LionsFanRoc’s 2nd-Prize Writing Contest Entry

>> 4.09.2010

Here is the 2nd-prize winning entry for the AXE Hair/TLIW Writing Contest, written by LionsFanRoc!

I won’t pretend that I’ve had to suffer more than other Lions fans, we all know what one another has been through: draft jokes about wide receivers, constant razzing from friends who are lucky enough to follow winning teams, reading moronic comments from every a$#hole with a computer, etc.

What I can tell you is that I’ve been a Lions fan as long as I can remember, living in upstate New York. When the Buffalo Bills were winning four straight AFC championships from 1990-1994, I was watching (whenever the Lions played nationally televised games) Barry Sanders, once a backup to the Bills Hall of Famer running back Thurman Thomas, try to single handedly win games for the Lions. Needless to say, despite being only 20 years old, Barry Sanders was all I’d ever had to be proud of as a Lions fan.

That is until September 27, 2009 when the Lions played the underachieving Washington Redskins.

I had waited all week for the game, wrote an article on about what I predicted the outcome would be (a Lions win of course!), and had set up a way to watch the game streaming live with two friends of mine who were Redskins fans (both of whom are actually very attractive girls… as if I needed any more of a reason to watch!).

I walked over to their dorm 30 minutes before the game to get situated to find that my only seat would be on the floor, but I didn’t mind. It was the first time I would get to watch a game in its entirety and not on a site like which would surely be shut down mid-game.

For an entire three hours I endured their taunts of “How can we be losing to the Lions?!”, or “God how bad are we this year?” without shoving one right back in their face. After all, they’re attractive girls and chivalry isn’t totally dead with this 20 year old. I remained polite throughout and simply decided that it was best not to test karma or get my hopes up despite being up 19-7 with only five minutes left.

Of course, my fears were confirmed with a Redskins touchdown with two and a half minutes remaining making the score 19-14. The Lions couldn’t possibly blow this game, could they?

With eight seconds left on the Lions 36 yard line the Redskins had time for one last play and I couldn’t keep my body still. The long time out right before hand sure wasn’t helping to ease the tension, I mean who knows what could happen? They could get a pass interference call in the end zone and have a play from the one yard line (something the Lions benefited from later on in 2009!).

Finally the play came. The Redskins were in trips right at the top of my screen and had another receiver at the bottom of the screen. Surely he was just a decoy; Campbell was throwing a jump ball to the right in the end zone hoping for those yellow flags.

To my surprise it was a trick play: the hook and ladder, and a poorly executed one at that. Larry Foote finally sent me into a state of jubilation I had not felt in a long time.

I proceeded to make an ass of myself, running out of the room and down the hall screaming. In my celebration I actually ran towards the wrong end of the hallway and a dead end at a locked student lounge that had been converted into a triple dorm room. It didn’t matter to me as I ran right back past the room I had exited and on to the elevator, realizing at the last second as the doors began to close that I had never thanked the girls. The exchange was awkward to say the least after my euphoric outburst, but they understood.

I received many texts, facebook posts, e-mails and even a few telephone calls of congratulations that day, but nothing was better than walking back to my own dorm room where my roommate was waiting with a handshake.

Why you ask? Because finally someone who jeered me every single week had to give my team credit… he’s a Packers fan.


The Borderless Bonfire

>> 4.08.2010

Snowmen by Blue Fire

When I started The Lions in Winter, I had three goals.  In no particular order, they were: to rekindle my love affair with the written word, to harness the hours I waste on football Internetting and create something worthwhile, and to build a place where loyal Lions fans from every walk of life can gather, share, and talk football without shame.  On the way, I hoped to discover exactly what it is about sports, what it is about fandom, that keeps us coming back for more, over and over and over.

From the very beginning, I've received a lot of traffic from non-American visitors.  Most come from our fair neighbor to the North (or East, or South, depending on where in Michigan you start from, and where in Canada you finish), but I also have frequent visitors from Sweden, Australia, Germany, France, China, Finland, Afghanistan, Chile . . . at least a visit or two every month from nearly every industrialized nation.

Last night, I noticed some traffic from an odd link: I followed it to a Japanese Lions blog! To my astonishment, the site is a true Detroit Lions weblog; frequently updated with legit, up-to-the-minute analysis—and it’s well-read, with active commenters. With a little help from an old friend, the Babelfish translator, I read the site's "about me"-type-section:

This [burogu] NFL (national [hutsutoborurigu]) is Detroit Lions [huanburogu].  Basically to the last in the negative, it is the intention in addition of having supported cynically, but way there are also times when excessive expectation starts overflowing. 拙 To be, doing the meaning of the local media by English ability, because it increases, please and so on be wrong and pardon please.

Wow. "Basically to the last in the negative, it is the intention in addition of having supported cynically, but way there are also times when excessive expectation starts overflowing."  That pretty much nails it right there, doesn't it?  Despite our jaded, cynical feelings from years of futility, every summer we overflow with excessive expectations.

This author reads all of the Detroit beat writers, same as we do, and blogs about everything that's happening, same as we do. Despite thousands of miles, and a yawning chasm of a culture gap, in between us, the author and his readers are right on top of all the latest info. The title of the site is awesome, too: "Roar of the Lion - Detroit Lions Fanblog: NFL Detroit Lions the Page Which is Supported Selfishly From the Far East." The latest post discusses the details of the Rob Sims trade:

As for [shimuzu] with the Ohio state Ooide body 26 years old of 4th year. In 4 years it started in advance in the total 34 tournament, but HC of [shihokusu] alternates to the peat carol, it was seen that by the fact that in zone block it becomes modification it is outside war potential.

The translator really struggles with some of this, but you get the gist: Sims has started 34 games in his first four years--but with the head coach of the Seahawks now being Pete Carroll, the switch to the zone blocking scheme is outside of Sims' war potential.

"War potential." I like it.

The author goes on to note that the Lions are in position to take the best player available at the 1.2 spot:

Lions at 2 rank becomes to designate who among 3 of sou, [matsukoi] and [okun] with BPA, probably will be? After don't you think? it becomes that leader position has appraised who high. Probability of [okun] went down extremely.

Right!  It comes down to Suh, McCoy, or Okung, and the Lions will take the one who they consider the best available--and by swinging a trade for a young veteran left guard, the probability that the Lions take Okung has gone down extremely.

I frequently receive email from displaced Lions fans, folks who’ve moved to Minnesota or California or wherever.  I love that the Internet keeps them informed, and connected to the fan community, like they never left.  Sometimes I even talk to folks across the country who decided to root for the Lions because of Barry, because their team moved, or because they just want to see perennial losers turn it around.

I knew that the NFL’s European league had turned a lot of folks over there on to “gridiron”, as they call it.  I further knew, from watching the last World Cup of American Football, that football is a popular high school sport in Japan, and has been since the war.  However, it didn’t click with me that all those overseas football fans could pick a team, and as long as they understand English, follow those teams like a native.

It’s fascinating to me.  I follow the Lions because I can’t not; it’s something I’ve done my whole life, almost instinctually.  I literally cannot remember a time when I was not a huge Lions fan.  Like many, if I didn’t have a lifetime of personal identity and childhood memories wrapped up in this team, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to keep following them throughout the past decade.

This cuts to the very heart of what I’m trying to understand.  How could someone could reach adulthood, then choose to follow the Lions—of all teams!—the way I do?  How could someone from an entirely different nation, entirely different culture, choose the Lions to cheer for, and then wrap themselves up in it as if they were born to it?

I don’t know—but I think it’s really, really, really cool.

To that end, I've included a little widget over on the right sidebar for our international Lions-fan brothers and sisters:

Though our friends at Roar of the Lion - Detroit Lions Fanblog understand English perfectly well, I hope the Babelfish will allow everyone else—wherever they may be—to be part of the international Lions fan community. So: no matter how far the journey, no matter what your native tongue, come on over.  I’ve got plenty of hot cider, and plenty of room around the Honolulu Blue bonfire.  Sit alongside the rest of us, folks, and take off your coat.  Warm your hands, warm your hearts, share your stories, and root for the Detroit Lions right along with everyone else.


Neither Rain, Nor Snow, Nor Sleet . . . Mailbag!

>> 4.07.2010

mailbox-with-snow It’s been a while since we’ve had a good solid Mailbag post, but the email’s been piling up, and it’s time.  First, from Dan:

Supposing we take Suh in the first round, who do you think we look at in the second and third? I would love to get Best in the second, but I feel we really need a cornerback. Good corners can generally be drafted in the top two rounds, after that there is usually a significant drop-off. This is especially true in this draft. Moreover, I think there is better depth at RB in the third and fourth rounds, as opposed to the cornerback position. I know we are looking at BPA, but it only makes sense to take a hard look at corners in the second, and hope for a solid running back in the third.

First, I agree completely that corner is a top need. With the trade for Corey Williams, and the presumed (in real life and in your scenario) drafting of Ndamukong Suh, cornerback is actually the top need.  Further, you’ve correctly assessed the field at tailback: after Spiller and Best, the next three or four best runningbacks are of the size/power variety; that’s not what the Lions are looking for.

In the second round, I’ve been hoping that Boise State’s Kyle Wilson will be there, but his stock has been rising so high, that’s no longer realistic.  He’s such a perfect fit for what the Lions want to do: he’s a smooth athlete, very quick, more than fast enough, and absolutely loves to jam and press and hit.  He’s be a perfect fit for the smart, tough, talented defense the Lions are building.

The Lions are bringing in Florida State CB Patrick Robinson, another late-first/early-second-type.  Robinson is a very quick, fluid athlete who didn’t quite meet the elite expectations he set in his sophomore year.  He has the physical ability to blanket people, and plays with high effort, but I wonder if he’ll be as physical at the line.  Has a really good knack for breaking up passes, though, and would be our most talented corner by a longshot.

If the Lions do go RB in the second, keep an eye on Kentucky CB Trevard Lindley.  He was projected as a second-rounder last year by the NFL Draft Advisory Committee, but opted to stay in school.  Partly thanks to a high ankle sprain, his stock fell, instead of climbing into the first, as he’d hoped.  Lindley’s a natural man-to-man cover guy, tall, long, and with great ball skills.  Doesn’t have the elite speed of a Robinson, but could develop into an excellent cover corner.

Steve asks:

I've heard some rumors that we might trade our 2 for Washington's 4 and Haynesworth. Good idea? Assuming that Mayhew is able to talk the 'skins into buying up a reasonable amount of his contract, I'm all for it. I doubt it would happen but our Defense could end up with KVB, Fat Albert and PacMan next year. Thanks for all your hard work.

Okay, first: is Haynesworth available?  PFT’s take on the Redskins shopping Haynesworth, and whether or not they really are, is in harmony with what I’ve read between the lines.  Michael Schottey recently tweeted that KVB, and Haynesworth, would like to put the band back together in Detroit.  Schottey then reported that Haynesworth’s interest in the Lions might be reciprocal.

I've said it many times before: when teams switch systems, they shed pieces that don't fit, and Albert Haynesworth does not fit as a 3-4 space eater.  He’s like a Super Suh, a prototypical 4-3 one-gap pass-rushing DT scaled up to enormous proportions; it’s why he commanded a $100M contract in the first place.

Oh, right, that contract.  With the Redskins just having paid out a $21M roster bonus, the remainder of Haynesworth’s contract is a very managable $16M over the next three seasons, with another huge bonus after that (which would force a restructure or release).  The ‘Skins would likely want some compensation for that $21M bonus, but Haynesworth’s mind-boggling contract is really pretty manageable now.

The issue, for me, is motivation.  Haynesworth completely checked out last season, just as many predicted he would.  He turned it “on” for two years, got paid, and turned it “off”.  KVB or no, Schwartz familiarity or no, the Lions would have to be damned sure that bringing in Haynesworth wouldn’t torpedo everything they’ve built up to this point . . . and if I were the Lions, I don’t think I could be damned sure.

Scott asks:

Mr Inwinter:

Yeah, this still cracks me up every time.

Question: Why do none of the 4 million O-line scenarios being floated include Cherilus moving inside to guard? Dude is a 6 out of 10 RT on his best day, but has the mass to play inside and, one would hope, something left of the talent and desire that made him a first round pick.

I think they should trade down if they do not think any of the LTs are worth the pick. Otherwise, take Okung, play him or Backus at RT and move Gos the Not So Great or Terrible inside.

Well first of all, Gosder Cherilus stands 6'-7" tall, and weighs 325 pounds.  That’s big for a tackle; it’s elephantine for a guard.  At that height, interior linemen impede the quarterback’s vision into the passing lanes, especially for short slants and hooks.  It’s what made Raiola the perfect WCO center; at only 6’-0”, the quarterback can always see the interior routes the offense depends on.

Secondly, Cherilus would immediately be at a leverage disadvantage against DTs who weigh about as much but are four inches shorter.  Trying to get lower than someone whose shoulders are his belly would be futile.  Rod Marinelli would wince at his pad level.  Moreover, guards have to be able to pull.  Cherilus could probably win one-on-ones “in a phone booth”, as they say, but he’s still struggling to consistently drop his hips and scooch side-to-side; I don’t see him taking naturally to running free in space to take out guys in the second level.

Finally, Stephen Peterman has been playing very well at right guard, so the Lions would either have to displace him over to left, or relegate new signee Rob Sims to the bench.  No, Gosder the Gozerian is a pure right tackle, and when he’s dialed in he’s a very very good one.  His limitations are more mental than physical—and according to’s Tara Ryan, Cherilus may finally be “getting it”:

I grew up. I’m trying to do all of the little things right. I’m taking yoga classes and I show up here and do some extra stretches.  I changed the way I eat and the way I do certain things because at the end of the day if you want to do these things, right now is the time.

I can only hope this is true—and if it is, the Lions are going to be set at right tackle for years to come.


Rob Sims to the Lions, Martin Mayhew for the Win

>> 4.06.2010

Rob Sims Detroit Lions  The Lions have traded a fifth-round pick, plus reserve-roster DE Robert Henderson, to the Seahawks for LG Rob Sims and a seventh-round pick.  The acquisition of Sims, a 26-year-old left guard with three seasons atop the Seahawks’ depth chart, for a fifth-rounder would have qualified as a steal.  Getting a seventh-round pick in return for Henderson, himself a 2008 sixth-rounder who’s never made an active roster, is gravy.

As I wrote last week, the Seahawks were willing to deal Sims so cheaply for two reasons: One, he’s a poor fit for new Seahawks OL coach Alex Gibbs’ zone blocking system; two, he’s a restricted free agent on a one-year tender, who will walk after this season without a long-term deal.

That brings us to the draft.  On first blush, this eliminates Russell Okung as a possibility for the Lions—with well-compensated starters at LT, LG, C, RG, and RT, paying Okung $40,000,000 to either ride the bench, or relegate one of those starters to the bench, makes no sense whatsoever.

However, Tom Kowalski of thinks Martin Mayhew's about to make no sense. Since Sims has signed his RFA tender, by definition a one-year deal, the Lions have nothing invested in him but a fifth-round pick.  If they don’t sign him to a long term extension before the draft, then Okung can sit on the bench for one year, and then force Backus to slide inside for 2011.

Kowalski correctly points out, as I have over the past few months, that the Lions are drafting for the long-term; the 2009 and 2010 draft classes will become the core of the team for 2011 and beyond:

But drafting a player with a #2 overall pick? That’s a massive investment. If the Lions stand pat and draft Okung—or Suh, or Berry, or whoever—then that player must be a cornerstone of the roster for years to come. If the Lions are convinced that one of those players is going to be a perfect fit for the team, on and off the field, with Hall of Fame upside . . . well, they’re going to take him, Chester Pitts be damned.

Now, Sims is not Pitts--he's much younger, just entering his prime.  But if Sims isn’t extended before the draft, then there’s no reason to believe he’s going to be here in 2011, and therefore no reason to believe the Lions won’t draft an offensive tackle.

Still, I think the Lions don’t draft Okung at 1.2.  I don’t think he’s the right type of player for what Scott Linehan wants to do on offense, and I don’t think that the Lions want to spend that much money into three offensive tackles—or really, spend 1.2 money at all.  I think they want to trade back, and take a tackle who’s a better fit, like Oklahoma’s Trent Williams, or Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga.

Not only would one of these players be a better fit for the Lions, but if they were drafted at, say, Seattle's 1.6 spot, they'd cost practically half the price that Okung at 1.2 would.  Seattle, as we know, is desperate to replace aging LT Walter Jones, and could certainly use an upgrade at RT as well.  Seattle’s clearly not afraid to spend money to reshape their franchise in new HC Pete Carroll’s image, and they’re clearly not afraid to make deals with Martin Mayhew and the Lions.


The Lions' Defensive Line, As I Understand It

>> 4.04.2010

My recent articles about Ndamukong Suh and the Lions' defensive line have kicked up a bit of a fuss about the roles of Suh, DT Corey Williams, and RFA target DT/DE Anthony Hargrove within the Lions' defense. This is my understanding of how all of these players can contribute to the Lions' defense, along with holdovers like Sammie Hill, Cliff Avril, and Jason Hunter.

This is the Lions' base defensive line alignment:


The numbers represent where the defensive linemen line up. You've heard me reference this before: the "one-technique" defensive tackle lines up between the left guard and center, the "three technique" on the outside shoulder of the right guard. In the Tampa 2, these tackles are called the "nose" and "under" tackles, respectively. Though I don't believe Schwartz and Cunningham use that nomenclature, I've labelled the 3-tech and 1-tech as "UT" and "NT" in this diagram for clarity.

In the Schwartz/Cunningham system, the ends line up very, very wide--beyond the outside shoulders of the tackles. This serves several purposes: first, it sets an outside edge in the run game. Runningbacks cannot simply bounce outside of the defensive ends to find daylight; they're hemmed in between their offensive tackles. Also, screens and tosses are much harder to execute. Finally, it forces the offensive line to spread out to protect against the outside speed rush, opening up interior gaps.

Schwartz mentioned before last season started that the defense uses "3-4 principles"; this is what he was talking about. The ends set a hard edge on the outside, funneling runs back to the interior. Unlike a 3-4 set, though, there isn't a two-gap tackle handling the interior--there are two one-gap tackles:


You see right away that all gaps aren't accounted for; that's okay. The ends funnel runs inside, and the tackles take up blockers. If everyone merely does their job, the result is something like this:


The ends are in position to hold the edges, the under tackle has locked up the right guard, and the nose tackle has commanded a double-team. Depending on whether one, two, or zero tight ends stay in to block, the defense has already ensured the runningback must stay inside. What happens once this impasse is reached?


Oh, right, linebackers. If the defensive line is doing its job, the linebackers should be able to clean up the mess. Unfortunately, this requires disciplined linebacker play. If the defensive line cannot stop the run by itself, the linebackers must be in position--or the tackle won't get made.

This is why the Lions need help at defensive tackle. If, in the above situation, the UT overwhelms the RG, then the play is disrupted--and there's no daylight outside. Further, if the NT can gain ground against the double-team, or split it, the play is again disrupted.

This is also why the Lions needed help at defensive end. If the DEs aren't strong enough to hold up at the point of attack, then all the interior disruption in the world won't stop the play. Many Lions fans will ruefully remember many times Shaun Rogers burst up the middle, only for the tailback or quarterback to sidestep him and have plenty of room to run.

Not only would excellent line play obviate the need for the linebackers to play cautious, stay-at-home football, it would keep blitzing lanes open, improving the blitz's effectiveness against both the run and pass.

Now, where to the Lions' defensive linemen fit into the picture?

  • Sammie Hill is the 1-technique tackle, labelled as "NT" above. He's a big, beefy, 330-pound DT with some real athleticism. His rookie year, he was primarily a space eater. However, he flashed the potential to become dominant in that role; not just drawing double-teams--demanding them, and making plays anyway.
  • Corey Williams was developing into a star in Green Bay as a 3-technique pass-rushing DT. Cleveland thought he'd make a perfect 3-4 end, and gave up a second-round pick to bring him in. Unfortunately, Williams just wasn't a fit for the scheme. He lacked the speed needed pressure the quarterback as an end, and his natural talent is penetration, not containment.
    It's presumed that he'll return to the 3-tech role that suited him so well in Green Bay, and if the Lions make no additions to the line between now and the regular season, he'll be the starter. However, I could see his role changing on obvious passing downs. Hill is not a penetrator, so the 320-pound Williams could slide over to the 1-tech spot, providing a pass rush without sacrificing size . . .
  • Kyle Vanden Bosch is the prototypical right defensive end for this defense: 270 pounds, very strong, very tough, difficult to keep off of the quarterback or runningback.  His tenacity, leadership, and—we hope—production should make him the Lions’ best defensive lineman, even best defender, in 2010.
  • Cliff Avril’s first two seasons with the Lions have been a tease.  At times, he’s looked like an elite pass rusher in the making--and at times, he’s disappeared.  At 260-to-265 pounds, he’s decidedly undersized as an LDE in this system.  That might be why he closed the season behind 271-pound Jason Hunter on the depth chart . . .
    Avril’s 2010 is going to be crucial to his development.  He has to continue to develop his body to the point that he can drop anchor on the left edge—and he has to prove he can consistently pressure the quarterback.
  • Jason Hunter is a developmental prospect, a hardworking special teams standout who was cut from Green Bay when they switched to a 3-4.  Hunter’s got the perfect body type for this defense, but his play has been inconsistent as well.  At times, he’s played the run well, and at times, he’s been easily blocked.  He’s gotten a little bit of pressure on the quarterback, but he doesn’t have the physical pass-rushing gifts that Avril does. 
    In some ways, he’s the mirror image of Avril: an inconsistent natural run-stopper instead of inconsistent natural pass-rusher, both trying to become a 30-snap guy within this defense, each improving at the expense of the other.
  • Kevin Carter is a guy who doesn't play for the Lions, but a player whose role in this defense the Lions would love to fill.  As a Titan, the 305-pound Carter was an outsized pass rusher, a three-down force who would play primarily outside, but would slide inside on obvious passing downs to provide an extra push.  It’s this role that would be filled by Saints RFA DL Anthony Hargrove, if he’s traded to the Lions.
    Hargrove's signing would likely relegate Hunter to the bench and special teams (where he arguably belongs, for now), and Avril would continue to rotate in on second and third downs.
  • Ndamukong Suh also doesn't play for the Lions, but as you all should know by now, I hope he will.  I think he’s a once-in-five-years prospect as a pass-rushing tackle, a guy that could, in rotation with Corey Williams and Sammie Hill, seriously disrupt opposing offenses—against both the pass and the run. 
    Assuming the Lions do not get Anthony Hargrove, Suh would likely play as the “UT” next to Corey Williams’ “NT” on passing downs—and he could even do a little Kevin Carter on running downs as well.  If the Lions got Hargrove, it wouldn’t necessarily mean the Lions couldn’t draft Suh and rotate him in, just that snaps would be lessened for all involved, and the DL depth would be much,um, deeper.  Picture a nickel-defnese line of Avril, Hargrove, Suh, and Vanden Bosch, or a second-down line of Hargrove, Suh, Williams, and Vanden Bosch, or a first-down line of Hargrove, Willams, Hill, and Vanden Bosch . . .
    Given the news, though, that the Hargrove has signed his tender and the Lions might try to trade out of the #2 pick, the Lions would prefer to trade for Hargrove, move down, and pick up a developmental tackle later.  Who knows if they’ll be successful—for now, though, I don’t think Suh and Hargrove both come to Detroit.

Submitted for your approval: my projected defensive line depth charts with the "Hargrove/Suh" role combined (for now), and rotations/position battles notated, too:

diagram-based-base diagram-based-run diagram-based-pass

Edited to add: Everyone’s been killing me for not including Turk McBride and/or Andre Fluellen, both of whom got a decent amount of snaps last year and are vaguely promising.  I see McBride (and Andre Fluellen) as occupying the role that I noted here “Hargrove/Suh”.  If either Hargove or Suh were a Lion next year, McBride and Fluellen would be battling for the role of “second-string DE/DT flex". Considering that there are first- and second-stringers at both DE and DT already, there aren’t a lot of leftover snaps.  If both make the team, I think Hunter or Cohen are the casualty.

This is kind of the thing about the Lions getting better—they’re going to let good players go, because those good players aren’t good enough to be on the Lions.  If you add in Vanden Bosch, Williams, and Suh, there are three fewer roster spots to go around for the Marinelli-style four-year projects and ‘tweeners.


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