The Monday Morning Microscope: Week 13

Okay, so four games have gone by since my last post.  Doesn't seem like that long, but it has been.  I apologize for my lack of presence on the site lately, but when you take a two week vacation, you then have two weeks worth of work stacked up that you have to dig out of when you return.  That sometimes makes vacations not worth taking.  What a ridiculous world we live in.  Absolutely zero work/life balance out there.  Everyone is just work, work, work.  Does no one care about their families anymore?  Sorry, just venting a little.  As you can tell, my initiation back into work the week after my vacation was less than pleasant.  And forgive me for complaining, because I know that I am supremely blessed to even have a job in this unforgiving economy, let alone a good job.  It's just that with all the happenings of this year that have shaped my life's current perspective, I wish to spend a little more time with my family and a little less time with the triviality of my company's finances... especially around the holidays.  Whew... okay, I feel better.  Let's say we talk a little football, eh?

Because I'm playing a little catch-up, this week's edition of MMM might be a little longer than usual.  I'm not going to go into a ton of detail for any one of the past games, but more or less just sum up where we are as a team at this point in the season and talk about where we need to go from here.  I'll finish it up with some specific thoughts about the Bengals game.

With only four weeks left, there are few surprises anymore.  The Lions are what they are... a struggling team with lots of holes and a few bright spots to pin future hopes upon.  They will most likely lose the remainder of their schedule and be back into familiar territory... competing with the bottom of the NFL's barrel for draft position.  I see that the draft has once again become the popular topic of conversation here at POD.  You'll have to forgive me for not joining in that one quite yet.  For me, at least the regular season and bowl games need to be over before joining the cacophony of useless fun that is mock drafting.  I'll say this much though, I believe that the Lions are very much in the running for the number two or three overall pick in the draft.  That just might be enough to net us Suh.  But back to the season at hand...

Through Week 13, the offense can pretty much be characterized as inconsistent and mostly ineffective.  At times, they can take your breath away and at others, they make you scratch your head, wondering if we'll see another first down the entire game.  To get in a little more detail, I'll break it down by area:

  • Quarterback: Well, Matt Stafford single-handedly created one of the most memorable games in Lions history and showed why he was drafted first overall against Cleveland. But that was against Cleveland. He has subsequently stunk it up two games running and showed that he still has a long way to go to become a great quarterback in this league. He has no doubt played hurt the last two weeks and I'm sure that's affected him somewhat, but his decision making has to get better if the Lions are to become contenders. I choose to look at it this way... he's a typical rookie. He's going to make good plays and he's going to make some really bone-headed plays. That's what you get with young players. We've seen it with them all... Pettigrew, Delmas, Levy... all of them. Stafford, as talented as he is, in not immune to the huge learning curve that all rookies who start in this league have to go through. Couple that with a poor offensive line, suspect receivers aside from Calvin and a struggling running game... well, you get the mish-mash performances we've seen from Stafford. Bottom Line: Matt will be fine. He's getting some great experience and if he's really "the one", we will see many of these mistakes start to go away over the course of the 2010 season.
  • Backs and Receivers: I think we've all learned an inconvenient truth about the Lions' receiving corps... it is once again an area of need heading into the off-season. With as much money as we've thrown at this position in the past, this is a true exercise in frustration. Without Calvin Johnson, the offense just dissolves. The reality is that Calvin gets hurt a little too much for comfort and we must have some reliable talent behind him. That means we have to yet again focus on this position in the draft and free agency. The good news is that, before the season ending injury, Pettigrew really started to blossom. That is one position that appears to be solidified (unless this injury lingers into the 2010 season). I also disagree with all of the fans clamoring for the Lions to use a draft pick on a running back. Kevin Smith has not been great this year, but as shown by his efforts in yesterday's game, he is a hard runner and when given adequate blocking, is shifty enough to be a more than serviceable back in this league. Both Brown and Morris are valuable back-ups and add to the offensive versatility. Bottom Line: One of the more important acquisitions for the coming off-season is a complementary wideout opposite Calvin. They must find this player next year, both for the development of Calvin and Matt and for the progress of the offense as a whole. With better blocking, the running backs in our stable should be more than sufficient.
  • Offensive Line: The most disappointing and biggest problem on our offensive line right now is Gosder Cherilus. We all know that the Lions need a big-time upgrade at left guard... that's a given. In my mind, at some point between the second and fourth round, the Lions must take an offensive lineman. The problem is that Cherilus' poor play throws a massive wrench in the gears of the Lions' long term strategy here. Do the Lions take a guard or will they have to take a tackle to replace Cherilus? Can they move Cherilus to left guard and draft a good young right tackle? If so, how will his play translate to guard and will he simply be the next useless player in the revolving door at that position? See... he creates a pickle for the front office. We were supposed to be able to forget about the right tackle position for the next twelve years, yet here we are once again... questioning the ability of a Millen-drafted first round pick. Forget about even attempting to replace Backus or Raiola. We NEED them. How's that for a cold prickly? Bottom Line: The coaching staff needs to determine if Cherilus still has enough potential to waste time with him at right tackle. He is so inconsistent - will it end at some point... who knows? At the very least, the Lions' need to draft a guard. But is that enough? In my opinion, they need another tackle. I'd try Cherilus at left guard and draft a new right tackle that has the ability to move to left in a few years to replace Backus. Anyway you slice it, the line has not played well consistently and something has to be done. Finding a working combination of players will be the biggest off-season challenge for the front office offensively.

As weak as this defense is roster-wise, I think they've played surprisingly well at times.  There just isn't enough talent to fend off opposing offenses if our own offense can't score a lot of points.  This gives me hope that with sufficient talent, Schwartz and Cunningham can put together a defense worth fearing.  I'll break the defense down by area as well:

  • Defensive Line: One word... ineffective. Much more so against the pass than the rush, but we cannot expect to get pressure against any team in the league with any combination of four players on our current roster. There's simply not enough talent. I wish there was an elite pass rusher at the top of the draft this year. I know we are all salivating over Suh and there is no doubt he would be a valuable addition to the Lions, but an elite pass rusher is probably the biggest need on the entire roster. It would fix so many problems. The defensive line and secondary have a cause and effect relationship. The defensive line pressure, or lack thereof, causes the quarterback to either be rushed or to have time. That effects the play of the secondary and how much time they are asked to cover. Our line gives the quarterback all day, which causes the virtually talent-less secondary to have to cover much longer than they are capable. Bottom Line: This year can be scrapped for our defensive line. No one capable of coming close to double-digit sacks is on this roster. Unless they can find that guy in the later rounds of the draft, I'm not sure where the upgrade is going to come from next year. Maybe free agency... ala, Aaron Kampman or someone like that? Either way, this has me very nervous.
  • Linebackers: I think most of us agreed before the season that this was going to easily be the strength of the entire team and we were right. Really, we have five good linebackers on this team. Foote and Peterson are solid, not spectacular players that have been one of the big reasons why the defense has played well at times. Regardless of ranking last in a lot of defensive passing categories, there is no denying that this group has played better this year than last. We've had many more stops on third downs, tackling has been good at times and play against the run has definitely improved. Now, this is all relative to what the Lions were a year ago, but progress is progress. The key decision heading into the off-season will be what to do with Ernie Sims. It should be a no-brainer to try to resign both Foote and Peterson in my opinion. I think it would be a step backwards not to try. For once, there is an area of our team that we shouldn't have to worry about going into next year. Bottom Line: Although Peterson and Levy started slow, both have joined Foote as quality additions to our defense. I believe that we should hold on to all five linebackers next year (Peterson, Foote, Sims, Levy and Dizon) and allow the front office to focus elsewhere. Even though they can't be considered the best corps in the league, they are a vast improvement over what we've had in the recent past. Paris Lenon anyone?
  • Defensive Secondary: Ugh... where to start? Well, Delmas was a home run hit in the second round for Mayhew. Anyone want to argue that? Didn't think so. Beyond that? Nothing. Not sure if there is anyone even worth keeping for next year besides Ko Simpson. James? Maybe as a nickel. Buchanon? Played well sporadically, but we know that he is nowhere close to a great player. Henry? Even the interception yesterday doesn't help mask the fact that he's pretty much washed up. We know by this point in the season what our secondary is... the worst in the league. It's going to be hard to find a good starting corner in the upcoming draft, too. That is disheartening. Hopefully, Mayhew can work his magic and find a late round gem. This is a passing league and if we can't cover or get pressure, we can't compete. The front office has its work cut out trying to piece together a foundation that will be able to dramatically increase production in the secondary next year. Bottom Line: Aside from Delmas and Simpson, they will basically have to start over in the secondary. Our foundation should have been on guys like Keith Smith, A.J. Davis, Gerald Alexander, Daniel Bullocks and Stanley Wilson. What a shame. It's just too much to do in a year. The more I look at it, the more it looks like it might take two more drafts to put this secondary together.

Quick note on Special Teams:  I don't believe I've ever written anything negative about Jason Hanson, but I'm about to.  His kickoffs are getting shorter and shorter each game.  With poor special teams play to begin with, the opponent's returner fielding the ball between the 10 and 20 is not acceptable.  For the first time, I believe his age is showing and affecting his kicking power and subsequently, his distance.  As for Nick Harris... I believe he's having one of his most inconsistent seasons.  For every two good punts, it seems like he's having a horrible one.  That's not good.  We might have to replace both of these iconic players soon if these trends continue.  How do you guys feel about this?

Thoughts About the Bengals Game:

  • As usual, I'll start with Stafford's performance. In a nutshell, it was another sketchy outing by the rookie. The big TD pass to Johnson was a thing of beauty, but that's where the love affair ends. He seemed okay at the start of the game, but during one of the many hits he took, he re-aggravated that shoulder and it seemed to affect him the remainder of the game. I can't believe I'm going to say this, but it might be time to sit him for a game and let that shoulder recuperate. I want him to have as many opportunities as possible to get valuable experience, but if that experience is hampered by injury, then it's time to sit him down.
  • Kevin Smith had a fantastic game yesterday. Yeah, maybe the numbers don't say "fantastic", but in my opinion, it was his best performance of the year. He ran hard and with purpose. He showed his ability to be shifty, nimble and powerful at the same time. He made quicker decisions and made a few cuts that gave me goosebumps. He needed that game, because he's a good back and has taken a lot of heat for the ineffective play of the line.
  • Speaking of offensive line... Gosder had another horrible game yesterday. I forgot to DVR it, so I can't watch it back to see how bad it really was, but I spent a fair amount of time cursing his play yesterday. I thought that the interior, with Gandy and Ramirez, held up fairly well... especially against the run. The blitzing is where the Lions fell apart and part of that was on Stafford to get the ball out quicker. All-in-all, not the worst day for the Lions' O-line... which still isn't saying much.
  • Defensively, it was a decent performance. The Bengals by no means blew out Detroit. We stopped them on several key third downs, forced turnovers and pretty much kept them in check for most of the game. The offense was the real problem yesterday. I think Cunningham and Schwartz have really made the best of this unit. I think the scheme is sound, but the talent is what is missing. Like I've said before, I believe wholeheartedly that once the talent is in place, Schwartz will give Detroit an outstanding defense.

So, there's four games left in the season.  Any winnable?  Maybe the Bears game at home.  Does it matter?  Not really.  We will have another 10+ loss season written down in the annuls of Lions history and another top 5 draft pick on the way to further destroy our salary cap.  For me, this season is and continues to be about the progression of the young talent.  More and more, it looks like - realistically - that we will be waiting until 2011 to really be able to compete in this league.  There are simply too many holes to repair in the upcoming off-season.  That's a discouraging thought, but the front office does appear to have a plan in place and another two drafts like 2009 and we will be an up-and-coming powerhouse in this league.  Unfortunately when you are building a team, the last thing to come is the wins.

Go Lions!

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