not midseason grades

>> 11.12.2009

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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
2008 67.4% 8.88 1
2009 71.7% 7.69 4

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.


Matt,  November 12, 2009 at 6:21 PM  

There's a lot here, but I just want to comment on a small part (for now). . .the Stafford/Megatron "tiff." I actually wasn't at all concerned about this. As Schwartz said, it happens all the time on NFL sidelines and, especially when it happens to be between a QB and his #1 target, the media tends to blow it way out of proportion. Losing is frustrating and frustation breeds short tempers and that can lead to "tiffs." As long as everyone involved understands the situation and is willing to get past it (which seems to be the case here), it all blows over. Of course, winning every now and then would help that.

Also, in the grand scheme of sideline "tiffs," this one is pretty mild. Stafford tried to say something to Johnson and Johnson gave him the cold shoulder (which, to me, just says "not now, dude"). No one blew up or took a swing or destroyed a Gatorade jug or anything. I don't think there's any permanent damage to their relationship or anything like that. Clearly, though, Megatron is getting frustrated with the "same ol' Lions," so that needs to change quick, fast, and in a hurry.

Pacer,  November 13, 2009 at 12:08 AM  

Ty-a word about Calvin. He signed a 6 year contract. This is his 3rd year. He seems to me to be a level headed player. By that I mean he should be able to adapt to Stafford and the Lions current state well-reasonably well. There is a lot of M-Live type "what is his trade value" talk but I don't see that happening unless someone is willing to give up a ton to get him. I think that what CJ needs is to see, in a couple of games, the potential of the combination of he and Stafford. A couple of touchdowns and 100 yard receiving games would do it.

The other point I would like to make is not so easy to quantify as to CJ's reaction. In a way you can envision the Lions 2009 season (from CJ's point of view) as chaotic, at best.

55% turnover in players, revolving door at DB and earlier at WR, 2008 draftees who really never got to play in 2008 (why-they went 0-16), 2009 draftees at several positions, no depth to speak of and then the injuries, CJ and Stafford included.

It's been my experience that there are only 2 ways to learn about someone else. Don't get in the way of that person being themselves and try to look at life from their point of view. I have no doubt that the coaches, Stafford and CJ are frustrated as hell as are most other players on the Lions. They know they are a better team then what they are showing on the field.

My best friend has a saying-"that guy has a lot of class-too bad it's all third class." Count on CJ being a frustrated, 1st class guy. A couple of wins where he is a factor is all it takes and you already know I expect the team to get them.

I take to heart what Matt says-"not now dude" seems to sum it up.

First half of the year-disappointing, to this extent-I thought they would be 2-6, not 1-7. I never believed this year would be anything more then "what the hell have we got". The jury is still out on that one. But, with a QB, CJ, Levy, Delmas, Foote (who I believe they will sign for at least 2 more years), Peterson, and some of the others from the 2008 draft as well as the 2010 draft they have a foundation. Last time I looked, foundations aren't pretty, but they are kind of important.

Keep the faith and of course, the peace.

Anonymous,  November 13, 2009 at 2:45 PM  

in the aftermath of last nights game: 4 games x 4 QB = 20 picks. Sanchez 10/18, Warner 11/1, Stafford 11/8, Cutler 11/12. Hopefully Favre Sunday makes it 25 correcting the equation. I suppose if he throws lefty.

Ty,  November 15, 2009 at 10:09 AM  


You're right, I know; in the grand scheme of things, this "tiff" was no big deal. However, it's like . . . I don't know, a crack in the dam? It seems like the kind of fissure that, if left unrepaired, becomes a fracture--and any fracture in the relationship between these two would be disastrous.

Quick, fast, and in a hurry. Yes, yes please.


Ty,  November 15, 2009 at 10:18 AM  


I think the Lions may really be victims of shifting expectations. After we saw the progress from New Orleans to Minnesota to Washington, I think everyone really started to buy into the idea that the Lions really were a 5-7 win team this year--not a hope, or a wish, or an "optimist's" projection, but the kind of team that should easily TCB against the St. Louises & Seattles on their schedules, and--who knows?--maybe even muster a couple of divisional wins.

I don't think anybody understood how great the losses of Stafford, Megatron, and the slew of defensive linemen would be. Further, I think we all fell into the trap of believing that when the missing Lions came back, they'd pick right up where they left off a month ago--despite barely practicing in the interim.

Meanwhile, we're sitting here moaning and groaning about how few wins we have after going 0-16 . . . It seems kinda ridiculous. Here's hoping a win comes soon, and pulls some of us fans back in off the ledge.


Ty,  November 15, 2009 at 10:42 AM  


Well, given his career penchant for interceptions, and his current 16 TD/3 INT ratio, he'd have to throw five picks today just due to regression to the mean. Right? Please?

In all seriousness, Favre in Week 2 was masterfully executing the offense, nibbling here and there; only letting the ball hit the ground a few times. Lately, however, he's gotten much more comfortable--he's throwing downfield with impunity. Maybe, just maybe, a Lions or two will come up big and make him pay.


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