Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Game Notes - @ Saints: Hurricane Jason

I'm more than a bit late in writing this weeks game notes, and for good reason - I've been celebrating Christmas with my family. The win made me think that I could actually enjoy the holiday before writing my notes out. And then I've seen the Newspaper articles and the message boards and once again, I'm shaking my head in amazement. It seems that once again, I'm watching a different game than most everyone else out there, which I guess shouldn't surprise me, since the game looked so similar to ones I saw early in the season. So, here we go again...

I've replayed that game a few times now, looking to see what I could see about how the O and D really played. I came away seeing several of the same problems I saw early in the year:

- The O-Line can't open any running lanes and allows the pocket to collapse quickly

- The Receivers are having trouble getting open and are still dropping passes

- The playcalling is still boring and predictable

- The Quarterback is actually playing much better than he is being given credit for.

There are a lot of people out there who will really question that last point, but I went through all the pass plays several times and I was actually impressed with how Joey played. All in all, I only saw 2 passes thrown that I would consider 'bad' and 2 more that were off the mark. When you consider that's out of 30 attempts, neither of those numbers are that bad. Joey has improved his pocket presence significantly since earlier in the year, and he was actually moving around inside and outside the pocket well. His biggest mistake was the interception on the first drive - on my TiVo review of the replays, he checked over to Roy's side before the snap, checked the other side, snapped the ball, turned and threw before he realized that Thomas had cheated off to the fade route. Good scouting by the Saints to realize that one was coming, and a bad mistake by Joey to not check the route before throwing the ball.

Outside of that play, and another one where the MLB was shielded from Joey's view and dropped an easy INT, Joey threw the ball well. There were a few throw-aways as we always get, and a few check downs as well. The biggest improvement was the accuracy of his throws - I only had two as being off target, and iRoy caught one of them. The problem was of course that there were several other throws that were dropped. I had my drop count at 6 for the game, and I three different times I thought the drops erased TD's. Everyone remembers the Roy drop near the end of the first half, but he dropped another that could have gone for 6 earlier in the second quarter. And don't forget that Pollard dropped another one in the end zone before Hanson kicked his first field goal. Of course Pollard was also called for Offensive Pass Interference on the play - declined- so it would have been wiped out anyways, but there would have been another chance. But it still was a drop in the end zone.

That leads me to another area where I was disturbed about what I saw - penalties. The Lions were called for 6 False Starts, and had 3 more offensive penalties declined . How a team can false start that many times is beyond my comprehension. One actually saved the Lions near the end as it stopped the clock instead of having a fumbled snap that was recovered. But still the discipline of this team is so bad that the penalties keep piling up. And when your O is constantly having to make up extra yards because of getting behind the 8-ball from stupid penalties, it dramatically reduces the effectiveness of the plays being run.

Of course, that assumes that the plays being run would have been effective anyway. Let's get this straight - Artose Pinner is a hard runner with good hands for catching screens, but he has no moves, no lateral quickness, and no vision. Knowing that, you shouldn't expect to run him into the pile too many times as the opponent's D will surely figure out that he can't do anything else - and they did. 20 carries for 57 yards isn't my idea of a good use of the running game. Bryson looked a little more effective when he was in there, but not much more. With their limited effectiveness, a logical assumption would be that the passing game should be leaned on to move the ball, but that simply didn't happen until once again the chips were down. Olsen seems to have learned too much from Mooch, relying on a running game that doesn't exist to move the ball. And time and again, the passing game was asked to bail out the O after a few bad runs or a silly penalty put them in 3rd and long.

One of the problems why the running game couldn't get going was once again the O-Line. This time, it was worse due to Woody going out early in the second drive. But the problem remains the same from earlier in the year - The interior of the line can get no push in the running game and can't keep the pocket from collapsing in the passing game. While Joey remained mostly upright during the game, he was still getting hurried and hit fairly often. And Pinner can gain some yardage if there is a hole to run through, but this line can't open any holes to speak of. It appears to take two of our players to block opposing DT's on every play - whether it's G-C or G-FB, if there aren't two of our players there, the opponent overpowers the single guy. And of course that leaves no one to go and hit the LB's to keep any semblance of an open hole or to stop a blitzer. At least with Woody in there, Raiola could focus all his attention on helping out the LG. Without him, this could be ugly against Blitzburg.

On the other side of the ball, I've singled out a few players who simply aren't getting it done. Yes, we did hold New Orleans to 12 points, all on Field Goals, but you just had a feeling watching them that it was more due to their own offensive incompetence than the Lions D stopping them. Here are the players I think are hurting the D.

James Davis - For a guy who has started 13 of the 15 games at LB, he has a total of 53 tackles this season. He seems to always be out of position, and he doesn't wrap up tacklers. I'm sure he's still starting simply because the Lions lack healthy bodies at LB to play in his spot. But when he's getting outplayed at LB by two guys who were walking on the street free agents two months ago (Woods and Wayne), it's not a good sign.

James Hall - Unfortunately, James simply isn't good at defending the run to his side. He's always been a bit undersized, and opponents are taking advantage of him there. It also doesn't help that behind him is Davis, so runs to an opponents left side often can turn the corner, leaving the Safeties to clean up the mess. I like James, but he really should only be a situational pass rush specialist.

Cory Redding - Cory is the anti-Hall - he can defend the run decent enough, but he gets no push in the pass game. He's the invisible man out there in the pass rush, from a position that screams to have a good pass rusher. As a result, unless Hall or the big fellers in the middle can bust through, opposing QB's have plenty of time to throw on the Lions.

R.W. McQuarters - Granted he's supposed to only be our nickel CB, but he's getting burned nearly as much as he did in Chicago when he got the nickname 'toast'. For all the grief that I've heard people giving Dre Bly, R.W. has gotten used and abused by the opponents #2 or #3 WR's - not their #1's. Anytime the opponent seeks to throw deep, they go after R.W. - because it's easy. Sure, his crybaby routine back at Donte Stallworth was funny, but Stallworth had already burned him several times during the afternoon. I won't be upset if he's not here next year.

After all of that, we get down to the final possession. In many ways, it was a comedy of errors as there were 2 dropped passes, 2 offensive penalties - one declined on 3rd and 17, a sack, two throw-aways in the face of an all-out blitz, a completion to the middle of the field with 23 second left and no time outs, and then finally the 'hurricane drill' field goal. The Lions pulled out all the stops in trying to lose this one. In the end, Joey did the only sure thing he could - throw difficult passes to iRoy. You know, the kind that Roy makes spectacular catches on, not the easy kind that he drops. And then Hanson came out in that coaching blunder that reminded me of MSU - Ohio State, only the Lions didn't screw it up.

I am still waiting for a flag to come flying for some infraction on that FG attempt. In any case, the Lions got a win, and I got some much needed time with my family. Now, we only have one more game to suffer through, then we get the Lions version of the post-season - a head coaching search, free agent signings and the draft. Whee, isn't life great as a Lions fan? I'll keep hoping to see the Lions play in a Super Bowl in my lifetime, but I definitely am not holding my breath.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Game Notes - vs. Bengals: 2 to go...

Rarely am I at a loss for how to begin one of my game notes posts, but I just don't know where to begin today. There were too many things that all went wrong in this game, and too many distractions to discuss. How about chronological order? OK, here goes...

Angry Fan March - I wish the anger and frustration of the fans in our area could be transformed into intensity, desire and production on the field. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. At least the march was peaceful, but it accomplished nothing other than to show nationally how upset our fans are with this franchise.

Orange Out - This could have been the dumbest idea I've ever heard of. It's one thing to hear fans booing you, it's another to feel like a visitor in your home field. If you've ever played, you know the advantage of home field fans can have on your emotions, adrenaline and intensity. When the fans turn their back on you like that, it would have to be the most utterly defeated feeling you could ever have.

Opening Kickoff - If there was ever an omen about what was in store for the day, that was it. If you don't think the booing and the orange in the stands had anything to do with that fumble, you need to re-think what you're saying. At least the D held the Bengals to a field goal on their possession.

Lions first possession - And this was the omen for the Lions O. Three and out after Garcia throws two moonballs under a heavy rush. Wait, I thought he was starting because of his mobility and that he could buy more time? Oh, that's right, he threw both of those from the pocket - or what was left of it. Does anyone really think he's the Lions best option at QB any more? I sure don't. He has no arm. None.

Bengals next three possessions - TD's. Sandwiched around an interception, and the only decent drive for Garcia on the day. Garcia's first two picks were not his fault, any more than the first two picks in the first Bears game were Joey's fault. Both hit our receivers in the worst possible place - right in their hands. The first went to some backup TE/FB that I've never heard of, and my first reaction was "who is this clown, and why the heck is he on the field? The next one went to iRoy, and he alligator armed it, creating an early Christmas present for Delthea O'Neal.

In between those two INT's, the Lions actually scored. Although it took a great run after a dump off to Bryson to keep the drive alive on a 3rd and 9 and a strike to a streaking CRog to give them first and goal before iRoy snuck it in. The most important thing there - we had a CRog sighting! Holy cow, he does have hands, and speed, and the ability to get open! We haven't seen that since... um... last year in preseason when he and Joey looked like they were reading each others minds. So Garcia and Jauron thanked CRog by playing Vines and not throwing him the ball again. Typical for this franchise...

Going into halftime, we saw another Lions 3 and out, and another Garcia interception, this one on a moonball. Sorry, but Garcia has no business ever attempting another throw longer than 10 yards, simply because it's too highly probably that it will be intercepted. I was waiting for Garcia to get the hook to start the second half, but Jauron obviously wanted to see if the Lions could become the 4th NFC North to give the Bengals 5 INT's in a game. It turns out we fell short of that goal, only throwing the 3 in the first half.

Start of the second half, the Bengals march right down the field and score again. It's now 31-7, and the D has looked like they couldn't stop a Junior High team from running on them. They have had a couple of INT's in the 2nd quarter to keep the Bengals from scoring even more on them, but the Bengals still haven't punted. The problem appears to be simply the lack of our starters at LB and the secondary. Another of the "Who the heck is this guy?" players is this kid named LeVar Woods who looked like our best LB'er out there. Of course he was picked up all of about 5 weeks ago, and he was formerly a backup for the Cards, so that definitely qualifies him as the best LB on the squad. But without Bailey, Holmes, Lehman and Lewis playing, what more could we expect? And now we're also without Holt at S, and Bryant has been done for a long time at CB, and Dre' is playing with one hand, so the secondary is getting shakier by the minute as well. Opposing runners need only to break through our line, and it's free sailing for them. At least until Baby catches them from behind - that guy is still just a freak of nature. But it's still 31-7 with 9:30 left in the 3rd quarter. Ouch.

The next drive, Pinner and Garcia manage to move the Lions a bit down the field, enough for a FG. Pinner does most of the work, and Garcia gets credit for another field goal. He's now responsible for the Lions scoring 46 points in the last 13+ quarters (7 vs ATL, 16 vs MIN, 13 vs GB, and 10 vs CIN). And he follows this up by posting yet another 3 and out, dumping off to Pollard for a 3 yard gain on 3rd and 5. And FINALLY Jauron has seen enough. After the Bengals score AGAIN, it's time for the hook, and in comes Joey.

And how does Joey do when he comes in? He lights it up. Seriously. Joey goes 5-6 for 68 yards including the TD to CRog on his first drive. The TD play was one we expected to see a lot before the season started - CRog taking a slant to the house. And this once again raises even more questions than it answers, like "Why did it take this long for us to see this?" and "Can they do this again?" and "Who are those two going to be playing for and making the Lions look like idiots next year?". And once again, Jauron rewards Joey and CRog by calling plays to run out the clock - after a missed onside kick and ANOTHER Bengals score.

At least we now are pretty certain that Jauron won't be the head coach next year. But the questions are once again going to be flying from every direction. Who is going to start next week? Will CRog get more PT? Who are these scrubs dressed as football players? Will Millen fire Jauron before the next game? Are the Lions cursed? Is Dre' now going to rip Garcia the way he ripped Joey? Or is Dre' just going to rip the fans? Will Killer now write that the problem is 95% Jauron? Will Mitch Albom and Joey go play piano at a bar and sip martinis as they discuss the mood of the team while remaining upbeat and positive about life in general? Will Garcia's GF call another radio show, or will she go dancing in Windsor? And if so, where?

At least Bernie has it right on channel 4 - "Like sands through the hourglass, these are the day of our Lions." The soap opera continues...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

And Apathy sets in...

A few days ago, one of my favorite posters at The Den - Atticus3 - posted that he needed a break from the Lions and he didn't know when he'd return. He was fed up with seeing the same things over and over again, and he just needed a break from the insanity of this team. I can completely understand his frustration. I have found myself taking longer and longer time between postings on message boards, not reading articles every day, and generally losing interest in the team.

Maybe it's just the monotony of reading the same posts over and over about "Fire Millen" or "Angry Fan March" or "Orange Out" for this coming game. Maybe it's realizing that it's time to look at the draft charts and figure out where the Lions will pick and who will be available again. Whatever it is, it's sucked the desire out of me to keep reading the drivel that's out there.

Honestly, this may be more damaging to the Lions and the Ford family than any banners or marches could ever be. When your most loyal and true fans get to the point where they are starting to not care about the team any longer, your team is in trouble. I've gotten to the point where I really don't care about the outcome in these last three games. I mean seriously, what's the point? If we win them all, Jauron may get the head coaching gig, and Millen may get less heat. If we lose them all, we may be in better position for a high draft spot. Truth is, neither of these items excites me right now. I really don't want to be discussing a search for our next head coach and potential candidates before Christmas. I really don't want to debate the merits of college linemen who may be drafted by the team in December.

I want the Lions to play in games that actually matter.

And now that is as far away from reality as any pipe dream I've ever had. So, I've been paying less and less attention to the goings on of the team. I've been a die-hard supporter of this franchise ever since I became interested in football. I remember being heartbroken when Eddie Murray missed the field goal against the 49ers. I pretended I was Billy Sims as a kid, diving over the imaginary goal line pile and onto my parents bed. I thought the "James Boys" sucked as an alternative when Billy twisted his knee and never came back. I remember the Chuck-n-Duck... err... the Run-n-Shoot as Wayne-O's first attempt to inject life into a moribund franchise. I remember the excitement when Barry took that very first handoff around the left end for 18 yards on his first professional carry. I remember the despair of Mike Utley laying motionless on the field - and then later Reggie Brown doing the same. I remember the one playoff win in the last 47 years, Scott Mitchell throwing for 4000 yards, Herman Moore catching 123 passes, and Barry running for 2053 yards. I even have been truly excited at times during the Millen years, expecting the team to do great things. And like always, they have let me down, but shown just enough to keep me coming back, thinking that with just a tweak here or a nudge there that they can finally turn the corner.

And then this season happened.

In a way, I knew I'd get to this point when they fired Mooch. That really was the admission that this season was lost - you don't fire a coach in the NFL in mid-season and expect a miraculous turnaround. And then when Jauron decided to keep playing Garcia, it just sucked any wind out of me that there was. There were a few things that kept my interest for a while. I was hoping to see if Joey could recreate the games he had at the end of last season when Olsen was calling plays. I wanted to see KJ get back on track. I wanted to see what CRog could do if he got the chance to play the Z again. And somehow, none of these things have happened. It's been the same boring, predictable football, only minus Mooch. And I'm just bored with watching it. There is no spark on the field, no energy, no excitement. The players are just going through the motions. And as a fan, I'm ready to do the same.

I'll probably keep watching and writing my silly little blog. After all, I am a fan. I'm just not too excited about being one right now.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Game Notes - @ Packers: Another theft...

Photo: DAVID P. GILKEY / Detroit Free Press

If ever there was one picture worth 1000 words, that was the one. Samkon Gado intentionally fumbling - or attempting to pass as the ref's decided to call it after the fact - the Lions being awarded a Safety, and then having it taken away from them. We've seen this before, haven't we? Marcus Pollard against Tampa? That's twice in one season that the ref's have changed the outcome of a Lions game on a bad replay reversal. I don't know any other clubs that have as legitimate right to complain about the outcome of two of their games as the Lions have. And that's not even getting into the Panthers game.

Already in discussions, some people like to claim that if the Lions had played better earlier in the game, that a call like that wouldn't have mattered. That's a ridiculous argument - if the Packers had played better earlier in the game, the call wouldn't have mattered going the other way. Yes, had the Lions punched either of Hanson's sub-30 yard field goals into the endzone, the play would have been insignificant. Yes, if Jauron had kicked a field goal instead of trying for the TD on the previous play the reversal wouldn't have mattered. But again, those arguments are ridiculous. I watched the game at Buffalo Wild Wings in Lake Orion, and the entire bar was screaming about "why didn't they go for the TD" on the first two field goal attempts. When they finally do go for the TD, and don't make it, it's disingenuous to then state "they should have kicked the field goal". The fact is that the game played out the way it did, and that incorrect reversal changed the outcome of the game. And that is just wrong.

As far as the game play went, once again Roy Williams (iRoy) showed why I think he's one of the biggest prima donnas in football. On one hand, he makes a great juggling TD grab. On the other, he drops an easy one over the middle - which had he realized that he could have scored from about 70 yards out, he probably would have concentrated more and caught it. The inconsistency of his game play is maddening. He shows skills that are just awesome to see, and then he drops the easy ones. Until he starts catching all the easy ones, I'm not going to ease up with my opinion of him. Az Hakim was chastized and run out of town because he made some big catches but dropped the easy ones, so just because iRoy makes some highlight reel catches, I'm not ready to forgive him for dropping the easy ones either.

Kevin Jones started out looking like the back we expected to see all year, then he got hurt. This has truly been a sophomore season to forget for KJ. He's been injured a lot and had to play behind some of the worst O-Line play we've seen. Every time he looks like he's ready to bust loose, he gets dinged up or the coaches inexplicably decide to use Shawn Bryson and Artose Pinner. He's got to be the Lion most looking forward to next season as it will surely be better than this one.

As for Jeff Garcia... Well I now will make my opinion official - he's a step down from Joey Harrington. He just doesn't have an arm to be playing in the NFL. He threw one deep pass that Roy caught, but had Ahmad Carroll actually looked back, he could have intercepted it easily. In Garcia's last three appearances, he's now a combined 44 of 83 for 392 yards - 53% - with 2 TD's and 2 INT's. There are people who will argue that we've got to give him as many starts as Joey had to truly judge him, but again, that's BS. It's week 14 of the season, he's 35 years old, a 3-time pro bowler, and has played in this system for 7 years. If anything, he should have been ahead of Joey from day 1 of training camp, and Joey beat him for the job in camp easily. Again, I'm not saying Joey is great, just that Jeff shouldn't be our starter. He just doesn't have it anymore.

At least I don't have to talk too much about the O-Line today. There were a few stupid penalties, but it was fewer than in previous weeks. KJ was running well while he was in there, and Jeff actually had time to throw for most of the day. Sure Dominic Raiola can't hold ground against Grady Jackson - but he's outweighed by almost 60 pounds and that's never been his strength. The problem is that the Lions don't seem to understand that dynamic of their own team, and kept pounding Pinner up Raiola's back in short yardage, only to get stuffed again. Had they paid any attention, they would have been running behind Woody and Butler who are their two best road-graders.

And that brings me to the playcalling. Once again, I was able to put up big numbers on QB1 when the Lions had the ball. If you're not familiar with QB1, it's an electronic game at the bar where you try to predict what play a team will run and get points for correctly predicting the plays. When Mooch was coach, it was easy to post big scores. But when we switched to Olsen, supposedly we thought the playcalling would be much less predictable. How wrong we were. I'm not sure if he feels handicapped by Garcia so he can't call any deep passes, or if he forgets that KJ can make some of those carries go for big gainers, but Pinner and Bryson can't. But the playcalling is still amazingly predictable. Especially in short yardage in the red zone. If anyone doubts why the Lions have only scored 14 TD's in 32 red zone trips, just look at the playcalling we had in there. In 4 possessions, we had 20 plays in the red zone. Of those plays, 13 were runs, 6 were passes, and 1 pass was called back on a penalty. Of those plays, only 2 passes were to the end zone - one to Mike Williams and the TD to iRoy. How easy is it to defend the Lions in the Red Zone when only 10% of their plays actually are throws into the end zone? Pretty darn easy.

As for the D, they did a decent job of holding the Pack in check, save the one long Samkon Gado TD run. In fact outside of that run, Gado was pretty average - 28 carries for 107 yards - 3.8 per carry. But the 64 yarder happened, and it was a huge momentum shifter. The D-Line played pretty well, and we've already covered the Saf...err..incomplete. The only real negative on their play was the Shaun Rogers unnecessary roughness penalty. I'm not sure what he was thinking, but I'd guess it's a culmination of frustration over the entire season, capped by being mad that they even had to play in OT to begin with. Other areas of the D were pretty solid as well. Yes, Favre completed 21-31 (68%) for 170 with 1 INT, but it was all dink-n-dunk type of stuff - the same stuff that our QB's get ripped on mercilessly for doing.

In the end, the Packers were given a gift win. It's hard to be frustrated any longer as the same pathetic output from this team has been happening for far too long. For the second time this season, the Lions were flat-out robbed of a victory. Just imagine the uproar if this had happened to one of the NFL's 'glamour' teams like the Patriots, Colts, Giants or Cowboys. There would be heads rolling in the officiating ranks, and there is no reason that there shouldn't be for that call. But it's just the sad-sack Lions, so nothing will be done about it.

Thankfully there are only 3 more Lions games to watch this year. I don't know if I could take any more heartbreak than that...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Updating the Boss Ross disaster...

I got sucked into another discussion about the Bobby Ross influence on the Lions of Millen's era tonight, and in the process of reading a few more things, I found an error with my earlier Ross discussions - Bobby came on board in 1997, not 1996. That meant that he didn't draft Jeff Hartings or Reggie Brown. The impact of that makes his record actually look worse. Here's my updated take on how Boss Ross messed up the Lions for several years...


Since someone got the whole subject of how Boss Ross set this team back at least 3 years, it's time to set the record straight.

First, as some people have correctly pointed out, you can blame Ross for the pathetic mix of players that were here for the first 2 of Millen's seasons. Starting in 2003, a full 80% of the roster was acquired by Millen. Going into the 2003 season, the only holdovers from Ross's drafts were Eric Beverly, Donte Curry, Jared DeVries, Barrett Green, and Stockar McDougle. That's it. There were still a few players left that had been signed as free agents (like James Stewart), and there were a few players that pre-dated Ross (like Luther Elliss). But only 5 players in their prime years left from Boss Ross. Yes, Boss Ross couldn't draft his way out of a wet paper bag, but by Millen Year 3, most of his lousy draft choices had "Got a quick bus ticket out of town."

Second, of those players that Rick mentioned, it's a stretch to label them the way they were labeled. I'll first go with the injured guys.

I'll concede that Bryant Westbrook was on the verge of breaking through. But Reggie Brown came to Detroit before Ross got here - not one of Ross's draft picks. However, Terry Fair, Kevin Abrams and Germain Crowell were not. Terry Fair was a pro-bowl alternate as a rookie as a kick returner - not as a positional player. Anyone who watched him knows the truth. Was Kevin Abrams ever NOT injured? When he actually played, he was not even close to being ready to break through. As for Crowell, he had one good year, but anyone who actually remembers him will admit that Bill Schroeder and Az Hakim were considered a step up from him in terms of butterfingers.

Next, the guys who've had good success. Hartings is legit, and has been for a long time, but he wasn't a Ross draft pick - he pre-dated Ross. And Millen really did screw up in trying to retain him, but he wanted insane cash to stick around. Fair was and is a joke. Liewinski was a late round pick who was signed off our practice squad by the Vikings before Millen got here. Droughns was all but a bust here, and was made into a RB by the magic Denver system.

The "Starters on better teams than ours" is skewed as well. Boone was the second to last pick in the draft who was signed off our practice squad before Millen got here. Spicer was an undrafted free agent who was also signed off our practice squad before Millen got here. Claiborne was vastly overrated and even the Vikings let him go after seeing him try to arm tackle opponents for a season. Kirschke is a starter only due to injury. And McDougle has been benched 2 times this season in Miami. Again, hardly an awe-inspiring group.

When you add it up, out of all the players Boss Ross drafted, the "good to great" players in the NFL really amount to only Droughns as being near the 'great' category, with Liewinski and Boone being in the good category. Westbrook and maybe Crowell (as a stretch) were the only guys who could be considered 'injury flameouts'. The remainder of the players mentioned are either colossal busts or role players.

Another item that people forget that Ross did is he saddled the team with a salary cap disaster that only Super Bowl contenders should ever see - and the Lions never even sniffed the Super Bowl. In the 2003 season - Millen's third season here - the Lions were still paying to the salary cap for the contracts of Charlie Batch, Herman Moore, and other bit players to the sum of over $11 Million dollars. In 2004 - LAST YEAR - the Lions were still eating the contracts of Luther Elliss, James Stewart and others (including Millen's first mistake - Bill Schroeder) for over $10 Million dollars. In the age of the salary cap, those are huge hits, and dramatically impacted the club's ability to go out and get additional free agents that could have helped the team post a better record. To put it in perspective, when the 49ers were imploded and went through their salary cap nightmare (1999-2000), they had dead cap space of about 13 million and 10 million to deal with in those two seasons. But they not only played in a few Super Bowls in the years leading up to that, they won a few. The Lions barely sniffed the playoffs while Ross was here.

And finally, people want to go back and point at the 2000 9-7 team and say they were thisclose to the playoffs, but they forget the fundamental problem with that team - they were OLD. In fact, the Lions fielded the 2nd oldest roster in the NFL that season. The team was so old that two season later, in 2002, only 7 of the 22 starters from the 2000 team were still still starting in the NFL (Claiborne, Elliss, Hartings, Morton, Porcher, Schlesinger and Stewart). What this means in simple terms was that even if Millen hadn't come in and torn the team apart that it still would have been horrible because of the departure of the aged veterans on that club, with precious little in the way of fresh blood from Boss Ross's drafting that was ready to step in and take over starting positions.

To sum it up, it was a Boss Ross trifecta of ineptitude - Bad Drafting, Bad Contracts, and Old Players - that doomed the Lions for the first two years Millen was here. The Salary cap mess that Ross created hampered the Lions even last year in 2004. That's a situation that is arguable worse than even being an expansion team as they don't have to deal with the salary cap disaster.

Please note - this argument is not an attempt to say that Millen is great, or even good. This is simply trying to set the record straight about the disaster that Boss Ross left this team with - one of the worst situations in the NFL. Millen has screwed up enough in his own right, but he inherited a very bad situation.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Nationwide's view of the Lions and their future

Every now and then, I see a post out there that is good enough that I think I need to save it for prosperity, even when it's not my own stuff. This one is that good. I don't necessarily agree 100% with everything in it, and I'll post my comments on it after the initial post. This comes from Nationwide, another regular poster over at The Den.


That’s It, I’ve had enough of the know nothings!

For the last few days, I have heard every talking head in America blame Joey, Millen, Chuck, Roy, Mike, Damien, Jeff, Dominic, Marcus, Kelly, and Kevin for the Lions woes and for getting Mooch fired. BULL CRAP!

Let’s examine this a bit shall we, but lets go back 2 years prior to Mooch getting here; Marty is hired, because he will install Steve’s offense. We have been running the Mooch offense for 5 years now, and it has been bad the entire time. Before I tell you why the Mooch 2 yard and a puff of smoke offense is so bad and why it is to blame for the Lions futility for the past 5 years, let’s examine a few things.

1. On draft day, Millen’s drafts get high marks.
2. Each of Millen’s 6 first round picks have been offensive players.
3. Every one of those players was highly successful, physically gifted players.
4. They all have under-produced.
5. Players who come to our offense via free agency, suck when the get here.
6. Sure-handed players can’t catch a football anymore.
7. Good blockers can no longer block.
8. Players Millen has drafted for the defense in rounds 2 through 7 have had some success to a lot of success.

These are amazing coincidences. But are they? No, they are not. For the past 5 years, we have run the same offense and it hasn’t worked. WR’s are not productive. None of our QB’s has been productive. Our offensive line has been poor. Our running game is been inconsistent at best. Why? It is the underneath philosophy of Mooch’s system first run by Marty, and then by Steve. This offense thinks two dimensionally. We don’t attack the entire field. We only attack around 4 yards of the line of scrimmage from side line to side line. And we seldom if ever attack weak points of a Defense. Opposing defenses simply squat all 11 of their players in this box. From this position, they can all blitz, and they are all there to defend the run. Our 5 offensive lineman are essentially blocking 11 men. Our RB is now trying to elude 11 men. Our WR’s are being covered by an entire defense.

In normal Pro Style offenses, the entire field is used. It is normal for there to be at least on WR running a deep route of plus 20 yards. Most teams to defend this send not only a CB, but one of the safeties as well. That leaves the other 10 offensive players against only 9 defenders. Some teams actually send out two WR’s running deeper routes. I am not talking about 60 yard bombs here. I am talking about 18 to 25 yard outs, flys, posts, and flag routes. When a team does send out two WR’s running these routes, it requires 4 DB’s to cover it safely. That only leaves 7 defenders against 9 offensive players. That gives our running game no more then 7 in the box. And if you employ a TE and or a slot receiver, even fewer. In fact, if you have 3 WR’s and one TE someone is either uncovered, or the RB has a major advantage. Take two WR’s running deep, drag another WR in a crossing route, and run your TE on an out to the strong side. Either one of your deep WR’s is in single coverage, your TE is uncovered, your slot receiver is uncovered, or there are only 5 defenders in the box against 5 offensive lineman; a major run advantage. When you attack the entire field, if a team blitzes, it will leave at least one of your weapons either uncovered, or under-covered. Most of you know this stuff already, and I am not telling you anything you don’t already know.

But let’s examine our weaknesses on offense by position again, considering Mooch’s offense;

Lets start with the O Line; when you don’t use the entire field and pull the corners and safeties out of the box, our O line is defending 11 players instead of the 5 players that would be in the box when we employ either a 4 WR set, or a 3 Wide one Tight set. With a fullback, there would only be 6 in the box. Our O line was improved in the off season so we thought. But they got worse. Why? Perhaps defeating Mooch’s system has become known league wide now and we have put all of our O lineman in near impossible situations. We have a lot of high profile FA’s or high draft pick O lineman on our Line. But they all suck? No it is the system. And it is the same system that affects our WR’s adversely.

WR’s. Let’s see, every FA we bring in sucks and all of our top 10 draft pick WR’s suck. None of the current WR’s or TE’s used to have problems with drops, but now they do. In fact isn’t it true that since the Mooch Offense was installed 5 years ago, dropped passes have gone way up? Yes it has. Here is why. Instead of a WR’s trying to defeat either a single corner 15 yards down field, or a corner and a safety, and most of these DB’s have major size and speed disadvantages with our receivers, they are running 6 yard routes right in the middle of the LB’ers. Is there a wonder we have so many drops and injuries in our receiving corp. If they catch the ball they get crushed by 6’4”, 260 Linebackers instead of 5’9” corners. I think even Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, or Steve Smith would start hearing footsteps. What is more likely; Every WR Millen brings to our team via FA or the Draft, sucks despite their accolades, prior production, and their physical attributes, or Mooch’s system sets them up to get creamed, and they start developing alligator arms? One more point to the WR’s. In Mooch’s system only one WR’s gets very many looks. IF you are not that guy, you get very few opportunities.

Question: How do you make a WR happy?
Answer: Let him make TD catches!

I wonder why Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, and Mike Williams are upset. Let’s see. When the QB has enough time to get them the ball, they are running a 5 yard route right toward Brian Urlacher or Ray Lewis. HMM. I wonder why they don’t get much YAC and are always injured……………


Question: How do you make a first round pick running back happy?
Answer: Give him more then 4 carries a game!

No one has questioned Kevin Jones work ethic. Everyone knows how productive he was in the last 7-8 games last season. But, Shaun Bryson and Artoose Pinner often get more carries then he does. I am sure you have often heard RB’s say that they need about 20 carries a game to be productive. How many times this year have we given KJ the rock 20 times? Let’s talk about why he hasn’t been very productive. Hint, it is the same reason the WR’s and the Offensive line haven’t. The entire offense is run within the box. KJ doesn’t run against 5, or 6, or 7, or 8 players. He has to beat 11 of them. Why have there been so few runs of more then 20 yards by KJ? Because the entire defense is within 6 yards of the line of scrimmage!

QB. I don’t care who the QB is on this team, he would never been successful in this system. We can’t run. If we complete a pass, it won’t be a first down. We have completed 3 passes in a row and still not had a first down. Joey sucked. Jeff sucked. Danny O sucked. When Mooch, Marty, or Tedd calls the plays, Joey has a very hard time. But when Jeff Tetford called the plays, Joey was a number 3 overall pick and a Heisman finalist. When Greg Olsen called the plays in the last 3 games of last season, Joey threw for almost 900 yards. My guess is that if the team doesn’t just flat out quit after Dre Bly has run down his QB and the media and the fans haven’t thrown Joey under the buss, then Joey will have 5 very good games.

I fully expect our offense and our entire team to play much better without Mooch. I believe totality if given a chance next year with a HC and OC not from the Mooch 1 yard offensive system, Joey will succeed as will our RB, our O Line, and our WR’s and TE’s.

Batch couldn’t get it done. McMahon couldn’t get it done. Joey couldn’t get it done. Jeff couldn’t get it done. Danny O couldn’t get it done. See a pattern? Perhaps it is all about Mooch’s system. That is what I believe.

And proof is forth coming. I can almost guarantee that we will finish this season very strong. The only thing I am worried about is if we do, Millen will be forced to hire Dick Jurron to coach this team next year. He is a wussy just like Mooch. Anyone who doesn’t blitz a rookie QB is a freaking idiot. But I do want to win the next 5 games and I think we can.

Lastly. I do hold Millen accountable for a few things.

1. Most importantly, he did not search for his head coaches in the past. He locked in on one guy and hired him without even looking for anyone else. I didn’t criticize him for this before as I was happy with the Mooch hire at the time. In fact, I for one am on record stating that I believe the Marty hiring was only done with the intention of firing him when Mooch became available. I believe Millen instructed him to set this team up in accordance with Mooch’s philosophy so the transition would be smooth. I don’t think he ever told Marty that he would be fired as soon as Mooch became free, but I believe Millen had planned it all along. If for any reason Marty did work out, then great. But Millen knew that this was going to be a tough first two years as he tore the team apart in an attempt to rebuild it, and Marty would do just fine as a throw away coach. Now Millen must learn from his mistakes and do an exhaustive search for a new HC. He now knows a lot more about coaching and the type of coach that he A. doesn’t want. And B. Knows the qualities of the coach he does. Here is hoping that Millen bring us the right guy.
2. The second biggest mistake Millen has made was not firing Mooch, 4 weeks ago. We knew he was unhappy with many of Mooch’s actions and philosophies. Why wait until the season was all but over to make a switch. If he would have done this after the second Bears loss, we could have still made the playoffs. This criticism will get much stronger if we go on a tear and win the next 5 games but miss the playoffs by a game.
3. Not insisting that Greg Olsen take over as OC for this season at the start.
4. Letting Mooch hire Dick Juron.
5. Letting Mooch fire Carl Mauck and replace him with another Mooch crony.
6. Letting Mooch run a club med training camp.
7. Letting Mooch publicly run down Harrington.
8. If he doesn’t call Dre Bly into his office and tear him a new one.


Now, my comments on it...

Nationwide - Great post. I must have missed it after I basically quit checking the board because I was getting tired of reading all the repetitive Dre Bly / Joey / Millen posts. I'm not sure I'm ready to agree with the premise that it's all coaching though. As in everything else with football, everything is inter-related. Is it because of coaching that the players underperform, or is because of a lack of their own ability? It's very difficult to separate the two, and the only way we really will see the difference with most players is when they leave the club.

So far, the only player I can think of to leave the team in the last three years to have a decent season away from the Lions is Az Hakim this year. His is a classic case of being mis-used in our system. He was a #3 in St. Louis, and excelled there. He came here to be a #1, and simply was out of position along with dropping a lot of passes. He leaves, goes to New Orleans behind Horn and Stallworth as the #3, and he's back to producing like he did in St. Louis. He is truly the example of how bad coaching mis-uses the player.

But what about some other players that have been jettisoned? We haven't seen or heard of any of our other receivers since they left. No former RB's either. Ditto QB's, OL's, and TE's. They leave here and are never heard from again, or if they are, it's because they are underperforming in their new digs. McDougle got benched within a few weeks in Miami - a team that was desperate for O-Line help. McMahon is still missing more throws than he makes. Alexander and Ricks are M.I.A. Remember how everyone thought Scotty Anderson was going to be so good? I won't even mention B.S. by anything more than his initials. Again, it's not all coaching, sometimes it's the players. And these guys were all key players for us over the last few seasons, whether starting or filling in as injury replacements. It's not coincidental that the Lions were so bad and these guys haven't made a mark with any other NFL team.

Believe me, I think Mooch's coaching was horrible. I wrote up all my opinions in my blog as the post So Long Mooch. I do think a lot of it falls directly on him. But I'm not ready to say that the Players simply need a new scheme and they'll excel. I'm a bit gunshy about that as all our O players have underperformed this year.

Oh well, I hope I'm wrong, and we see significant improvement today. Somehow I just don't see it happening. One week is too short of a time to see a drastic scheme change, and playcalling will only make a difference if there were plays that they just weren't calling. Prove me wrong Olsen. Please...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Game Notes - vs Vikings: The more things change

For some reason, I feel the need to start this post off with a disclaimer - I didn't watch the whole game. I only made it through about 3 minutes of the second quarter, when I had to leave and catch a plane. I wish I could say it was because I was so disgusted with what I saw that I just couldn't stand watching it any longer. It was that bad, but I'm a sucker for punishment, and I would have kept watching every stinking minute of that flaming bag of turd of a game. But work called, and I had a convenient excuse to end my misery.

If there was one phrase to describe my impression of the game for the little I saw and the little more I caught on the radio, it's "The more things change, the more they stay the same." We had a new head coach, a new QB, new RB, new WR's, and the same old results. Garcia got the start which provided some of the most ridiculous discussions about why he was starting I've ever heard. IMHO, he got the start because Jauron was trying to make peace in the locker room, not because he is a better QB. He'll probably start again this week, and if he performs poorly again, he may get yanked. He sure did deserve to get yanked in that game. If JH put up those kind of numbers, the city would be screaming for his head, and Dre Bly would have called him out as the worst QB in NFL history on ESPN following the game. Seriously, 17 for 35 for 126 and a pick? So much for Greg Olsen making a difference. Of course when your QB can't throw a 15 yard pass on a line, you really have no chance to complete any downfield passes. From what I heard, a 15 year old kid at the NFL punt, pass and kick competition at halftime threw a 59 yard pass, and Dan Miller even joked that Garcia only wishes he had that 15 year olds arm. So much for any chance of a vertical passing game...

On the running game, it was more of the same, although it was all Toose and Bryson. KJ not playing was a major setback for the O, and really handicapped the team. There are people who have been trying to rip on KJ about his yards per carry and his playing this year, but I don't buy it. To steal an old Barry vs Emmitt line, I'd love to see Shaun Alexander and KJ switch O-Lines and see how they do. KJ (and the rest of our O) have been the victims of one of the worst O-Lines in recent memory in the league. Toose did OK, but he's just not in KJ's league.

As far as the receivers go, benching CRog seemed about as counter-productive as you can get. I'm guessing the real reason he was benched was to send a message to him to keep his act straight more than anything. But of course Jauron seems to have inherited Mooch's speaking in tongues press conference style now, so we'll never know the answer. Of course it's not as if the Lions could have taken advantage of CRog's speed anyway with Garcia flinging the ball. Roy caught all of 4-34, Vines 2-10 and BMW 1-6. There was simply no way the Lions could threaten anyone when they can't stretch the field.

As far as the D goes, All I needed to see I saw on the first play - McQ getting burned for an 80 yard TD on the first play. I really didn't need to see anything else after that. I did get to see Dre get burned, which is not something we've seen too often. Baby and Daddy were on a mission, but if you can't sack Johnson in 0.3 seconds, he'll have an open receiver to throw to.

Again, I missed too much of the game to really know everything that went on. I'm still debating if I haul out the TiVo and subject myself to the torture that I'm sure to see. I probably will, and I'll then post something more to the blog to finalize my thoughts, but for the time being, ignorance is bliss. Or at least less painful.