Lions satisfied with stout defense, 3-1 start

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Allen Park — At the one-quarter mark of the season, the Lions are 3-1 and in sole possession of first place in the NFC North Division, with Green Bay, Chicago and Minnesota one game behind, at 2-2.

But Lions fans and players aren't getting too excited, especially given the 6-2 start last season — followed by a precipitous 1-7 second half, dropping them out of the playoffs.

With a 3-1 start for the second straight season, the Lions have a winning record after four games in back-to-back years for the first time since 1971 and '72. In their last two games they have beaten the division favorite (Packers), and got a road win that in past years many fans would have chalked up as a loss.

First-year coach Jim Caldwell is getting a handle on the team, but still isn't satisfied at where they are, despite the successful start.

"We have a good feel, which we always did have. We certainly expected them to play well," Caldwell said Monday. "We're learning as we go. In the first four games, typically you have a pretty good sense of where you are — and we do. Where we are — we need to continue to improve in almost every area."

Despite a spate of injuries to key players in the first three weeks — including linebacker Stephen Tulloch, cornerback Bill Bentley and offensive lineman Corey Hilliard — the Lions have had the depth to fill the holes.

"The guys have been dealing with adversity in a way that's been uncommon for a young team in some spots," Caldwell said. "They've been able to battle through it and been able to not let the injuries affect them adversely and been able to play well with some really good football teams — in particular, some really fine defenses we've faced. We have a great feel about that."

In the three wins, the defense has been sharp, holding those opponents to an average of 13 points per game. The most impressive was a 19-7 victory over the Packers in Week 3, holding Aaron Rodgers and the potent offense in check.

The Lions' defense was ranked first overall in yards allowed and second against the pass, a stark contrast to past porous secondary groups. They held Rodgers to 162 yards, the lowest since his first year as a starter.

The Jets were the No. 2 rushing team in the league and the Lions defense was second against the run. With Chris Ivory (84 yards) and Chris Johnson (44 yards), the Jets accumulated 132 rushing yards, but held Geno Smith to 209 yards passing.

"We're doing a good job stopping the run, even though yesterday's numbers weren't great for us," Caldwell said. "When it counted, our defense stiffened and did a great job."