Friday, October 14, 2005

How did he get here?

In looking back through my previous posts and all the stuff I've seen and read of the trials and tribulations of Joey Harrington here with the Lions, I think it's time to pull all of it together to try to understand what makes him tick. I've long thought that the environment he has had to work with here with the Lions has been less than optimal. It's time to try to figure out what happened and how he got to this proverbial crossroads of his career. A lot of what follows is my own guesswork as I really can't be sure of any of this. But the pieces in the puzzle seem to fit together...

Coming out of college, Joey was a gunslinger with a flair for late-game heroics. He reminded a lot of people - Matt Millen included - of a young Brett Favre. Maybe not quite the cannon Favre had, but definitely the moxie and leadership skills. If anyone doubts this, I'd encourage them to visit Russell Arch's Oregon Ducks Web Page and click on the Oregon 2001 highlight video. The QB in that Video is supremely confident of his arm, throws the deep ball, takes hits, and even upends a defender on one play near the middle of the video. (Incidentally, that P.O.D. song Boom just gets my adrenaline flowing and makes me want to get out and play football every time I hear it) The guy led an 11-1 team to a #2 final poll ranking, and was a Heisman Trophy runner-up when he was drafted #3 by the Lions.

In his rookie year, he became the starter for Marty Mornhinweg's crew after only 2 games. Since the Lions had only win 2 games the previous year, and were clearly devoid of talent, Marty dumbed down his playbook to keep Joey's head from spinning. Marty asked Joey to really only do two things - throw the ball away so he doesn't take sacks, and use your checkdowns if no one is open. Marty's idea was that if Joey limited the negative yardage plays and the big interceptions, it gave the team the best chance of winning with a rookie QB. The WCO is predicated on timing routes and YAC to turn small gains into big ones. Unfortunately, it didn't really work well for the Lions as Bill Schroeder and Az Hakim proved to be expert at dropping passes. Oddly enough, nearly the identical strategy is what Bill Cowher preached to Ben Roethlisberger last year, only Big Ben had 2 stud WR's, a great O-Line and running game, and a dominant D - yielding very different results.

I believe that rookie year is still in the back of Joey's head during every game he plays. The Lions O-line wasn't very goo that year - or in any year since - and he got so used to checking down to save his skin that nearly everyone forgot that the kid actually could wing the ball downfield. Of course you can't well throw the bomb when you only have 2 seconds to release the ball before a D-lineman is breating down your neck. Since he was a rookie, people pretty much forgave him as he wasn't expected to 'get it' right away.

His second season, Mooch came to town. While Mooch runs a very similar WCO to Marty's, Mooch prefers to call a much more conservative game plan, wanting about 55% running and 45% passing plays. Mooch wasn't exactly enamored with what he saw of Joey on game tapes - a QB who checked down often, didn't seem to scramble, and wasn't very accurate. At least that's what the stats showed, and the game tapes seemed to back it up. Mooch took an instant liking to Mike McMahon the backup as he reminded him of the successful QB's he had in SanFran - Steve Young and Jeff Garcia - athletic and mobile with a cannon arm. But Joey had a lot of money invested in him, so he was going to start - even if Mooch really preferred someone else.

The match between Joey and Mooch isn't a good one. I personally think that Mooch has wanted something different from his QB ever since he got here, and he hasn't changed his WCO to fit the personnel he has to work with. Mooch's version of the WCO is definitely more effective with a mobile QB as it adds that dimension to the attack. But the WCO has been run by a lot of teams with far less mobile QB's than JH, only those teams make adjustments to fit their QB's style - more shotgun, less roll-out. That really hasn't happened here with either the formations or the play calls, but that's another story completely. As it relates to Joey, Mooch has continued to run his power-running version of the WCO while he doesn't have the O-Line to play that way, and consistently set JH in 3rd and long situations. Based on what JH learned from Marty, he throws shorter passes, hoping for YAC to get the extra yardage needed for the first down - classic WCO playing style.

His third and fourth seasons have followed the same route as his second with Mooch - disapointment due to many factors. Joey has been the victim of promising WR's who can't stay on the field (Charles Rogers and Roy Williams), Veteran WR's who can't catch (Az Hakim and Bill Schroeder) and TE's who simply can't play (Mikhael Ricks and Stephen Alexander). He seems to have better players around him this season, but between the abysmal play of the O-Line and the mistakes of players new to the offense, the end result is the same. And it's going to cost him his starting job, and at the end of the season he will no longer be a Detroit Lion.

Unlike many people, I think Joey can still be a successful NFL QB. I've posted before that I can easily see Joey getting signed by Kansas City in the offseason to take over when Trent Green is done. Green will be 36 next year, Joey 27. Add in that Dick Vermeil and Carl Peterson both think he could be successful in their scheme, and it likely will happen. Heck, apparently they tried to trade up to draft Joey in 2002, but just couldn't work out a deal with Millen. Joey's strengths fit well into the offense that KC runs, and it wouldn't suprise me if he made a quantum leap improvement there.

In any case, Joeys days in Detroit are nearing the end. It's no longer a question of if, it's only a question of when. And the Lions will have continued in their legacy of failing to have produced a QB. Maybe next time...

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