Today, I pinpointed the scapegoat for the Lions' issues in winning this year. This HAS to be solved in the offseason, or we are in for some more pain, guys. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I truly believe if we solve one problem, we will win.... consistently.
We need to be able to run the ball.
Now, you can say what you want, place the blame on any of several parties, but the fact remains. Our lead rusher today was Jahvid Best, with 35 yards on 17 carries, for a 2.1 yard average, against the league's worst run defense. We scored no points on the ground. His long rush of the day was 9 yards.
The entire running 'squad', if you can call it that, combined for 76 yards on 26 rushes, for a 3.3 yard average, thanks largely to a 17 yard run by Nate Burleson. Removing that play, you end up with 59 yards on 25 rushes for 2.4 yards. Just to compare, the Bills and Fred Jackson managed 151 yards (12 yards more than the 139 they had in passing) with 8 more rushes in the game, for 4.6 yards each time.
It's not hard to see why the Bills basically dominated this game.
I know this is not news to many of you, but I just felt like people are lashing out at parties not at fault due to frustration, and felt that I should give my .02 on where we need to direct the anger.
So who does it belong to?
All of them - the players, the line, and the coaches.
Every step down that line, someone is not doing their job to the best of their ability, for whatever reason. The running backs have been anything but explosive, but I say the blame belongs least to them. Smith has done halfway decent coming back from an ACL tear. Best has two turf toes, which is serious. One must only look to players like Reggie Bush and Darren McFadden who saw their first year or two go up in flames when turf toe reared it's ugly head. Excuses aside, these guys don't have much to work with, and Best's size does not work to his advantage with regards to making physical plays. A bruising back with a bad line is much more likely to succeed than a small one. Brute strength overcomes numbers; agility is better suited in space.
The offensive line has done one thing consistently this season: gotten completely blown off the ball this year in the run game. I don't know if this stems from our very small, aging center, or poor interior (Peterman) and right side (Cherilus) blocking, the two directions we tend to run. Gos seems to have blossomed somewhat as a pass protector, and it may be time to consider moving him to LT. His label as a 'road grater' has not held up, and he is not good at pulling or making blocks up front (a.k.a. run blocking). All told the line just has not gotten it done in the run game at all, and Linehan may want to think about cutting out the shotgun and single RB sets in favor of more run heavy formations, especially if he wants to continue the 'Best up the gut' gameplan.
Which leads me to my next point.
Linehan, where I think the blame lies most heavily. I can't lie, I love his scheme, in theory. Get a big armed QB to throw vertical passes and stretch the field, then get a versatile RB to catch passes and make guys miss when the nickel packages are in. Two great TE's to further overload the defense, and viola, points.
Worked in Minnesota, right?
Well it ain't working here. They're getting (have gotten?) the pieces together, but right now, that scheme isn't ready to fully be implemented. Linehan seems rigid, and he needs to conform his playbook to this team, rather than the other way around. This is not a veteran, experienced squad. These guys have mostly very recently come from totally different schemes, whether in the NFL or college, and need some assistance in learning to run and gel in this offense. The offensive line, while they have experience together, have shown they cannot get it done on the ground, so start running the running offense heavy. Keep Felton, or better yet, Will Heller in as an H-Back or something, and get some of those yards you lose on 1, 2 or -2 yard plays. It may not be what you want to do, because you've got this grand, successful scheme, but it will help in the short term.
It really seems simple to me, but how do we answer? Get a new C. Sorry Dom, your service (in my opinion anyways) was appreciated. You were solid, if uninspiring in 10 or so years, but we need someone better than you, right now. You can absolutely back him up until you want to retire, because we can use your depth, but your sun has set. No hard feelings.
Sit Jahvid Best for the rest of the year. Let him heal. We have Kevin Smith, who can start, and Maurice Morris, a capable backup, behind him. Best is ineffective, period. At the very least we should have the healthy ineffective back in. Cut your losses and let the kid sit.
And Linehan, for god's sake man, quit trying to run inside with no lead blocker. Stephen Peterman is not doing his job in any facet whatsoever, and Dom is getting beat. Put a healthy quarterback on the field. Shaun Hill's performance was admirable, but you cannot field a QUARTERBACK on a team with a BROKEN ARM and expect respectability. Use your fucking head.
This team has been and can be good. Bonehead decisions have slowed our momentum recently, and everyone needs to reassess where we stand, and begin preparations for longer term. We have assets to protect and develop, and these knee jerk reactions that we're being subjected to are stunting that long term growth.
Or maybe I'm totally off-base. If you run the ball, and you stop the run. You will win games. Chicago has thrived on this - Matt Forte re-emerged, and despite Jay Cutler's attempts at stopping him, their run game and defense have gotten them where they are. The Packers have pulled through because Brandon Jackson is pulling a Ryan Grant and stepping up to hand the run game. Winning teams have a similar characteristic: the run game.
No matter how much the NFL becomes 'a passing league', the run game will always get you the wins because it controls the clock and sets the pace of the game in your favor. Until we learn to run the ball, we will not consistently win.
And that's all I have to say about that.