Sunset in the Tundra

>> 1.08.2010

"Sunset in the Tundra" - Kahnjan Metha

This morning, I was rooting through my drawers for an appropriate shirt.  Being Friday—and, therefore, Casual—I often don the colors or gear of one of my chosen sports teams.  During football season, I’m consistently sporting Lions gear to close out the work week.  This morning, it clicked.

It’s over.

The Lions are not going to play any more football until next autumn.

As we age, years seem to get shorter and shorter.  Seasons change as fast as we can get used to them, months are over before we know it, weeks melt away like ice in a fire . . . and days are interminable.  Yet, this annual cycle of football/no football stays the same.

In-season, it feels like the game always has, and always will, be there—week after week after week, football has a lovely rhythm.  We watch the game, have our Sunday outbursts, our slept-on-it Monday reactions, and our Tuesday and Wednesday reflections.  Then, three days of hype about, breakdowns of, and buildup to the next contest.

But now, we step foot onto the seemingly-infinite ice sheet between us and more Lions.  Oh, sure, there’s the playoffs, Super Bowl, college all-star games, etc.; we’ll get our football fixes.  But as of right now, we no longer live in the real: we return to our annual festival of speculation, argument, infighting, name-calling, prognosticating, and pronouncement-making that DF1979 over at Roar of the Lions aptly calls the “Ifseason”.

The Ifseason has always been a double-edged sword.  On one hand, “optimists” such as myself now have a an infinite canvas of snow upon which we can paint scenes of future Lions glory.  On the other, every internet discussion about the current and future Lions will be like NFL front office LARP: imaginary battles fought with foam swords and pretend spells.  Lions fans will argue vociferously over what is and is not real, what will and will not be, and what would and would not happen in various scenarios.

As exasperating—and pointless—as it is, it’s really all we have.  Despite what can only be described as massive upheaval last offseason—new President, GM, Head Coach, coaching staff, logo, uniform, and half of the roster—the improvement was difficult to quantify: from immeasurably bad, to merely awful.  Is 0-16 to 2-14 significant?  Are the Lions on the right track?  Did Mayhew, Harris, Schwartz, Cunningham, and Linehan overcome all odds to get this team back on the board, or did they fail spectacularly?

Obnoxiously, we won't be able to know—for real—until next autumn.


Three Cups Deep: . . . It Is Finished

>> 1.04.2010

 The Lions' season is officially over.  Their 2-14 campaign fell just short of media expectations, and well short of fans’ hopes.  For what it’s worth, I believe that if Matthew Stafford had been able to play all 16 games at 100%, the Lions would have won several more—but at this point, that’s completely meaningless.
We saw what Daunte Culpepper’s checkdown mania can accomplish when the game is close, and players are making plays around him: caretaking, game-managing, not-losing.  However, that isn’t enough to keep pace with a team whose quarterback can actually push the ball downfield and make plays.
There was one other bright spot in the game yesterday, besides Megatron’s perfectly-executed fade: Maurice Morris.  Morris had 16 carries for 65 yards (4.06 YpC), and caught 5 more balls for 41 yards.  He looked really effective; he ran with burst and drive.  Aaron Brown also contributed a few very nice plays—the Lions ran for exactly 100 yards with 25 carries.
Unfortunately, the defense made the running game completely irrelevant.  On back-to-back forth quarter drives, they surrendered two ~50-yard plays that precipitated 17 Bears points in the final ten minutes of play.  Culpepper couldn’t cash in from the Bears’ 14, Derrick Williams fumbled a kickoff, and that was that.
These two facts throw two monkeywrenches into the current ‘hot topic’ of the Lions’ fandom: “Which runningback will the Lions pick up to replace Kevin Smith?”  From drafting C.J. Spiller with the #2 overall pick, to kicking a late-rounder to Baltimore for Willis McGahee, suggestions on how to acquire a new starting tailback abound.
Am I missing something?  Kevin Smith was drafted at the top of the third round two years ago, has been very productive in each of his first two seasons, and will be at full speed by midseason next year.  His top two backups are under multi-year contracts, and have looked good in relief.  Further, the Lions have had the worst defense in football for two consecutive seasons!
Here's the ugly truth: the Lions could add a Spiller, a McGahee, Adrian Peterson—last year’s Greatest Runningback Ever—or even Chris Johnson, this year’s Greatest Runningback Ever, and it wouldn’t matter.  In every game this season, the Lions have had to abandon the run no later than the third quarter.  Barry Sanders could walk into Allen Park and ask for his job back tomorrow, and Matt Stafford would still be asked to throw fifty times a game in 2010.
No, the Lions cannot waste a draft pick, or any significant money, on a halfback.  Defensive line (x2), defensive back (x3), offensive guard, and wide receiver are all desperate, red-alert level squeaky wheels—they will, and should, get the grease.
This going to be a very un-interesting offseason.  Last year, from the final gun of the final game, anything and everything about the Lions was in question.  The front office, the head coach, the assistant coaches—all of it, everything.  Even as answers to those questions resolved, everything else got shaken up: the logo, the uniforms, over half of the roster.
This season, though?  There will be no shakeup, no destruction.  The front office is in place, the coaches are in place, and the direction is set: forward.  All the Lions have to do is add talent.  To be themselves, only better.  To learn how to win.  To get bigger, stronger, faster, tougher, smarter.  To grow up.
Oh, and preseason predictions, based on game-by-game breakdowns?  I told you all they’re completely useless wastes of time.


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