Saturday, May 06, 2006

Where the holes are

Now that the draft and most of free-agency is over, it's time to take a look at where the Lions still have holes in their roster. Since they are switching both O and D philosophies this year, the difficulty will be in determining exactly how the current players they have will fit in to the new schemes. I've tried to think it through, and based on what we saw last year and the new additions, I've come away with 3 positions that I believe will be the problem areas for the Lions this year - DE, LG, and potentially the most problematic of all - LT.

At LT, we have slapped the franchise tag on Jeff Backus with the intention of his being our LT for this season and possibly beyond. While I understand the reasoning behind the move, it doesn't mean that Backus is a top-5 LT, and doesn't mean that the Lions are set there. In fact, I'm more worried about this position than any other on the roster. Due to the new scheme, we have to look at how Backus has played the last two years, and then compare his production to Mike Martz's old team's LT - Orlando Pace. And that's what has me so worried.

The reasons for my concern are more than just Jeff Backus. The O that is being installed is very different from the one that the Lions have run the last few seasons. It places a great emphasis on the QB holding on to the ball with the ability to make a big play. By the nature of it, the O also subjects the QB's playing in it to taking a lot of hits. In the last few seasons, the Rams have had at least 4 different QB's get knocked out of games. And that's with Orlando Pace at LT.

It would be foolish to even suggest that Backus is at a level near to that of Pace. Pace is a perennial pro-bowler and easily one of the 3 best LT's in the NFL. Yet the Rams OL gave up 41 sacks last year - 10 more than the Lions did. As I just mentioned, the Rams O emphasizes holding the ball and throwing long passes. The Lions O the last few years was a dump-off and throw-away machine which as we all know artificially skews the sack total down. When we put Backus in the same position as Pace, knowing how many times Backus got beat in the quick dump-off O last year, I sense impending doom.

I know that there really weren't any good options out there for a starting LT that the Lions could have acquired. But that doesn't mean that the position isn't an issue. I only hope that Martz is creative enough and Beightol is a good enough line coach to keep our QB's alive. But with how many of Martz's QB's that seem to go down, we may be looking at Dan-O starting by turkey day.

DE is my next big problem area. IMHO, we have 4 DE's that if we were somehow able to graft them together, we'd have two complete every-down DE's. Here's the problem - James Hall and Kalimba Edwards are both pass-rushing smallish DE's. Jared DeVries and Cory Redding are both run-stuffing power DE's. None of them is an every-down DE, and because of that, opposing O's look at the personnel we have on the field, and attack the weak spot. If we have DeVries and Redding in, teams will throw. If Hall and Edwards are in, they run. If we mix it up - say Hall and Redding - they run their plays to the side of the field where they have the advantage. It's good strategy, and it's all the more effective because of how limited our DE's are. The team needs at least one every-down DE in the worst way, and IMHO the new D will suffer until that weakness is solved.

LG is the final problem area. We have brought in a bunch of journeymen, apparently with the hope that one of them pans out as a starting LG. We also drafted a rookie in the 7th round that a lot of people seem to be high on. I can't get too excited about Matua because he was drafted after a developmental CB project. It still leaves that side of the line with a huge question mark. If that question mark is answered by switching Woody to that side, it just opens a hole on that side of the line. Neither situation is ideal.

Hopefully, the Lions can show up in pre-season and show us that the guys we've brought in can actually do the job and quench my fears. A lot of people point to the Rams when Martz came on as O-Coord going from 4-12 to 12-4 and the Super Bowl in a single season. But Martz also had a young Pro-Bowl LT on that squad, the Lions don't. I'll keep my fingers crossed, but right now, I'm not expecting the world...

1 comment:

Ken said...

Well thought out very good analysis and I agree with all of them. I am hoping the our new defensive coordinator will be offset some of the short comings on defense with a more agressive play as opposed to the bend don't break approach used in recent years. The new offensive line coach is one of the best in the league at the present and got a lot out of average palyers i nGreen Bay and let's hope he can do he same with the Lions.