three cups deep: a heaping helping

>> 10.05.2009

The worst thing about being an "optimist", besides having my fandom labelled and pigeonholed by others, is that when the Lions--or an aspect of the Lions, or a Lion--fails, I am not only sad for the fact that they failed, I'm also frustrated for having been proven wrong.  Eating that breed of crow is a rotten meal indeed.
Two of the favorite targets for "pessimist" Lions fans over the past few years have been left tackle Jeff Backus, and special teams coordinator Stan Kwan. In both cases, I've defended them. Certainly, Backus doesn't earn the "Elite LT" paycheck he draws, and Kwan's coverage and return units have been lackluster.  But, you see, there are extenuating circumstances!
Backus being asked to protect Jon Kitna in Martz's seven-step-drop-heavy offense put him--and Kitna--in a position to fail. The Lions have auditioned dozens for the left guard role during Backus' time here, and still haven't cast his best supporting actor.  Further, Backus has never missed a start, despite some pretty bad owies over the years.  He's also a much better option than Ephraim Salaam or Jon Jansen, both of whom were released by their previous teams due to their complete inability to protect quarterbacks.
Stan Kwan, the hand-picked successor to the King of All ST Coordinators, Chuck Priefer, oversees the best kicker-punter-snapper combo in the NFL: Hanson, Harris, and Mulbach.  Kwan’s return and coverage units were okay in 2007—though yes, quite bad in 2008. I'd defended him throughout last season, noting that Rod Marinelli's dismissal of special teams in general had stripped him of most of his talent.  When your head coach keeps eleven defensive linemen on the 53-man roster, there's not much room left for gunners and upblockers . . .
Yesterday, a heaping helping of crow, braised in whine, was set at my table.
Jeff Backus was completely overwhelmed by the Bears' defensive linemen. Despite coming into the game blitzing at ludcrous rate for a Tampa 2 defense, the Bears were able to dominate with just 4 defensive linemen.  DEs Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown combined for three sacks, and DT Isreal Idonji contributed a sack-fumble that O-Gun recovered.  Backus was smoked by speed rushes, bowled over by bullrushes, and generally defeated by whoever lined up across from him.  I’ve never labored under the illusion that he’s a great left tackle, but for the first time I’m seeing his play as a governor on the output of the offense: until we can acquire someone better, there is only so good this unit can be.
As for Kwan . . . well, there is absolutely no excuse for what Stan Kwan’s coverage and return teams did to the Lions’ chances for victory on Sunday.  According to the official game book, the Lions’ average starting field position was their own 18-yard-line.  The Bears’ average starting field position was the Lions’48.  As pointed out by Killer, the defense allowed the Bears only 276 yards of total offense—but 277 yards of punt and kick returns.
Let me simultaneously highlight and dismiss the fallacy in the implied conclusion there: each yard allowed on a return is one less yard the defense has to go; the possible yardage output by the Bears’ offense is depressed in lockstep with the increase in return yardage.  Don’t take the bait dangled by those two statistics!  The low total yardage doesn’t prove that the Lions defense completely bottled up the Bears’ offense, nor that rotten special teams completely sold the Lions up the river.
Fortunately, we have other statistics.  Cutler completed 18-of-28 passes for 141 yards. That's a meager 5.04 yards per attempt.  Cliff Avril, in just his second quarter back from injury, teamed up with Louis Delmas for back-to-back sacks in the second quarter.  The Bears converted only 33% of third downs in the first half.  Up until halftime, Matt Forte, besides his 61-yard romp, carried just 4 times for only 10 yards.
It's true: despite the Bears' average starting position already at MIDFIELD by the end of the half, the Lions were winning the offense-defense battle enough to keep the score tied. Then, on the opening kickoff of the second half, Johnny Knox burned the coverage for a 102-yard touchdown, and that was that.
Much has been made of the Lions' "second half collapses", and how Jim Schwartz needs to "learn that there are four quarters in a game".  Let me tell you something right now: this is a 3-13 team, talent-wise.  In four games against four teams considered strong playoff contenders coming into the season, Jim Schwartz has coached and gameplanned and guided this mix of has-beens and aren’t-yets to one win, two halftime leads, and one halftime tie.  Schwartz, Linehan, and Cunningham can't play the game for their team; eventually the fact that they’ve got no D-line, no secondary, and an offense full of guys who can barely buy beer will catch up with them.
Need proof?  Just Google "Titans Defense".  From the first page alone:

  • Preseason gives Titans time to fix struggling D
  • Titans' Defense M.I.A. in Texas Shootout
  • Chris Johnson's career day wasted by Titans defense
  • Rams Smash through Titans Defense
  • Jaguars shred Titans defense
  • Titans Defense: Titans DC Cecil on the hot seat?‎
UPDATE: appropriately, commenter "The Badge" caught me. That "Rams smash through . . ." link refers to a high school football game. Mea Culpa.
Last year, Jim Schwartz coached the same unit that generated those headlines into the second-best scoring defense in football.  Let's give him more than a few games with our wretched franchise before deciding he’s forgotten how many quarters makes a whole.
I suppose I should end this Three Cups Deep (and given it's lateness, more like Five) with an “optimistic” note, given the tenor of the opening paragraph.  Okay, here we go: Matt Stafford, before taking a seat with a knee injury, completed 24/36 passes for 296 yards.  Any “pessimists”/”realists” care to show me the game where Joey Harrington completed 67% of his passes for near-as-makes-no-difference 300 yards?  On the road?  Anyone?  No?
Okay cool. This sixth cup's for you, Matthew.


The Badge,  October 5, 2009 at 3:51 PM  

"Rams Smash through Titans Defense" links to a high school game recap

Ty,  October 5, 2009 at 4:02 PM  

. . . oops. That's embarassing. Nice catch, officer!


Pacer,  October 5, 2009 at 11:05 PM  

Ty-I am amazed that the Lions were in the game after the 3rd quarter. When Stafford went down they were on Chicago's 6 yard line. I don't see many games in a year, I am just too busy. But today I looked at Staffords' highlights-this QB is coming along nicely. And the stat's don't really lie about Chicago's offensive output.

Again, mistakes on both sides of the ball and special teams cost the Lions the game.

I like the slow emergence of Pettigrew-Delmas is a project and Levy-they need to start him as much as they can.

Can't argue with you about Backus and the special teams. Like you, I have always believed that Backus was a mid level durable left tackle but very soon they are going to have to find a young LT to replace him.

Keep the faith Ty.

Imperical Evidence,  October 6, 2009 at 2:33 PM  

Whats up with the strike-through font?
Also , how many other starting left tackles allowed 12 sacks during their rookie year?
Have fun finding any. If you do , they didn't have long stays in the NFL.

witless chum,  October 7, 2009 at 7:05 AM  

People who rag on Backus tend to miss the point, not that they're wrong exactly. It isn't as if Backus is the weak link in an otherwise great oline or something. He's been one of our best linemen over his tenure and THAT'S the problem.

Anonymous,  October 8, 2009 at 4:15 PM  


Good catch on special teams yards reducing the yards the D gives up... dramatic but misleading statistic.

Curious on your thoughts on the different phases of special teams.

1) Kickoff / punt coverage - there was an interesting quote in a Chicago paper where the ST coordinator for the Bears said the Lions overpursue and the Bears gameplanned for it. Can scheme help the personnel we've got here? Seeing two of our strongest, Hanson / Harris make kicking mistakes was odd too.

2) Kickoff returns - how much of it was Aaron Brown, and how much of it was not getting blocks? Will the switch to Derrick Williams help?

3) Punt returns - were there more fair catches than usual? Couldn't tell. Seemed like we got nothing going.

4) Field goals - not gonna worry about it. :)

Read that Zack Follett is signed back on the team, can only help, in my view. Could use at least some one on the coverage teams that the returner is worried about getting blown up by.

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