The Lion air arm is not as strong as that of New York or Green Bay. Milt Plum, the refugee from Cleveland, has improved considerably under Wilson's laissez faire policy, but he is not the match, in field generalship, of either Tittle or Starr and ranks well below both of them in passing efficiency. This is his first year in full charge of a team and he improved as the season grew old. In Gail Cogdill, Plum has one of the best receivers in the league; he is matched, however, by Del Shofner. A small plus here is Earl Morrall, the Detroit No. 2 quarterback, who specializes in coming in late to salvage games. He may need to against the Giants.
The vigorous rush of the four big men gives Detroit a pass defense about the equal of New York's, second only to Green Bay. Joe Schmidt, the defensive signal caller, juggles the more-than-usually complex Detroit defenses well and he gets good pass coverage from two quick corner linebackers, Carl Brettschneider and Wayne Walker. The four Ls in the secondary—Lane, LeBeau, Lowe and Lary—all have good speed and, with a total of 35 years' experience among them, they are seldom fooled. They do not often gamble for interceptions, but they do not get beaten for touchdowns either. The wide variety of blitzes called by Schmidt helps out, too.
Along the ground, the Lions are capable of moving steadily but seldom in long bursts. Very sound blocking by the offensive line clears routes for the running backs, but none of them has yet shown unusual ability to turn the short runs into game breakers. Nick Pietrosante is an extremely good blocker and a bulldozing runner; Tom Watkins and Dan Lewis, the halfbacks, have slashing strength. Watkins, another Cleveland tradee, has run very well and may be the big gainer the Lions need. Ken Webb, the fullback who replaces Pietrosante, runs with almost as much power, but does not block quite as well. Few fullbacks in the league do.
The Lions have the best defense against a ground attack in football. Their four linemen—Darris McCord, Alex Karras, Roger Brown and Sam Williams—add up to more than half a ton of mobile muscle. Linebacker Joe Schmidt is one of the NFL's surest tacklers and fiercely fills whatever cracks are opened in the middle of the line. It is hard to sweep outside this formidable middle; Brettschneider and Walker both tackle well, contain well and the two corner backs, Lane and LeBeau, are difficult to bypass. The Lions have allowed opponents a little less than 75 yards per game rushing and only about four first downs per game on the ground.
The Detroit margin over the Giants is small but definite. Their strong running offense is similar to that of the Giants, and roughly its equal, but they should gain with greater ease on the ground, since they are not, like the Giants, facing the most immovable rushing defense in the league. The Lions lost a close one to New York in New York during the season, falling with a loud thud to one of the fancy plays that mark this Giant team. "I knew Y. A. liked to bootleg," Schmidt said the other day. "I kept warning the guys to look for the bootleg. Then he ran one and scored on us." If this recurs it seems unlikely that the Lions will lapse so woefully again. Their veteran pass defense and fast, fearsome pass rush should suffice to contain New York's most effective striking power.
Although the Detroit pass attack is not as good as New York's, Plum and Morrall will be throwing into a sievelike defense that has allowed some 200 yards per game through the air. Thus, the passing attacks should just about cancel out and the Detroit ground game appears to have a better chance of success than does the New York running attack. A Giant-Lion championship game could be a close, low-scoring affair, but the Lions should win it as they have so many this season—on superior defense.