At the end of the 2013 season, the Jim Schwartz era met its inevitable end in Detroit. The Detroit Lions lacked a true leader in the locker room, a man whose confidence would elevate them beyond mediocrity.
Many names floated around Allen Park — Tom Cable, Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden, Jim Caldwell — and, of course, the favorite of many, Ken Whisenhunt.
Yes, Whisenhunt took the Arizona Cardinals to their first Super Bowl — he’d certainly end the starvation and playoff woes in Detroit.
Until he broke the hearts of many, spontaneously signing with the Tennessee Titans — a signing that many couldn’t seem to decode. The Lions, having missed their main target, responded with their plan B: coach Caldwell. To say the least, this signing didn’t widen the smiles on the faces of many; Caldwell, to them, was a panicking move for Detroit to save grace. Confidence wasn’t muttered by the fans — in fact, many were enraged, claiming Caldwell was putrid in Indianapolis.
Now, almost halfway through the season, Caldwell and Whisenhunt are on two very different spectrums — one’s team is winning (so far), and the other’s is in disarray.
Records: The Lions are 5-2, maintaining first place in the NFC North Division. The Titans, on the other hand, are a lowly 2-5, and ranked third in the AFC South Division.
Offenses: The Lions rank 24th in total offense, while the Titans rank 27th — not too significant of a difference here, as both teams aren’t killing the stat sheets. However, the Lions’ offense operates off of key plays to lock away games, whereas Tennessee’s offense is very, very inconsistent. Not to mention, Detroit’s offense and record would look much sharper had they had a legitimate field goal kicker.
Defenses: Detroit’s defense is currently ranked number one in the NFL; Tennessee’s defense is ranked 20th, which isn’t too bad. Detroit’s defense allows an average of 15 points per game; Tennessee allows nearly 25. The Lions are better in the turnover department, forcing 13 turnovers, compared to the Titans’ ten.
Quarterback play: As everyone knows, the quarterback is the conductor of the train; the offense will go as he goes. The Titans, with Whisenhunt’s “excellent” quarterback skills, haven’t had any solid play at the position; in fact, Whisenhunt is currently rotating quarterbacks. Matthew Stafford hasn’t been breathtaking, but he hasn’t exactly lost games, either. His play has been manageable, and he’s taken good care of the football, while making some big plays late in games. Caldwell definitely has beaten Whisenhunt there.
Interesting Facts: The Lions are doing some remarkable things. This year, they beat the Packers with Aaron Rodgers, something Stafford and his Lions could never pull off under the tarnished Schwartz regime. The Lions’ defense ranking number one is something we haven’t seen in a very, very long while. Drew Brees, who was undefeated against the Lions, including the playoffs in 2011, where his offense didn’t punt, suffered his first defeat to them this year, in a dramatic 24-23 comeback. Players are cohesive, feeding off one another in Detroit. Whisenhunt’s cocky and abrasive attitude appears to be creating problems in the locker room, including the quarterback dilemma.
Whatever way people choose to look at it, the Lions, it appears (so far, once again), lucked out from the football gods when Whisenhunt was signed by the Titans. Caldwell has done a fantastic job with this team. Look beyond the stats; his commanding presence and leadership has bolstered encouragement in the locker room, creating an encouraging environment that’s reeled out the best in his players. He has the Lions completing tasks they haven’t done in what seems like a lifetime. Caldwell’s calm and relaxed demeanor far surpasses Whisenhunt’s fiery, erratic ways.
Any way you look at it, Caldwell was the right hire; Detroit gained a great coach — when Whisenhunt was hired by Tennessee.