The Lions have completed six games so far this season and are now on their bye week. The bye is always a good time to take a big-picture type of look at what has happened in the season, so for this week's Top Five, let's examine the biggest surprises of 2010 for the Lions so far.
No. 5: Shaun Hill is a very good starting quarterback.
One could argue that this shouldn't be on the list at all since Hill was 10-6 as a starter coming into this season, but I decided to include it because the numbers he put up were so great. We already knew he was a solid backup, but Hill did not play like a guy that was beat out by Alex Smith for the starting job in San Francisco last year. Sure, there was the occasional moment where you saw why Hill is normally only a backup, but the last few weeks he was playing exceptionally well before going down with an injury. The Lions may have only won once with Hill at the helm, but his numbers as a whole look pretty good.
No. 4: Ndamukong Suh is the real deal and more.
No matter how good a player is coming out of college, it's tough to live up to the hype of being a top draft pick. Many players have a tough time doing that just because of the mental aspect, whereas others simply just aren't as talented as everyone thought. Well, I can gladly say that, based on the first six weeks of the season, neither of those things is true for Ndamukong Suh. He has not only lived up to the hype, but he has surpassed my expectations for him so far this season. In six games, Suh has 21 total tackles, four and a half sacks and an interception. Perhaps even more important than the stats, Suh has caused opposing offenses many headaches in game planning by forcing double teams, which in turn opens things up more for his teammates. To say the least, he has been a stud.
No. 3: The Detroit defense is a turnover-producing machine.
Although the Lions have had their fair share of struggles on the defensive side of the ball, one of the things they have done very well is forcing turnovers. So far this season, Detroit is tied for seventh in the league in interceptions with seven and is tied for second in the league in fumble recoveries with eight. By comparison, the Lions had nine interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries in all of 2009, so they are well on their way to surpassing those numbers this season.
No. 2: The Lions' special teams unit has been very solid.
One of the biggest complaints about last year's team was the special teams. Martin Mayhew and company realized there was a problem and replaced Stan Kwan with Danny Crossman shortly after the end of the 2009 season. Not only that, but Mayhew brought in a number of players in the offseason that not only provide good depth at various positions, but are also very talented special teams players. These additions have resulted in a huge upgrade across the board in the special teams department:
Net punting average - 39.2 (38.1 in 2009)
Opponent net punting average - 39.6 (40.1 in 2009)
Kick return average (thank you, Stefan Logan) - 28.5 (21.4 in 2009)
Opponent kick return average - 18.3 despite having the most kickoffs of any team in the league (23.3 with the 15th-most kickoffs in 2009)
Field goals - 11/13 (21/28 in 2009)
No. 1: Detroit is only 1-5.
I know what you're thinking: "Why should I be surprised that the Lions have a 1-5 record?" Yes, a 1-5 record is not exactly unexpected given past seasons, and although many had high hopes going into this season, a 1-5 record at face value is not all that surprising. What is surprising, however, is that the Lions only managed to win one of their first six games when you look at the statistics.
Despite being 1-5, Detroit actually has a point differential of plus six. By comparison, the other five teams with one or zero wins in the NFL have an average point differential of minus 44.8. A year ago, Detroit also got off to a 1-5 start going into its bye week. In those games, the Lions had a point differential of minus 85.
If that stat alone doesn't show you the strides the Lions have made from 2009 to 2010, then I don't know what does. Yes, a 44-6 blowout does skew the numbers a bit, but it's not like the Lions beat up on some crappy team; they defeated a Rams team that is 3-2. Plus, the Lions have had their backup or third-string quarterback playing for all but one half of the season. Despite that Detroit has played very well, although the record doesn't reflect it. The fact of the matter is they've had a lot of bad luck so far this season, and if you change just one or two plays, this could be a .500 team going into the bye.
While overall you may not be surprised by a 1-5 start by the Lions, you should be surprised that they are 1-5 given how the first six weeks of the season have played out. This is a much better team than we have seen in years; right now the record just doesn't reflect the improvement.