Ty Schalter, Bleacher Report Featured Columnist

>> 8.26.2011

Six months after founding this blog—over two years ago—I received an e-mail from a Bleacher Report editor (long since gone). Said editor shared a link to a B/R article about Calvin Johnson, and suggested I write a post highlighting its awesomeness.

It wasn’t awesome.

I asked the editor about its lack of awesomeness, and indeed if he’d edited it. Further, I noted that with a few exceptions (like Greg Eno’s work), very little of the writing on B/R seemed to be awesome. He said the editorial staff was working ‘round the clock to buff out the scratches, and maybe if I was so keen on improving the quality of Lions coverage on B/R I should sign up and start writing—after all, anyone could.

I asked many of my bloggy friends (and bloggy role models) about Bleacher Report. I was vaguely aware that B/R had a less-than-stellar reputation, but didn’t know the particulars. I got an earful of the particulars. I decided not to start writing at Bleacher Report, but created a writer profile there . . . just in case.

Somewhere amidst all the Lions-y areas of the Internet, I befriended (e-friended?) Michael Schottey. Schottey was (and is) a card-carrying member of the PFWA, and as such had real pro writing and radio experience under his belt. He wrote about the Lions at B/R (and elsewhere) with both insight and skill, and pretty much was the antithesis of everything all the sports blog cool kids thought about Bleacher Report.

I found myself playing both sides of the fence: decrying B/R’s oceans of subpar content and lucrative syndication deals, while fiercely defending the quality of the work their best writers were doing. While the battle for blogger street cred raged on comment sections and Twitter accounts everywhere, B/R continually raised the bar for themselves.

Bleacher Report instituted an application process—no longer could anyone sign up for a free email, sign up for a B/R account, and see whatever they wrote syndicated to major websites within hours. As B/R became increasingly selective in adding writers, they also instituted policies against plagiarism, and instituted content and style standards—taking down substandard posts and banning the worst offenders. As the bottom rungs of the quality ladder were eliminated, Bleacher Report hired King Kaufman away from Salon.com to add a bunch of new rungs on top.

More and more excellent writers were coming to do great work on Bleacher Report, and the rest were being aggressively developed with amazing tools and training.  Finally, this week kicked off with what  newly-minted SI College Football blogger Holly Anderson called “Get That Paper Internet Monday”: Bleacher Report hired four of the very coolest Sports Blog Cool Kids, as well as their own Matt Miller, to be their national Lead Writers.

It’s a Murderer’s Row of OG sports bloggers: Bethlehem Shoals, best known for Free Darko; Josh Zerkle, best known for Kissing Suzy Kolber, Dan Rubenstein, best known for The Solid Verbal, and Dan Levy, best known for On The DL with Dan Levy. The sharper-eyed of you might recall that Dan kindly allowed me to guest-post on his blog, Press Coverage sometimes; I was (and am) a huge fan of his work. Dan’s intro post put it best:

In two months' time I went from feeling like I was doing Bleacher Report a favor by spending 30 minutes on the phone talking about their new program to sitting in their offices wondering how in the world I'm going to keep up my end of the bargain for a company I genuinely believe is going to be the next place everyone in our industry is going to want to work.

The only real problem with the way Bleacher Report has built their brand—something that has always been my point of contention—was that the back-end genius was always leaps and bounds ahead of the front-end product. To become the fourth-largest sports site in the country with no high-profile names writing for you, all while fighting a less-than-favorable (and perhaps a bit unfair) perception from certain media types, is beyond incredible.

The thing is, that back-end genius? It really is genius. And that commitment to improve? They went all-out to hire their harshest, smartest critics. They also promoted their own best and brightest; besides making Matt Miller a Lead Writer, they also bumped Michael Schottey up to NFL Associate Editor. He reached out to me—and in short order, I was trying to remember my old Bleacher Report password.

I shouted it out on Twitter already, but here it is, all dusted-off, updated, and officially official: my Bleacher Report Sportswriter Profile. You can check out my first post, there, too: “Jim Schwartz’s Detroit Lions Look to Stun Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots.”

Now this is the part I'm sure you're wondering about: the impact this will have on The Lions in Winter. I’m glad to say there won’t be one. TLiW was and is my very own; I write it because I need it. I didn’t chop wood and brew cider for three years just to let the little blue flame fade to embers.

B/R serves a different audience differently. It will still be me writing over there; you’ll see similar opinions expressed in both places. Occasionally, you might see differently-edited versions of the same article in both places. But, I’ll be writing about more than the Lions on Bleacher Report; I’ll also be covering the NFL as a whole. There will be lots of pieces there that wouldn’t fit here, and there will be lots of pieces here that wouldn’t fit anywhere else.

I've said and thought many critical things about Bleacher Report over the years, but today I sit blown away. These folks’ commitment to quality is remarkable, and the resources they put at writers’ fingertips are just as impressive. They are dead serious about doing what they do as well as they can do it, and I’m proud to do whatever I can to help them get there.


Jim Schwartz: Grandmaster, or Cable Guy?

>> 8.25.2011

Yesterday, the Lions released guard Greg Niland, and brought in former Spartan center Chris Morris. Morris, drafted by Oakland in 2006’s 7th round, had worked his way into the starting lineup by 2009, running with the ones for the first eight games. However, he lost his starting gig to Robert Gallery at the bye week, and made only two more spot starts after that. With Gallery having made him expendable, Morris was cut. He spent last season with the Panthers, but only dressed for four games.

Rotoworld on Morris:

Lions signed C Chris Morris, formerly of the Patriots.

Morris lasted just ten days in Patriots camp earlier this month. The journeyman 28-year-old made ten starts for a terrible Raiders offensive line in 2009.

Well gee, when you say it like that . . . Morris doesn’t sound like a sensible pickup. With Dylan Gandy and Rudy Niswanger already on the roster, why bring in another backup G/C? The operative word in that Rotoworld quote is “Patriots.” Morris had been camping with the Patriots, until a left leg injury forced them to release him.

As the Lions are—right now, today—gameplanning for their third preseason game, this suddenly makes sense. With a national television crew coming to witness the suddenly-buzzworthy Lions host the perennially title-contending Patriots, the stakes are high. Jim Schwartz signing a recent Pats cut to pick his brain is proof The Grandmaster is taking this matchup seriously. Very seriously. Maybe . . . too seriously?

Commenter @LineBusy made this analogy on Twitter, and it flat-out slayed me. Sure, this preseason game is a very real, very important measuring stick for the team and franchise. But there’s also doubt that Schwartz wants to prove himself to Belichick, his first NFL mentor. Don’t forget, Schwartz’s first job was an unpaid internship in the Browns' front office, under Belichick. Schwartz worked long hours, sleeping in a team-provided apartment and eating only Browns cafeteria food. Belichick even walked in on Schwartz sneaking the last of Belichick’s lunchmeat.

Last Thanksgiving, the Lions—thanks in large part to a brilliant coaching job by Schwartz & Co.—managed to hold the Patriots to a draw until the fourth quarter, when the dam finally burst. Obviously, Schwartz and the  Lions can’t “really” avenge that regular-season embarrassment with a preseason win. But taking the field and going toe-to-toe, starter-to-starter, with the league’s best? Even gaining the upper hand in the first half would be a huge momentum builder for this team.

The Lions need to convert the hype into reality; they need to back up all the talk. They need to wake up the people who are sleeping on them. They need to convert the faith of believers like me into truth. They need to prove it to themselves, and everyone else, that they’re ready to punch their ticket to the postseason. That’s why this preseason game—which doesn’t even really count—is vitally, crucially important. The Lions must seek out every conceivable advantage, no matter how small the edge or how great the cost.

Thanks for the boost, Chris.


History Lessons: Aaron Curry & 3rd Preseason Games

>> 8.23.2011

I’ve rarely called out the leaders of the Detroit Lions. Neither the coaches nor executives receive much criticism on this blog. For starters, The Lions in Winter exists partly as a haven from brain-dead “fire the lousy bums” talk. For seconds, the Lions’ leadership hasn’t done much to deserve criticism. When they have, I’ve been quick to say so—publicly and privately.

The other reason is, the closer I get to the business of football and football media, the more I realize just how far removed fans are from the reality of the game. I have to be awfully sure that I, professional IT nerd, armed with nothing but my HDTV and DVR and iPhone and Mac Pro, know better than the men paid millions of dollars to run this team with every conceivable resource at their fingertips for me to speak out. Every once in a while, though, I’m convinced I’m right—and I do something silly like write an open letter to the Lions’ brass, demanding that they draft Aaron Curry:

Not long ago, the Lions' players were well known for being great leaders in the community, providers who put down roots in Detroit, and gave back to the city as much as the city had given them.  As you know, Robert Porcher won the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year award multiple times; [Ed.- Actually, he didn't.] Aaron Curry will surely follow in his footsteps.  Look out the window, gentlemen; read the papers on days when they can afford to be printed.  On the heels of the news that Michigan again leads the nation in joblessness, it would speak volumes about the class, the character, and the priorities of the Detroit Lions organization to ignore the hype.  To ignore the pundits and the shellacked talking heads.  To ignore the common wisdom and the conventional thinking.  To forget value charts and stopwatches, "big boards" and salary slots.  To yoke your franchise to the shoulders of a bold young man who will help Lions fans to their feet, on the field and off, again and again and again.  To restore pride to the Lions.

To draft Aaron Curry.

Aaron Curry has just restructured his contract, lopping the last two years and five million guaranteed dollars off of it. Suddenly, this year becomes a make-or-break; if he doesn’t perform up to his incredible potential the ‘Hawks may trade or release him without a cap hit. Even if they don’t deal him in this next offseason, he’ll likely be playing in Seattle to audition for a contract elsewhere.

This doesn’t mean fans are always wrong and the professionals are always right; otherwise Rod Marinelli would still be using his bully pulpit to harangue Detroit media for their ignorance of the invisible. No, the lesson here is to use the past to gain perspective on the present. Not for the first time, we see that a combination of height, weight, and speed doesn’t necessarily translate into an impact player. Not for the first time, we see that 4-3 outside linebackers have to be truly incredible to have a significant impact. Not for the first time, we see that a player’s off-field personality doesn’t necessarily translate to on-field anything.

One of the hardest things to do is temper expectations for this weekend’s game. After a glorious trouncing of the Bengals, and an unpalatably sloppy win over the Browns, facing the Patriots on national TV with both coaching staffs gameplanning and all available starters going at least a half? It’s a legitimate, and very scary, measuring stick. It seems the Lions always a tough out for this matchup, and it almost never goes well.

In 2007, the Colts, fresh off a Super Bowl win, dismantled the Lions 37-10. In 2006 Rod Marinelli flew the Lions into Oakland the day they were supposed to play, to prove they could show up and beat anyone, anywhere, anytime. The about-to-go-2-14 Raiders beat the Lions 21-3. In 2005, the Rams came to town—with the Monday Night Football crew—and punked the Lions 37-13 (after a last-minute garbage time Lions TD). In 2004, the Lions played the Ravens in Baltimore and, predictably, lost.

In 2009, though, the Lions again took on a lesser Colts team and—with some late-game Drew Stanton heroics—won 18-17. Last season, the third game was the Great Lakes Classic, and Matthew Stafford’s excellent performance kickstarted a 35-27 win over the unimpressive Browns. Now, for the first time, Jim Schwartz has followed Mariucci and Marinelli’s precedent and set the preseason bar as high as it will go.

History tells us that preseason wins and losses are meaningless; we need look no further than the 2008 Lions for the most definitive possible proof. However, history also tells us that in the third preseason game, the “eye test” of starters versus starters, starters versus backups, and overall quality is perfectly valid.

Let’s take the lesson history gives us, then. Let’s wipe the slate of the first two games clean. Let’s see what the Lions can bring to bear, and how they handle the onslaught from Boston. Let’s see Matthew Stafford face the blitz, and Ndamukong Suh chase Tom Brady. I’m ready to see just what these Lions are made of. Are you?


Three Cups Deep: Preseason Week 2, Lions at Browns

>> 8.22.2011

Let’s review my Great Lakes Classic preview:

How the Lions’ front seven looks against Joe Thomas & Co. will be telling; the Browns completely neutralized the Packers’ pass rush.

As I said in the Fireside Chat, the difference between the Bengals’ and Browns’ offensive lines was breathtaking. Instead of relentless dominance, the Lions’ starters were merely effective, and Colt McCoy had time to make good decisions and get rid of the ball. Sometimes, only by a split-second—but that can be the difference between a sack and a six-yard completion for a first down.

If Stephen Peterman, Dom Raiola, and Rob Sims can’t open up any space for Jahvid Best tonight, that will also spell trouble.

“Trouble” with a capital T. Browns were getting into the backfield on nearly every running play, and Raiola’s second-level blocking was uncharacteristically bad. It doesn’t matter how quickly you get to the second level if the a linebacker can blow you up once you get there. Best was swarmed until they knocked him out of the game with an apparent concussion.

I’m hoping to see another two-great-drives-and-out performance from Matthew Stafford, then big doses of Drew Stanton and Zac Robinson.

Yes, this happened. Not quite as “great” as last week from Stafford, but no negatives and bountiful positives. It looks as though Stafford’s for real. Stanton, in my mind, clearly separated himself from Robinson (if he hadn’t by, you know, starting and winning real games for the Lions). He made some flat-out NFL throws Friday night, and looked dominant against the Browns’ threes—the clear mark of someone who belongs on the roster. We’ve yet to see any of those awful misfires he’s always had hidden in his ammunition, either; in my mind he’s making a solid bid for the long-term backup gig.

I want to see Jahvid Best run well inside and out, and then I’d like to see either Aaron Brown or Jerome Harrison make a resounding statement.

Eeeerrrgh. Best had no room inside, made a few nice plays in space, and went out with what looked like a mild concussion; the leopard has not changed his spots. Until he has holes to hit and hits them, this will remain a concern. Brown, Harrison, and Bell had a little more daylight to work with once it was two vs. twos or threes vs. threes, but still none look to challenge Maurice Morris for a backup spot. I’d like to see them replace Bell with someone else’s training camp cut.

The Lions can’t completely sell out contain on the running lanes to get to the passer.


I’ll be more concerned about the halftime score than the final tally. Word is the Browns will play their starters for most of, if not all of, the first half, and I want to see the Lions’ twos hold their own.

They didn’t. Now, it wasn’t awful and—as I said on the podcast—there were simply too many sloppy penalties, sloppy turnovers, and minor injuries to major players to get much worthwhile evaluation out of this game. For the most part, the stuff we knew was working (the quarterbacks, Burleson, the D-line) was working and the questions we had (run O, run D, pass coverage) remain questions.

The game was a mixed bag, with a mixed result. Going into an always-serious third preseason game against the Patriots . . . I’ve got mixed feelings.


Fireside Chat Preseason Week 2: Lions at Browns

Thanks to my Internet connection bouncing in the middle of the intro, this week’s Fireside Chat has two parts. Part One:

and Part Two:

If you dig it, you can subscribe via iTunes for free, or click the “Podcast” tab up there between the content and the logo.


Fireside Chat Reminder!

>> 8.21.2011

Don't forget, tonight at 10:00 pm Eastern, the Fireside Chat broadcasts LIVE via Ustream! Go to http://tinyurl.com/firesidechats and listen in--or sign in and interact! I'll be talking about the game, of course, and taking questions.


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