By Will Burchfield
Bob Quinn and Jim Caldwell are uncompromising in their aspirations.
“We have one goal,” Quinn said on Thursday, “and I can’t put it in better words than what Jim said earlier in the week: there’s only one team that’s happy at the end of the season.”
And both leaders are honest in the Lions’ chances.
Said Caldwell, “We’re a ways away right now.”
Said Quinn, “We have a lot of work to do. I mean, we won nine games and lost eight, so we have a lot of work to do. I think the team that wins the Super Bowl this year is probably going to have upwards of 12, 13, 14 wins. We have a long way to go.”
That was painfully clear at the end of the season, when the Lions lost three straight games to playoff-bound teams and then fell to the Seahawks on Wild Card weekend.
“Hey, our record is what it is and we lost four games to four of the better teams in the NFC,” Quinn said. “That’s our competition going forward. I mean the Dallas Cowboys aren’t going to get all of a sudden worse. The Green Bay Packers aren’t going to be any worse.
“Every team strives to get better and it was eye-opening. It was like, ‘OK, well, listen. We lost to those four teams.’ Next year, hopefully we’re playing meaningful games against them again and things are different.”
It was an honest answer from Quinn, one that stood in contrast to Caldwell’s response that the Lions more or less held their own down the stretch.
“It’s still a couple plays here or there that makes the difference in the ball game,” Caldwell said. “We were in almost every one of those ball games up until there’s a stretch where we kind of lost touch a little bit. But you know, our guys played tough and we just didn’t win enough of them.”
They didn’t win any of them, to be exact, and it doesn’t help to pretend like the games were closer than they were. The Lions lost by an average of 14.75 points in the aforementioned contests, culminating in a methodical beatdown at the hands of the Seahawks.
Quinn pointed to a few reasons why.
“You can go right to the league stats and say, ‘Where did we finish in running?’ I think it was what, 30th in the league in rushing? That’s not good enough. Third down on defense I think wasn’t at the top of the league, red zone. All those areas we have to improve on,” he said.
With the 81.9 rushing yards per game, the Lions indeed finished 30th in the league. (Their 3.7 yards per carry ranked 27th). They allowed opposing teams to convert 46 percent of their third downs (31st) and score on 68.4 percent of their red zone opportunities (30th).
Quinn pretty much hit the nail on the head. And that’s without hammering the Lions’ complete lack of a pass rush, inability to force turnovers and vulnerability against the pass.
Still, the GM saw improvement in his first season at the helm.
“Thinking back over the last 12 months, I thought we had a really productive year of building the team, building the culture that Coach Caldwell and I want to create in this building,” Quinn said.
He described culture as “a myriad of different things,” including personnel, practice habits and a sense of team-wide commitment.
“But at the end of the day, culture is about winning and winning cures everything,” Quinn said. “We won more games than we lost this year, so I think the culture is improving in that way. But I think we’re not nearly where we want to be.”
To get there, the Lions need to continue on the path Quinn has set them on.
“Overall, I just felt like we were more competitive. We were a deeper team. I think that showed up when we had some injuries,” he said. “In the end we had some guys that we brought in off the street that contributed, but the season is a battle of attrition. I think we need to do a better job of creating even more depth and more competition throughout the whole roster.”
Despite improving on last season’s 7-9 record and returning to the playoffs, neither Quinn nor Caldwell are celebrating moral victories.
“Whether you don’t make the playoffs and it’s Week 17 and you go home or you make the Wild Card weekend like we did and go home, it’s still the same feeling. At the end of the day that the season wasn’t good enough,” said Quinn. “That’s the bottom line. So our goals are higher and we’re going to work hard to achieve those goals.”