Neither Rain, nor Snow, Nor Sleet . . . nor 2-11

>> 12.18.2009

It seems bizarre that with so many questions already answered about the 2009 Lions, there’s still so much left to discuss; the mailbox was flooded with excellent inquiries.  To work, then?  To work.  From Scott:

Mr. Inwinter:
Okay that right there is quality.  Very well done, sir.
Had a thought for you- there's been a lot of talk of the Lions being "Stafford's Team" after the Browns game and even though I watched the "miked up" about ten times, I dismissed most of it as hype. On the other hand, I'm relieved that Stafford's not playing this week because it frees me to ignore the game entirely and watch decent teams. So maybe the fact that I'm not even going to watch, and I can't be alone here, means the Lions are Stafford's team even moreso than the hype would indicate.
This is something that I've felt, too--and the statistics bear this out. Not only is Matthew Stafford the future of the franchise, he's the present.
Right now, the Lions’s chances to win any game are zero if he is not playing, and nonzero if he is.  I didn’t expect that to be true this season, but it is.  I can’t wait until Stafford gets back on the field, because these Culpepper games feel like preseason.  Scott also asked about the draft:
Btw, I haven't seen anyone predict this, but I think they go DE in round 1 in April followed by a roadgrading OG in round 2. Better to draft athletes in round one, and if it goes well, it'll rotate protection outside and help the middle. Adequate run-stuffers are usually available among FAs.
A large part of this will be determined by the talent on the board, and where the Lions pick.  The Lions could end up picking anywhere between 1st and 10th, depending on how other teams do—I think they’ll be somewhere in the 4th-6th slots, myself.  To me, there’s no question that both lines, and the defensive secondary need the most help.
Pass protecting OTs, and pass rushing DEs are the premier positions.  If there was a stud prospect at either position, and the Lions were drafting, say, 3rd, I could see it.  But the top OT prospect, from what I’ve seen, is Russel Okung—he’s an athlete and a technician, but (IMO) isn’t strong or bulky enough to step in and play at an elite level yet; he’ll be a project and that’s not what the Lions need.
I take exception with you on the DE/DT thing—and not because you’re wrong; adequate run-stuffers are often there to be had.  The issue is that the Lions want another Haynesworth-type, a natural 315+ world devourer who can singlehandedly collapse the pocket, shrug off double teams, eat running backs, and flush QBs to the sidelines.
Given that so many teams are switching to the 3-4, a he-beast like that is in demand more than ever.  Ndamukong Suh is the perfect fit; he and Sammie Hill could be giving people fits on every down for years.  Yes, the Lions would like a pass rusher too, but their needs are a little bit different . . .
From excellent commenter SomeChoi:
But here is my question: if we do draft defense, is there a place for tweeners such as Brian Orakpo in Gunther's D? Prototypical 4-3 DEs seemed to be rare in recent drafts.
It’s interesting that you ask that.  My understanding of the blueprint for the Lions defense is this: start with a Williams Wall-like DT pair.  A 330-pound NT, like Sammie Hill, and a 310+-pound UT, like Ndamukong Suh, would overwhelm opposing offensive lines.
Bracing them would be two 270-to-280-pound DEs who can rush the passer--but be big enough and strong enough to set a hard edge against the run.  This funnels runs and screens back into the middle—where Hill and Suh (or a Suh-like player) will stop them.
People questioned Schwartz’s sanity when he put Jared Devries in as a starter—and even more when he decried the “great loss” of Devries in camp—but he did so because DeVries was a perfect fit for what they wanted to do.
This is where the OLBs come in.  Since the DEs aren’t 260-pound Freeneyish terrors, both OLBs need to be able to blitz like crazy.  Of course, they can’t be total liabilities in coverage, either.  They’re looking for big athletes who can run and hit; ideally, we’re talking about two Julian Peterson-in-his-primes.
Gunther included the dwindling stock of defenders with size in his tackling tirade:
"I don't like it because the linebackers are getting smaller and they're putting all those coverage people on the field. The (Brian) Urlachers are tough to find,'' Cunningham said. "A lot of teams in the NFL are going to the 3-4 because of that.
"The linebackers that are coming out are the size of safeties: 6-foot and 220 pounds. You look at the Cincinnati Bengals' tackles and they're 6-7 and those linebackers can't even see where the back is half the time. There's a real problem on defense to find the right players and the right mix for you to compete in this league.
So there is your answer: a 250-pound pass rusher like Orakpo could come in and play, but only if he had a little more lateral agility and wouldn't mind being a full-time OLB. Don't forget, Avril fit that mold coming out of college, and they've bulked him up quite a bit. Of course, he's not doing very well . . .
SomeChoi also added:
I'm one of the few who agree with Killer - Lions are better served drafting offense. The defense was good enough to keep us competitive in most games and a decent offense would've won us perhaps 4 more games. But I'm particularly worried we'll lose Calvin if we don't help him realize his potential soon, if we didn't lose him already. Not to mention being fearful for Staff's life. And Mayhew better be losing sleep over whether Pettigrew becomes a playmaker. Otherwise, passing on Oher will haunt him forever.
I'd love to agree with this line of thought: after all, the Colts have been an amazing offense paired with a bad-to-middling defense for over a decade now, and they've been consistently elite.  But the Lions’ defense . . . you guys, it’s so bad.  It’s truly terrible.   No matter how good the offense gets, they won’t be able to consistently outscore what this defense is allowing.
When Matthew Stafford has played, the Lions have been at the bottom of the middle third of the league in scoring—but the defense has been allowing almost double that number of points!  No, the Lions have to at least patch the defensive dam before they can finish constructing their offense.
I received several emails to the effect of, “If not Suh, then who?”  Lopper chipped in his suggestion:
In my opinion, the next best guy to take has to be Berry. The examples of a safety impacting a defense are all over the NFL this year. The Steelers with and without Polamalu, and just yesterday when Delmas was out it was painful watching White and Pearson bouncing off tackles. It seems like big plays against is the biggest problem for the Lions, and a safety pairing of Delmas and Berry would be the best way to stop them from happening. I might even rather see them draft Berry over McCoy depending on how things shake out in the off season.
Time for my usual disclaimer: I watch practically zero non-Big Ten college football; I haven’t yet seen most of these SEC and Big 12 players in action.  In general, the idea of pairing Delmas with another monster safety is appealing.
However, the defense is really weak at the line of scrimmage.  Blowing, in consecutive years, a high second-round pick and a high first-round pick on safeties, thinking they’ll clean up everything the corners and front seven let through . . . well, it seems like putting the cart before the horse.
Further, for as much as everyone raves about Polamalu, Ed Reed, Bob Sanders, and the difference those guys make to their defense, none of those guys were drafted in the top five, or even top ten.  I was curious: over the past few years, what safeties have been drafted high at the top of the first—and have they worked out?
LaRon Landry was the sixth overall pick of 2007.  Michael Huff was seventh overall in 2006, Antrel Rolle was selected eighth in 2005 (as a corner), and the late Sean Taylor was fifth in 2004.  The Other Roy Williams was the eighth overall in 2002—can you believe he’s a seven-year vet?
. . . that completes the list of Top Ten safeties of the past 10 years.  Sean Taylor, a fifth overall pick, was the highest-drafted safety in that time—and was developing into one of the most dominating players in the league, before his untimely death.  But the rest of these guys were either definite disappointments, or are too young to evaluate right now.
I believe that Berry’s a really nice talent, and pairing him with Delmas would indeed be SO AWESOME--but really good safeties can be had in the second, third, and fourth rounds.  Elite linemen, however, are pretty much only available at the top of the draft.
Joe asked:
One of my biggest questions that the usual suspects of Lions' media types don't seem to cover is WHERE exactly are the weaknesses on this team. I know it's easy to throw everyone under the bus and just flatly state we lack talent, but are you able to see exactly where? If you only had ONE pick in the draft or could only acquire ONE free agent with which to upgrade this team and could only draft/sign based on position, which position do you think most needs a serious upgrade?
Whew.  I think the Lions’ biggest problem positions are the non-Mega wideouts, the offensive guards, the defensive line, and the cornerbacks.  Since, again, guards can be had in the second or third round—and, again, I believe the Lions have to have a defensive focus in this draft—I’d look to fix either the line or the corners.  Joe said:
Personally, I think their biggest problem seems to be a lack of any pass rush, exposing the secondary which often has receivers initially covered. However, even the league's best cover corner can't cover a WR for 10 seconds while the QB assesses the entire field without the slightest pressure. I think DE is the biggest weakness on this team. We can't even seem to get pressure with blitzes and often get burned early, forcing Gunther to back off and only send four.
That’s a very strong argument.  With the addition of an elite pass rusher—a 270-plus-pound three-down beast, not an Orakpo or Dumervil—it would “shorten the field” for the corners.  I’ve said before that Will James would be much better if he never had to cover a receiver more than ten yards downfield; if we had a monster pass rush it would minimize the number of times he’d have to.  Killer even said last season that if there were a Mario Williams at the top of the 2009 draft, the Lions would have taken him over Stafford.
Let me be clear: I agree with that. If we could forklift Mario Williams from the Texans to the Lions, he’d make all the difference in the world.  Unfortuantely, there’s no Mario Williams in this draft—but keep an eye on this guy if he comes out.  At 6’-4”, listed at 272 going into his senior year, Derrick Morgan might well show up for the combine as the three-down end the Lions are looking for.
However, if the Lions end up with either of the explosive “under” tackles—Suh or McCoy—it’ll make nearly as strong of an impact.  I don’t see anyone running on a three-tackle rotation of Grady Jackson, a blossoming Sammie Hill, and Suh or McCoy.  Further, Hill and (Suh || McCoy) would be an incredibly athletic inside pairing; both could collapse the pocket with strength, and pursue if the QB scrambles—similar to the dynamic we saw with Big Daddy and Big Baby, only younger and faster.
Finally, don't forget that the shortest path to the quarterback is up the middle; a player like (Suh || McCoy) could “shorten the field” the way a DE could, and also demand double-teams that would make it easier for our existing DEs.
So, if I could add just one player, it’d be either a monster, three-down, athletic, pass-rushing DE, or a monster, three-down, athletic, pass-rushing DT.
. . . that'll do it for this week's mailbag.  Thanks again for all the great submissions, folks!

11 comments:

Steve December 18, 2009 at 12:16 PM  

Ty--

Excellent breakdown of the Lions draft needs. My biggest fear is that the Lions will be drafting 3rd, with both Suh and McCoy off of the board, since with all of their needs, their defensive line should be the eminent concern.

I am really worried that the failed additional wide receivers (B. Johnson and D. Northcutt) and injury to Kevin Smith could impel the Lions towards selecting another "bright and shiny" pair of picks atop their draft board, as "Killer" Kowalski suggests.

Martin Mayhew had a near impeccable 2009 draft, hopefully, the Lions are fully aware of their need for bolstering their offensive and defensive lines, and don't get distracted by their weaknesses in offensive skill personnel.

A Lion in ViQueen territory,  December 18, 2009 at 12:38 PM  

I agree with your ideas - a 3 down player that's either a DE or a DT. I'm not too worried about failing to get one of those. We have Suh, McCoy, Morgan from GT, all considered decent. Ok, if we don't get one of those where we are positioned, then that means we won more games and got pushed out of top 5. Personally, I'm all for winning more games.

As much as we shouldn't need this considering our draft history, we really need a possession style receiver. A Mike Furrey, a Wes Welker, a Jason Avant, a guy with sure hands and an ability to get the ball.

But if I were Mayhew, I'd go DT/DE, CB, CB, OG, LB, and fastest player available.

BenderCU December 18, 2009 at 1:37 PM  

Ty,
Great post, I'm personally on the fence about the offense or defense theories. In my opinion we're either gonna be pick 3 or 4 and I think i'd like us to grab McCoy there assuming Suh is gone already. Then in the 2nd or 3rd round i think we should either be grabbing another RB, WR or OG (pending FAs) to compliment our existing players. As bad as our defense was, having a better offense to keep them off the field more often would be nice. If they're on the field less they'd be more rested when they actually get on the field. I wish there'd be the chance the lions could trade back in the first round to pick up another couple picks.

BenderCU December 18, 2009 at 1:38 PM  

Actually, as far as every round after the first goes i wouldn't be against them just taking the best player available considering how much we need.

Neil December 18, 2009 at 3:08 PM  

I like the best player available model of drafting, particularly when there are honestly so many needs that still need to be filled. It's not like drafting a guy here and a guy there is going to springboard this team into the playoffs, so build it the right way. That said, I think you need to take that philosophy and shade it a little bit towards defense. Still try to take the best player available, but if things are close, go with the defensive player.

Anonymous,  December 18, 2009 at 4:08 PM  

Great post!
I like the best player available type of draft as well because after last draft, I finally have some faith in the scouting. Delmas and Levy and even Hill to a lesser extent, prove that the Lions had put high values on guys that most of the "experts" weren't really talking about, and the Lions were right. Levy looks like one of the steals of the draft right now.
I do hope that they get the majority of the players on defense though. The way teams score points on the Lions makes the offense one dimensional early, and an average D would go a long way to helping balance the O's play calling options.
Lopper

BigSlim05,  December 18, 2009 at 7:05 PM  

Considering that there is not a single position on the team that we could NOT draft (we may even need a servicable backup qb in the 7th or undrafted), I instead choose to say I think we should draft whomever Mayhew and Schwartz choose.

Ty December 21, 2009 at 10:04 AM  

Folks--

First, sorry for the slow replies! Several of you have brought up the "best player available" theory, especially as regards Mayhew/Schwartz/etc.'s effective use of it this past offseason. They'll certainly use that strategy again, in general.

However, when you're picking in the top five of the first round, it's a little bit different. You're making a HUGE investment in that player; money alone will guarantee the player a roster spot, and every opportunity to start, for four years. It's true, the Lions could use a three-down tailback with elite speed and power--only a handful of teams couldn't! However, Maurice Morris just proved that a servicable veteran can hold that spot down just fine.

The Lions' offense is just about there. With Stafford's maturation, and the bolstering of the wideouts and guards, they'll be at least middle-of-the-pack in 2010. However, the D-line and secondary are in shambles; Hill and Delmas are the only building blocks for the future. IMO, they need an elite talent up front--either a DE or DT, to anchor the defense. And elite DEs and DTs? Typically, they're only available at the top of the draft.

Peace
Ty

witless chum December 21, 2009 at 10:16 AM  

I'm with the others, the Lions really can't go wrong so long as they draft good players. And the last draft gives me a lot of hope.

I actually wouldn't mind the Killer Kowalski plan, taking someone like C.J. Spiller first, a tackle who'd start at guard 2, and then drafting for defensive players. An explosive RB would change the game, giving teams something to worry about beyond Megatron.

Yes, that sounds like the Millen plan, but Millen's greatest sin wasn't all the WR picks, it was that he chose horrible individual players. Arizona finds a way to pay two number one quality wideouts and does okay. I still don't think it's best, because you can be more efficient by finding decent, cheap players to start opposite your superstar wideout, but if Millen had hit even half his first round offensive playmakers, the Lions would be in the playoffs most years.

I think acceptable first rounders (assuming the LIons are picking 4th or so) are: DT, DE, OT, RB or trade down. I don't like trade down as much for the Lions, because they need people who are real stars who can mask some of the deficiencies in their teammates.

Matt,  December 23, 2009 at 2:46 PM  

Some thoughts:

1) On Stafford's "hype." I don't know how anyone can watch those clips from the Browns game and think "hype." I mean, that's what actually happened. That's Matt Stafford, period. With that game, he proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he is the QB the Lions (and several other teams) need. Now let's not waste it.

2) The Draft (disclaimer: I'm operating from the "if the draft was held today" perspective). Yes, we have need at a lot of positions, but there's really only a few that we need to invest a Top 3 pick on: OT, DE, or DT. A shutdown corner or dynamic safety would be nice, but won't do much good until we fix the DLine. Same goes for a stud RB, but replace the "D" with an "O." Personally, I'd like the next Orlando Pace to open holes and protect The Franchise. Unfortunately, that player doesn't appear to be in this draft. That means we've gotta' go DLine and that means probably McCoy because Suh will be the 1st overall pick regardless of which team picks there.

I also must take exception with the "adequate run-stuffers are available in FA" statement. I think the Lions prove that that simply isn't true. That is, if by "adequate" you mean a player who actually aids in stopping the run and not just some guy who weighs 300+ pounds. The Lions have been cycling FA DLs in and out for years with the one constant being that the Lions, EVERY YEAR, are among the worst teams in the NFL at stopping the run. The only decent guy we've had was Shaun Rogers, a guy that would have been a Top 5 pick if not for injury. If you just want a big, warm body to cuddle with, sign more free agents. If you want to actually improve the Lions run D, you better do it at the top of the draft. BTW, this also fits directly in line with the "best player available" strategy, IMO.

3) O vs. D.
"The defense was good enough to keep us competitive in most games and a decent offense would've won us perhaps 4 more games."
Anyone who agrees with this statement didn't closely watch many Lions games this season. I know some final scores looked close, but that is mainly because those opposing offenses didn't NEED to score more (so, yes, our offense was bad, especially sans Stafford). If they did, they could've and would've. Watching games, when time came for an opposing offense to stroll down the field on the Lions, they did. Some teams (NO, CHI, GB twice) didn't even wait until they needed to. Bottomline: the Lions defense is terrible and improving the offense at the expense of the defense might, MIGHT, mean 2 or 3 more wins, but mostly it'd just mean we lose 38-27 instead of 24-10.

Matt,  December 23, 2009 at 2:46 PM  

4) Safeties. While I think Eric Berry will be an elite NFL safety (some experts have him as the best player available in this draft) and elite safeties make for fearsome defenses, there is something about the Polamalu's and Reed's of the world that is often ignored. . .their teams have talent up front. Without Hampton/Ngata, Farrior/Lewis, Harrison/Suggs, etc. up front stuffing the run, rushing the passer, and generally creating havok, Polamalu/Reed aren't able to freelance and prey on the mistakes created by the havok. I'm not saying they aren't great players, but they can't do what makes them great if they are the only great player out there (for example, see Arizona's Adrian Wilson up until late 2008). In summary, the Lions drafting Berry would be a waste of the pick and Berry's talent.

5) Trading down. It'd be nice to pick up a couple extra picks to go with Okung or Morgan or someone else (instead of just Suh or McCoy), but trading down in the NFL doesn't work like it does in Madden. Teams won't trade up "just cause," they have to REALLY want a player AND think he won't be available at their original pick AND be willing to give up something the team with the higher pick wants MORE than just drafting a guy with that higher pick. So, suggesting that the Lions just "trade down and get more picks" is too simplistic and, frankly, unrealistic. It's very rare for a team to trade into the Top 5 and saddle themselves with that contract for an essentially unknown player. Before the Jets went for Sanchez last year, the last time it happened was '03 (Jets for Dwayne Robertson).

6) Taking a RB. This would be a mistake of Millen-esque proportions. First, the OLine points I've already made. Adrian Peterson couldn't run consistently behind the Lions' OLine. Not knocking AP, but a huge part of what makes him the best RB in the NFL is that he runs behind the best OLine in the NFL. He was "only" the 7th pick, passed on by 5 teams that could've used stud RBs, despite being the most sure-thing RB since Tomlinson. Second, if the defense remains terrible, the running game is taken out of the equation. Third, the Lions would be committing Top 3 GUARANTEED money to the most injury-prone, shortest-career-having position in the NFL. Look at Rashard Mendenhall (who all the experts had the Lions taking in '08). He spent pretty much his whole rookie season on IR. He's had a decent season this year, but Pittsburgh, !PITTSBURGH!, has become a pass-first offense because their OLine is subpar and their best player is their QB (sound familiar?). Or how about Beanie Wells and Donald Brown? The latter has spent most of his rookie season injured. The former couldn't unseat former 5th-round pick Tim Hightower for the starting job until the Cardinals played the Lions. A lot of the talk in this thread has been about the positions the Lions can draft later (or fill through free agency). IMO, RB tops that list.

I guess that's it for now, but I'm sure I'll come up with more later. Good thread, Ty. I love the mailbags.

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