Neither rain nor snow nor sleet . . .

>> 10.23.2009

It’s (finally) mailbag time!  Most of the questions I received had to do with a very round peg that just might fill a very big hole in the Lions’ lineup.  I'll print David M, of's instance:

I saw that Ed Johnson of the Colts was released today. We need DT help and he's a decent DT that hasn't been playing up to standards and being lazy (the reason for release was listed as him being overweight at 315 pounds). He got his wake up call from the Colts, so do you think the Lions will attempt to sign and shape him up?

Johnson is an interesting case.  The 6’-2”, 296# DT was released from the Colts last year, after a traffic stop resulted in the discovery of marijuana in his car.  He was re-signed by the Colts seven months later--after, essentially, promising to be good.  However, he was released again last week.  When pressed for a reason why, Colts coach Jim Caldwell denied that it was a character issue, saying that it was a case of “overall production, or lack thereof”.

This is an interesting philosophical question for Lions fans. If Ed Johnson was truly cut only for performance, and not character, issues, then he's not just a "turd", and might be of use. Then again, if he was truly cut only for performance, he must have been terrible indeed; NFL teams don't release a guy midseason unless they're clearing up a roster spot for someone else. The quagmire was cleared up a few days ago when, Colts GM Bill Polian finally came clean:

“Jim Caldwell about three weeks ago called him in and essentially said to him, 'Ed, you have to pick it up - the production, the hustle, the effort and the ability to lose the weight has to be improved,''' Polian said Monday, adding that Caldwell told Johnson, “Otherwise, we're going to have to make a change.'''
So there you have it: Ed Johnson was indeed cut for being lazy.  His weight was a just manifestation of that lack of intensity.  The many Polian, and Caldwell-via-Polian, quotes in that article make it crystal clear: the coaches wanted nothing more to do with Johnson’s half-hearted effort.  This guy is like a fat Chuck Darby, without Darby’s motor; I don’t think that’s someone who can help the Lions.  Moreover, Sammie Hill, a player with a naturally huge frame and a lot of heart, should come back healthy next week, or shortly thereafter.

David also highlighted another free agent target who might be worth pursuing:

I saw through various media outlets that former starting safety for San Diego Clinton Hart was released. Why have we not heard about the Lions going after him? Are they really pleased with Marquand Manuel starting next to Delmas? I know Ko Simpson is here too, and I like him as a player, but it never hurts to bring in someone with starting experience.

I have to admit, I hadn't heard of Hart's release. Judging by the fan reaction, it looks as though the Associated Press’ take on it:

Coach Norv Turner said the Chargers were carrying an extra safety and felt younger players Steve Gregory and rookie Kevin Ellison "have come along and are ready to play."
is essentially correct.  The Chargers are trying to shake things up in general, and Hart's release (following several weeks of poor play) sent a message to the rest of the defense that nobody's job is safe.

As far as the Lions making a move to pick him up, I think you answered your own question. The Lions already have a starter they seem to like in Ko Simpson, and I'd expect him to come back healthy after the bye.  I have not been fond of Marquand Manuel's play, but he's been on the team--and in the system--for much of the offseason, and can play either safety spot.  That's another thing to remember: Schwartz doesn't use the typical "strong" and "free" safety roles; a traditional SS who's a liability in coverage has no place in this defense. According to Adam Caplan of, that's exactly what Hart's problem has been: coverage.

I also got another very good question from commenter SomeChoi:

S Hill and L Cohen seem to be good DTs who will only get better. Yet, Killer talks about DT as a major need for next year. Am I just overvaluing those guys? I would think LT is a bigger need than DT (but both behind DE, CB, and S).
I think we as Lions fans need to be clear: after Megatron, Matt Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew, Louis Delmas, and DeAndre Levy, just about everyone on the roster is a candidate to be replaced this offseason.

Of course, I would love for the Lions to get an elite left tackle--but the Lions' DT rotation, with Hill out, is Cohen, 36-year-old Grady Jackson, and 278-pound Turk McBride.  Understand that on a team with an established defensive line, Hill and Cohen would have each had to wait a year or two to get on the field--and instead, they're part of the starting rotation.

Likewise, the DEs are extremely thin: Avril is just starting to turn it back on after his injury, Dewayne White can't stay healthy, DeVries was going to START before going on IR, and his street-free-agent replacement, Jason Hunter, is also out. Six months ago, Jason Hunter was a special-teams standout for the Packers, who was then released.  Now, the Lions are eager for his return, so they can plug him back into the rotation? Yikes.

I've been ringing alarm bells all offseason long: the cornerback position is absolutely dire.  Henry is better suited to safety, Buchanon needs to pull his head out of his posterior, and there isn't another legitimate NFL starter on the roster.  Will James is a great story, but he's another weak #2/strong #3-type guy that could be a cog in an otherwise-excellent secondary, but he's no #1, not in a division full of excellent, strong-armed quarterbacks.

I could go on and on about the talent definciencies all over the roster--but I'll try to stick to your question.  Sammie Hill is still extremely raw; he doesn't yet know how to use that incredible build to its fullest. His technique, hand work, and use of leverage is simply not there yet. Once it is, though, his potential is limited only by his effort. If he reaches that potential, could be the Lions' nose tackle for years to come.  However, at this point he's just a big body--that helps, but only goes so far.

Landon Cohen has made absolutely unbelievable strides since the Lions took him in the 7th round of the 2008 draft, putting on about 35 pounds of pure muscle.  I bumped into him at the “Lions Uncaged!” event; he didn’t notice, but my clavicle was broken in three spots.  Still, he was a seventh-round draft pick just last year.  He BARELY saw the field--and all of the technique coaching he got last season was wiped out and rewritten with the opposite approach this summer.  If he continues to develop, he could indeed be a valuable rotational guy next to Hill.

This is kind of the thing: us Lions fans are so used to anyone who's even moderately decent starting; the notion of having both an excellent starter and a solid backup is disorienting.  I agree that Cohen and Hill are two excellent young prospects--but this defense needs to be built around the NEXT Grady Jackson, the next Albert Haynesworth, the next Pat Williams. If you have a chance to draft the kind of DT who stops people's running games cold all by himself, you don't pass on that guy because Landon Cohen is coming along pretty good.


Extremely lame content promise

>> 10.22.2009

Folks, I really apologize for the delay in posting actual content, but along with your mailbag submissions (which I'm still accepting!), I'm working on a truly massive article (targeted to go up very late tonight), as well as something HUGE and NEW and GOLLY WOW AWESOME which I'll be announcing in the next day or two.

To tide you over, may I suggest you peruse Jeff Sagarin's computer rankings? Lots of interesting nuggets there: the Lions are the 26th-ranked team, and have faced the 5th-hardest schedule in the NFL so far. Very cool stuff.


Mailbag submissions

>> 10.20.2009

Folks, since we've got an extended hiatus, I'd like to do a big midseason mailbag.  Please, email your questions, comments, suggestions, or diatribes to, Tweet me @lionsinwinter, or just reply to this thread! Answers/replies will go up in a day or two.


three cups deep: eating crow

>> 10.19.2009

Today I eat a foul meal, indeed.  After looking over the data, seeing a decisive systemic advantage for our Gridiron Heroes, and hearing that Matt Stafford took part in Wednesday practices, I bravely predicted a victory over the Packers.  I don’t think I need to describe the agony that Sunday’s results inspired--Neil over at Armchair Linebacker already sauced my crow plate with his own, unfailingly lyrical, take.

Adding insult to injury, I posted yesterday that I'd be Tweeting throughout the game--then either Twitter, or every Twitter client I could get my hands on, went down.  I also ran a quick pre-game errand that ended up not being quick at all, and so I listened to most of the first half on the radio.

There's something about following a game on the radio or internet that makes a blowout loss much worse.  Without the ability to see what's happening, to understand why, you really feel like the Football Gods are simply smiting you:

Daunte Culpepper drops back to pass . . .
Please don't be intercepted please don't be intercepted please don't be intercepted please don't be intercepted please don't be intercepted
. . . and it's picked off! He threw it RIGHT TO Cullen Jenkins!

It’s infuriating.  It’s nauseating.  It’s even emasculating--like your strength and pride as a fan is being taken from you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

The Packers' emasculation of the Lions was swift and surgical, indeed.  Rogers exploited the Lions’ horrific secondary for an opening-drive bomb, Culpepper threw a horrific pick with his first pass attempt, the Pack cashed in, and the game was over with 7:25 left in the first quarter.  The numbers will show the Packers didn't play a very good game--13 penalties for 130 yards!—yet, the Lions were absolutely powerless to keep pace.

After the initial salvo, the Lions' D actually stiffened up.  The Lions had three offensive possessions in between the second TD and the Packers' next score, a Crosby FG.  If they'd turned those three possessions into just 10 points, we are talking about a COMPLETELY different ballgame.  Of course, they didn't, and so we are talking about a vicious loss that "feels" even worse than it looked--and it looked bad.  On Twitter, I called it the Lions' second "GPS Game" and, well, now we know exactly where the Lions are.

Well . . . we know where they're at without Matt Stafford.  Without Calvin Johnson.  Without Sammie Hill, DeWayne White, Jason Hunter, or Ko Simpson.  Isn't it interesting that already, these players are the difference between competitiveness and 2008-level play?  Stafford is already an immediate upgrade over Culpepper; there can be no debate about that now. Megatron we know is Megatron, and White's been solid when healthy, but Sammie Hill?  Jason Hunter?  Ko Simpson?  A fourth rounder from an NAIA school, a street free agent, and a guy who would have been cut if not traded for; they're already major contributors, missed dearly when they're gone.  It brings home exactly how bankrupt the Lions' roster was when Mayhew took over.

One phrase I've heard quite frequently this season from Lions fans, bloggers, and reporters: "I know there are no moral victories, but . . . ", with the "but" preceding, you know, why this past loss was a moral victory.  There is nothing like that here.  This was a brutal, punishing, vicious, demeaning defeat.  It stopped the momentum from the Steelers game dead.  It sheared the the little green rosebuds off the black and thorny stems of seasons past.

. . . and now, nothing.  Bleakness, emptiness; a bye.  As snow, probably, begins to fall outside our windows on Sunday, this loss will simmer, stew, marinate.  There's nothing to look forward to: no early previews of the upcoming opponent, no breathless injury report updates, not even "so-and-so looked good during jogging today".  No, my crow will be slowly braised, for two weeks, in a bitter broth of injuries, ineffectiveness, turnovers, and defeat.

Ugh.  After that, there's no way I can suck down a third cup of office sludge. I'm going out for espresso.


Gameday Twittering

>> 10.18.2009

Just a friendly reminder, folks: I'll be posting up gameday comments, questions, witticisms, and "strong takes" ("War imported beer!", et al. (not really)) up at my Twitter feed, @lionsinwinter. Let's all throw a little log on the big blue bonfire today, yeah? Go Lions!


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