By Ashley Dunkak
Being a workaholic is part of the job description for an NFL coach, so it speaks volumes about Detroit Tigers season that even Lions coach Jim Schwartz took a little time to watch the Tigers win Game 5 of the American League Division Series.
“I love playoff baseball,” Schwartz told Karsch and Anderson of 97.1 The Ticket. “One of the things about baseball is you’ve got 162 games, and not every game is monumental, I guess you’d say. But when you get down to the Game 7s and the Game 5s and the end-of-the-season games … it really changes the sport and makes it so much more exciting.”
As Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander shut out the Oakland A’s inning after inning, Schwartz prepared to wake up his son if Verlander was taking a no-hitter into the ninth. Though the no-no did not happen, Schwartz is not a superstitious individual, so he had no problem planning for the possibility.
“A guy 2,500 miles away, whether he’s drinking a Diet Pepsi or has got his legs crossed or fingers crossed or whatever, that meant nothing to Verlander,” Schwartz said. “He’s out on the hill pitching. We’re really lucky to have a pitcher like that. [Max] Scherzer’s been so good this year, but you get a game like that, a must-win to keep your season alive, you hand it to a guy like Verlander, you’re in good hands. He was sharp and you wouldn’t expect anything less than that.”
Verlander, so long the face of the Tigers, looked like his old self. Meanwhile, Lions star wide receiver Calvin Johnson is just trying to get healthy enough to play against the Cleveland Browns Sunday after missing last week’s game against Green Bay. His status is still day-to-day, but he has not practiced much this week.
“Calvin means an awful lot to us,” Schwartz said. “He’s an important player for us, obviously, and we’re a much better team when he’s when he’s out there than when he’s not, but that goes for all of our 53 guys.”
Of course, everybody knows the absence of Johnson is much harder to fill than the absence of almost any other player on the Lions roster. Because Johnson draws so much focus from opposing defenses, the Lions’ formations are often predicated on moving Johnson around to make it harder for defenders to key in on him.
“We move Calvin around an awful lot, trying to keep him away from some of the attention that he gets, and I think [offensive coordinator] Scott Linehan has really done a good job the last few years, since he’s been here, at doing that,” Schwartz said. “The year before I got here, we played Detroit, and they kept him in one position the whole time, and it was pretty easy to zero in on him. Last year Calvin set the NFL record even though he was doubled on just about every play and a lot of that was Scott Linehan being able to get him free and move him around and things like that, so it does affect a lot of other people.”
Another injured Lions wide receiver, Nate Burleson, has been back on the field, if not officially back practicing. Schwartz said the arm injury is amenable to coming back fairly quickly once the arm heals because Burleson is still able to run and keep his lower body in shape, but the wide receiver will not be all the way back for a while.
“He’s still got a long way to go when it comes to healing up and getting himself back out there,” Schwartz said. “There’s some things you can rush and some things you can’t, and when bones have to heal, there’s not a whole lot of rushing you can do in that. Go look at [tight end Rob] Gronkowski with New England and see what happens when things like that happen. You just have to take it as it is and make good decisions.”
The Lions surely will not have Burleson against the Browns, and they may not have Johnson either. What Detroit does have is healthy respect for Cleveland after being thumped by the Browns 24-6 in the postseason.
Schwartz lists a good defense, veteran offensive line led by a Pro Bowl tackle, talented pass catchers Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron and tried-and-true running back Willie McGahee as strengths of the Browns.
The Lions know how talented Cleveland is, having already experienced it firsthand. Going back to Ohio on Sunday, Detroit will do its best to produce a different outcome.