Highlight Reel Diaries, Vol. II

>> 12.24.2009

Christmas is a holiday of recipes: gingerbread recipes and casserole recipes, stuffing made three different ways, Grandma’s ancient instructions for cooking ham or prime rib. There are even debates about whether to follow the recipe on the back of the can of cream of mushroom soup, or the one on the back of the can of those crispy onion things.
Christmas is also when Lions fans call for their Fan Favorites—and there’s a recipe for those, too:
1 6th- or 7th-round draft pick (you may substitute an undrafted free agent)
1 Memorable name, or nickname
2 decent plays in training camp
Take rookie with memorable name; watch him in training camp. Once rookie has made a big tackle, blanketed the team’s star wideout for a play, or scored a long touchdown, begin cries of “He just made the team!” When rookie makes a similar play in a preseason game, he may be safely pronounced “better than” the starter at his position. If rookie actually makes the team, print jerseys and cheer immediately. Serves sixty thousand.
What’s interesting about Drew Stanton is that he doesn’t follow this recipe. He’s a second-round draft pick—a cursed Millen second-rounder, no less! He’s been injured early and often. On a team that’s gone through quarterbacks like the All-You-Can-Eat section’s gone through bratwurst, Stanton’s never merited a chance. Yet, Lions fans have spent the last two weeks calling for him to play. Why?
The cynical will point to his alma mater, Michigan State. But it’s not just Spartan fans who’ve been banging the gong on Daunte’s tired act. Drew’s become an icon of the Millen era: even when Millen drafted a true talent, he or his coaches put him in a position to fail. If Drew succeeds, it’ll mean the reclamation of a young career—and a second-round draft pick.
Drew’s never gotten a real chance to prove himself. He’s seen some preseason action, and done well. He’s finished out some regular-season blowout losses, and done poorly. But yesterday, Jim Schwartz announced that Drew Stanton will start this week, and get all the first-team reps in practice. This is the chance he’s never had, to prepare as the starter, practice with the ones, and start.
Judging by what little we have seen of Drew, I don’t anticipate a great day against the 49ers. They have an aggressive defense, led by Patrick Willis, and called by two former linebackers: head coach Mike Singletary, and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.
Still, the Lions showed last Sunday that they like Drew, they play hard for Drew, and they might even play better for Drew. Schwartz has given Drew Stanton a Christmas present—let’s hope he re-gifts it to us.


Ndamukong the torpedoes

>> 12.23.2009

With the Lions’ loss last weekend, and the Browns’ win, the Lions are suddenly in a two-way tie for the #2 overall pick.  With only quarterback-starved St. Louis ahead of them, Lions fans everywhere are getting revved up for the possibility that Ndamukong Suh, the AP’s College Football Player of the Year, will soon don Honolulu Blue.

With Suh as the pass-rushing 3-technique tackle, and Hill as the run-stuffing 1-tech, the Lions would have their very own Williams Wall.  Several people emailed me (and have been emailing me!) about this exciting concept, and I discussed the notion at length in last week’s mailbag post.

That night, though, something was tickling at the back of my mind.  Fans, and talk show hosts, were already anointing Ndamukong Suh “the next Albert Haynesworth”.  Let’s be real for a minute: Haynesworth is currently listed at 6’-6”, 350 pounds.  Coming out of college, he was already 320.  As beastly as Suh looked against Texas, he sure didn’t look 320.

Here's the sobering reality: the Huskers list Suh at 6'-4", 300.  Wikipedia has him at 295.  GBN Report lists him at 300, and NFL Draft Scout weighs him out at 302.  Bottom line?  He ain’t no Haynesworth.  In fact, if we’re going to compare him to former Schwartz defensive linemen, he’s closer to Kevin Carter—a 6’-6”, 305-pound DE the Lions had extensive talks with this summer.

As a three-technique tackle in the Schwartz/Cunningham defense, I think Suh would be a little light in his loafers.  They want the DTs to hit gaps square and deny rushing lanes; that’s not Suh’s forte.  Frankly, Suh would be Rod Marinelli’s dream—he’s a prototypical Tampa 2 three-technique, a “skinny penetrator” who can burst past guards and get upfield fast.

Don’t get me wrong: Suh is an incredible player, and a dominating force.  But look at this dude:

Icon SMI

Check out how much of his bulk is in his arms, shoulders, and thighs.  He’s incredibly strong for his size, and possesses a huge amount of burst.  But this is not the type of body that drops anchor at the line of scrimmage, refuses to be moved, then casts off a double team to eat a running back.  This is a disruptor, a penetrator, a—dare I say it?—violator of offenses.  I wonder . . . could he play end?

Tom Kowalski has indicated in radio interviews, that if a massive, athletic, pass-rushing, run-stopping three-down defensive end had been available, the Lions might have drafted him over Matthew Stafford.

Icon SMI

I'm not saying . . . I'm just saying.

If Suh could drop five or ten pounds of fat, he'd be a virtual clone of Super Mario—especially if he got a little quicker as a result.  Further, of the few people who’ve been bold enough to admit that Suh’s game has any flaw at all, the consensus is that he plays a little too high, and uses his natural speed and upper body strength to go around blockers, rather than beat them at the point of attack.

Now, Big XII guards are not NFL right tackles; “going around” them is a lot harder.  Everyone will expect instant impact from “Kong”, but Suh will probably spend his first full season learning his craft.  As Mario Williams discovered, simply being bigger, faster, and stronger doesn’t cut it on Sundays. 

Unfortunately, this will probably be true whether he plays end or tackle for the Lions: he’s a little too big to play end, a little too small to play tackle, relies a little too much on his talent, and will need a little work on his technique before he can make an impact.  Sill, he IS the best DL prospect since Mario; I’m sure the Lions can, and will, find a use for him, should they be so lucky to draft him.


Three Cups Deep: Waking Up Late

>> 12.21.2009

In the Watchtower for this game, I followed up fifteen hundred words, or thereabouts, of doom and gloom, with the following:

Every single piece of data I have, both objective and subjective, points to a Cardinals blowout.  However, there has not been a more “off” and “on” team over the past two seasons than the Cardinals.  The one thing they haven’t done in this Warner/Fitz/Boldin/Whisenhunt era is meet expectations—they beat teams they shouldn’t beat and look amazing doing it, and they lose to teams they have no business losing to, and look horrible doing it.
Further, I can’t imagine that a Jim Schwartz team comes back for a home game after a bad performance and rolls over from the opening gun--if so, it should raise some serious red flags.  My instincts tell me this will be more like a 35-21 loss—but if Culpepper plays, and Fitz and Boldin don’t take the game off, I don’t see how the Lions keep it that close.
Amazingly, though Culpepper and Fitzgerald both started yesterday, my “instincts” proved accurate.  As tough as it was to watch the offense founder and struggle to move the ball, let alone score points, we did get to see exactly what I was watching for: heart, effort, moxie, stick-to-it-itiveness, whatever you want to call it.  The Lions did not roll over and die at the coin toss, nor did they roll over and die when they went into halftime down 17-0.
I’m not going to beat the Culpepper/Stanton thing to death.  I’ve made my position on the issue clear: Stanton may, or may not, be any better than Culpepper right now, but Culpepper has no future here, or anywhere else.  Stanton's future, at least, is still undetermined—and if this season ends without giving him one week as a starter, it’ll be a crime.
While Stanton certainly didn’t play the position of quarterback any better than Culpepper, it’s undeniable that the team performed better while Stanton was at the helm.  Coincidence?  Perhaps.  But when Culpepper’s been outscored like 91-3 in his last three starts, you take any coincidence you get.
What blew me away yesterday was the play of the defensive line.  It looked as though The Real Cliff Avril finally got his uniform back yesterday—and Grady Jackson played like the he-beast he is.  On multiple occasions, the Lions’ defensive line won multiple one-on-one battles at the same time; on other teams, this isn’t cause for celebration—but for the Lions?  Pop the bubbly.
The kick coverage units did a reasonable job as well; Zack Follett gave the Cardinals a big ol’ dose of the Pain Train yesterday (Mrs. Ty nearly filed divorce papers after I stood up and “WOO WOO"’d in the middle of the bar).  Of course, they also gave up a huge return at the end of the 4th, that handed the game to the Cards—but at least they waited that long!
The offensive line played with some grit . . . but committed a plethora of false starts, including a drive-killing consecutive pair in the 2nd quarter.  Gosder Cherilus is showing a positively Culpepperian knack for making just a few mistakes—but really, really stupid ones at the worst possible times.
Overall, we’re left with a familiar feeling: the “moral victory”.  The “good loss”.  The “at least it was, or wasn’t . . .”  Is there anything left to say?  Is there anything left to do?  Yes.  It’s time to make the coffee . . .


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