Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Division Champs

The Tigers finally managed to do what we expected them to do all year, and that’s win the AL Central.  Back to back division championships is fantastic.  The papers say the Tigers are a matchup nightmare for the other playoff teams, and are up 2-0 on the A's.  Miggy won the Triple Crown and should be MVP.  Verlander is close to a 2nd Cy Young.

So why don’t I feel enthused about this team?

Perhaps it’s easily understood by what we expected and how they got here.  The Tigers played in one of the weakest divisions in baseball.  They really had no real competition.  Sure the White Sox had the division lead until the last week of the season, but they are a mediocre baseball team.  The Tigers should have blown by them months ago and never looked back.

But that underscores the problem with the 2012 Tigers – they are underachievers.  How many blown saves did they have this year?  How many 1-run losses did they have?  How bad was the production from the 5-spot?  How bad was the production from SS, 2B and C?  How bad was the defense?  These are the factors that tell you the Tigers are far from being a legit World Series contender.

So lets start with the pitching.  The bullpen was bad this year.  How bad?  Try 16 blown saves bad.  The bullpen ERA of 3.84 doesn’t tell the true story of how many games this team let slip away.  The Big Potato would win the Alka-Seltzer award for causing fans the most heartburn of any player in years.  Benoit gave up 14 homers in 71 innings.  That’s your closer and set-up guy, folks, and they were responsible for 9 of the 16 blown saves.  That’s bad, no matter how you slice it.

In one run games, the Tigers were 20-27.  Now that’s not good, but to put it in perspective, they were 29-17 last year.  Baltimore – the surprise team of the season – is 28-9 in one run games.  And there’s this – from August 24 to September 23, the Tigers played in 10 1-run games, and lost all of them.  That’s almost impossible to do for any team, especially one that actually wins their division.

But if it were just the pitching, at least this team can hit, right?  Um, not once you get outside of the 1-4 spots in the order.  The batting average of the 5-9 spots?
5 - .253
6 - .238
7 - .255
8 - .246
9 - .231
When your team BA is .269, it’s hard to have that many spots in your lineup perform that badly.  And it renders your 3-4 hitters much less potent.  Several times during the season, teams intentionally walked both Miggy and Prince to face the 5 hitter.  I can’t recall ever seeing that before – intentionally walking two hitters to load the bases to face the guy who follows them.  That’s horrific.

And when you look at BA by position, another point comes to light – the Tigers need to be active in the offseason.  Why?  Because of this:  2B - .211, SS - .239.  If these were fantastic fielders, you might be able to live with this.  But this was Jhonny Peralta with his minimal fielding range and 6 different 2B’s, the best of which (Omar Infante) made 9 errors in 60 games.  That’s just pathetic.  I could also include DH and RF here as they batted .259 and .236 respectively, but DH will be fine with Victor Martinez coming back and RF should be fine if Avisail Garcia or Andy Dirks is given the full-time starting gig.  Plus Nick Castellanos is waiting in the wings.

And finally, the defense, or rather, the lack of it.  This is the one area where it's hard to get the stats to back up the impression.  But this is not a good defensive team.  For all his prowess at the plate, Miggy is not a good fielding third baseman.  He's OK, and that's about it.  Peralta has good hands but severely limited range.  Infante has been disappointing at second, committing several errors, a few of which have been decisive in losing games.  And Prince isn't exactly gifted at first.  I heard on a broadcast that the Tigers led the league in most unearned runs allowed, and I believe it.  They aren't going to improve on the corner infield anytime soon, so second and short need upgrades, just like they do for hitting.

I want to believe in this team.  They do have the starting pitching to make a run in the playoffs.  But they are a flawed team and need to make improvements.  And that is why I still can't get too excited about them.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Figures it would take a Wal-Mart Wolverine to get me writing my blog again.  But that comment above is what got me going.  Only an idiot would argue that the Vikings should pass when they get the ball back and a 7 point lead with 2:56 left in the 4th quarter.  Especially when Adrian Peterson - that's AD / All Day in case you forgot - has been averaging over 5 ypc on the day.  So what did the Vikes do?  Run AD 2 times out of 5 plays on the drive (for a grand total of -1 yards - surprise there) and turn the ball back over to Detroit with 1:42 left.  That's a recipe for disaster and Leslie Frasier should be thanking his lucky stars that a) CJ was still clearly suffering from a concussion and b) that his D-Line sacked Stafford twice when he obviously should have thrown it away.  But that's just a microcosm of the game in it's entirety.

So yes, I'm back writing about the Lions.  And the Spartans.  And probably the Tigers.  Hope to keep the blog alive for a while.  Maybe I'll convert to a podcast / YouTube thing at some point, but if I do, it will be with someone else to make it more than just me talking.  But that's up for debate in the future.  Lets get back to this past weekend.

First, on Saturday, my Spartans once again looked bad.  Having had time to think about it, I'm of the opinion that this game is going to be an indicator of what to expect for the rest of the year.  I'm now figuring 8-4, with losses to Nebraska and either Wisconsin or that evil blue and yellow school in Ann Arbor.  And yes, I would hate to lose to the blue-n-yellow, but if our kids can't figure out how to catch the ball, then it could happen.

To paraphrase the old Keyshawn Johnson book, "Just catch the damn ball" should be theme around here. That simple concept of catching the damn ball is a common problem for both the Spartans and the Lions this year. By my count, the Spartans dropped another 7 passes Saturday, giving them about 40 on the year.  The vast majority of those have come from Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett, the two starters.  Or at least Fowler was a starter before this past weekend, as it appeared that Keith Mumphrey finally passed him on the depth chart.  If Fowler keeps dropping passes, he deserves to sit, regardless of how open he gets.

The papers seem to think the passing game showed improvement agains the Buckeyes.  I completely disagree.  Just because you throw the ball more because you can't run doesn't mean the passing attack improved.  Maxwell still has very little touch on his throws.  The receivers still dropped a lot of balls.  The only microcosm of improvement was that Maxwell was only sacked twice.  But the O-Line was completely overmatched against the Bucks D-Line and it meant a lot of short passes.  There are a lot of issues there, and they also stem from the next problem - playcalling.

I swear, Dan Roushar is the least imaginative play caller I've ever seen.  It became apparent based on the formation and motion what the play was going to be before the ball was snapped.  OSU definitely could tell what was coming and were jumping the run every time we tried it, leading to most of the running games problems.  The passing game was barely over 50% completions (22 of 42).  Those things aren't coincidental.  I mean the Spartans only scored 1 more point than UAB scored on OSU last week.

And the Defense - Narduzzi needs to understand that Notre Dame gave opposing teams the blueprint of how to attack his D.  Misdirection and counter plays are hitting us for big gains.  Agains OSU, we also saw a Denard clone do to us what Denard couldn't do - gash us for big runs.  Why we didn't have the same 'prevent Denard' D employed, I don't know.  I'm convinced that in both the ND and OSU games if we had played the same D we've used to contain Denard, we would have been far better off.  We have two more games like that coming up - Nebraska and the blue-n-yellow.  Better get it figured out and prepare to stop a running QB.

Now on to the Lions who have somehow managed to lose their last two despite significantly outgaining both teams and limiting turnovers.  How did they do this?  Simple.  Forget how to play special teams and forget how to catch the ball.  At least they didn't give up any big plays to the Vikings, but they exchanged those for drive extending Pass Interference calls.

So how does a team give up a kickoff return TD and a punt return TD in consecutive weeks?  I'm not sure I still know the answer to that.  But it was bad.  Bad is in "first time in NFL history" bad.  Really bad as in neither Vikings returner was touched on their way to the end zone.  This must be fixed on the bye week and if changes are required, make them.  And changes are required.  Just get them done.

Just like the Spartans, the Lions have been bad at catching the ball.  They lead the NFL in drops through 4 games.  This was a problem when I first started writing about the Lions, but I didn't expect it to be an issue this year.  Pettigrew is the main culprit, but Titus, Nate and Calvin have all dropped a few.  Although I'll give CJ a bit of a break on a few drops he had due to the hit he took.  But there were a lot of yards and points left on the field in the form of dropped passes.

But that hit.  If the NFL is serious about wanting to eliminate helmet-to-helmet contact and make the game safer, then it needs to start ejecting players who make hits like the one Chad Greenway made on CJ.  I'd have ejected him on the spot and suspended him for at least a game for that cheap shot.  To recap, the ball was already out of CJ's hands when Greenway left the ground and launched himself at CJ's head.  There is no excuse for a play like that.  None.  I want a minimum of a $50k fine, but it probably will be under $30k with the way the NFL seems to hand out penalties.  After all, CJ isn't a QB.

And so much for not letting a player back on the field if they have a concussion.  There is no way Calvin Johnson did not have a concussion on that play.  He should have sat for the rest of the game.  It would have hurt the Lions more than his dropping passes did, but it was what should have been done.  Shame on the Lions and the NFL for showing us they still don't take concussions seriously.

The D wasn't bad against the Vikes, but there is definitely room for improvement.  Bentley needs to learn to TURN HIS DAMN HEAD so he doesn't get hit with another PI call.  The D-Line needs to start getting to the QB.  And for the love of Christ  can they PLEASE learn how to wrap up and make a tackle?  I swear AD broke at least 30 arm tackles yesterday on his 21 carries.  These seem to be the same issues that have plagued Lions defenses for years.  I wish I never had to write about this again, but I probably will next week.

All in all, this was a bad weekend for Football in Michigan.  But it did get me back to writing about it.  So there's that.  Hopefully I'll be writing better posts in the future.  Because this is painful to have to write about this kind of stuff...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Rock Bottom

I've avoided blogging about the Lions for quite a while, as I needed less stress in my life, instead of the constant frustration the Lions brought to the table. In the '07 season, I was tempted to start posting again around the midpoint of the season when the Lions were 6-2, but I sensed that the record was mostly smoke and mirrors - they had a HUGE +turnover margin in those 6 wins, and had gotten blown out in the 2 losses. So I resisted.

1 and 23 later, here I am posting again, because 2 things happened that are of historic proportions. The Lie-downs went 0-16 in a season. And the same season, the Cardinals are going to the Super Bowl. Tell me that there isn't something strangely upsetting about this. The Cards were the Lions partners in futility, trying their dangest to lose as much as the Lions. They backed into the playoffs going 1-3 down the stretch, after playing in the worst division in football, and had trouble selling out their wild-card weekend playoff game. 3 wins and Larry Fitzgerald becoming the next great WR in the game later, and they are in the Super Bowl.

This is in stark contrast to the Lie-downs who have now hired their 4th head coach this decade - a total of 7 men have now filled that position since 2000 - Ross, Moeller, Morninweg, Mariucci, Juaron, Marinelli, and now Schwartz. They came off an historic 0-16 campaign. How did things go so incredibly wrong for this franchise? I think anyone who has read my blog in the past knows the main reason - bad drafting.

So now, how do we fix it is the real question.

Here's my un-solicited advice for what the Lions should do this offseason.

1) Somehow acquire either Julius Peppers or Albert Hanesworth. Both are available, but will have strings required to obtain them. Outside of giving away one of those 1st round draft choices, do what it takes to get one of them. Either would immidiately fill one of the Lions greatest, most glaring weaknesses. Getting both would be awesome, but not realistic.

2) Cut strings with several players. Again, if you've read my blog in the past, some of these names shouldn't suprise you. Backus, Cody, Lenon, and Kitna all need to find new homes. None of them are in the top 3/4 of the starters at their positions in the league. There are several more minor players that should go as well, but why dive into their names.

3) #1 draft pick - trade it if you can, or take Andre Smith. DO NOT TAKE A QB!!! The success rate for LT at the top of the draft is far greater than it is for QB. Plus, what good will a QB be if you can't keep him vertical? Smith is the only player who makes sense at that spot for the Lions. He'll be a cornerstone at LT for years, and help begin the turnaround. Optionally, I wouldn't shy away from a dominant DE or DT. I just don't see one this year as being worthy of a #1 selection. If they can trade down a few spots, there are a few possibilities...

4) Take one of the stud LB's with the Dallas #20 pick. Malauga will likely be off the board, but Lauranitis is projected to go right around that position. Take him. The MLB spot will also be filled for years to come, and no one will regret the pick. If there are concerns about him not being available, consider packaging one of the #3 picks and move up a few slots to get him. They can't let another Jerod Mayo type situation (where the Patriots traded up to get him before the Lions) occur.

5) Take the best available DE/DT with the #33 pick. Obviously, you take whichever slot you didn't get with Peppers / Haynesworth.

6) Take the best available players in positions of need with the next several picks. If they have followed my advice, those positions will be OG, DE, DT, OLB, CB in that order. Under no circumstance should they draft a skill position player in this draft. Primarily because they have so many other more pressing needs, but partly because they arent' as bad off in those spots as a lot of people think.

7) Hire an OC and DC who are not married to one system. The BEST system that any NFL team can have is one which adapts to the personnel that the team has. That has been one of the Lions classic undoings in the last several seasons - trying to cram the personnel they had into a system that was less than ideally suited for those players. Right now, it is reasonable to think that a pass-first, mostly balanced O would fit the Lions best. Calvin Johnson is an absolute stud, and demands a double-team on every play. If you combine a 3WR, 1TE set and mix in some draws and short passes using Kevin Smith, this O could be very potent - it was just a year ago with Mike Martz running it with nearly the same players. On D, figure out who will be here next year and then play to their strengths as well.

That kind of roster turnover should result in a significantly improved Lions team next year. Exactly how good will remain to be seen. I don't think that the Lions were as bad as the 0-16 record indicated this year. They easily could have had wins against Green Bay twice, Minnesota twice, Chicago, Carolina, Houston, Washington, and Tampa (don't forget that Tampa scored on an INT return and a Punt return and the Lions led 17-0 in the game). That being said, they did lose all those games. But the margin between 0 wins and several wins wasn't anywhere near as large as some people think.

As a country singer once sang, "When you hit rock bottom, there are only two ways to go - straight up, or sideways." Let's hope the new administration figures out how to go up.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Thinking ahead... '06

Well, I sit down here in sunny Florida on vacation, and the Lions should be the furthest thing from my mind, right? Well, except for the fact that in watching college bowl games I start thinking about who the next Lions great hope will be. Then I start thinking about how pitiful the team has been and then about how Millen will likely make th next draft choice again, and...

Sheesh, it's time to have another margarita.

First off, when I'm thinking about the draft and free agency, a few things stand out in my mind. First off, what the heck do they do about KJ? That injury could be an absolute franchise killer - except that this franchise is already dead. It definitely changes my opinion about what needs to be done in the offseason. Well, without further adieu, here is my shameless plan for the Lions Off-Season. As for the names to fill in most of these positions, I haven't thought about that one yet. Just the general plan.

In free agency, the Lions have one glaring need - DE. If there is one position that the Lions need desperately bad, it's an every-down DE. They have needed one for about 7 years - about the last time Robert Porcher was playing at the top of his game. The impact of finding and signing a good every-down DE can't be underestimated. The Lions pass-rush - or lack of one - is more the reason our DB's get beat than anything else. If an opposing QB has 5+ seconds to throw, they will find someone open. It's that simple. And all too often, the opposing QB has that and more to throw. Conversely, when they put one of their supposed pass-rushers in, they are hideously weak against the run to the outside. When they pick right, and have the correct personnel in, they are decent defensively. But too often, they have DeVries in trying to pass rush, or Kalimba in when the other team runs. The desperately need an every down DE on at least one of the two sides.

That one upgrade will be huge for the entire defense. It will result in the CB's looking better as they won't have to cover for as long a time. The LB's will look better as they won't get smashed by TE's or pulling guards on end arounds and be free to make tackles. By far, IMHO, this is the one position the Lions most desperately need to upgrade. I'd try to find a great one as a free agent, and then draft another one.

The other position that needs a lot of help is LT. Yes, this means you, Jeff on-your-Backus. I was against franchising him to begin with, I was against signing him to the monster contract, and I have been openly critical of his play for a long time. He is paid as if he is a top-5 LT, when in fact, he plays like a bottom-5 LT. This is completely unacceptable. He's just not a very good LT, and he kills the Lions with his play. He is too slow to handle speed rushers, he's not strong enough to handle power rushers, and he's not a very good run blocker. That's the trifecta of things you don't want to have in a LT, and he has all three weaknesses. I have no idea how the Lions have managed to not see this on thier tape. IMHO, it's because Joey Harrington was throwing the ball away so quickly that Backus didn't give up more sacks the last several years. Maybe that blinded them as to how bad this guy really is. But he's awful.

Unfortunately, with KJ going down and no timetable for his return, we have no idea yet if he'll even play next year. That creates a HUGE hole at RB. None of the other guys on the roster should be a full-time NFL starting RB. If we get closer to the draft, and the prognosis for KJ doesnt' look great, I'll make this suggestion - draft Adrian Peterson. He is about as much of a sure thing as there is in this draft. I personally think the guy is the best RB to come out in the last 3 draft classes. Many people compare him to Eric Dickerson, but after seeing some video eye-candy, I'd compare him to Marcus Allen. Great speed, great instincts, gains most of his yards after contact but never seems to get hit really hard, very shifty, etc. He's the complete package. Based on his play before his injury this year, he looks like he can catch the ball as well. And of course the Lions have some pretty good history with RB's from the state of Oklahoma. But he can only be the Lions pick if KJ won't be back next year.

If KJ looks like he'll be back, them my recipe for the draft is the same as it's been for several years. First, try to trade back a few spots and pick up a few additional picks. If you can, great. It allows you to trade back up into late round 1 and get another player. IMHO, the pick has to be the best OT / DE available. I'd use every pick in the first 4 rounds next year on OL and DL. The Lions desperately need at least 2 OL players, and at least 1 DE. QB should not be an option, unless someone like Drew Stanton is sitting there in the third round. Under no circumstances should the Lions take a QB #1. No QB will be successful here until the O-Line is fixed. When it finally does get fixed, I believe that it won't take a #1 or even a #2 QB to be successful here. Heck, Martz has turned undrafted free agents (Warner) and 6th round draft picks (Bulger) into an NFL MVP and a Pro-Bowler.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Throwing in the towel

Well, it took me a while to admit it, but I've finally officially thrown in the towel on the Lions this year. It took a absolutely draining loss against the Patriots for me to admit what truthfully I had already accepted 5-6 games ago - this team isn't getting any better. I almost admitted it in my last post, but I just never wanted to give in to the dark side. It took a team this perennially bad and a loss this emotionally draining to break the spirit of this eternal optimist. And I just have no emotions left to give to this franchise for a while.

My downer for the Lions really started before the season began. I'll finally admit it, I liked Joey Harrington, and his departure really upset me. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not blinded by thinking that he is the greatest QB to walk to face of the planet. I simply respected him, his stand-up attitude, and I thought he was unfairly blamed for every ill the Lions had. The fact that he was an optimist like myself probably had a bit to do with it as well. When the Lions traded him to the Dolphins for next to nothing, and hung our hopes on Jon Kitna, I just had a bad feeling about it. Here we were, trading the one guy who tried with every ounce in his body to remain upbeat and change the attitude of this franchise, and instead we put our faith in a journeyman QB who has been kicked to the curb for the next young hotshot QB twice in his career already. To me, that didn't bode well for the direction this club was going to take.

Now, I'd say the games and results have proven my fears to be true. Joey hasn't been all-world in Miami, but he's now 4-4 as their starter. His new team has some of the same problems the Lions had while he was here - a porous O-line, receivers that drop balls, and now that Ronnie Brown is hurt, no running game. But he's still 4-4. And best for him, he got a victory and a Gatorade bath beating the Lions on Thanksgiving in Ford Field. He'll likely never live up to his draft position, but he's a solidly average NFL QB, and that's not all bad.

Meanwhile, Jon Kitna has put up great stats in Mike Martz O, but he's 2-10 and has found ways to flat-out LOSE the game several times for the Lions in the 4th quarter. He turned the ball over 3 times in the 4th to seal the last loss to the Patriots. The Lions actually LED the Patriots 21-13 with 13 minutes left in the 4th quarter and he managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory once again. 8 of the teams losses so far this year are by a TD or less. In each and every one of those games, we had either the lead in the 4th quarter or a shot to take the lead in the 4th. And Kitna has found a way to implode in an alarming number of those games. Personally, give me the choice, and I'll take Joey mounting a comeback and falling just short over Kitna having a great stat line and blowing the lead any day. At least one way gives me hope. This constant blowing the lead is killing me.

Another great numbing feeling I've had is the unconvincing explainations we've heard for the treatment of our former #1 draft choice WR's. I'm at a loss for both Charles Rogers and Mike Williams and what happened here. I know that CRog hasn't caught on with a new team this year, and supposedly he has lost his speed. I know that BMW seems to not practice well. What gets me is why we the public never got a chance to see them even get a shot. I mean, even in pre-season, they were in the doghouse and sitting the bench. Then CRog got cut without so much as sniffing the field, and BMW has had his butt firmly planted on the bench. It just doesn't make sense to me. The only possible explanation is that Martz and Marinelli were using them to set an example for the rest of the team - my way or the highway. Unfortunately, if 'my way' gets the team to 2-10, maybe it's time to re-think that position.

We keep hearing that the locker room is so much better this year, and that the team is making improvements. Yet we see the same thing week in and week out. The same thing we've seen for several years. A D that seems to wilt at crunch time. An O that continually shoots itself in the foot. Excessive undisciplined football with lots of penalties. Failure to insert youngsters to gain experience when the season is already a loss. It seems that the common sense that other franchises have is totally lost on the Lions. Heck, Joe Gibbs could see the writing on the wall for this season, so he put Jason Campbell in to gain experience and see if he has what it takes to be an NFL QB. If he can do that, why can't the Lions? It just doesn't make sense.

So here we sit at 2-10. Two and freaking ten. For anyone who's forgotten, Joey's record as a starter last year was 4-7 and we dumped him in large part because he didn't win. What's that say for the direction the team is heading? I've seen absolutely no improvement with the team this year, contrary to what I keep hearing people try to tell me. Great season to get season tickets for the first - and probably last - time. This likely will be my last post during the season unless something truly interesting happens in the last 4 games. But the way the games have been going, just take any of my previous posts, change the players names to fit the opponent, and you'll have the same story. It always ends the same. And that is truly the tragedy that has killed my optimism for the Lions this year. I'll be back to dissect the team's offseason needs in January. Until then, try to focus on the Pistons and Red Wings to keep a positive outlook on sports.