Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Winter Doldrums

This is the time of year that I really don't like the NFL - during the winter blues. Yes, there is the talk from the combine, the impending free agents, new coaching hires, potential trades and the like, but really, is any of this really ground-breaking news? Seriously, I went on vacation for 2 weeks, and when I came back, the only thing that had really changed related to the Lions was that they had decided to slap the franchise tag on On-his-Backus (more on this later). Outside of that, we've had a lot of non-news, innuendo and speculation that has formed the majority of the topics being discussed. Topics like...

Vince Young scores a 6 on his wonderlic? Or is that 16? Whoop-de-friggin-do. He still won't be there when the Lions pick, and if he was, they'd pass on him. They have more urgent needs, like a stud DE or a franchise LT... err...

Martz likes Joey? Stop the presses when he says he sees a lot of potential. Yawn. The only real news is that Martz is actually going to spend time coaching Joey, unlike Mooch. Wake me when training camp starts.

Is Millen putting words in Marinelli's mouth? Just what we need - another conspiracy theory. How many ways can we read between the lines and misinterpret everything that was said at the press conference is the real story.

The Lions came up with almost 12 million in additional cap money? Only Killer claims it's a non-story because he didn't break it this time, claiming he wrote about it 13 months ago. Then he goes on to say that it's insignificant because most of that money got eaten up by franchising Backus. Except it wasn't part of every other previous cap calculation, therefore, it is new money in the sense that they still have cash to spend.

Almost every other topic being discussed was talked about prior to my vacation. Even the one I've alluded to several times already - franchising Backus. For the life of me, I can't see the Lions spending 8.5 million on him next season - he's just not that good. My hunch is that this is strictly a move to make sure that when the musical chairs stop that they aren't left without a LT. I'm guessing their real aim is to draft a new LT in the first round. The problem is that there's only one (D'Brick) worth the #9 spot, and he'll likely be gone already. Trading up is problematic as they have a few more holes to fill, so trading down to get another pick makes more sense. In that case, if they make one of the sensible moves - like Denver's #22 and #29 for the #9 - they want to make sure that they still have a shot at McNeil, Justice, Winston or Scott. There's a lot of slots between 9 and 22, and it's possible that all 4 of the next level guys are gone. If that's the case, Backus is the hedge bet, they try to sign him to a cap-friendly 2-3 year deal instead of the franchise one year deal. If they get one of those 5 tackles, they remove the tag from Backus and let him walk. It's just my gut feeling, because I can't imagine that Millen, Marinelli and Martz haven't seen how much Backus struggles with speed rushers, especially when Marinelli 'goes to the tape' as he likes to say.

Outside of that one item, it's been a very slow February, Lions news-wise. Thank goodness that Free Agency is coming so that there is something to keep my interest up...

Thursday, February 09, 2006

This is getting interesting

Well, I won't try to break my arm by patting myself on the back too much. When I said in this previous post that I thought the Lions should run a Rams style O, I didn't think they would be hiring the mad scientist himself to run it. I still haven't published my 'fixing the D' post, but I wanted a more aggressive D as well, and hiring Donnie Henderson definitely fits that bill as well. Maybe Millen is reading my blog?

Wishful thinking - not a chance.

What I find very interesting is how Martz and Henderson will mesh with Marinelli. Marinelli has stated he wants a power running attack, and a rush 4 cover-2 D - which are both about directly opposite the coordinators he's hired philosophies. Martz does get good running production out of his backs, but lets be honest - he's all about using the pass to set up the run. And Henderson is a blitz-happy madman on the other side of the ball. How these two tweak their philosophies to mesh with Marinelli may be as telling as anything - and also how much Marinelli allows his positions to change.

Marinelli has stated that he is looking for 'leaders of men' and guys who 'get it done on tape' more than guys who completely buy into the same philosophies as he does. Well, these too coordinators definitely are leaders of men, and definitely are not of the same philosophy as Rod. What may be most telling is that former players for all three coaches have said very similar things - that they would run through walls for them. That they are all good teachers. That they all demand discipline and perfection. This is exactly what the Lions have needed for a long time, but only time will tell if they truly can get that message through to the guys on this squad.

One interesting aspect of the hiring's is the potentials they have created for some free agents to consider the Lions who may not have given them a thought before. In all honesty, does anyone think John Abraham would have given the Lions more than a casual thought before Henderson was hired? Think any skill position players would be interested in the kind of big stats they would get in a Martz O? How about the glowing remarks guys like Derrick Brooks and Simeon Rice had for Rod making a difference in recruiting free agents? These hiring's may have made Matt Millen's job significantly easier.

Again, we still haven't seen how any of the offseason stuff will translate into actual on-field performance. But you have to like the direction things are headed here.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Game Notes - Super Bowl

Well, I decided to write some game notes for the Super Bowl, as I kept trying to find an interesting game throughout the playoffs to write about, and I never saw one. I missed most of the good ones - Pitt-Indy and Chicago-Carolina come to mind - so I didn't have anything I really wanted to write about. And then I saw the Super Bowl, and one thought continually seeped through my mind:

If these teams are the best two, the Lions aren't that far off.

I know it's wishful thinking, but in reality, that play in that game reminded me of a typical Lions game of the last few years. Stupid mistakes aplenty. Penalties everywhere, many of them questionable. Dropped passes. Poor blocking. In fact, what may have been the biggest boost to my Lions ego is that the Lions scored 21 on the Steelers in a must-win game for the Steelers a little over a month ago, and the #1 scoring team in the league could only score 10. Heck, if not for some really bad special teams play, the Lions would have knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs before they even got started.

But let's get back to the game at hand. Looking at the QB play, we saw two different QB's doing a Lions QB imitation. Hasselbeck was the victim of drops aplenty and some bad officiating. I swear that Jerramy Stevens looks just like Stephen Alexander. And Darrell Jackson is a tool - the pushoff in the end zone was ticky-tack (but a correct call) but he still couldn't figure out how to keep his feet in bounds TWICE on routes down the sideline. Joe Jurevicius was probably the best option as a receiver, but he was mostly ignored during the game. If you simply changed the names to Harrington, Pollard, Rogers and Williams, you had the Lions passing O exactly represented out there. Only not as efficient against the Steelers.

On the other side, Ben Rothlis-whatever-the-heck-his-name-is couldn't complete a pass to his own team to save his life. He seemed to want to throw the bomb on nearly every passing play while completing more to the other team than to his own guys - ala Jeff Garcia. Hines Ward was about as clutch as iRoy on a good day, and Randle El looked like Az Hakim when he caught the ball (OK, so maybe not all this years Lions). The only problem was they couldn't get the ball. It was a comedy of errors with neither QB rising to the occasion. Again, how different is this to watching the Lions play? Not so much.

Then in the run game, both teams were again equally inept. The league MVP was held to 20-95 and never looked to get in sync - KJ had 18-78 against them. Fast Willie Parker had a 75 yard TD in his 10-93 performance - ala Shawn Bryson. And the Bus had a very Pinner-ish 14-43 day. None of the backs seemed to have much running room all day, which was suprising based on the track records of both teams. Neither team seemed to be able to get much of a push at the line and open any holes. And again, it looked a lot like watching the Lions.

Defensively, both teams tried to shoot themselves in the foot repeatedly. Pittsburgh's vaunted D was getting moved around at will by Seattle in the first half, only to watch Seattle shoot themselves in their own foot. Seattle's D played OK, but couldn't get a stop when they needed it. None of the star players seemed to perform well. When push comes to shove, it was a boring game that was reminiscent of nearly every Lions game played during the Millen era.

As far as the officiating goes, well, we as Lions fans have seen worse, right? The calls that directly lost us games at Tampa and Green Bay. The non-call against Carolina. The yellow flag fests both for us - Baltimore - and against us - Dallas. Truth be told, compared to a typical Lions game last year, that officiating crew was great. But then again, that's not really saying much. If anything, that game should have woken the NFL up that replay should be able to challenge called penalties. IMHO, officiating has been taking a steady nosedive in recent years, and I wouldn't be shocked to find out about a scandal in the near future regarding an officiating crew and bookies. I'm not insinuating that the game is fixed, but I'm saying the potential is there. And the evidence is strong that something just isn't right.

What all this is telling me is that this years Super Bowl, while a close game with some interesting sub-plots, was completely and utterly boring. If it was up to me, I'd ban both Pittsburgh and Seattle from playing in the post season for 3 years as a penalty for making us watch that game. Neither team played well enough to win, it was simply who could keep from shooting themselves in the foot the most. I never thought I'd say it, but I actually missed having the Patriots in the game. At least they would have played a relatively disciplined football game.

Ugh. I need the offseason to get that flaming turd of a game out of my mind.