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.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 . . .
"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.
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.
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!