Here's a proven method for a struggling team to pull off a road victory in a tough place to play: Force some early turnovers and jump out to an early lead. It's sound and tempting advice for the Detroit Lions as they prepare for Sunday's game at the Philadelphia Eagles, but it's not something they excelled at in the first quarter of the season.
The Lions' three takeaways are tied for the fewest in the NFL. Not surprisingly, they've been outscored 30-15 in the first quarter and 30-16 in the second quarter. The good news for the Lions: the Eagles are prone to such mistakes, having committed 14 turnovers this season (second-most in the NFL). Their 52 turnovers since the start of the 2011 season leads the league, and during that span quarterback Michael Vick has nine turnovers in the red zone alone, but the question is whether the Lions can capitalize.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, coach Jim Schwartz suggested a reverse order of operations: Turnovers will come if the Lions can grab an early lead.
"When you’re playing defense," he said, "what you need to do is worry about doing your job. Play physical football, be fast and be around the ball. If you start trying to create turnovers, if you start pressing, [if] guys start cheating, getting out of position and things like that. It's certainly something that we don’t want to do. Turnovers come if you're playing hard, if you're playing physical football. …
"We’ve been outscored 60-31 in the first half. That’s not a real good recipe for turnovers. A lot of turnovers come later in the games. Second quarter, team is down, trying to catch up. I think we need to worry about those kinds of things. We need to worry about playing our scheme, playing hard. And when we do, turnovers will come."
Whatever the order of things, playing physical and fast might come easier for the Lions if safety Louis Delmas can make his 2012 debut after taking two months to recover from knee surgery. Delmas hasn't been a turnover machine in his career -- he has two interceptions and two forced fumbles in 41 games over three seasons -- but his frenetic playing style can help create the environment for other players to do so.
Consider that last season, the Lions averaged 2.3 takeaways in the 10 full games Delmas played and 1.8 in the six games he missed all or part of. When he returned for their wild-card playoff game at the New Orleans Saints, the Lions forced two first-half fumbles. Delmas was not directly involved in either, but I like the Lions' chances of creating turnovers when he is playing and at full speed.