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.

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