By: Will Burchfield
Mike Tirico got an inside look at the Lions last week, and he liked what he saw. So did his colleague Cris Collinsworth.
The two NBC football analysts were in Allen Park to study the Lions ahead of their appearance on Sunday Night Football.
“I’m with Cris Collinsworth on the road most every week here,” Tirico told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket, “and Chris’s sense was, ‘You know what? You walk out of here, out of the building on Friday after watching practice and studying the team all week, you walk out of here feeling like this thing’s in the right direction.’
“For the reasons I just said. Coaching stability, terrific coordinators who are going to get interviewed (for head coaching jobs), a franchise quarterback who’s been as good as he’s ever been this year, a roster that is being smartly turned over at the bottom and now some good pick-ups as the season has gone on.”
Tirico praised general manager Bob Quinn for helping the Lions win nine games and make the playoffs despite widespread injuries. His savvy work in the draft and free agency proved critical each time a starter went down.
“Bob Quinn’s done a better job acquiring that personnel,” Tirico added. “So it’s going in the right direction.”
In particular, Tirico explained, Quinn has made vast improvements to the bottom half of the roster, fortifying the team with much-needed depth.
“What’s happening? Bob Quinn took roster spots mid 30’s and on, and he’s turning that over. The quality wasn’t good enough, it’s getting better…For a team with three rookie offensive linemen, on your third running back, to still make the playoffs, that’s pretty good at the end of the day,” Tirico said.
Tirico has come to know the Lions on a more personal level since moving to Ann Arbor in 1999, where he lives with his wife and two children. Under head coach Jim Caldwell, he has seen the team buck one of its ugliest trends.
“This team is not super, super talented,” he said, referencing the Lions’ dearth of Pro Bowl players. “The coaching staff won a whole bunch of games here. When you win close games, in many, many ways that’s coaching. And the one thing you can say about this coaching staff, they didn’t blow many games, if any. Clock management, which has been a fiasco since I’ve lived here, has been superior. The use of timeouts, opportunities to win games, they’ve done a great job.”
The Lions announced on Wednesday that Jim Caldwell will return in 2017 for the fourth and final season of his contract. The Lions have made the playoffs in two of Caldwell’s first three seasons, one of only six NFC teams to do that since 2014. They’re in even more exclusive company dating back to 2011.
“Let’s just try to parse facts,” Tirico said. “Three playoff (appearances) the last six years. How many teams in the NFC can say that? Four.”
Green Bay, Seattle and Atlanta are the others.
“And that’s it,” he went on. “No Giants, no Redskins, you can go on and on here with different teams. So this is a team that has for the last six years been to the tournament at an above-average rate in the NFC.
“But still, the frustration is, win a playoff game. It’s been a quarter century. For a lot of the people listening, it’s your entire lifetime.”
The Lions take on the Seahawks in Seattle on Saturday night, looking for their first playoff victory since 1991.