Heading into Sunday’s matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell referred to both teams as “gritty” and dealing with adversity in terms of injuries.
The difference is the Lions (8-6) come into Paul Brown Stadium on a two-game win streak and sitting in second in the NFC North, while the Bengals (5-9) have guaranteed themselves a losing season with three straight losses.
Here are five takeaways from what Caldwell said about the matchup ahead in Cincinnati:
Fans were disappointed when the Bengals lost Jones to the Lions following the 2015 season, as he gave Andy Dalton another reliable target to complement A.J. Green
His numbers last year were similar to his final season in Cincinnati but he’s even better in Year 2 with the Lions. Jones has 970 yards and eight touchdowns receiving.
“First of all, just in terms of difference, it was one more year in the system, understanding all the nuances involved in it,” Caldwell said. “Secondly, he left here with a determination to be a better football player when he came back and he demonstrated that. You could see right away that his cuts were sharper, he had a bit more explosiveness, which he already was a pretty explosive guy who could run, but he added a number of different things to his repertoire that has really helped him.”
The Lions’ ninth-year quarterback has taken steps the past few years, especially improving his quarterback rating, which had been below 90 for three straight seasons prior to 2015. However, Caldwell said the biggest thing is how consistent he has become — and he doesn’t believe he’s peaked yet.
“He’s had to battle through some things physically, but I think it’s just familiarity in what he’s dealing with in terms of our scheme. He has a better feel for it, but the intangibles are what make a difference for him,” Caldwell said. “He’s just tough, gritty, unbelievable leader, and obviously I think his skill level is strong. He can deliver the ball from any angle and he just keeps finding a way to get better. I don’t think he’s arrived yet. He’s just scratching the surface of how good he’s going to be.”
When asked what he likes best about his team at this stage of the season, Caldwell pointed out how gritty his players are and how even-keeled they are in tough situations.
“They play hard, they play tough, they’ve overcome a lot of adversity over the year and we’ve got a lot of football left to be played,” Caldwell said. “… They just work at it. They play together well. And they just never get flustered, whether we’re ahead or behind.”
Caldwell said the Bengals have the talent and same kind of grit as his team, but noted some of the setbacks with injuries leading to some of their struggles.
“One of the things you learn, and it’s happened with us, we’ve had a number of guys hurt,” Caldwell said. “… The guys that step in there and play, there’s a reason why they’re on your 53 or on your practice squad. They can play the game. So anybody that you see out there on the field can play. We see that in terms of Cincinnati as well. They’ve got a great organization. They’ve been together a long time. They know how to win. And obviously they’ve got a good system and good players.”
Regardless of what happens with Lewis after this season, Caldwell doesn’t doubt he can still be an asset to the league.
“He’s very consistent, very smart, just a lot of football knowledge and wisdom,” Caldwell said. “And he helps this league in so many different ways, not only from the coaching standpoint and dealing with his team, but also with the league with the competition committee. He does an excellent job. I admire him and the work he’s done. He’s produced some great teams.”