Lions Kool-Aid? Make Mine A Double

>> 8.18.2011

Lions Kool-Aid

Lately, I’ve been catching some flak in the comments (and on Twitter) for drinking the Lions Kool-Aid. Baking the Lions cornbread. Being trapped in a bizarre delusion that the Lions are going to make the playoffs. Insisting all the injuries the Lions have suffered won’t affect the bottom line. Calling Matthew Stafford a top five quarterback. At some point, I have to face reality, right? If I’m not pulling my punches, I must be punch drunk—right?

At this point, Jim Schwartz’s tenure is cosmetically identical to Rod Marinelli’s. Both took over a listless team with no real identity, both made strong moves to radically change the scheme and roster; both guided their Lions to impressive winning tears in their second year. In Marinelli’s third year, though, the Lions went 0-16. How can I be certain—as I am—the Lions will be better this year than last?

Marinelli’s third offseason was full of turmoil and turnover. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz left, and the Lions did not replace him. Instead they let the OL coach and WR coach—neither with NFL coordinator experience—call the plays in “I’ll steer, you work the pedals” manner. The Lions traded disgruntled DT Shaun Rogers for soon-to-be-disgruntled CB Leigh Bodden, and found out Rogers was their entire run defense. The Lions were counting on “projects” like Kalimba Edwards to make great leaps forward. Altogether, there were more signs pointing toward the Lions taking a step back than improving.

Under Schwartz, the Lions have retained both coordinators for two second consecutive seasons. No Lion coach/coordinator triumvirate had all retained their jobs even once in the prior thirteen years! The entire starting offensive line has—presuming health—returned intact. The last time that happened was in 1990, when Lomas Brown, Eric Andolsek, Kevin Glover, Ken Dallafior, and Harvey Salem returned from the 1989 squad. If we count Amari Spievey as a holdover, this will be the first time the Lions haven’t brought in at least two new starters in the secondary since 2000, when Bryant Westbrook and Kurt Schultz got hurt.

The Lions have built a real team; the permanent foundation to a perennial winner. They’re building and building and building and nothing is falling down. In the ruthlessly entropic NFL, very few teams have any kind of staying power. Life in the NFL is dog eat dog, and many of the 32 dogs never get their day. That the Lions have built something this solid, this lasting, already puts them ahead of most teams in the NFL, especially with this crazy lockout-shortened offseason. Teams with significant turnover—like the Bengals—are going to be miles behind the Lions, purely on continuity. Consider the massive stock of talent the Lions boast (8/11 offensive starters are first- or second-round picks), and it’s easy to see why I’m certain the Lions will win more games than they lose.

Look, I'm the Flamekeeper. I'm the guy who chops the wood and brews the cider. If I weren’t inclined to look ahead to better days, this blog would be grim work. But I don’t just blow hot air—I work hard to keep the fire burning with real fuel.  Last season, when the Lions were 2-9, I didn’t ladle out weaksauce excuses. I examined statistical models of winning, losing, and variance in the NFL—and found out that the Lions were, objectively, a lot better than their record implied. Moreover, the numbers pointed toward a strong regression to the mean by the end of the season; sure enough the Lions closed out the year on a 4-game win streak.

Even at 6-10, the Lions won two fewer games than their scoring margin and strength of schedule would predict—and that’s without Matthew Stafford. For that matter, it’s without Nick Fairley, or Titus Young, or Eric Wright or Stephen Tulloch or Kevin Justin Durant, the lot of whom will be in position to make major impacts in roles of need.

If you call that Kool-Aid, fine. Make mine a double.


27 comments:

MrMomWorld August 18, 2011 at 3:17 PM  

I'll have a double right along with you, Ty. And then maybe another.

JP August 18, 2011 at 3:38 PM  

Haters gonna hate. As long as you keep producing good blog content(i.e. Watchtower), I'll be here reading.

Jeremy August 18, 2011 at 3:42 PM  

I'm not sure if this makes me want to go out drinking or watch some football, but I'll likely be doing both for awhile now. Cheers.

Lankownia August 18, 2011 at 3:44 PM  

Wait wait wait.... saying "the Lions will be better this year than last" is NOT the same thing as calling Stafford a top 5 QB and saying the injuries don't matter. At all.

EVERYONE thinks the Lions will be improved. The question is: just how much? Are we talking a 7 to 9 range team with a shot at a playoff spot if things go well or are we talking about a sure-fire playoff team that could make the Superbowl?

Presuming health for the OL is a big leap. Every team looks better if you wipe away their most obvious weakness.

"The Lions have built a real team" : Yes!

"the permanent foundation to a perennial winner." It's looking like it! (assuming health...)

"They’re building and building and building" Sure are! and we're loving it.

"and nothing is falling down." Errr arrrr....well...the QB has been hurt. The RB that isn't out for the year is notoriously fragile. Both tackles are injured. The 1st round pick is down. Every team deals with injury but this is worrisome to say the least.

Just my opinion here; but I want my smart and analytical blogger to dig deeper - tell me something I didn't already know from mainstream coverage (i.e. beyond the obvious.) If the Lions stink, I want reasons for hope. If the Lions look like worldbeaters, I want to know why it might be false. Optimism for optimism's sake is just cheerleading.

"But I don’t just blow hot air"
Well, thats true and that's good, but I ask this:

Why blow hot air at all?

Lankownia August 18, 2011 at 3:52 PM  

Legitimate reasons to wonder why the Lions are ONLY an 7-9 win team:

*The QB is not only brittle, but unproven. He has one career game of 300 yards and a horrendous W-L record. Top 5 NFL talent is great, but we've seen plenty of busts.

*The OL is mediocre when healthy, but now they are quite injured. That puts extra risk on the the first issue.

*The RB situation beyond Best is replacement level. Given his predilection for injury, that a more acute issue than might be for other teams.

*Many new faces in the back 7 could lead to some bumps for what otherwise looks like a top 10 NFL defense.

All of the above issues can be overcome.
The list of positives is far longer.
The franchise trajectory is positive.
None of that means the concerns above should be ignored completely.

Jon August 18, 2011 at 4:18 PM  

OL doesn't really hold water when you see starting OL from Super Bowl participants. I would say that they're the bottom half. The Steelers OL were terrible in both pass pro and run blocking yet they went to the Super Bowl. The Packers, to some degrees, have bad OL. Ditto with the Colts from 2 years ago, Arizona Cardinals from 3 years ago.

The common denominator is QB play. Matt Stafford has the tools and skillset to be an elite NFL QB. I suspect that he'll stay healthy for the entire season and show us why he is the #1 overall pick. QB plays always trump bad OL play, always. NFL is a QB driven league and it's certainly true with the recent Super Bowl champions.

Ty August 18, 2011 at 4:19 PM  

MrMomWorld, JP, Jeremy--

Thanks, and cheers!

Peace
Ty

Ty August 18, 2011 at 4:48 PM  

"Why blow hot air at all?"

Well played, Lankownia. Well played.

Honestly, that's a writing mistake more than anything else. I didn't mean to say that I blow hot air, AND ALSO do real research.

What you describe as digging deeper sounds more like contrarianism to me; if everyone thinks the Lions are awesome I'm going to find reasons they're right, not reasons they're wrong. It's just as enlightening to find out the hype is legit as it is to deflate the talking heads.

Even with the injuries (only LeShoure will miss significant time), the Lions are more talented on paper than most NFL teams. Further, all the important off-paper things like depth, consistent coaching and schemes, and veteran leadership are major pluses for the Lions.

By scoring margine and strength of schedule, the Lions performed well enough that they "should" have won 8 games last year, even without Stafford. You can't point to the exact same offensive line and say that with Stafford, the Lions won't get much better.

As for the whole Top 5 thing . . . I don't know man. Watch the kid play.

Peace
Ty

Lankownia August 18, 2011 at 4:50 PM  

@Jon

That's a good point. QB is the really THE issue for the Lions. Going beyond that is just details. If Stafford plays like Brees, Brady, Mannings, Rogers, Vick - this is title contending team. He hasn't come close to that level...yet.

Lankownia August 18, 2011 at 4:55 PM  

@Ty

"It's just as enlightening to find out the hype is legit as it is to deflate the talking heads."

Good point. Meaningful conclusions from thoughtful analysis needn't be influenced by hype.

Jayson Van August 18, 2011 at 6:49 PM  

"If we count Amari Spievey as a holdover, this will be the first time the Lions have brought in at least two new starters in the secondary since 2000, when Bryant Westbrook and Kurt Schultz got hurt."

I think you meant HAVEN'T brought in two new starters. sorry, I know its a minor thing, but it bugged me =/

Anonymous,  August 19, 2011 at 7:57 AM  

Justin Durant? Well, I guess you're correct--the Lions did go 6-10 last year without Kevin Durant.

Ty August 19, 2011 at 11:17 AM  

Jayson, Anon--

Two embarassing mistakes by me; two good catches by you both. Thanks!

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  August 19, 2011 at 2:25 PM  

Ty, I’ve been following your site since your first post and have grown to be a real fan. I think some of the criticism above is a sign that you are viewed as a legit Lion’s blogger and not just a fan with a website and some spare time. People check your site regularly for their Lion’s fix, and they have high standards. I appreciate what you do and hope you keep it up.

I was wondering your thoughts about the o-line and a way to address Raiola’s biggest weakness, which in my opinion is power run blocking. Do you think that it is possible the Lions could use a guard/center player that is larger than Dom in high likelihood running situations? They do a lot of rotation in other positions on the team, and a backup guard/center would need to be part of the gameday roster anyways. If this is a possibility, do you think that they already have a player that fits this mold or is it something they would have to look for in free agency or next years draft?

Lopper

Ty August 19, 2011 at 3:02 PM  

Lopper! Good to see your name at the bottom of a comment again.

I think you're right on. I don't want this blog to be just for a few people who think exactly as I do and will agree with everything I write--I want it to be a valuable resource for all Lions fans.

I also think you nailed it with the interior OL situation. Peterman absolutely mashed in the run game in 2009, and it helped Raiola out tremendously. Sims solidified the LG spot in 2010, but Peterman was dealing with multiple injuries and played terribly. Raiola really needs a huge run-blocker on his right if there are going to be any holes up the middle. It's why they brought in Leonard Davis . . . I bet if Peterman struggles again tonight, they pull the trigger.

Peace
Ty

Matt,  August 20, 2011 at 2:59 AM  

Good stuff here. Of the top, Ty does absolutely "drink the Kool-Aid," sometimes to excess. However, he's said from Day 1 right up to and including this thread that, well, that's what he's here for. I like to think TLIW is an insightful, analytical, RAH-RAH site. Ty backs his stuff up, but the stuff he's backing is always on the rosier side. That's just what you're going to get here.

With that in mind, I think some of the criticisms about glossing over some of the Lions' current issues is fair. On the other hand, I think comparing those issues NFL-wide is also fair. The Lions definitely have issues right now. But how many of us dig into the issues of other teams as much as we do the Lions? Most of the teams around the NFL are dealing with issues similar, but different, than those of the Lions. If you focus on just one team, it looks pretty bad, but comparatively, we're in decent shape. As Ty pointed out, we're returning the entire coaching staff and a ton of starters on both sides of the ball. In addition, the guys we brought in are as plug-and-play as it gets. That gives us a huge leg up, particularly this season.

Everyone seems to agree that the Lions are improved this season, right? Well, last season we were 6-10, so "improved" means AT LEAST 7-9. Much more improvement than that and you're talking play-offs. So how can folks say we're definitely improved but still aways off from play-off contention?

Jon August 20, 2011 at 7:09 PM  

@Lankownia, as long as Stafford stays healthy, the QB won't be an issue. He has the talent to be an elite QB and he'll get there once he get games in him.

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