Saturday, January 21, 2006

Sgt Marinelli reporting for duty

This one will be quick, kinda like the new coach. I like the guy, based on what I've heard and seen so far. And as he says, talk is cheap, lets see results. Simple, straight to the point, and dead on the money.

If he actually gets the O-Line and D-Line fixed, this team could FINALLY have the turn-around year we all think is waiting to happen. If he finally gets players to act like professionals and go all out on every play, it could be special. If he can turn Joey into a leader, the sky's the limit.

On second hand, that's a lot of 'if's'. We'll see how it plays out over the next several months. I'm cautiously optimistic about Coach, but we've all been burned before by a Lions coach.

What may be even more interesting is what players may not be here next fall. There will be some fallout, and it will be interesting to see who the casualties are. No predictions yet, but it could be very interesting in the transition from Mooch to Sgt. Rod...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Breaking Down Joey

It's one of the most common discussions heard on every message board - What's the deal with Joey? So, after following a few threads, I picked up on a few comments and decided to do a little homework. In one segment, I read a comment that "All the Lions really need is a 'game manager' who can post stats like this:

60% completions, 3000 yards, 20 td, 12 int, 80 rating.

With that in mind, I took a look at Joey's stats this year. His final season stat line goes like this:

188/330, 2021 yards, 12 TD, 12 INT, 57%, 72.0 Rating

To try to get a feel for how these stats would have turned out if he played the entire season, I decided to increase the totals by the same percentage, assuming he threw 500 passes which is close to the average of 2003-04 where he played 16 games. Multiplying by 1.515 (500/330) gives us this stat line:

285/500 3048 yards, 18 TD, 18 INT, 57%, 72.0 Rating.

It's not that far off from where that poster had indicated that they want our QB to be. 15 more completions and it's 60%. If the TD's go up by 2, and the INT's down by 2, it's close to the 80 rating. Over the course of an entire season, Joey was pretty close to those numbers.

Where it gets interesting, and what will cause a lot of head scratching is projecting 16 games based on what he did before and after the benchings. I quick dropped his stats into a spreadsheet, and projected them out. Here are the projected numbers, based on a typical 500 attempt season:

Before Initial Benching (GB, @CHI, @TB, BAL, CAR)

Actual 76/143 798 Yards, 4 TD, 8 INT
Projected 266/500 2790 yards, 14 TD, 28 INT, 53.1%, 55.6 Rating

Clearly not a good year based on these numbers. I have mentioned in many of my other posts that I believed Joey played better than the numbers indicated in most of these games, but that's another discussion entirely. The numbers were abysmal, and absent any other info, deserving of a benching.

Mid-Year, between Benchings (@MIN, ARI, @ DAL, ATL)
Actual 72/117 724 yards, 4 TD, 3 INT
Projected 308/500 3094 yards, 17 TD, 13 INT, 61.5%, 79.7 Rating

When people said they thought that the benching did Joey good, they weren't kidding. The numbers clearly were better, coming very close to what people think the Lions need out of a QB. Still not great, but sufficient.

Final 3 games (CIN, @NO, @PIT)
Actual 40/70 499 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT
Projected 286/500 3564 yards, 29 TD, 7 INT, 57.1%, 93.0 Rating

Over the last three games, Joey looked a LOT better. You can forgive the completion percentage when you get the yardage and TD/INT ratios like those ones. These are the type of stats that most people expected to see from JH when he was drafted. People argued (correctly) that it appeared that the benching did good things for Joey. The second benching seemed to do even more good.

Since the final three games are really about 2 and 1/4 games, why not take a look at the sum total of everything after the first benching:

Everything after Initial Benching (@MIN, ARI, @DAL, ATL, CIN, @NO, @PIT)
Actual 112/187 1223 yards, 8 TD, 4 INT
Projected 299/500 3270 yards, 21 TD, 11 INT, 59.9%, 84.0 Rating

Now those are QB numbers that I'm sure everyone in Detroit could live with. Good, solid QB play. But still, there are people who would argue those stats are skewed by the 3 TD game against Pittsburgh. So... Here goes...

Everything after initial benching, minus Pittsburgh (@MIN, ARI, @DAL, ATL, CIN, @NO)
Actual 95/154 1011 yards, 5 TD, 4 INT
Projected 308/500 3282 yards, 16 TD, 13 INT, 61.7%, 80.6 Rating

3.4 QB rating points is some, but not a ton. But the same game also knocked his completion percentage down by almost 2%. I think most people could live with those kind of numbers.

Now to be fair with Joey, if we knock out the Pittsburgh game for the second half numbers, what about knocking out the Bears game from the first half numbers? Here goes...

Before Initial Benching, Minus Bears (GB, @TB, BAL, CAR)
Actual 57/106 602 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT
Projected 269/500 2840 yards, 14 TD, 14 INT, 53.8%, 68.2 Rating

Not as bad as it initially looked, but not great. Actually, it's pretty close to his full year numbers.

And this is the quandary that the Lions and Millen face heading into the offseason. Which QB are they going to get going forward from here? The guy before the benching, or the guy after the benching. Who the heck knows...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

How to fix the mess part 1 - Offense

With the season over, it's time to start thinking about next year. Anything has to be better than watching game film again and seeing the same ridiculous plays being run over and over again. With that in mind, I'll look at the players on the squad, analyze them, and determine how I think the Lions should best proceed.

In order to do this, I'm going to make a few assumptions. These may not be immensely popular with some fans, but based on the situation in the league right now, they may be the only options. First is that Joey Harrington is the QB for the team next year. The biggest problem in finding a replacement is that none of the other options out there available are any kind of an upgrade. Some people may argue for Kurt Warner, or a trade for John Kitna, David Garrard, or Philip Rivers, but none of those options is likely or necessarily better. Warner is getting old and would represent a stopgap player at best. Kitna will command a high asking price, and the Bengals don't seem in a hurry to move him. Garrard signed back on to remain the backup in Jacksonville. And Rivers is a complete unknown and would be just like starting over again. Sure, there are a few more names out there, but none that are really decent possibilities. So for the sake of this argument, the Lions keep Joey Harrington, and likely draft another QB somewhere in rounds 3-4 to sit and watch for a season.

The second assumption is the style of Offense that the team will run. Again, based on the personnel, it only makes sense to go to a vertical passing attack, most similar to the Rams. Not only does that play into the supposed strengths of Joey, but it also serves to play to the supposedly biggest strength of the entire squad - the WR's. As much as they have been maligned, CRog, iRoy, and BMW still have the potential to be the best trio of receivers in the NFL - with the key word there being potential. They need to be developed, and taught how to be NFL WR's.

Offensive Scheme - Based on these two items, the hiring of an Offensive Coordinator / Head Coach must include the commitment that they will install this type of vertical offense. The head coach doesn't have to be the O guru, as long as they bring on an O-coord who is. I'm not going to get into guessing who the coach will be, as I really have no idea. But installing a vertical passing attack is crucial.

QB - Positionally, at QB, Joey should fit into that style O very well. But I'd hedge my bet by drafting a young QB in the earlier rounds of the draft as a potential replacement for after a year. Joey appears to have the tools necessary to direct that kind of an attack as several other NFL teams who employ that kind of O have been rumored to be very interested in Joey if the Lions were to jettison him.

IMHO, the biggest question mark with Joey is the Yoda question - "Can you unlearn what you have learned?" Joey was taught by Marty that in times of trouble, he should get rid of the football to avoid taking a sack. Marty admitted this many times that he wanted his QB's to take a 3 yard gain or an incomplete rather than have geting sacked or hit while trying to get the big play. It's a decent way to avoid the big negative yardage plays that usually kill drives, and it does serve to keep your QB from getting injured. But it does limit your ability to make bigger plays - especially if the O-Line isn't very good. Because of how bad the O-Line has been, people incorrectly assumed that it was all Joey making the throw away and checkdown decisions. Of course seeing Garcia make the same throws has had the effect of people finally understanding that the issue wasn't Joey - it was the system. I think he can learn to hold the ball longer, but that will also depend on the O-Line.

O-Line - On the O-Line, it's a tale of two sides. On the right side, Butler and Woody have looked pretty good. Butler has made a few rookie mistakes, but that's to be expected - he's effectively still a rookie. Woody has been solid at RG. With a season under their belt together, these two should remain paired up on the right side for several more years.

At Center, Raiola has been meerly OK. He is a bit undersized for a NFL Center, but he's actually been pretty good about not missing assignments. He can stay, but I wouldn't consider him to be the long term answer. At LG and LT, we need new blood. LG has been a sore spot all year long, and has made Dom look worse than he really has played. DeMulling and now Kosier are both better suited to being backups than starters. Neither seems to be particularily good on their feet, and both have missed a lot of assignments. Between LG and C, power rushing DT have been able to collapse the pocket easily on the Lions, resulting in whichever QB is back there having to move around a lot and leave the pocket. But then the real problem comes in - the speed rushers at DE that get past Backus. Backus just can't handle a spped rusher at DE - he's not quick enough. Some people think he may be better suited to play guard, but the problem with that is he's too tall - he has a high center of gravity that would be exploited by DT's. Both LT and LG need new starters and badly.

WR - The Lions are pretty well set for the top 3 spots at WR, but they still need help. More than anything, they need a disciplinarian coach, and a veteran presence to show them how to be NFL players. The skill level of CRog, iRoy and BMW is still there, but the discipline they show on the field is horrible. I'd love to hire Jerry Rice to teach these kids how to train and prepare for the NFL as I think it could only help. As far as the other spots, I'd keep KJ2 and Vines as they both seem to be adequate backups.

I'd also consider making BMW a TE hybrid - call him a WR, but give him more blocking responsibilities and practice. He seems to not want to be called a TE, so call him a WR, but play him as if he were a TE - albeit more of a receiving TE. As far as TE goes, Pollard was a great addition, but he's getting old. The BMW experiment will determine if the team should draft or acquire another TE. Fitzsimmons is an adequate role player.

RB - KJ is the man at RB. Some people have been questioning his play, but he's been dinged up this year, and running behind that gadawful line. When the scheme was changed for blocking, he seemed ready to finally explode, but his elbow got injured (gee, thanks Woody for trying to drag him by his elbow into the endzone). With a better line and a little health, I think he'll bounce right back. Pinner is a decnet backup, but Bryson is a better option as he has a lot more speed.

At FB, Sledge is nearing the end of the line and Paul Smith should be gone. Will Matthews should be back there next year to learn from Sledge before Sledge retires.

So, in summary, here are the main things that I think the Lions should do:
- Install Rams style O.
- Keep Joey and CRog
- Draft a developmental QB in rounds 3-4.
- Get new starters at LT and LG
- Hire Jerry Rice to work with WR's.

It's a pretty simple plan, and it can be that way because of the talent that I believe is still there at the skill positions. The biggest issue is the O-line, as it has been forever. If the Lions can fix the O-Line, the O should be ready to take off. Let's see if they fix it.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Game Notes - @ Pittsburgh: The Fat Lady Sings

Well, it's finally over. A season that we'd all like to forget started with high expectations, and was sent crashing to reality early. Stick a fork in it, the fat lady has sung, it's over. Now we can get back to the Lions fan's real season - the offseason rumor mill. Just once I'd like to take place in the NFL's offseason though...

Well, the Pittsburgh game was a strange affair for the kittens. How can this team come out and keep making plays on O against a team that had given up only 12 points total in the prior 3 games? How could our D never figure out how to stop the Bus? And how the heck could our special teams perform so abysmally to more or less cost the Lions the game? It's just the latest chapter in the saga of "The days of our Lions".

Once again, I'm going to take a little different approach to what I saw out there compared to most everyone else. In reviewing the game, I'd say Joey really wasn't all that sharp - he floated a few passes and threw a few others at the feet of players. Granted, a few of them were Joey getting rid of the ball to avoid a sack and making sure they couldn't be intercepted, but if they are a little more on target, maybe they end up being caught. Compared to the last few games, he misfired on more passes in the Pittsburgh game. But the biggest difference that contributed to people thinking he looked sharper in this game was that he wasn't victimized by drops. I only counted 1 drop - by Roy, of course. Believe it or not, for most of the game, the receivers actually made plays. It's kinda funny how his stats looked better in this game (except completion percentage) when other players make plays. And in all honesty, if the other players start living up to their potential, any QB could run the Lions O. Joey did look better in making his play fakes in this game, and he was definitely moving around better in and out of the pocket. But he still needs a lot more work before his play fakes can consistently freeze a defense - his were strongly aided by how well KJ was running. I also liked that for the first time, I could see Joey getting visibly upset with receivers after a few plays, indicating he was mad that they ran the wrong route. We've been waiting for Joey to take that kind of approach with the kids for a while, and it finally surfaced, granted about 2 years later than we would have liked. Joey didn't make any big mistakes in the game, and that may have been the most important thing he did. That and throw the ball down the field on third and long.

When have we seen the Lions convert that many third and long's? I honestly can say I've never seen the Lions do that. I have seen other teams do that to the Lions, but not the other way around. But here they were, against the #3 D in the NFL, a team fighting for it's playoff life against our Lions who are just trying to end the season, and they're out there converting 3rd and 8, 3rd and 13, 3rd and 19. It was surreal seeing the O do that. We kinda knew they had the potential to play that way, they just never actually performed.

One other huge difference - the O-line played MUCH better. Both in pass blocking and run blocking. They also kept the penalties down to a minimum which is a big change from previous weeks. It showed as Joey had more time to throw, and KJ actually had some small creases to run through. In fact, KJ ran like a beast. He popped several good runs right down the Steelers throats, and then busted a few outside for good measure. When it was over though, he still fell shy of 100 yards. But he looked like the KJ we saw last year. It's a good sign for the future.

On the other side of the ball, it's hard to tell how bad it really is after that game. When your entire linebacking core is on IR, it definitely impacts your ability to stop the run. And that's exactly how Pittsburgh won the game - running. The D held Ben in check, and the combo of Ward and Randle-El were mostly insignificant. But Willie Parker and the Bus ran through our D at will. My gut instinct is that we do need to shore up at least one DE and WLB at a minimum. But it's so hard to tell when Holmes, Bailey, Lehman and Lewis (Sounds kinda like a Law firm, eh?), the best 4 LB's they have are all on IR. But before they got there, they needed help - or at least better coaching.

Then, the area that truly gave the game away was special teams. I don't remember any time in the past where I could honestly say the Lions special teams were a liability. They have been good for as long as I can remember, and maybe we've just been spoiled by them. But to give up the kickoff returns they did, the punt return for a TD, and the Drummond fumble of another punt return, and the special teams truly lost the game for the Lions. Pittsburgh's first 3 TD's required a total of 70 yards of O to score. Without the blunders on special teams, the Lions may have actually beaten Pittsburgh and knocked them out of the playoffs.

But the pain of 2005 is finally over. It's now time to look for a new head coach, sign free agents and draft the next great Lions hope. There are a ton of questions for this offseason - Will Joey be back? Will CRog be back? Will Backus get re-signed? Can the Lions sign any quality free agents after last years debacle? Lets hope that we get the coaching