Three Cups Deep, Lions at Bills: Blaming Jim Schwartz

>> 11.15.2010

Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz thinking it over.

"It was real frustrating, especially coming in here feeling that we were the better team. That’s definitely the way we felt"

--Calvin Johnson, as quoted on Twitter by the Freep's Dave Birkett

The headline on Tom Kowalski’s Lions grades is “Continuing discipline problems reflects on coaching staff.”  Is it true?  Well, the Lions took their more-talented team into Ralph Wilson Stadium, and they got kicked in the nuts.  Their offense made the worst defense in the NFL look like the ‘85 Bears, and their defense made Fred Jackson look like Steven Jackson.  So what killed the Lions yesterday, so the common wisdom goes, is coaching.

Penalties.  Personnel.  Alignments.  Clock management.  Communication breakdowns.  Special teams lapses.  Coaching.

There’s no question, in terms of talent and production, that the Lions have been much better than the Bills over the course of the season.  As I discussed in the Watchtower, the Lions have been one of the most potent offenses in the NFL, while the Bills’ defense has been of a similar caliber to the 2008 Lions—dead last, and completely helpless against the run.  So, when one team has more talented players than their opponent, but loses . . . it must be coaching, right?

Right.  The Lions didn’t put their best team on the field today.  They came out thinking they could put it in the cooler.  They started Shaun Hill at quarterback, knowing he could barely play, refusing to let him throw downfield, and assuming Jahvid Best would slice through the Bills like butter.  When it didn’t work, they didn’t have a healthy, prepared arm to turn to—and Stefan Logan couldn’t quite bail them out with a return TD, try as he might.  The coaching staff elected to coast rather than attack, to not-lose rather than to win, and the result was Bills owning a lead and the momentum.  Blame Jim Schwartz for that.

Normally I gainsay this with, “No, the players play the game.”  At first blush, that argument can certainly be deployed.  The receivers dropped many passes, the tackling was atrocious, and the intensity was completely absent from the opening gun.  The players were not up for this game.  The players thought they had it in the bag.  Incredibly, after last week’s humiliating loss, they were overconfident.  They thought they had it.  They thought they couldn’t lose.  They were wrong.

"I thought we were going to run all over them . . . It's just frustrating.  It's frustrating to work on it all week. We think it's there, we see it's there, and it's just unfortunate because we get behind and we have to go to the pass. We can't stick with the run, and that kills us."

--Rob Sims, via Dave Birkett's Freep.com article

Here, then, is confirmation: the players thought they had it in the bag because the coaches told them they had it in the bag.  The game plan from the beginning was to play a low-variance game: run, run, run, rely on the disparity in talent, rely on the gap in execution.  Don’t start Drew because you don’t want a gambler.  Do start Shaun because you know he won’t kill you with the big mistake.  Don’t push it downfield in the cold and the rain, don’t try to blow them out.  Just grind it out, run it over them, collect the W and move on.

The only problem with this approach is that the Bills “blew their wad” in this game, as someone told me the Lions did last week.  They knew this was their chance to make a statement, and they made it—as the Lions very nearly did last week.  But the Lions that battered and bloodied one of the toughest teams in the NFL last week didn’t make the trip.  The Lions we saw in Buffalo were hung over, lackadasical, incomprehensibly overconfident.  It seems as though they were told all they had to do was show up—and that’s all they did.

The execution, then, is on the coaches too.  Here’s the kicker though: so what.  Jim Schwartz is learning, too.  He has a roster full of talent, but most of it is very young, very inexperienced talent.  He can’t just tell Gosder Cherilus, “HEY KNOCK IT OFF WITH THE STUPID PENALTIES,” and expect Gosder to reply “Oh okay, thanks Coach,” then stop committing stupid penalties.  It’s not like Schwartz can bench him, either—Jason Fox was a healthy scratch—and if he did, the dropoff in play would hurt much more than a dumb hold at a bad time. 

Here is the reality of the situation: every coach makes mistakes.  Every coach makes good-at-the-time decisions that, in hindsight, backfire.  Every coach has wins slip from their grasp.  The coach that doesn’t make questionable decisions flatly doesn’t exist—even Bill Belicheck, the reigning Smartest Coach In Football, routinely makes mistakes, and sometimes they even seem to cost his team games.  But the Patriots are nothing without Belicheck calling the shots, and I personally don’t believe there are any other coaches who’d have gotten this team as far, as fast, as sustainably, as the man I call The Grandmaster has.

He just hasn't yet gotten them to the point where they can take games off on the road and win.

15 comments:

Andrew November 15, 2010 at 12:18 PM  

I know everyone harps on it, but they can't keep avoiding the question...we tried Best inside and out, Smith all over, Felton up the gut, and nothing was consistent. When are this team's coaches going to accept their identity and their obvious strengths? Whether they're led by Hill or Stafford they are a PASS FIRST team.

A run play is a routine 2 yards or a loss. Multiple drives stalled when we ran run plays on 1st and 2nd and came up with 3rd and a mile.

It was infuriating sitting in the rain in Buffalo with a good number of Lions fans, screaming for passes. Of course when it's time to come back in the 2nd half (after the rain/wind picked up), we start throwing the ball.

Matt,  November 15, 2010 at 1:56 PM  

The mistakes are piling up and that ultimately falls on Schwartz. If it were just a few penalties or just a couple players, fine, but they are averaging something like 10 a game. That shows a consistent lack of discipline and, again, that falls on the coach. He didn't have the Lions "up" for this game, for some reason or another, and the penalties started right out of the gate (Heller on the 1st drive, Sims & Peterman on the 2nd, followed by Suh & Williams on the Bills' next possession). It set a bad tone right from the get-go.

I said it prior to the Lions losing to the Rams last season and I said it about this game, the Lions have to win these to prove that the ship is really turning. Losing to the Bills (and breaking the Lions' own record for road futility in the process) is the biggest failure of the Schwartz Regime to date, IMO.

I can't help but wonder how many of his coaching mistakes go away and/or don't matter if Matt Stafford could actually stay healthy, though.

Jersey Jim,  November 15, 2010 at 3:49 PM  

What a bunch of heartless slackers!!!!!! Just because you play the Jets tough (and lose as usual by the way), you spit the bit to a winless team? I'm surprised they didn't get penalized for offsides during the National Anthem. Worst game of the year, worse loss than last week, and a sharp-slap-in-the face reminder of how bad this team can be........think 0-16 with much more talent, but could care less attitude.

And I am not giving Georgetown-educated, cerebral but "so cool", goateed, hard rock lovin' Schwartz a pass in any respect whatsoever. Never mind the world class lack of discipline as evidenced by 1,235,788 penalties this season, how about his utter lack of clock management? Did you learn anything last week, Jimbo????? How in the world this urbane, erudite, sophisticated renaissance man cannot grasp the simple concept that you call a timeout after the Bills 1 yard gain on 1st down just before halftime, when you have 3 TO's, is beyond me. I have lost a lot of faith in his game day decisions very quickly. He better grow up real, real fast!!!!

Kris November 15, 2010 at 4:13 PM  

I wish we could fix the running problem. Is it a personal issue that the o-line cannot open up holes for the backs to run through? Sure seems like that to me which likely means there isn't a good fix in 2010. If Schwartz really game-planned to pretty much just run (which may also indicate why he was OK starting a hobbled QB) I think that is a pretty big mistake given that we haven't really proven to be able to run on anyone.

Pounding the ball into the d-line isn't working for this team, we need to try something else. Perhaps opening up the passing game from the first minute of the game would help in that regard though I have my doubts.

Hopefully at least these Lions learn from what happened here and don't plan to run all over people and show up like they want to play. This was just a sad, embarrassing performance that looked a lot like those dreaded "same old Lions" rather than the improving bunch we've seen the rest of the year.

Ty November 15, 2010 at 4:20 PM  

Andrew--

"When are this team's coaches going to accept their identity and their obvious strengths?"

First, thank you very, very much for showing up and rooting Lions in a hostile crowd. You rule.

Second, the answers are twofold: 1) they knew Shaun Hill didn't have 40 passes in him and 2) they thought they could run on the Bills, which was a reasonable assumption because everybody can. It wasn't until it became painfully obvious that the Lions just couldn't do what everyone else has been able to do up until this point.

Peace
Ty

Ty November 15, 2010 at 4:25 PM  

Matt--

"I can't help but wonder how many of his coaching mistakes go away and/or don't matter if Matt Stafford could actually stay healthy, though."

This is exactly right. I think this team is profoundly bummed about Stafford, and largely thought they were simply going to show up and outclass the Bills. They were overconfident, which is incomprehensible, and they got slapped in the face. Let's hope this is a wake-up call.

Peace
Ty

Ty November 15, 2010 at 4:42 PM  

Jersey Jim--

"And I am not giving Georgetown-educated, cerebral but "so cool", goateed, hard rock lovin' Schwartz a pass in any respect whatsoever."

Okay, like, I get it? Not sure what this accomplishes though. Not sure what other coach you'd rather have in here. I think he's doing a great job, not a perfect job, but a great one, and unless this team finishes 2-14 again I'm going to have a hard time buying any suggestions that the Lions aren't on the right track.

Peace
Ty

Matt,  November 15, 2010 at 7:30 PM  

You know what the easiest way to not go 2-14 was? Beating the Bills.

Matt A,  November 16, 2010 at 12:46 AM  

I can't believe I'm say this but I'm about to check out for the season... I didn't watch the Bills game solely because of how crushed I was after the Jets game and I just couldn't watch them lose to the winless Bills... I'm having a hard time right now thinking a reason to keep watching this season as much as I love football and as much as I love the Lions even more...

NorthLeft12 November 16, 2010 at 9:28 AM  

Ty, I agree with Andrew 100%. Lions fans want this team to have an identity. Well we do. This is a passing team with many excellent weapons [Calvin, Nate, Grew, Scheffler, Best, and Smith] and an O Line that excels at pass blocking. With Stafford this is one of the most efficient offences in the NFL. With Hill, it is very good.
Playing to anothers team weakness is a sign of weakness in my opinion. You do what you do best and force the other team to stop you. The Bills are in fact one of the worst pass defence teams in the NFL. This fact is only hidden by how bad their rush defence is.
This game plan was not confident or intelligent.

Ty November 16, 2010 at 9:45 AM  

Matt--

Yeah. No question they should have won this game. No excuses, they are the better team and they needed the win. They came in thinking they had it in the bag and it cost them. The coaches and the players all need to wear that this week.

Peace
Ty

Ty November 16, 2010 at 9:51 AM  

Matt A--

I'm sorry to hear that. I started to check out a bit for the last two weeks of last season (stopped doing Watchtowers, etc.) . . . I'm going to go out on a limb and guarantee that there will be moments well worth watching yet this year.

Peace
Ty

Ty November 16, 2010 at 10:04 AM  

NorthLeft12--

I'd agree, except that Linehan has always hung his hat on a balanced offense--and Best showed in the preseason and the first few games that he's capable of tearing up NFL defenses. The thing we lose sight of is that a one-dimensional is much easier to stop. Once the *threat* of the run goes away, you have to basically have Peyton Manning pulling the trigger or the pass offense will go away too.

I want to agree with the he-man WE WILL PLAY OUR GAME AND THEY WILL GNASH THEIR TEETH IN DESPAIR, but that was Marinelli's game plan. Bringing your base offense and base defense to the ballpark every week and going "we will out-execute you" requires elite talent, and the Lions aren't there yet.

The plan to abuse the Bills' run defense with Jahvid Best was a very, very sound one--that they couldn't execute is damning of their execution, not their plan.

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  November 16, 2010 at 9:20 PM  

Most everyone talks of the Lions "loosing culture" with the presumption that the players and coaches do not care whether they win or loose as long as they get paid. I think the Lions have the opposite problem -- they care too much to the point where the game has become an onorous burden and they are trying to play past their abilities. E.g., linemen jump offside trying to get an advantage on their opponent; coaches outsmart themselves trying to do something different that may win a game; defensive backs miss tackles trying for a big hit; etc. I think the Lions should lighten up a bit and get back to playing because it is fun. Once they start winning, many of these problems (e.g. penalties) will go away. To the point that the news media drums up the significance of loosing streaks that must be broken and games that absolutely must be won based on records and so forth, they are actually a major contributor to this "loosing culture" and make it more difficult for the Lions to turn this around. Take a look at how quickly Dallas imploded this year. The fact that the Lions have been competitive in each game with less talent than Dallas is a big positive for the current coaching staff.

I thought the Lions would go 8-8 this year and possibly contend for a playoff spot but I can see that will not happen even though I think they are close to being an 8-8 team talent wise. In any case, they should take this poor start as an opportunity to prepare, play and evaluate their personell. If they are to contend for playoffs next year, there are some puzzles that must be solved and addressed during the off season. For one, why they cannot run the ball on Offense? Second, why do they give up big plays on defense occasionally? If they can solve these, then they will be well on their way to having a successful season next year.

Anonymous,  November 17, 2010 at 7:37 PM  

Of course Schwartz has to take the final responsibility but why is no one commenting on Linehan? Why not realize that they can't run the ball and start throwing it? Why not get the ball to C. Johnson ( I know he caught 10 on Sunday) with a screen or an end-around? Hill can find him but Stafford can't? I really want to believe in this staff but I can't see them winning another game all yr.

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