Tuesday, November 29, 2005

So Long Mooch

Well, I hadn't gotten around to writing about the firing until today as I was still recovering from my Florida vacation. And it wasn't until today that I realized how many other people are actually reading my silly little blog. I found out because of several e-mails, along with a few phone calls I received of people asking me what I thought about Mooch getting fired. So, I figure I need to post what my take on the situation is.

In all honesty, I'm sad.

I'm sad because Mooch is a good guy, and I hate to see people lose their job. I'm sad because I had bought into the Mooch hype hook, line, and sinker when he came here. I'm sad because this likely means another rebuilding project for our beloved franchise. And I'm sad because it means that the Lions have officially thrown in the towel on this season.

To be sure, Mooch brought this on himself, if I've read the situation correctly - which I believe I have. I don't buy Dre' Bly's argument that Joey Harrington is the reason Mooch got fired. In fact, what Dre' did in my book is equivalent to what TO did. I like Dre, but that was not the time or the place to go ripping on Joey. To me, that showed a complete lack of class on his part. It's OK to show that you liked the coach, but it's never OK to trash a teammate, especially on a national TV show on the NFL network. Dre', it's time to step up to the mike, and apologize for what you said in public. Say it was just that your emotions got the best of you, whatever. But don't trash your teammate.

I also don't buy that Millen should be gone with Mooch. To be sure, Millen has made his share of mistakes, and his record as GM is horrid. I tend to discount most of the first 2 years, due to the mess that the Lions were that he inherited. I've talked about that before, and you can find my discussion of it WAY back in my archives as What Went Wrong, and The Boss Ross Disaster. But when you look at what he's done recently, he's done a good job of bringing in players that the team and Mooch wanted.

And that really is why I don't blame Millen for the Mooch firing. If there was any indication that Mooch didn't want the players that Millen signed or drafted since Mooch came here, it has never surfaced. In every press conference announcing a signing or a draft pick, Mooch stood side by side with Millen, stating the great job that had been done to bring in exactly the players that Mooch wanted. IMHO, it was Mooch himself who exonerated Millen's player acquisitions.

The one subject where the whole Millen / Mooch debate hinges on is the Joey Harrington discussion. It was pretty common knowledge that Mooch didn't like Joey as his starter, yet Millen believes (still?) that Joey can be the franchise QB the team needs. It's common speculation that Mooch was forced to play Joey even though he preferred Mike McMahon, and later Jeff Garcia. Unfortunately, the evidence doesn't support those statements. McMike never was able to show much of anything here, and when he did play, he looked like he didn't belong throwing passes in the NFL. Sure, his athleticism reminded people of Steve Young, but his arm reminded people of Ryan Leaf. As for Garcia, how fast everyone has forgotten that Joey simply outclassed him in preseason and flat out won the job against him. It wasn't even close. Then when the bad things happened in the regular season, people assumed incorrectly that it was all Joey, and that Jeff would make a huge impact when he returned. Then Jeff did return, and he completely underwhelmed everyone. When we saw him making the same dump offs, the same bad throws, the same checkdowns, it was a HUGE sign that the problem was more likely coaching than the player.

And that's what it all comes back to - the coaching. This team has been a comedy of errors all season. Whether it was:
- the incredibly bad O-Line play,
- the receivers being taught how to catch a brick, but obviously not a football,
- the failure to remember to give the ball to your 1000 yard rusher from last year,
- the silly penalties,
- the questionable development of the younger players,
- the refusal to adapt his offense to the skills of the players on his roster,
- or the totally predictable playcalling, every one of those signs point directly back at the coach. Once the facade of the problem being entirely Joey was gone, Mooch's deficiencies in coaching this team were exposed.

But here's where my analysis gets downright weird - I still think Mooch is a good coach. He's just not the right coach for this team. His system will work if the right players are in it. He couldn't have won as many games in SF in the way he did if his system didn't work. But the problem was he had nearly the perfect players for that system in SF. He had his scrambling QB - a 3 year younger Garcia. He had a good O-Line. He had 2 good complimentary backs in Hearst and Barlow. And he had the superstar WR in T.O. who could take a short pass to the house. He also had veterans, and he could trust them, in the way that his accountability by men philosophy works. Here, he tried to cram the players he had into those roles, irregardless if they fit or not, and most of the players are too young to understand what it really takes to be a great NFL player. iRoy is a dang good receiver, but he's not T.O. - not yet at least. Joey is a pocket passer, not a scrambler. KJ is a stud RB, but Pinner and Bryson are serviceable backups, not deserving of equal PT to KJ. And the O-Line - well, it stinks.

BUT... If Mooch were to get the right team to coach - and as scary as it sounds, the Packers may be a good fit - his system could work again. How bad would it be to see him coach GB next year, and lead Favre and Co. back to the playoffs for one last time? That team is scary close to the perfect fit for his O - scrambling QB in Favre, Walker can do a pretty good T.O. impersonation, Green and Davenport are a good 1-2 RB punch, and the O-Line is 1 or 2 players away from being solid again. The thought of Mooch coaching there with those players should be one that causes nightmares for Lions fans.

After all of that, I doubt we'll see too much radically different for the remainder of the season. Olson calling plays should remedy a few of the problems as the playcalling won't be predictable and KJ will get a lot more touches. In a best case scenario, the WR's get their heads on straight and tear it up, and the O-Line figures out how to block someone. If all that happens, the Lions could close out the season strong, and Dick Juaron could pull a Wayne Fontes and find himself Head Coach here next year. But that's a lot of if's. Too many to make any kind of a calculated bet on.

So in summary, yes, Mooch deserved to get canned. He and he alone created the mess of this season in my opinion. But I think he will coach again, and I pray that when he does that we don't have to see him have success before the Lions do.

Unfortunately, that just may happen.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Game Notes - vs. Falcons: Time to Go...


That's really the only way to describe that game. Once again, the Lions fell flat on their face in front of a national audience. The O looked completely stagnant, the D couldn't stop the run, and in general everything looked bad. In reality, this game was almost a mirror image of any of the last several Lions games. The biggest problem with it was that many of us held out hope that the Lions would rise in their traditional Turkey Day fashion, and play a solid game against the Falcons.


If there was anything good to come out of the game it's that Mooch is almost certainly not going to be back next year. Heck, if the rumormongers have any truth to their reports, he may not be around by Monday. And lets be serious about this, the issues here relate more to coaching than any individual players performance. The offense is so predictable and so stagnant that we used all three quarterbacks, and other than that horrible looking duck that Garcia threw, you would have no way to tell one's performance from another. They all throw the same stupid short passes on third and long because - you guessed it - they're coached to do it. I mean when it was just Joey, it was easy to say he was the problem. Then when Garcia did it, it was well, maybe that was his only option on the play too. But then to see DanO do it too... Shoot, that kid is so green that he ONLY does exactly what he's told to do. You draw the conclusion.

How can anyone justify what they see Mooch's O do? KJ had his first 3 carries in the first quarter go for 26 yards against a team that has given up a lot of rushing yardage. Then he gets only one more carry the rest of the game? In the one game where the Lions should be running the ball, they only manage to run it 13 times? It looked like KJ was benched after committing a false start penalty, but then later, Bryson fumbles and his reward appears to be more playing time in the next series? This makes no sense whatsoever, other than realizing the Bryson is one of Mooch's favorites, and apparently, KJ is not.

If it was only that Mooch has his favorites, and he wants to play them, that would be one thing. But then we heard the sideline reporting by Pam Oliver when Jeff Garcia came in that made me want to puke. To paraphrase, she said "When Mariucci told the receivers that they were making the switch to Garcia, he told them they had to be quicker in and out of their routes and step up their game out there."

When Aikman and Buck heard that, they seemed absolutely amazed. I believe Aikman commented "They waited until NOW to start coaching the receivers?"

Sorry, but if that was an accurate description of what Mooch said on the sideline, it comes across to me as "Now that my guy is going in, you WR's better start playing hard." Again, if this is accurate, it is the single worst thing I have ever heard come from any coach's mouth. It implies that the players didn't have to try hard when one player was on the field, but they had better give it their all when the coach's favorite gets out there. Completely inexcusable.

And the broadcasting crew had it right whit their point about waiting to coach the receivers. The receivers were horribly bad in this game. Fox had the drop count at 6, but my personal count was a bit higher at 9. In a game where the 3 QB's went a combined 25 for 48 (52.1%), drops accounted for 18.7% of the pass plays. Elimination of drops would have raised the completion percentage to over 70% and guaranteed have had a significant impact on the outcome of the game. Heck, even on the one TD play, the ball hit iRoy in the hands, bounced off, bounced off a defender, and THEN iRoy caught it. And then he had the nerve to do that ridiculous meditation thing in the end zone. Hello iRoy, your TEAM was down by 20 points - hardly a time for a TD celebration.

And that, in a nutshell, is what is wrong with this team. Getting excited and celebrating about the wrong things. Completely forgetting the game plan. A complete lack of discipline - they had 3 more offside penalties.

Personally, I was screaming at the refs when those offsides were called as that Atlanta center should have been called for illegal procedure about 15 times. That head bob / swivel thing he does is simply illegal, and he needs to get flagged for it. I was waiting for Shaun Rogers to simply take a paw and biff the guy upside the head before the snap when he moved his head like that again, just to prove a point. I'm not excusing the offsides calls, but the league has to do something about that type of movement. Either it's legal and you completely throw out the rules on the O-Line having to be set, or you start penalizing the Falcons.

Beyond that, the D couldn't stop the run - heck they couldn't even slow them down. Dunn ran for 116 on 17 carries. Duckett ran for 72 on 19, with a lot of those coming when the Falcons went into their 'run-out-the-clock' offense. It looks like Mora inherited that from Mooch, so Falcons fans might want to get a bit worried about that tendency in the future - run out the clock instead of going for the jugular. But it really didn't matter since the Lions simply couldn't stop them from running whenever they wanted. It appeared to me the problem was the linebackers as they were not filling the holes and not wrapping up tacklers. Earl Holmes may not be as fast as a lot of fans would want him to be, but he sure does know how to fill the running lanes and wrap up the ballcarrier. And he was sorely missed in this game.

Another painful thing to see was Dre not being able to use his right hand at all. He would have had 2 more picks in this game if he had 2 working hands. His presence was immediately felt as the Falcons completed only 2 passes all day to their receivers. Of course Alge Crumpler made up for that by snagging 7 for 104, as none of our LB's or Safeties could cover him.

This was a painful game to watch, especially after the indigestion from eating all that turkey. We can only hope that a change is made, and made soon, that gives this team a fighting chance to win. It won't as long as Mooch is coaching.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Anti-Game Notes - Missing Dallas...

Well, I'm on vacation in Florida, so I had a choice to make on Sunday - find a local sports bar to watch the Lions, or go to the beach with my kids. In hindsight, I think I made the right choice to go grab some rays. It was a difficult decision at the time as I was very interested in seeing the team play. But there's something to be said for 80 degrees, sunshine, sand, and the warm Gulf of Mexico waves.

Based on what I've been able to piece together about the game, it was just another in the string of flat performances by the club. My summary based on what I've heard is this:

- The D was missing 6 starters, and the lack of regulars showed on the field.

- The D basically handed the Cowpokes first downs to keep all of their scoring drives alive courtesy of bad penalties.

- The O looked flat as there was no running game and little creativity in playcalling.

- Special teams once again were not an advantage for the Lions.

So... how does this look any different than any of the last several games? Outside of the penalties, I can't really think of much. And I didn't even see the game.

Gee, I guess that makes this blog post about as accurate as some of the national media's coverage of the Lions, eh?

Well, I promise to write something up about the Turkey Day game. Seeing as it's a National TV game, I'll actually be able to get indigestion while watching it from down here. Of course if it gets as ugly as previous games, I may just cut out for the beach at halftime.

Too bad I can't live down here in Florida year round. I have to head back to the cold reality of Michigan in the winter after this weekend. Oh well...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Game Notes - vs. Cards: About Time

It's about time.

The Leo's laid the smack down on the Cards today, and the game wasn't really as close as the final score. In fact, if Mooch hadn't gone into his 'Prevent O' and had actually tried to score again, the final could easily have been 36 - 14 or more. Granted, it was the Cards, so I can't get too excited about it. But there were some very positive signs today. I just hope they were more based on the Lions finally coming together as a team than the ineptitude of the Cards.

That was about what most of us were expecting from the O all season long. KJ running free and easy. Joey lighting it up on deep passes. Pollard working the middle of the field. iRoy catching TD's. It still wasn't perfect - the dropped passes (4 of them by my count) were still there. But here's the funny thing - what made the O performance so different was one thing the commentators barely even mentioned. The O-Line easily had their best game of the season. KJ had lanes to run in today. Joey was rarely on his back. If this game was on a grass field, Joey's jersey might have still been clean at the end of the game.

If anything was proven today, it's that Joey is capable of putting up good numbers when he isn't in fear for his life. His stats were easily the best he's had this season, and the correlation between him not getting hit and the good numbers isn't just a coincidence. When we go back over the last few years, when he's had time to throw, he has easily had his best games. When he's gotten hammered early and often, he gets happy feet, his passes sail, he dumps off much more frequently, and his stats go into the toilet. The message here is simple - keep Joey upright and he can win games. And his reward for his performance was for Mooch to basically imply that if Garcia was healthy next week, he'd start. What the heck, this is Detroit, and QB controversy has been a running joke around here for 47 years.

When you throw in that the running game had far more room to maneuver today, it's easy to see that the O-Line played much better. The biggest unknown was whether it was simply due to playing the Cards, or if they're finally starting to gel. It was around this time last year that they started to play better, and the running game took off. Only last year we had no healthy receivers by this point. This year, the receivers are just starting to get back healthy. In any case, Joey was rarely pressured and he actually had a pocket to move around in today. It was nice to see the improvement, now lets see if it carries over to Dallas before we announce that the line is finally 'gellin like Magellan'.

While the O looked significantly better for about three and a half quarters, the boneheaded playcalling was bound and determined to try to lose the game for us again. Starting with 1st and Goal at the 7 in our first series in the 4th quarter after Joey had moved the O 73 yards in 6 plays - 3 runs and 3 passes - Mooch once again went ultra-conservative with the playcalling. From that point forward, he called 10 runs and 2 passes. Two consecutive Pinner runs up the middle from inside the 10 before a well covered fade to Vines. On the next possession, Mooch called for two consecutive 3rd down and long draws to Bryson after runs into the middle of the line had put them in 3rd and long to begin with. The final series, he called 3 consecutive runs - all between the tackles - before punting. That type of playcalling is exactly what lost the Carolina game for us, and why no Lions lead in the 4th quarter is safe. Instead of going for the jugular and trying to put the score out of reach, Mooch tries to run out the clock. And he's done it so many times that EVERYONE knows it's coming, and they defend accordingly. The Cards were almost able to pull out the comeback because of this foolish and predictable strategy. Yes, the run had been working earlier in the game, but that was when it was mixed in with passing to keep the D guessing. When it gets predictable, it's easy to stop, and the Cards did just that. Mooch was lucky they didn't score and tie the game up.

The D continues to play well, but not great. They gave up more 2nd half points than they had all year, and it appears that the attrition rate is starting to take it's toll. We played without Bly, Bryant and Goodman - the #1, 2, and 3 corners. We played without Lehman and Lewis, and Holmes, Bailey and Davis all went down - the # 1-5 LB's. I hope a few of those guys are back next game, because we'll need them against Dallas. At least Shaun Rogers was back in the lineup. We didn't hear his name much - he didn't even record a tackle - but we did see him create havoc on a few plays.

Perhaps the best thing the D did was to see Big Daddy play so well. Maybe he's just a late bloomer and is finally coming into his own after 12 years in the league (I'm joking folks). But he was playing like his draft position would have made you expect (for those who don't remember, he was the #1 pick of the 1994 draft by the Bengals). Whatever the reason, his career has been given a rebirth by playing here in Detroit. I'll admit I was wrong in preseason in projecting him to be cut. But as I stated then, a decision to cut him would have been based on the emergence of some of the younger talent and the cap space it would have created - not because the team wouldn't want him. Clearly he has been a great investment for the D this year.

The final result is the most important - the Lions won. It does feel good to finally not be swearing up a storm after watching the Lions play.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Game Notes - @ Vikings: Same Old Song and Dance

fate comes a-knockin', doors start lockin'
your old time connection, change your direction
ain't gonna change it, can't rearrange it
can't stand the pain when it's all the same to you, my friend

it's the same old story, same old song and dance, my friend
it's the same old story, same old story same old song and dance

I needed a little Aerosmith to unwind with after watching that debacle. Funny how you can find a song to express every emotion in life, isn’t it? Well, at least every emotion in football. What emotion do I have after the last game? I’m getting startlingly close to the last one that anyone in the Lions organization wants a fan to have – indifference.

What was remarkable about this game is how similar it was to nearly every other Lions loss in the last 4+ years. The funny thing is that I’m coming to another realization about why it’s so easy to hate Joey or Mooch – they’re the only names that have consistently been there. The so called core players – Kevin Jones, Roy Williams, Charles Rogers – have been invisible for most of this season. The latest rookie – Mike Williams – has been playing about as bad as a rookie can play and he hasn’t gotten benched. Oh, that’s right – there’s no one on the bench to replace him, and he’s already playing next to a couple of guys who got cut in pre-season. Marcus Pollard has had to be so busy blocking to give whichever QB is back there a few precious seconds that he’s been all but forgotten in the offensive plans.

But really, how is this any different than any other game we’ve seen in the Millen era?

And that’s what is the most frustrating part of being a fan. You know that there are several guys out there who could help, but we can’t seem to get all of them on the field at the same time. Or in the case of today’s game, Mooch decided to keep CRog inactive since he just came back from his suspension. I don’t know if the punishment was meant more for CRog for not practicing hard, for Joey because Mooch’s golden boy Jeff didn’t prove he was any better than him, or for the fans who still have clung to whatever strands of hope we could.

I mean seriously, when you realized that Joey was going to be throwing to BMW, Scotty Vines and Glenn Martinez again, you didn’t really expect anything great out of the passing game, did you? And when KJ went down and Artoose Pinner and Shawn Bryson were left to carry the mail, you didn’t think we’d be able to run it, did you? In fact, would a lineup of BMW, Vines, Martinez, Pollard and Pinner scare anyone in the NFL? Nope, didn’t think so.

So what exactly were we hoping for anyways? That Joey catches lightning in a bottle following his benching? That his new-found propensity to throw it deep, and to even throw a shuffle pass would lead the Lions to the promised land? Won’t happen when the rook is dropping 4 passes. Won’t happen when the RB’s have a combined 16 carries for 41 yards, and Joey is the leading rusher with 17 yards. Won’t happen when the QB is under constant pressure yet again. Won’t happen when this rag-tag squad of receivers can’t get any separation from the defense. In fact, absolutely nothing will happen with the assortment of players this team is fielding.

Enough about that side of the ball as it just depresses me too much. On to the Defense which also is missing a few key players. It’s my belief that the most key of those players has got to be Dré Bly as the D has exactly 0 interceptions since he’s been out. His presence forced opposing QB’s to lock in on the other side of the field, and allowed the rest of the D to cheat that way. The previous 4 games where Dre played, the D averaged 4 takeaways per game. It’s pretty simple math as to how much the D misses Dre.

Shaun Rogers being out also hurts as he could have been all over Brad Johnson today. The pass rush wasn’t too bad, but the Run D really missed Big Baby. Surprisingly I think we may have missed Teddy Lehman even more today. Nearly every one of Minnesota’s big runs were over James Davis. If Teddy were healthy, he’d be starting for Dirty by now, and he could have made a lot of plays that Dirty just can’t make.

And just to add insult to injury, Hanson missed another FG attempt, and we gave up a couple of big returns while getting basically nothing ourselves.

This was just a completely forgettable game. Against a team that was in the middle of their own huge set of troubles, the Lions found a way to make them feel good about themselves. Too bad they can’t ever seem to make their own fans feel good.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Calm Before the Storm...

Does anyone else feel like this week has been really slow on the message boards, despite the fact that Joey will be starting once again on Sunday? I have gotten pretty bored reading the latest drivel as it seems like people are being very cautious about predicting anything before the ViQueens game. Maybe it has something to do with the Queens lousy record after their bold "we'll be playing in Detroit in January" pre-season predictions. Maybe it's the loss of Culpepper for the season. Whatever the case, it sure has been slow.

From this Lions fan's perspective, I think it's mostly due to the uncertainties about #3. We've heard the rumblings that he's looked pretty good in practices. We've heard that maybe he'll be throwing it downfield more often. But overall the fan base is still very suspicious about what we'll see out of Joey. The Lovers are being optimistic, but ever so cautiously. The haters are keeping their hate a bit more reserved. Maybe this has to do with seeing the O for what it really is when Garcia was playing – not a singular issue with only Joey. It sure has been quiet though.

I'm guessing that this is simply the calm before the storm. There is so much uncertainty with the teams prospects for this weekend since Dré and Baby once again look like they won't play, and iRoy seemingly isn't 100% (what else is new...). Captain Bong-toke (CRog) is back, but apparently not starting. We'll see how long that lasts – especially if Joey is serious about throwing the long ball. There are so many things that make for an uneasy feeling going into this game that the usual suspects are taking their time and not chirping too much one way or another.

But that should all change slightly after kickoff on Sunday. Whichever way the game unfolds, it will embolden one group of fans, and they will begin to make a LOT of noise. If the offense looks stagnant still, the haters and Mooch bashers will be out in full force. If the D gives up a ton of points, the Juaron haters will come out of the woodwork once again. If the O starts to actually look impressive, the Lovers will be out in droves. If it's a back and forth game, it could be all of the above.

IMHO, I'm as perplexed about what we'll see in this game as any time in the last few years. There are too many unknowns. My honest hope is that the benching helped JH out, and he starts playing up to his ability level. If he does, he represents the best chance long term for the Lions to win. If not, he's basically cemented his fate with Mooch at the helm (which is of course a completely different subject).

I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Jeff vs. Joey

I've read several comments on some message boards claiming that I'm a Joey lover. As I've repeated constantly, I'm not, but I'm not a hater either. Based on that, I think I should explain my position on the whole Jeff vs Joey debate so everyone can understand it a bit better.

IMHO, I think Jeff is a better fit than Joey for the current Lions WCO system, but not because he's necessarily a better QB. I've said before that Garcia does several things that Joey simply cannot do. He's significantly more mobile, and he's significantly more creative. That being said, he also has one of the weakest arms in the NFL, and he has been injured a lot in the last few seasons. It's a tradeoff game here. All things being equal, the two QB's represent diametric opposites of the QB position - the classic pocket passer vs the scrambling gambling man. Neither is perfect, but if used to maximize their strengths, either can be effective.

However, with Mooch's version of the Wet Toast Offense, Garcia is a better fit. We never throw the long ball, so his arm strength is not an issue. With how bad our line is, his scrambling ability allows him a chance to survive for a few more seconds and try to make a play. It's a tradeoff, and Mooch has been unwilling - or unable - to modify his system to take maximum advantage of Joey's strengths - spreading the field and throwing the longer passes. Therefore, Jeff is probably the better QB for the Lions right now.

In truth, I don't think Mooch can play to Joey's preferred quarterbacking style because of how bad the O-Line has been. It takes time for guys to get downfield and get open and the line has not been able to give our QB's any time to speak of. Jeff can gain some extra time by scrambling, Joey needs the line to keep the rush away. If you watch Joey when he's had time to throw, he does spread the ball around and throw downfield. In contrast, when Jeff scrambles, he rarely throws to someone other than the guy he was looking at when he started to scramble.

I never have intended to make any excuses for Joey, merely to explain the things I have seen on the field to make sense of what has been happening. Unfortunately, because the prevailing wisdom has been that "Joey Sucks", when I point out that the problem is far more than just him, the haters congregate to rip me and the lovers rejoice that their hero has been vindicated. In truth, I simply want the Lions to win. I could care less who the QB is - Joey, Jeff, DanO, Chuck Batch, Scott Mitchell, Mike McMahon, whomever. I just want to see the blame for any problems placed where it should be - on the true root of the problem (gee, sounds like my engineering skills are coming out).

Quite often, if you fix the root problem, the other problems start to correct themselves. IMHO, the root problem with the O right now is a combination of the O-Line and the playcalling - and the two are like a chicken-and-egg problem. If we fix the O-Line, will the coaches be more creative in calling plays? If the coaches call more creative plays, will it keep the defense more offguard and make the O-line's job easier? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of those two, and I hope the coaches figure it out soon...