three cups deep: resignation

>> 11.02.2009

Don't be fooled by the title!  I'm not tendering my “resignation”, merely writing about my mood this morning.  My second cup of coffee is slowly waking me up to reality: the Lions really lost to the Rams.  Moreover, they looked completely impotent.  It wasn’t just that they couldn’t score any points the Rams didn’t hand them for the first three quarters.  It was hauntingly familiar scene: linemen who couldn’t block, receivers who couldn’t catch, and defenders who couldn’t tackle.

In the theatre of the mind, the DVD one feels has been popped in is the 2002 Lions.  There’s rookie Joey Harrington trying to keep his head above water, throwing to a cobbled-together crew of stone-handed also-rans: Bill Schroeder, Az-Zahir Hakim, Scotty Anderson.  There’s RB James Stewart, a decent NFL starting back, whose inside running style is being stymied by an offensive line unable to open inside holes.  That line, of course, features Jeff Backus, Dominic Raiola, a young mammoth RT with tons of upside but questionable athleticism and instincts (Stockar McDougle), and a rotating cast of has-beens and never-wases at guard (Tony Semple, Ray Brown, Eric Beverly) . . .

The resemblance is uncanny.  However, there are a few critical differences between the ‘02 Lions and the ‘09 Lions.  Joey Harrington, then, was clearly “swimming”; in NFL-speak, that’s thinking instead of acting or reacting.  You could watch his wheels turning, watch him trying to take it all in, watch him trying desperately to slow it all down.  In 2009, Matthew Stafford looks more like he wishes he could slow it down for his teammates.  He looks like he’s trying to will his team to victory—or like he’s trying to win despite them.  It’s telling that on the Lions’ sole offensive score, Stafford called his own number.

There's another critical difference: one of the NFL’s best WRs was on the sideline.   In 2002, there was no Calvin Johnson who wasn’t able to go that day; Schroeder and Hakim were it.  With Megatron in there, Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt become valuable second and third options instead of woefully inadequate starters.  With Megatron in there, Stafford has an oasis he can go to again and again, instead of rocks in a desert.  With Megatron in there, the defense has to bend and flex soften and roll his way, opening the field up for everyone else.  

There’s one more critical difference: the defense.  Believe it or not, folks, this Lions defense is starting to meet expectations.  Many thought the Rams would finally get their passing game on track against the Lions’ woeful secondary, but 17-of-35 for 176 and 0 is not what I would call “on track”.  If you switch the fake field goal TD for, you know, a field goal, that leaves the Rams with 13 points; exactly what I projected.

Sure, they allowed 149 yards rushing to Steven Jackson—and yes, he made a lot of would-be Lions tacklers look like fools.  But Jackson’s the hardest man in the NFL to bring down, and until the closing minute he never even hit paydirt.  The fact is, a defense that holds its opponent to 13 points has done its job.  A defense that holds its opponent to 13 points, in the NFL, should expect to win.

Ultimately, that's what hurt the most: we expected the Lions to win this one.  They were favored, they’d played better throughout the year, they were at home, and this was the softest opponent on the schedule.  Winning this game would have been a solid step forward: “Hey, we were supposed to win and we did!  Good on ya, boys!”  Meanwhile, the Rams wanted to win.  Needed to win.  The Rams might not have another winnable game left on their schedule ; to them, this was the last chance they had at preventing their own run to 0-16.

The Lions probably got the Rams’ best effort all season—and if the Lions’ WRs could catch a pass, the offensive line could have blocked a little better, or the defense could have tackled a little better, the ending might have been different.  Instead, we need to collectively sigh.  We need to hang up our dreams of 7-9, our expectations of 5-11.  We need to stop thinking that the quick-fix bounceback is happening; it isn’t.  We need to resign ourselves to reality: the Lions are not good, and they’re not going to be good this season.

Let's take another swig of coffee, and open eyes: from this point forward, we're looking for sparks. We're looking for signs of growth, for evidence of progress. We need to see Matt Stafford developing, and starting to elevate those around him. We need to see Calvin Johnson get healthy and build a rapport with Stafford. Mostly, we need to see this team fight for every down, every game, all the way out--even if they don't win any.


Matt,  November 2, 2009 at 2:52 PM  

This was my worst nightmare. I'd been predicting the victory over the Rams all over the place (including here) since, well, the schedule came out (even going so far as to say it might be the Lions' FIRST win). Frankly, this erases virtually all of the "progress" that had been made since 0-16. We were the worst team in the NFL last season. Now we lost to the worst team in the NFL this season (ok, to be fair, maybe that's Oakland or Cleveland). What's that make us? Not significantly better than last season.

Yes, we were missing our best player, but if that's all it takes to sink the Lions back down to "worst in the league" then, well, they are. Sorry to be so down, everyone, but, to me, this was a must-win game and we didn't. It makes the remaining schedule much scarier, too. Cleveland is no longer a cakewalk to our third (or fourth) win and back onto the fringe of respectability. Now the Browns game is a must-win.

Ty,  November 2, 2009 at 3:49 PM  

It's hard not to agree wholeheartedly. Like I said, I'm resigned now to just playing out the string, hoping the Lions pick up a win or two along the way. Honestly, I think the Lions' "progress" was erased the minute the Bears took out Stafford's knee. A few weeks out of rhythm, a few weeks not practicing, and, well, it's no surprise that he didn't come right in and click with everybody.

I still feel like the defense's trend line is going from "wretched" up through "decent"--it's just that the offense we saw in the first few weeks has fallen apart. If Stafford doesn't miss any more time, the first week Megatron can go 100% for all practices should yield a big uptick in offensive output.


Pacer,  November 2, 2009 at 11:33 PM  

Ty-Assuming a reasonable injury list from here on in, especially Stafford, I believe the Lions are going to steadily improve throughout the rest of the season. These are not the Lions teams of the past. The management of the Lions in 2009 knows what they are doing-good player personnel moves, nice draft and good coaching. But they have no depth and that is the key. Injury wise they have been decimated relative to the talent level.

You don't change 55% of your team, suffer the injuries from the get go and play the likes of the Steelers, Vikings etc into the 4th quarter and not have some talent and be well coached. But the turnover in personnel, the early schedule, injuries and a complete new way of approaching things are going to cost you wins. And they have. They are going to win some more games because they are going to be more cohesive. I could see that coming with the defense. It was already coming with the offense but you don't lose CJ, Stafford and Smith (banged up shoulder still trying to play) and not have it negatively affect your already fragile team. None the less, they have been in 5 of their 7 games with a chance to win.

A note from Peter King today on MMQB-" Mathew Stafford, throw the ball downfield, CJ or no CJ." He did not cast aspersions on the Lions regarding Sunday's game. He pointed out the obvious.

We need to look at what they are improving in (or not) and why. Talent and depth are the issues, not management and not coaching. Throw in the injuries to a lot of personnel they brought in to play NOW and you have the 2009 Lions. They have 9 games to go and will win at least 3, maybe 4.

Peace and rest easy.

Matt,  November 5, 2009 at 12:01 PM  

Here's my issue with your analysis, Pacer. Pretty much everything you said about the Lions can be said about the Rams, too. This sentence is the key:

"But the turnover in personnel, the early schedule, injuries and a complete new way of approaching things are going to cost you wins."

That's true. It should cost you the close-ish wins against the Vikings, Steelers, etc. I was not so optimistic as to think this Lions team would be 7-9 and play-off challengers. However, that same stuff (except injuries) is SUPPOSED to be why we're now able to beat the likes of the Rams. The Lions turned over a bunch of the roster because it was full of terrible players. The idea, though, is to replace them with BETTER players (it's a tough sell to say the 2009 Lions are better than the 2008 Lions at any position outside of QB and LB). The new way of doing things is supposed to be BETTER than the 0-16 way, not equal to. Losing to the Rams is "classic" Lions.

I hate to be so negative. I really AM a Lions fan, I promise. :-) It's very tough to see positives after a loss like Sunday's, though, and I just don't see 2 or 3 more wins on the schedule. You can't say MIN, GB, or CHI, since all three already whipped us. Forget about CIN, BAL, ARI, and SF as all those teams are not only better than the Lions, but also NEED their wins as they all are/will be in play-off chases. That leaves SEA and CLE as potential victories. I wouldn't count on beating the Seahawks in Seattle; Cleveland is now a must-win, but after the Rams, you can't even count on that. Hopefully there's a surprise W in there somewhere.

I predicted 5-11 this season. That meant beating the Rams and Browns and three other teams (my options were CHI, WAS, SEA, CIN, and SF). That would not be a "good" season, but would show significant improvement over 0-16. IMO, 1 or 2 wins doesn't. It's same old Lions (just with some new faces) and same old excuses.

Again, I hate to be negative. I have faith, I've just seen this too many times before for it to be blind.

Pacer,  November 5, 2009 at 2:07 PM  

Matt-I don't think you are being negative. In an earlier post relative to Ty's breakdown of the Rams at the Lions, I told Ty that the Lions would most likely lose to the Rams. I believe that I was being realistic. At the start of the season I thought 4-12, maybe 5-11 so I did not hold out hope for more wins as others did. I simply believe that, barring another rash of injuries to starters, the Lions are going to improve through the balance of the year and win some games. The more this team plays together the better it is going to be assuming the key offensive and defensive players stay healthy.

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