy? Against a really bad Saints defense, he looked like a top signal-caller. If he can play as well this week against the Vikings, I might have to stop wondering about him.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.