Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sea Legs

Ever been sailing before? Not a cruise ship that is pretty stable, but a smaller boat of some kind -- be it pontoon, large runabout, fishing trawler, pirate ship...

One thing they have in common is the difficulty in walking about that land lubbers have. The problem stems from the fact ships are constantly moving due to the motion of the ocean and the ship itself plowing across that ever changing landscape.

All Daunte Culpepper and Boat connotations aside, following the Lions right now is like being a person attempting to move around a boat on the Ocean for the very first time, in rough seas.

Not easy.

Part of the problem with writing my usual positional pieces is that as soon as I think I've got a handle on what is happening, a wave comes along and tosses me on my backside. (for example, trading Gerald Alexander for Dennis Northcutt)

Pro-Football Weekly had a recent article that brought attention to what the Lions are doing right now -- and how Mayhew is working to build the Lions. Depth. Solid Depth. Improvement.

Essentially, as I said earlier, Mayhew is bringing in anyone who could be an upgrade over a player they have already at a position. Whether it is a starter or a backup, Mayhew is trying to get as much talent and competition as possible onto the roster. This will make it both easier and more difficult to improve the team going forward, and create less holes up and down the roster. I look for there to be many more such trades, and/or signings of players who are cut.

One such position will be DT. There are a few teams out there that will have difficulty finding a roster spot for all of their DT's once the cut-downs approach. With the Lions holding sway over the waiver-wire, there is a very good chance that the Lions could get a rotational DT off waivers when the cut down to 53 happens. Maybe even earlier... so the DT's better not get a feeling of being safe, since the ship could turn anytime and toss them overboard.

A team to watch for potential DT's is the New York Giants. They currently have 5 starting caliber DT's (for the Lions, anyway) but may only keep 4. Newly signed Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard are most likely safe. Since Justin Tuck moves around the line at both DE and DT, that leaves 1 of the following 3 to either get traded or cut: Robbins, Alford and Cofield. Any one of them would start for the Lions. It would be best if they were to cut Alford or Cofield as Robbins is a vested vet and he wouldn't go through the waiver wire but the highest bidder, and thus be more expensive and possibly have competition to get. While the Giants keep qutie a few linemen, having more than 8 or 9 really pinches the roster in other ways -- and with some of their DE's capable of rotating in, they are more likely to carry the more versatile players.

Rowing back to the boat analogy, right now Schwartz and Mayhew have made sure nobody is comfortable aboard ship. Alexander was in a fight with about 6 other guys to be the 3rd or 4th safety. If the Lions felt he was in competition to start, they wouldn't have traded him. Despite looking pretty decent before the neck injury, there are other guys competing that are about as talented. Since one or more will end up cut anyways, the Lions went for more depth at WR. Even if Northcutt doesn't work out, the Lions realized a positive cap savings and were able to get more competition at a postion they feel needs it.

They only really had Curry, the rookie Williams, and Standeford competing for the slot WR role. Northcutt adds a very solid option there at #3 WR -- and he also has the ability to be a competent #2 for short stretches if needed. If needed, he's got experience returning punts. He is never going to tear it up and be a superstar -- but none of the players the Lions will be shuffling around at this point are/will be. They are the type of solid players to fill out a roster that every team needs.

At this time last ifseason, we were looking at who would make the roster knowing that player acquisition was essentially done. The roster was so set at this point, that as the cuts came we were about 90%+ right on with who would be sticking around. Now, not so much. We haven't gotten our sea-legs yet -- and neither have most of the players.

And for the Lions, that is a very good thing.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Lions Congregation: Late June Edition

Time again for the Church of Schwartz Lions Congregation. As usual, I've copied my answers here, and you can check out Lions bloggers from around the web at Church of Schwartz here once the article is posted up.

Before I get started, a quick kudos to Ty at The Lions in Winter who had an excellent piece picked up by the Roar Report -- the Lions Official Blog. Congratulations Ty!

Also, thanks to Phil Zaroo's link, my series "Road to 0-16" was on the Lions story-links page on Sports Illustrated.com! The series garnered 3 times more readers than the prior record for any piece! Thank you to everyone for your continued support of my hobby!!

Onto the Questions:

1. How does recent signing Marquand Manuel fit in the secondary picture?

He is not an "immediate unquestioned starter" so to me, the situation remains the same: There are two starters -- Buchanon at CB and Delmas at S. Henry will likely start at one or the other. Everything else (including what position Henry plays) is up for grabs.

2. In your dreams, how many wins do the Lions end up with this year?

Dream scenario as in "Best Case Scenario Considering Reality" or the "Dream Dream Scenario" that is as relative to the actual Lions team on the field as Matt Millen is to "NFL's Greatest Leader since Lombardi." Seriously, though, IF every IF goes perfectly for the Lions -- 10-6. But let me qualify that by saying there are a LOT of big IF's about this team no one can know until the season starts.

3. What is your best guess for how many wins the Lions actually get this year?

My best guess would put the Lions at about 6 wins +/- 1 win for "how the ball bounces" (luck). They are improving, and have a lot of potential -- but the older pickups need to keep playing at a high level, and there are a lot of very young players who will be going through their growing pains. 2010 will be better -- possibly even playoff good.

QB Answers = More Questions

Wow! Struck quite a nerve with the QB piece this year. Great to see everyone back and commenting!!

Right after writing that piece, there was suddenly a burst of QB related articles! More on that later in this piece -- your comments provided some great insight, and here are a few of my thoughts after reading through them:

I truly believe that this coaching staff does NOT want to start Stafford week 1. Period. If anyone knows how to maximize what Culpepper can do, and minimize his weaknesses, it is Scott Linehan. Daunte has a strong arm, doesn't read through more than a couple of progressions really well, and is just plain awful at reading defenses.

Linehan worked with this in Minnesota with a heavy run game, dump-off screens/passes to the RB and TE, and tossing it deep early and often to Randy Moss -- which helped open up said running game and screens. Sub in "Calvin Johnson" for "Randy Moss" and you have the new Randy-Ratio. Whether the Lions win or not, quite frankly, will all come down to how much the defense has progressed.

My last article was predicated on uncertainty. Despite being in phenomenal shape (by all reports) Daunte Culpepper has still been wildly inconsistent throughout his career. He's been everything from Co-MVP to the "Bay Area Fumbler". At worst, he is an older slower David Carr. At best, he is an "almost" Brett Favre. That is one heck of range!

What I was musing over on the last article was the reality that until camp gets underway, or even into the season or pre-season, the Lions don't know what they are going to get from Stafford or Culpepper. They WANT to start Culpepper first, then go to Stafford at some point after that based on what is happening with wins/losses/offense/defense. But IF Stafford does progress far enough that he could start, what then?

The real question, that can only be answered by the coaching staff, is "How much does he need to "beat" Daunte by to start game 1? How bad does Daunte need to play for us to pull him?"

IF the Lions are 3-3 or 4-2 heading into the bye week, unless the defense is the reason and Daunte is playing awful I don't think there will be cries for Stafford until the Lions are out of Playoff contention. At that point, Stafford will finish out the season.

Here is my prediction for when Stafford starts: Game 1, when the Lions are eliminated from the playoffs (or after the Bye week, if they are on that path/winless), or when Daunte plays badly enough to get pulled. right now, I think they start the season with Culpepper.

I'll hit on more of the QB stuff tomorrow --

As for now, here is my thought on the WCF interview: Public Relations. That's it. I agree with Nubs that I didn't see the passion there, or the fire. Who else was in charge of hiring Millen? Russ Thomas? Bobby Ross? No, it was all his fault, and I would have respected him more if he came out and said that HE hired him, HE made a mistake -- including NOT listening to others and keeping Millen on too long. I do believe he felt strongly about the empty seats, however. And this PR was part of making sure they are filled again.

Fortunately, I am liking how this ifseason is going, and I think they will be much better. 8-8 better? Ummm...maybe... IF... lots and lots of IF's...

Monday, June 22, 2009

QB's: What was I thinking??

Okay, we all know the excitement and the optimism flow freely here at DetFan1979 as the Ifseason rolls on. I make sure that soon-to-be-trademarked "IF..." with a qualifier is in there, but part of me just wants to believe the best.

That, of course, is how you explain this July 21, 2008 Article I wrote on the QB situation in Detroit. It's time to look at the 6 QB situations again, and see where Detroit falls this ifseason. (I do realize that I will take a merciless beating for the "and anyone desperate enough to sign Daunte Culpepper" line for category #6...)

To recap the "Situations" teams typically find themselves in regarding Quarterbacks:

1. QB "Controversy": Both of our starters are "close to even", "duking it out", or "equally bad". See: 2008/2009 Cleveland Browns. Typically leads to situation #2 or #3.

2. Mentor and Grasshopper: Veteran starter who is benchwarming or training/mentoring a young QB -- generally a high round draft pick -- to take his place and make him a highly paid backup for a season or two once he loses. If the mentor is fine with getting paid a couple mil for holding a clipboard, usually progresses to situation 3. If not, you get #4. (intentional and still relevant today, sadly enough.)

3. Young executive and experienced Assistant: A young(er) starting QB, or one in his prime backed up by a savvy veteran QB that does more than hold the clipboard. They are good at helping the starter notice trends in the opposing D, eliminate mistakes, and all around help out the team by helping the starting QB get better. They play well enough not to have to run the scout team, but poor enough not to start. They get paid about a million or so a year to play very little football at all, and when they do, typically get to be the "hero" stepping in for the injured starter... Think Charlie Batch in Pittsburgh. It's a good gig, and for those whose egos can handle being "almost" the man, it is perfect -- both for them, and the team.

4. Young Boss, Old guy he got promoted over (or will soon): You took his job -- or, as a high round draft pick were taken to "send a message" or "usher in a new era". He's not too thrilled about it. Sure, he's there to "help" you -- but won't really go out of his way. he might "warm up" to you after a while...maybe... or he might pretend to retire and go "gotcha" a couple months later when he starts to "itch". Or maybe just sit on his couch eating potato chips for a few months until an historically bad team calls up and says "Hey, want another shot -- we figure we can't get any worse..."

5. "The Man"..and the "Invisible Man": sure, you have that treasure of the NFL -- a solid or even all-star starting QB. And backing him up you have...ummm....David Carr....Seneca Wallace...Kolb...Vinny Testaverde...Bueller? See: 2007 Carolina Panthers, 2008 Dallas Cowboys

6. "An Open Competition": Jack shit, and you know it. Figure, at least if they are all "fighting it out" you can put forth the appearance of talent, and pray like hell one works out. See: 2008 and 2009 49ers, 2009 Bucs, any team desperate enough to sign Daunte Culpepper [I just had to leave that in there for comedy's sake. If I don't laugh, I'll cry...]

7. Eliminated unless Raheem Morris suddenly develops a Gruden-Like QB fetish, or Gruden himself returns to coach some team... (Like the 2010 Bengals).

Now that I have updated the categories, where do the Lions fall?? What is your take?? Remember, I love the thoughtful comments, and want your views as well. That is a big part of what this blog is about!

I was not a big "draft Stafford" fan, BUT - it was on general principle, not any inside knowledge. I saw him play on TV once. One game. It was more from the failure rate of underclass QB's combined with the failure rate of highly drafted QB's that scared me.

Despite my fears, it appears heading into Tuesday's full-padded mini-camp that the Lions may be impressed enough with Stafford to go the Peyton Manning route versus the Carson Palmer road. I think that as of now, Detroit is smack-dab in the middle of #2, headed for #4 and then #5.

Daunte wanted to come in, be the man, and get a shot at being the highly touted "franchise QB" he was in Minnesota. Thus far, he hasn't been able to recapture the spark. Maybe that Randy-Ratio of Linehan's wasn't so stupid after all...

Seriously, though, he thought in Detroit he would only have to "hold off" Drew Stanton, and that he would end up starting the season in 2009 at least -- and that even if he were supplanted by a draft pick later, he could maybe hold that off and cash in with another big payday. Stafford's apparent progression could be ruining all that.

A Stafford that doesn't start til after the bye week at the earliest lets Daunte have time to shine up the resume that has tarnished. Stafford starting the season has Daunte in the role of "assistant" in #3 and that is not something he is suited for... (#2 is transitional)...thus leaving the Lions at #4.

If Daunte is too detrimental to team chemistry (assuming he loses the starting QB battle) the team could cut him before his real money kicks in at the beginning of the season, and end up with Drew Stanton backing up Stafford with...umm...well..umm...someone as the 3rd QB. In other words, #5.

Don't get me wrong, all the "problems" are based on Stafford being good enough to start day 1 for a coaching staff intent on sitting him if he didn't cross every t and dot every i in triplicate on the "ready to be a starting NFL QB" test. Still, the depth and chemistry on the team will be dependent on these major things:

1. Does Stafford win the Starting Job?

2. How well does he play/the team do?

3. How does Daunte handle it?

4. How much does Stanton progress? ie will he be a legitimate backup?

Just looking at those 4 questions makes me excited and nervous all at the same time. IF the performance of the Lions QB's in 2009 were a stock, I wouldn't be buying unless I had that money to burn. There are too many IF's with too much downside for my liking on the QB situation this ifseason, which will definitely temper my expectations for the coming season.

What do you think? Am I undervaluing Stafford? Culpepper? Will he play "mentor", or at least "assistant"?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day!

What says Football more than Father's Day? It's criminal Father's Day isn't during Football Season! Enjoy the day, and hopefully spend it with family if you can!

Happy Father's Day to all the Dad's out there!!

Our thoughts go out to you today, Chief.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Road to 0 - 16: Recovery Begins?

So what now? The franchise hit about as rock bottom as possible except of course for breaking the all-time losing streak (set at 28 games by the expansion Bucs).

Is that the next target on the horizon, or is winning some games going to happen in the near future? For the eternal optimist in me, there are some wins in the future of the franchise this year. How many? Your guess is as good as mine!

Will the team be competitive again? Will it be fun to watch on Sundays? Up until the last few Millen years, the Lions were still a fun, often competitive team to watch. Last year was almost unwatchable.

I see many different signs of hope from all throughout the Lions organization. Will hope turn to joy, or the bitter ashes of historic ridicule once again? Only time can answer that question.

So what hope do I see?

There is consistency among the actions of the front office and coaching staff. Not all of what they are reaching for could be accomplished in one ifseason, but great strides were made. They did not overpay just to get big-name free agents in here yet they still managed to get Larry Foote to sign here, creating excitement and filling a major need.

As far as Free Agency, the Lions could have done some things different, but they managed to fill their needs as much as possible via FA and the draft. They didnt dive into big money contracts with aging veterans like in the Millen years. Short term band-aids were signed to band-aid sized contracts. The Lions have brought in just about every player released by every team to hit waivers thus far who can stand up, see lightning, and hear thunder for a few days to see what they have keeping a couple, and dropping the rest to look at still more. (I expect this to continue throughout camp, and even the late roster cuts.)

The trades will have to wait to wait to be evaluated until the season gets underway after all, Rogers for Bodden and a 3rd looked decent, and who can forget Dre Bly for George Foster and Tatum Bell? (though I didnt really like that trade, and wasnt too fond of ditching Rogers for less than a 2nd rounder either).

This years trades look to be more in favor of the Lions or at worst fair value. How Williams and Pettigrew work out will determine the Roy trade value. If Henry contributes anything it will be more than the nothing the Lions would have had cutting Kitna he makes the roster, and makes a handful of plays and you are into positive territory there. (low risk, high reward). The Dline was already a weakness, but getting Peterson for Redding could be seen as one of the best plays of the ifseason IF Peterson plays to his pro-bowl form of the past few years. We are seeing LBers last longer in the league, and Peterson could very well have enough in the tank to continue to perform at peak levels for another 2 -3 years.

The player acquisitions are by their nature impossible to judge until time unfolds and we see the product on the field. The same goes with the coaching staff it looks great on paper, but the proof is in the plays. For that, we have to wait.

What can be judged is the attitude toward the fans. I made quite a long comment on the 2nd part of Road to 0-16 (go check it out) for how I felt there are different ways of not caring what the fans think. (Millen didnt seem to care at all, Mayhew was referencing that he wasnt going to sign big names just for the sake of appeasing the fans in the draft he was going to take guys that fit the team-building they are doing. Big difference.) The Lions seem intent on undoing the expulsion of fans from connecting with virtually every aspect of the team that has gone on since 2002.

The idea of making training camp more accessible to fans again that is being discussed is one option, as well as more open practices in the interim. In the past, camp was open to all and highly attended. (As per Lewands statements, it appears the Lions are going to open up more than the 2 or 3 practices they did last year) Only 700 at a time or so can fit at Allen Park, but if they open up a few weeks worth of camp practices for free that alone says to fans we care about you again and want you back as part of the team, not just your money. The Lions front office, Coach Schwartz included (hes made more ifseason appearances than the past three Lions coaches combined already and its June), want to bring the fans back. They seem to understand that the fans are the foundation of the team.

Finally, what keeps me optimistic thus far in giving Mayhew the benefit of the doubt is that he doesnt expect me to. He has approached the team and fans since the beginning from the standpoint that the only support/trust he can expect form fans is what the team he builds earns on the field. No egomaniacal expectations/illusions of Im infallible (like the poor Browns, Broncos, and Bucs fans are dealing with right now). He said before the draft in a radio interview (paraphrased): Of course fans are skeptical. Why should they think anything is different until they see it on the field? I can tell you were doing a great job building til Im blue in the face, that we are doing things right, things different but until that vision becomes a reality the fans after what happened, have every right to need to see it. I respect that. Just trust me and support me sure, I want that. But I have to earn that.

(cant find the link to a transcript on that one. Basic message as I heard it.)

Yes Mr Mayhew I will remain cautiously optimistic as I look at the positional groupings this ifseason, as I look over your draft, as I get into preseason, and as I enjoy my favorite team this summer and into the fall. I will remain so until I see something to prove me right or prove me wrong. But in my gut, I know the recovery has begun. In three years, when the Lions are making a deep playoff run I look forward to writing a more upbeat piece titled Road to Recovery: Rising from 0-16. IF

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Peter King: Mon AM Hypocrite

While I understand why it is the national media treats the Lions the way they do when they rightly deserve it is one thing. What Peter King did today is reprehensible.

During the draft, he put out a scathing piece talking about how badly Martin Mayhew got ripped off with Matt Stafford's contract. As my regular readers know, I totally disagree and here is why from my comments on my Draft Day blog: (5th down)

As I said about the money -- these initial reports ALWAYS inflate the values so the agent looks good -- and they are rounded up.

Most reliable info I have right now states that it is 41.7 mil guaranteed, with 72 mil for decent playing time, 78 mil if he is essentially a pro-bowler.

I have also heard that a big initial sticking point was 5yrs vs 6yrs -- the Lions wanted 6. If you look at 1.7 mil over the initial numbers floated about of 40 mil 5 yrs, you can see the Lions DID get a lot of value in their hardball negotiations -- an additional year for about 1.7 mil.

Not bad! Ryan went at 3 vs #1 overall. #1 usually has about 10% minimum increase over #3 for same position -- agent will try for 15% or more. There was a 10% increase in the cap.

So 20 - 25% increase is what the standard would be. Ryan at 36 million guaranteed with 72 million possible. Matt with roughly 42 million guaranteed and 78 million total.

The guaranteed money went up less than 17% and the total value only went up 8.3%.

When you look at it that way, you can see why Condon didn't want to sign on the deal, and that Mayhew did, in fact, do quite well in comparison to what the demands and expectations were to start out with from the player/agent side.

yes, the rookie pay scale is broken. But within the current context, the Lions did quite well.

Mr. King, like many other national media members, also has a thing for Mark "GQ" Sanchez. (must be the airbrushed abs) He is using his own interpretation of the numbers to prove a point. First off, here is the section from his MMQB article:


Mark Sanchez did fine with his five-year, $47.5-million deal with New York, obviously. But there was no pillaging of the Jets salary cap. The only way to judge these things is the way you judge real estate, and when you do it that way, the Jets got more house for their money than Detroit and Atlanta got for theirs.

Let's look at the quarterbacks picked in the top five of the last two years -- Matt Ryan third by Atlanta last year, Matthew Stafford first by Detroit this year, Sanchez fifth by the Jets this year). Ryan and Stafford signed six-year deals, but since Sanchez signed a five-year deal, let's compare apples to apples. Five years to five years. The money each will get over the first five years of their deals, with minimum playing-time incentives reached:

Player Year picked Five-year total Five-year average
Ryan 2008 $56.0 million $11.2 million
Stafford 2009 $61.0 million $12.2 million
Sanchez 2009 $47.5 million $9.5 million

Now, Ryan and Stafford both got picked higher than Sanchez. That's a factor. But it's
interesting this deal got done now, when there wasn't any pressure to get a deal done, rather than five weeks from now on the verge of camp, when the Jets might have been forced to pay more.

The biggest thing I have to say is you are a hypocrite Peter! You said the Lions got taken to the cleaners at draft time – yet in your own “realistic numbers” comparison, the Lions are only paying Stafford 8.93% more per year than Ryan got – despite a 10% cap increase and being #1 overall versus #3 one year earlier. Please note, that according to Peter's own numbers, the value falls into the range I explained -- back on draft day two months ago! -- in comparison to Ryan for "money they are likely to earn" -- not the inflated numbers for "Agent Ego/Pay Purposes".

I think Peter -- and many others -- owe Martin Mayhew an apology for calling the Lions’ contract with Stafford outrageous, and claiming Mayhew "gave in" to Condon -- based on the comparison above, it looks like Mayhew managed to hang tough and get a reasonable deal despite being in a bad situation.

(I emailed Peter King – lets see if I make his mailbag!)

Next time Peter, how about you top twittering, NBC Prepping, column churning, and watching baseball for a while and gets some facts straight before lambasting a first-time GM in Mayhew just because it's "only the Lions." Had Scott Pioli, or Bill Polian, or another "trusted GM" written that contract, it wouldn't have taken two months to put out the numbers like was done on Monday, and it would have emphasized the 8.93% increase in likely money versus the "HUGE INCREASE" in guaranteed money that was trumpeted around.

I leave you again with: 10% increase in the cap, PLUS 1st pick versus 3rd -- yet look at those numbers and percentage increase in Stafford's likely pay to Ryan's. There is hope Lions fans -- it just takes time to sort out the facts sometimes.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Road to 0-16: Goliath beats David

When you are using effort to trump talent.  When you are using determination to out hustle skill.  When creativity upends convention. When you are the underdog. 

This piece from the New Yorker talks about a girls basketball team that used the full-court press to get wins by using effort AND unconventional tactics to overcome lack of talent.   It is a long article, but a good one and to me highlights the very reason Detroit went 0-16. 

 It comes down to one word:  Convention

Detroit played by the rules.  3 downs, punt.  Traditional formations.  Base Defense.  Minimal Blitzing.  Fair Catch.  I wrote before the Green Bay game to end the season that I wanted to see lots of crazy stuff on the field just to throw the other team off and give Detroit a chance but knew that I wouldnt. 

A quote from the New Yorker article that really sums it up: 

Davids victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact. Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts in which one side was at least ten times as powerfulin terms of armed might and populationas its opponent, and even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost a third of the time.

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said (in Robert Alters translation), and picked up those five smooth stones. What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, Davids winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliaths rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldnt.

When you play by the rules, you get stepped on.  Goliath puts another tally mark on his massive armor, and goes his merry way leaving behind the massacre at his feet. 

Lets not kid ourselves here, Lions fans:  Detroit did not field a highly talented team last season.  Top to bottom there was no way any sober individual could say the Lions had as much talent as the Chargers, the Steelers, the Eagles, the Giants, or even Green Bay.   But that doesnt mean there was no talent at all. 

Ive looked at what led up to 2008 now we are in to the season itself.  It wasnt talent or players efforts alone that led to an historic zero.  It wasnt just the GM that built the entity.  It was also largely on the shoulders of the coaches. 

As Ive gone over before, not only were the coaches unable, unwilling, or incapable of adjusting in-game they also failed to do so from week to week Teams used the same base plays against the same Lions defensive look for long running gains week after week.  For TD passes week after week. 

Still, we saw the Lions come out, line up in the same formations, and end up with the same result.  It was inevitable from the time they took the field.

Is there hope, Lions fans?   Next up  -- Road to 0-16: Beyond the Zero

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Road to 0-16: 01-07 Train Wreck in Progress

Matthew Millen. Since we are getting into fairly recent history, I'm sure everyone is quite familiar with most of his... accomplishments. But since this is a look at 0-16, I had to ask myself: was he really the primary cause?

While he was certainly the engineer of the runaway Lionel headed for the incomplete bridge into the abyss, someone else was driving the train -- but it was still down the tracks that Millen built.

So what happened with Millen? While a perfect storm of events all at once happened in 2007, it was Millen's managerial style that ultimately led down this path. While many fans called for "the Buck" to be gone, there was never the acrid animosity that Matt Millen injected into the fan base. Lions fans were frustrated, sure - but ever bubbling optimism for "next year" dried up in the oughts.

Attempting to look over this time period with as neutral an eye as possible, I came up with one word that sums up the whole debacle: Arrogance.

Matt Millen in 2001 was an excellent play-by-play announcer. He was fun to listen to, and heir apparent to Madden. While a first time GM, with no prior front office experience, an engaging charismatic person can lead a franchise with a clear vision and talented staff who handle the football side of things.

It seemed Millen had a clear vision -- a tough, gritty defense and a powerful, smashmouth offense. But he was not at all consistent.

There is no doubt that Millen is charismatic -- anyone who has spent any amount of time with him will tell you how great a guy he is. At first, it seemed as though he may end up being ok. He kept Bill Tobin on, who actually ran the 2001 draft. Up until last year, that was the best draft by far of the Millen Era.

However, even from the get go, there were danger signs that only got worse the longer he was there. Bill wasn't too thrilled with some of Matt's personnel moves, and Millen canned him. He felt he could do better at picking talent. Virtually anyone who was not a yes man, or who wasn't hired by (thus beholden to) Matt was let go in a purge that included the front office and players.

Matt knew best, and Matt's way was the only way. Anyone who said otherwise was gone. "Group Think" set in at a very early stage and was never dislodged. Easily distracted from his vision, and impatient for "progress", he changed philosophies for the offense, defense, drafting, management, free agents, contracts, etc. more often than Barbie changes clothes and professions.

To double down the damages of inconsistency, the string of coaches he brought in followed the Ross model of making players fit the coach's system, not the system fit the talent. Coupling constant change, with constantly different player needs on both offense and defense led to the situation in 2007.

Having a series of disastrous drafts, the Lions were very thin young veteran talent. They had guys on their last legs, and rookies. They were missing that core of young veterans in their prime that is the heart of any team. Yet, thanks to Martz's prolific offense and a lot of luck, the Lions pulled off 6 wins in the first half of the season, staving off the headsman once again...

Still, the train was barreling closer to the abyss. By this point, everyone had learned not to question anything Matt Millen was doing, even though they knew it was ludicrous. Morale among the scouts had to be pretty low since their work stacking the board was routinely ignored in favor of whim or name. The coaching had gone from "I'll take the wind" to "Why is wind a big deal? Gonna mess up your pretty hair?".

Also, in addition to the poor outright mangement decisions was a haughty contempt for the Fans -- Season Ticket Holders on down. There was a permeation from the top that it didn't matter what the fans thought, they were doing it his way. The fans were too stupid to see the vision. This blatant disregard to the fans led to intense negativity towards the franchise from its own fans. Up until this era, the Lions had been loveable underachivers. Now, they were just perpetual failures and doomed for eternity, with every move good or bad blasted by fans and media alike. Contempt breeds contempt.

Individuals who lead with arrogance either do really well (if they truly are that good) or really disastrously. People who think they know what they are doing, but don't, are the most dangerous in any profession -- especially when coupled with an ego that does not allow them to admit mistake. This leads to people hiring those whom they can control.

This spilled down to the coaching level in 2008. By the end of 2007, it was pretty obvious that Rod Marinelli was overwhelmed as a head coach. He seemed to be learning a bit, but it was hard to tell what was him and what was Martz. Unfortunately, Rod wanted assistant who would do everything "his way." While not bad, Rod spent too much time with individual players and wasn't good at what a Head Coach needs to be -- overall management, planning, and coordination between his offense and defense. While a front of cliched unity was put forth, it was obvious that there was dissension among all levels of coaching that Marinelli was unable to control, or unaware of.

Now, even a blind bird can find a seed once in a while, and Millen was no different. While they may have been about half NFL starters at best, the Lions still had at least some professional football talent on the field. So what happened in 2008? Was it all lack of talent? Coaching? Management interference? Lack of heart? Scheme?

Find out in the final installment of "Road to 0-16: Goliath Beats David - Sixteen Times" later this week.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Road to 0-16: 1991-2000 "Glory Years"

First off, since Dave Birkett moved to be a beat guy for U of M, the Oakland Press has changed up their Lions coverage a bit. I changed up the link in my listing as well.

Funny enough, a story in there fits right along with my new series:

"Road to 0-16: How to become Historically Bad."

Part One: 1991 - 2000 The Glory Years or Rut to Ruin?

Those that do not study the past are doomed to repeat it. The piece talks about the Lions' playoff appearances in the 1990's, and how since the writer missed the Millen years entirely, this will be like the rebuilding that should have happened in the 2000's. Ahh, but I am getting ahead of myself...

The listing of playoff appearances is impressive indeed!

1991 - NFC Title Game
One and Done in: 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1999. And who can forget missing in 2000 by a bears FG?

In fact, lets look at the record of the Lions in the 1990's (from DetroitLions.com):

Playoff appearances are in Bold

1990 Wayne Fontes 6-10-0 3rd NFC Central
1991 Wayne Fontes 12-4-0 1st NFC Central
1992 Wayne Fontes 5-11-0 5th NFC Central
1993 Wayne Fontes 10-6-0 1st NFC Central
1994 Wayne Fontes 9-7-0 3rd NFC Central
1995 Wayne Fontes 10-6-0 2nd NFC Central
1996 Wayne Fontes 5-11-0 5th NFC Central
1997 Bobby Ross 9-7-0 3rd NFC Central
1998 Bobby Ross 5-11-0 4th NFC Central
1999 Bobby Ross 8-8-0 3rd NFC Central
2000 Bobby Ross** 9-7-0 4th NFC Central

There was legitimate reason the NFC Central was the "Black and Blue" division. The Lions, Packers, Vikings, and Bucs were all playoff teams in the 1990's and highly feared. How long since a 10-6 record in a 5 team division earned 2nd place for the Lions??

Now lets go back in time to the 1990 - 1996 seasons. Wayne Fontes consistently had the Lions in the playoffs. Of course, this wasn't because the Lions were exceedingly well coached (although Lions fans would later, of course, look back lovingly on these sweet contending years...)

The Lions were known for their great drafts in this time period, and indeed had a stacked team with great talent on both offense and defense. The Silver Rush. Barry Sanders.

So what happened? They "underachieved". The Lions never were able to capture that magical "playoff run" and, like Marino, Barry ended his career ringless -- though at least Marino had a shot in the big game.

In 1996, fed up by an inability to win in the playoffs, the Lions fired Fontes and brought in Bobby Ross. Ross, who fell out of favor with the Chargers just two years after leading the Chargers to the SuperBowl, was just the man to motivate the team into more postseason glory. Or was he?

Actually, in his 3 1/2 years, Ross achieved roughly the same level of achievement that Fontes did - having one good year, followed by a down season, then sneaking into the playoffs again.

If all of this sounds somewhat familiar, it should. Both the SanDiego Chargers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have followed this exact same path in recent years, although they are at different points.

The Chargers are the Lions of the 2000's. They fired Marty Schottenheimer because he could get them to the playoffs, but couldn't win. They hired Marty in the first place because the talent on the Chargers was (and still does) underachieve -- especially in the playoffs.

The window for the chargers is closing in on them as LT ages... if they stay on their current path, in another 3 or 4 years at most you will be looking at an owner seeing an aging roster and a need to move on. The one thing they have going for them is that AJ Smith is still drafting well -- and good drafting typically leads to an average team at worst.

The Tampa Bay similarity is even more profound, and ironic given the "Tampa North" moniker in the Rod Marinelli years.

Tampa Bay brought in John Gruden to replace Tony Dungy because, although Dungy got them to the playoffs, he couldn't "win the big one". (Since disproven with the Colts) The divergence here is that Gruden won the big one his first year, while Fontes missed out by losing the championship game and the Ross hiring wasn't as fortunate for the Lions. However, fate was not looking kindly to Gruden in the long run.

After his Superbowl win, Tampa has been mixing playoff appearances with down years. Faced with poor drafting and an aging roster (are we back in Detroit in 2001 anyone?), ownership decided to cut bait and hired a first time head coach and first time GM to blow it all up and "start over right."

(Since we know the future, lets pray for the sake of Bucs fans the 2010's go better for them than the 2000's went for the Lions... though based on their moves thus far they are following the blueprint Millen laid out...)

Getting back to the Lions, one thing that had defined the Fontes years was great talent. The Lions had it. They drafted well for the most part -- and even though they underachieved on the whole, the Lions had the depth and talent to field a fearsome team on an annual basis. They were never far off middle of the road at worst.

That changed, however, with the Bobby Ross years. While we tend to overlook it, he drafted almost as badly (if not as badly) as Matt Millen. Ross had control over personnel, and tended to make Millenesque picks for a player rather than sticking with his board. (It usually came back to bite the Lions.)

With 4 bad drafts in a row, and the rest of the players retiring, leaving in FA, or slowing down due to age a roster that had been stacked was starting on a bit of a decline. HOWEVER -- my thought is, and always has been, that a GM who drafted well could have used the veterans on the roster as a bridge (it was still a 9-7 team in 2000 who just missed the playoffs!) and built the Lions back up very quickly with smart drafting again.

After all, the 1990's Lions proved beyond doubt that great drafting could make for an average team on a consistent basis, irregardless of other factors.

The front office staff was still mostly in place from the Fontes years to be able to move back to the "old style" of drafting the Lions employed (look at the Steelers from 2002 - 2009 for how that type of drafting works, since the Lions' personnel in essence ended up there).

For me, the first steps to 0-16 were taken in the 1990's -- fed up by "almost getting there" the Fords decided to try something totally new rather than bring someone in to improve from where they were at (again). The belief of perpetual mediocrity -- the team that often got in to the club, but never brought anyone home -- had been firmly entrenched over a decade. This build up of frustration pent out of years of missing "by a FG" is what set the entry for 0-16.

Indeed, it was the very rut of frustrated mediocrity created in the 1990's that led to the search for a shovel, a rope, or anything to get out for good. Unfortunately, their shovel and rope were in the form of Matt Millen -- the focus of the next step on "The Road to 0-16" -- 2000-07: Train Wreck in Progress.

Look for it later this week, as we journey together down the "Road to 0-16: How to become Historically Bad."

Road to 0-16, and Recovery

I read a few articles, and had some thoughts during hiatus about the Lions' 0-16 season. What preceded it? What led up to it historically? What preceded that era of progression? How did the season itself unfold - why did it happen?

Not just a quick look -- but an in-depth dive into how the Lions got to where they are heading into 2009. Thus, this week I will be writing a 3 - 4 part series on this subject matter.

Road to 0-16, and the Journey to Respectability.

Look for the first installment tomorrow!!

Also, good comments on last story, so check them out.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Lions Congregation 6-5-09

Due to a busy end of the week at work, I was a little late with my Lions Congregation answers, but here they are:

1. Where does Jon Jansen fit in with the Lions?

Jon Jansen will be fighting with Salaam, Cook, and everyone not named Gosder Cherilus and Jeff Backus to be the backup swing tackle for the Lions. They may try him at OG as well, since versatility in backup linemen is key. Don't get me wrong, the coaches will use him to push Cherilus just as they will use Salaam to push Backus but those two guys will keep their jobs and be better for the competition.

2. What is the best move Martin Mayhew has made thus far as GM?

The trading of Roy Williams still stands out as his best personnel move -- but I am going to go with realigning the Lions into a consistent, coherent organization this ifseason. While I may not he jumping with joy at every decision, they have all followed along with his stated plans and methodology. This is a far cry from the Millen-led Lions lurching around like a drunken sailr from one aging fad, or must-have player, to the next. That alone will help bring more success to Mayhew than Millen had.

3. What is the worst move Mayhew has made thus far as GM?

I still would have liked to see a bit more of a shakeup in the scouting department, but it appears he decided to wait until after the draft to implement more changes there (such as having the scouts live in their assigned regions, adding some additional scouts, etc.)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Waiver Wire Rules

Todd had a great question that I felt I should address in a bit more detail. About a month back, I did a piece called Dibbs! Not it! that talked about the huge advantage in picking up talent the Lions have by being first in line on the "waiver wire".

In a teensie weensie oversight, I forgot to explain what the waiver wire is, and the rules. This site sums it up best, and I will quote it almost verbatim here:

"First, the waiver wire is used exclusively for players with less than 4 years of of service to an NFL squad. Once this player is placed on waivers, any team may claim him. If a player is claimed by more than one team, then the team with the worst record is awarded his rights.

This means that a player is retained by a new employer at the exact same contract he signed with his previous employer. This keeps the teams from having to negotiate new contracts with players when they are released. It also helps the teams because there are frequently players who are cut that have ability, the lower your win-loss ratio, the better your chance of nabbing these players.

Players with four or more accrued seasons in the NFL are exempt from the waiver system. They immediately become free agents upon release.

-Collin Streetman"

There is no limit to the number of times a player can be cut and picked up by other teams, or sometimes the same team multiple times. Since the Lions went 0-16, they get first choice on all players with less than 4 credited years who are released until such time as a team wins fewer games than them.

Players like Jansen and Foote have vested status in the league, so are UFA (Unrestricted Free Agents) when they are released. Since the CBA was allowed to expire, starting in 2010 there is no salary cap (at this point) and the number of credited years to become an UFA goes to 6 years.

This means that, unless a new CBA is negotiated and it is changed, starting next league year (2010) all players with less than 6 years who are cut will hit the waiver wire.

Look for the bottom of the Lions' roster to continue churning like Houghton Lake in a summer storm. What Mayhew has been doing is bringing in everyone/anyone who is worth a look at positions where there is less depth than the Lions would like, less talent, or the players competing need to be pushed. As some positions solidify a bit (or someone they brought in is ruled out of camp or the final roster) they cut bait and move on.

For example, with Jansen signed to compete with Salaam for backup swing tackle, Foster was superfluous, and thus cut. he wasn't beating out Cherilus -- and he didn't have much chance of beating out Loper, Cook, Jansen and Salaam to make it through camp and onto the roster, so they cut him.

Another intriguing cut was Jon Bradley. Since they will keep two FB and only have two (Smith and Felton) this tells me that they knew which two FB were going to be on the roster -- and now that their roster spots are "there" they will let them compete to see who gets to start. Smith is the better blocker, but Felton is the better runner/pass catcher. It should be a heated battle and I expect both to be used extensively when the season gets in motion.

If the Lions sign another FB off the waiver or FA stack at this point, it either means an injury or they feel that Smith and Felton need to be pushed more again. At this point, they must be happy with the effort of both.

I'll get more into each position grouping, and highlight different competitions as we move through the early summer.

Thanks for the kind words, and yes -- it is great to be back!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Mocking the Mocks: 2009

We attempted to mock a couple of early drafts this year. Most of us, sad to say, deserve to be just plain mocked. Our efforts were good, but with a new front office and coaching staff after years of Millen drafts -- lets just say, it was hard to call.

First off -- your humble blogger. The only pick I even got close to right was Matt Stafford. From april 8th:

"#1. Matthew Stafford: If Linehan and Schwartz are sold on him having the ability to be at worst an above average QB they will take him. While as I said he won't start til likely a fair amount into the season depending on Culpepper's play, they will be able to season him and have a veteran in place for when the rest of the team is on track"

After that -- forget it. I was too stuck in the mindset of the Millen years when I wrote that mock, versus looking at who the likely BPA at an area of need was. Instead, I "reached" for the "biggest need" area.

I wasn't alone in my...umm...near-total ineptness? Lambo and Chief were spot on as much as I was (meaning they got Stafford right...) ClusterFox had Stafford only right in his "What Mayhew Will Do" mock, but did predict Pettigrew at 20 in his "What I'd Like to See" mock.

So how about the rest of our informed readers? Did they beat the blogger with their mystical prognostication abilities??

Lopper made a valiant effort, but whiffed like Kenoy Kennedy trying to tackle Adrian Peterson in 07. Nothing but air. You are not alone, however, as Millenismad/MayhewsMen also got as many right as the Lions did wins in 08. Rounding out this group was KCLion fan, Dreamer1955 and DetSims. Millersco gets a half-win for predicting the Lions taking a KR with #85.

Speaking of Derrick Williams, said KR was predicted at #82 by NoCoach, who also got Stafford right! NoCoach was one of just two people to get two players right in their mock draft. Riley also had the Lions picking Williams -- but at #65. Still, better than most of us did!

RIP was the only one to peg the Lions taking Sammie Hill -- but he was over a full round early with him at #82. Of course, that was supposed to be about where he was drafted -- in the mid-low 3rd so getting him 33 picks later was a steal for the Lions!

Finally, William had Delmas at 33 -- we seemed split between Delmas, Alphonso Smith, and thinking one of those OG/C who went really early would be there... But William had it right!

Our big winner? His love of Curry spoiled 3 right, but a great effort by Minker. Congratulations!! You were our best mock drafter!! Minker nailed BOTH Pettigrew at 20 AND Delmas at 33.

It was a lot of fun looking at everyone's predictions in this topsy-turvy draft that saw a big muddle of draft picks around the same talent level, most of the big names dropped like a rock, and a new coaching staff and front office. We'll have to see how we do in year 2 of the Mayhew Era.

Meanwhile, great to be back blogging! Everyone is finally healthy, and time has finally settled down a bit again for the DetFan1979 clan (as much as it can with 3 little pink Lions anyway!)