Free Press writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez debate Lions-Dolphins, and discuss NFC North hierarchy. Recorded Oct. 18, 2018.
Carlos Monarrez and Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press

It’s not the catchiest of slogans. It won’t sell T-shirts or look good on coffee mugs.

But for Glover Quin and the Detroit Lions, it’s a concept they’ve come to appreciate: Embrace the obvious.

Take for instance the long-standing riddle that has perplexed Lions fans, most recently last month when the Lions played both good enough to dominate the defending AFC champion New England Patriots and lousy enough to lose to the sad-sack New York Jets.

Which is the real Lions team?

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How about: Both.

“We’ve beat two good teams in this season and we’ve had some losses to some teams that we felt like we probably should have won,” Quin said. “That just lets us know that we can play with anybody and beat anybody when we’re on our game, when we’re executing and playing at a high level. But we can also get beat by anybody when we’re not. So it’s really on us.”

While the same can be said for many NFL teams at a time when mediocrity reigns, the Lions returned from their bye week and were reminded of their capabilities as they began preparing for Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins.

Play up to their potential, like they did against Tom Brady and the Patriots and Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, and they can beat anyone on their schedule.

Don’t and, well, even Brock Osweiler can have a career day.

“We get beat by the Jets and we beat the Patriots, so that puts you in a situation, ‘OK, well, who are these guys?’ ” Quin said. “Are they the team that got beat by the Jets? Or are they the team that beat the Patriots? Are the team that lost to the 49ers, the team that lost to the Cowboys, or are they team that beat the Packers? And like I said, that’s something that even us as a team, we got to decide and we got to go out each and every day and every week and say this is who we are.”

The Lions (2-3) are fragile and flawed, yet still capable of big things.

They’re in the last place in the NFC North, but at just a game behind the Chicago Bears, they’re in the thick of a crowded race.

They have one of the more potent passing attacks in the NFL, but also one of the league’s worst run defenses.

And on Sunday, they’ll face a Dolphins team that’s starting a backup quarterback (Osweiler) and missing 2/5ths of its offensive line, but still put up 31 points against a good Bears defense to improve to 4-2 last week.

Lions coach Matt Patricia did a fabulous sell job this week trying to convince his players and the public that the Dolphins are the best team the Lions have faced this year.

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They’re not, of course. But they did beat the Jets a week after Sam Darnold’s debut at Ford Field and Osweiler is coming off a career-high passing game.

Coupled with the Lions’ own inconsistencies, that’s been enough for players to take notice.

“One of the best defenses we’ve faced this year so far,” wide receiver Golden Tate said, adding the line of the week, “and it’s going to be about us.”

“We have to run precise routes, we have to be at our depths, crisp breaks, and we’ve got to catch everything with our hands. Those guys have a knack for finding the ball, whether it be a tip, overthrow or just jumping routes. So we have to not give anything away, so it’s definitely a challenge. And might not be easy, but I think we’ll be ready.”

The Lions have been a different team in their two wins than they have in their three losses, scoring about a touchdown more per game in victories (28.5 points vs. 22.7 in losses) and allowing nearly three touchdowns fewer (16.5 ppg vs. 34.7 ppg).

While those numbers are skewed a bit by a Jets game that got out of hand early, they underscore the fact that the Lions have been far too inconsistent this year. 

Quin said the Lions have taken steps to address their erratic play, and that some of the early discord was natural while getting adjusted to a new defensive system and new coaches.

But “it’s not about who do I think we are, it’s about how do we go out and play each and every week,” Quin said. “And if we get smacked, it’s probably the team that showed up against the Jets. If we dominate, it’s probably the team that showed up against the Patriots and the Packers. But it’s about being consistent and not having that up and down.”

With 11 straight weeks of football left, and two very winnable games up next before they hit the road for division games against the Vikings and Bears, the Lions can’t afford anything else.

“I feel great about this team,” defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said. “I feel a lot different from Week 1 till now, I feel real positive about this team, so I’m ready to go and take them 11 weeks on.”

Contact Dave Birkett: Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!