Monday, January 19, 2009

Rock Bottom

I've avoided blogging about the Lions for quite a while, as I needed less stress in my life, instead of the constant frustration the Lions brought to the table. In the '07 season, I was tempted to start posting again around the midpoint of the season when the Lions were 6-2, but I sensed that the record was mostly smoke and mirrors - they had a HUGE +turnover margin in those 6 wins, and had gotten blown out in the 2 losses. So I resisted.

1 and 23 later, here I am posting again, because 2 things happened that are of historic proportions. The Lie-downs went 0-16 in a season. And the same season, the Cardinals are going to the Super Bowl. Tell me that there isn't something strangely upsetting about this. The Cards were the Lions partners in futility, trying their dangest to lose as much as the Lions. They backed into the playoffs going 1-3 down the stretch, after playing in the worst division in football, and had trouble selling out their wild-card weekend playoff game. 3 wins and Larry Fitzgerald becoming the next great WR in the game later, and they are in the Super Bowl.

This is in stark contrast to the Lie-downs who have now hired their 4th head coach this decade - a total of 7 men have now filled that position since 2000 - Ross, Moeller, Morninweg, Mariucci, Juaron, Marinelli, and now Schwartz. They came off an historic 0-16 campaign. How did things go so incredibly wrong for this franchise? I think anyone who has read my blog in the past knows the main reason - bad drafting.

So now, how do we fix it is the real question.

Here's my un-solicited advice for what the Lions should do this offseason.

1) Somehow acquire either Julius Peppers or Albert Hanesworth. Both are available, but will have strings required to obtain them. Outside of giving away one of those 1st round draft choices, do what it takes to get one of them. Either would immidiately fill one of the Lions greatest, most glaring weaknesses. Getting both would be awesome, but not realistic.

2) Cut strings with several players. Again, if you've read my blog in the past, some of these names shouldn't suprise you. Backus, Cody, Lenon, and Kitna all need to find new homes. None of them are in the top 3/4 of the starters at their positions in the league. There are several more minor players that should go as well, but why dive into their names.

3) #1 draft pick - trade it if you can, or take Andre Smith. DO NOT TAKE A QB!!! The success rate for LT at the top of the draft is far greater than it is for QB. Plus, what good will a QB be if you can't keep him vertical? Smith is the only player who makes sense at that spot for the Lions. He'll be a cornerstone at LT for years, and help begin the turnaround. Optionally, I wouldn't shy away from a dominant DE or DT. I just don't see one this year as being worthy of a #1 selection. If they can trade down a few spots, there are a few possibilities...

4) Take one of the stud LB's with the Dallas #20 pick. Malauga will likely be off the board, but Lauranitis is projected to go right around that position. Take him. The MLB spot will also be filled for years to come, and no one will regret the pick. If there are concerns about him not being available, consider packaging one of the #3 picks and move up a few slots to get him. They can't let another Jerod Mayo type situation (where the Patriots traded up to get him before the Lions) occur.

5) Take the best available DE/DT with the #33 pick. Obviously, you take whichever slot you didn't get with Peppers / Haynesworth.

6) Take the best available players in positions of need with the next several picks. If they have followed my advice, those positions will be OG, DE, DT, OLB, CB in that order. Under no circumstance should they draft a skill position player in this draft. Primarily because they have so many other more pressing needs, but partly because they arent' as bad off in those spots as a lot of people think.

7) Hire an OC and DC who are not married to one system. The BEST system that any NFL team can have is one which adapts to the personnel that the team has. That has been one of the Lions classic undoings in the last several seasons - trying to cram the personnel they had into a system that was less than ideally suited for those players. Right now, it is reasonable to think that a pass-first, mostly balanced O would fit the Lions best. Calvin Johnson is an absolute stud, and demands a double-team on every play. If you combine a 3WR, 1TE set and mix in some draws and short passes using Kevin Smith, this O could be very potent - it was just a year ago with Mike Martz running it with nearly the same players. On D, figure out who will be here next year and then play to their strengths as well.

That kind of roster turnover should result in a significantly improved Lions team next year. Exactly how good will remain to be seen. I don't think that the Lions were as bad as the 0-16 record indicated this year. They easily could have had wins against Green Bay twice, Minnesota twice, Chicago, Carolina, Houston, Washington, and Tampa (don't forget that Tampa scored on an INT return and a Punt return and the Lions led 17-0 in the game). That being said, they did lose all those games. But the margin between 0 wins and several wins wasn't anywhere near as large as some people think.

As a country singer once sang, "When you hit rock bottom, there are only two ways to go - straight up, or sideways." Let's hope the new administration figures out how to go up.

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