Writers with their heads on a swivel, such as Big Al at the Wayne Fontes Experience, and Neil at Armchair Linebacker, have realized that this is the midpoint of the NFL season, and handed out midseason grades—or grade, as the case may be. I am sullen and ashamed that I didn’t do anything like this myself—but then, it’s already been done, and done well.
For a really enlightening read, check out the John Niyo’s statistical comparison between the 2008 and 2009 position groups, using a handful of different benchmarks for each. The best part of John’s piece is the metrics he chose to assess each group—like for the linebackers: opponent 3rd down conversion percentage and opponent’s yards per carry. This is great research and really shows how the character of the team has changed.
What’s really, really depressing is how obvious the progress is! Look at the defensive secondary’s numbers:
|Year||OComp%||OYpA||INT by DB|
It’s true that opponents are completing a higher percentage of their passes; I attribute that to a much higher percentage of blitzes that open up underneath routes. However, look at the yards per attempt: the Lions allowed nearly 1.2 more yards on every pass attempt in 2008! That is a HUGE change in defensive effectiveness. Moreover, look at the INTs by DBs! That lonely “1” in the 2008 row was, I believe, the only INT by any Lions DB in all of 2008. I can’t really put into words how completely God-awful that is.
And now, the bad news: allowing 7.69 yards per attempt is also God-awful; the Lions are allowing the 5th-most yards per attempt in the NFL this year. Compare that to the league-leading Jets’4.8 YpA allowed, and you see just how rotten that is. I don’t have the numbers for DB-only INTs, but the Lions are in a 5-way tie for 23rd in the NFL with 6 total INTs. Meanwhile, the Saints lead the NFL with 16.
Unfortunately, this is the picture we’re left with at midseason: real, tangible, quantifiable, undeniable absolute progress—the Lions are a much better team this season—but nearly zero relative progress. Instead of being the worst team in the NFL by a wide, wide margin, the Lions are now among the few worst teams in the NFL. Better, but not better.
We’ve seen glimpses of the team these coaches are trying to build. We’ve seen glimpses of the team these Lions will become. In the first half of the Vikings and Seahawks games, and in most of the Redskins game, we saw a team with a lot of heart, a lot of swagger, and a lot of raw talent. Most of the rest of the season, though, we’ve seen a team that is simply outclassed in every phase of the game.
The Lions have neither the quality veteran starters, nor the quality veteran depth to play near their peak for 60 minutes. They certainly don’t have the depth to withstand any significant injuries, as we found out in weeks 5-8. As much as people would love to blame Stafford, or the coaching staff, for this team’s problems, the problem is the rest of the team. This roster is simply not talented, deep, or experienced enough to play at a high, sustained level.
I’m not sure what the coaches and players are going to do about this. If this were Madden, I’d let the computer simulate the rest of this season and just get on with it. But for the real Lions, that’s not an option. They still have eight more weeks of football to play. The state of the team at the end of that run is going to say a lot about A) the caliber of coaches roaming the sidelines right now, and 2) the character of the players.
I was officially alarmed by this Stafford/Megatron “sideline tiff” stuff; the relationship these two have will be the foundation this team is built on—and if Megatron is fed up with Stafford and losing and Detroit and goes Roy Williams on us . . . it’s going to be horrible. While I buy all the denials and assurances and glossing-overs Schwartz & Co. are handing out
As they say, winning cures a lot of ills—and there’s a corollary: losing makes everybody sick. All the momentum, positive vibes, etc. that came from breaking the streak is already gone. No matter how much better this team is than last year’s edition, if that’s only good for 1-15, the bloom will already be off the rose, and this staff will be fighting to keep these players on board with their systems and their message.
Unfortunately, I don't see any way it happens this weekend--but the next win needs to come soon.