A Viking Funeral for Armchair Linebacker

>> 5.11.2012


Neil and I are two sides of the same coin: I soar through my blue-sky optimism on patched and tattered wings, while he trudges through the marshes of the river Styx, protecting his blue-flame candle from the muck and the mire.

Armchair Linebacker is dead. This evening, on Twitter, Neil from Armchair Linebacker announced that there will be no more Armchair Linebacker.

I’ve written before about the discordance between what I do and what he does. I never use profanity on my site; he never doesn’t on his. I preach a pious brand of faithful fandom; he lead Lions fans though violent and terrible spiritual Crusade, slaying infidels and vampire apes in equal measure.

Neil started at Armchair Linebacker on the cusp of the 2008 season. Indeed, the 0-16 year. In possibly the most prescient blog post of all time, he titled it “Welcome to Hell:”

Why hello there. Welcome to hell, also known as being a fan of the Detroit Lions. My name is Neil and I will be your tour guide during this frightening journey that we will take together, the Virgil to your Dante if you will. It will not be easy, and along the way, there will no doubt be dead bodies left in our wake and drunken ramblings and threats of suicide. I assure you that this is all a normal part of following the Detroit Lions.

I started The Lions in Winter at that season’s conclusion, at rock bottom, when the only direction to go was up:

I'm a fan. I was born a fan, and I will die a fan. The hooting and derision of the American sports culture has set my resolve. I'm sick of getting snickers on the football-y corners of the Internet. I'm sick of getting reaction takes when I wear Lions gear around town. I've thought about starting this blog for years, but this morning I knew that today was the day. I've pulled my hood tight, I've loaded up the sled with wood, and I've got fuel and spark to spare. I'm going to reclaim my Lions pride. I'm going to fan that little blue flame into the great big bonfire it ought to be, and nobody's going to be prouder than me when thousands are once again carrying torches to rally behind this team.

Neil cited burnout, and said he’d “told the story [he’d] set out to tell;” along with some epic tales of The Great Willie Young, he absolutely did. But when the Lions have taken fifty years of perennial laughingstockery and set it on fire, and the Lions’ head coach tops a national columnist’s Coach Power Rankings . . . things have changed.

Nobody could, or did, chronicle the Lions’ descent into Hell in all its naked shock and horror. Nobody else could, or did, chronicle the Lions’ journey through those dark and unspeakable days as well. Nobody else could, or did, call for the mass pillaging and enslavement of the state of Ohio if that’s what it took to claw back to respectability.

I understand why he’s stopping.

The Lions in Winter's purpose is to keep the spirit of Lions fandom alive. To tend the little blue flame, to provide warmth and light and succor to the damned and hardy souls who never stopped cheering—and awareness and enlightenment to those who’d long since abandoned hope.

Now, the blue bonfire roars so high that all the world can see it; it hardly feels like I need bother chop the wood, or keg and tap the cider. I’m no longer filled with righteous vigor dozens of times a day by an unending stream of stupid Internet rage.

Countless Lions fans (and, *gasp*, admirers) now have many, many places on the Internet where they can find intelligent analysis of Detroit Lions football. They have many reasons to be thrilled. They have many reasons to be satisfied, waiting only for the Lions to take the field again.

Doesn’t leave a whole lot to write about.

Don't worry: The Lions in Winter isn't going anywhere. The Lions’ job is far from finished, and so is mine. I’ve spent three and a half years proving my hope, my faith, my knowledge of the glorious Lions time to come is real. Now, my job is prove it is real . . .

. . . and maybe keep the flame from burning too high, extinguishing itself by losing control.

It’s no secret that my posting on here has slowed. We’ve entered the hard offseason, now, with nothing of real import occurring. Every year, I’ve beat my head against the wall trying to come up with something original to say about the daily tidbits of totally-inconsequential news. The fact is, I’ve never done that well and now it seems like wasted time.

I’m going to keep posting stuff of originality and quality, with little of the filler so much of the Sports Internet is flooded with. I’m going to keep covering the NFL at Bleacher Report, which by God if you haven’t gotten the message about how good B/R is right now just go ahead and read up. I’m tremendously proud of the work I’ve done there, and of the nearly half-a-million eyeballs my my writing’s pulled since I started last September.

The fact is, I need this place. I need this outlet. I need you folks. It’s the payoff for all those long years huddling my jacket over a tiny lick of blue fire on a pile of snow-damp twigs. The pride and joy of being awarded a game ball by the Lions’ head coach for directly helping my team win? I need to share those emotions with people who understand the contrast between Heaven and Hell. Who know how long we’ve suffered. Who know the meaning of being a Lions fan.

People like Neil.

When I got the news, I was in the middle of a ceremonial Twitter speech about the Vikings, how I hate their purple dirty cheating Viking faces, and how thrilled I am they’re going to build a new stadium in Minnesota so we can renew our hatred over and over for decades hence.

I sat down to write this, and it hit me: there’s only one proper way for Armchair Linebacker to die. Not to die, but to pass on from this world into the next. To be immolated in a blue-flame funeral pyre and reduced to sacred ash. To be placed on its longboat with treasured belongings, intoxicating drinks and live sacrifices, set afire, and set adrift to journey to Valhalla, the legendary hall of the immortal dead.

The archives of Armchair Linebacker will serve as an immortal reminder of the brilliant madness of Neil, Raven Mack, and the other depraved, brilliant fans who wrote under their banner. Even as Neil joins us for mugs of cider around the bonfire, even as Neil plies his trade at Guyism.com, the savage and monstrous genius he spread out across an encyclopedia’s worth of words will live on forever, swigging mead and feasting upon beast and fowl alike.

As Armchair Linebacker burns off to that glorious horizon and the undying lands beyond, raise your flagon and drink.

Armchair Linebacker is dead. All hail Armchair Linebacker.


Meet the Cubs: Kellen Moore

>> 5.07.2012

The last trohpy Detroit Lions quarterback Kellen Moore will ever hoist.

Kellen Moore is a walking contradiction. Worshipped by some, reviled by others. Hailed as one of the best quarterbacks as the country; left on every NFL team’s 2012 draft board come Saturday night. A player the Lions did not draft getting the Meet the Cubs treatment.

Moore is the latest flashpoint in the ongoing culture war between college football fans, pro football fans, and draftniks. Kellen Moore was—is—a great college quarterback. This is indisputable: He completed 1,157 of 1,658 passes (69.8%) for 14,667 yards (8.85 YpA), 142 TDs and 28 INTs. Moore does not have the physical tools to succeed at the NFL level—and this is as indisputable as such things get. The coexistence of these two indisputable facts generates a whole lot of dispute.

Kellen Moore is a coach’s son; you couldn’t possibly watch a Boise State game or absorb any pre-draft analysis without hearing that. Tom Moore, four-state-title-winning head football coach of Prosser (WA)’s high school for 22 years, stepped down in 2009 to support his sons Kellen and Kirby as they journeyed through Boise State’s college football program.

In Kellen Moore’s edition of Jon Gruden’s QB Camp, they talk about how his father instructed him on proper fundamentals from the beginning. At first blush, this sounds uncomfortably like the Todd Marinovich saga, but Tom Moore sounds like a much less militaristic, much more doting father.

Unfortunately, Moore isn't the prospect Marinovich was, either.

Moore was a two-sport star at Prosser, lettering three times in both football and basketball. He was rated a three-star recruit (No. 31 QB) by Rivals, and a four-star recruit (No. 26 QB) by Scout. He shattered Washington state passing records and was named to every conceivable “____ of the Year” list for Washington prep sports. Moore received three offers: Eastern Washington (a.k.a Jon Kitna’s alma mater), Idaho (offered during Dennis Erickson’s brief second stint there), and Boise State.

Moore redshirted his freshman year.

As a redshirt freshman, it began. He started from Day One and led the Broncos to a 12-1 record. He set the NCAA single-season record for completion percentage by a freshman, was second-team All-WAC, and on just about everybody’s All-Freshman team. He completed 281 of 405 passes (69.4%) for 3,486 yards (8.61 YpA) with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

His sophomore season was more of the same. Moore led the 2009 Broncos to a perfect 14-0 season, finished seventh in Heisman voting, and was first-team All-America according to ESPN.com, SI.com and CBSSports.com. He completed 277 of 431 passes (64.3 percent) for 3,536 yards(8.2 YpA), and a school-record 39 touchdowns. Moore set the NCAA single-season record for lowest interception percentage, with just three of his 431 attempts picked off.

His junior season was more of the same. Moore led the Broncos to a 13-1 record, finished fourth in Heisman voting, and was the first BSU Bronco to be invited to New York for the ceremony. He was also a finalist for the Davey O'Brien and Maxwell awards. He completed 273 of 383 passes (71.3%) for 3,845 yards (10.04 YpA), 35 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.

His senior season was more of the same. Moore led the Broncos to a 12-1 record, became the first college quarterback to notch 50 career wins, and was a finalist for the Maxwell award. He left BSU with an NCAA record for career winning percentage (50-3, .943) 2nd all-time in touchdowns (142) and 5th all-time in passing yards (14,667).

So you get it: he is a winner. He wins. He makes great decisions and he throws touchdown passes and he rarely throws incompletions and he doesn't throw interceptions.

Andy Benoit of the New York Times' Fifth Down Blog did a beautiful job of explaining why Moore's incredible college career doesn't traslate to a hill of beans in the NFL:

Arm strength, mobility, size, etc. – they’re all prerequisites. Many people in Boise don’t understand why Moore’s lack of size is such a problem to pro teams. There are many reasons it’s a problem – durability, pocket passing prowess and the sheer difficulty of designing an offense when the passer can’t see over his linemen, to name a few. It’s not a mere “fun fact” that the only two N.F.L. starting quarterbacks who are not over 6 feet are Michael Vick and Drew Brees. Vick compensates with otherworldly athleticism; Brees compensates with a strong arm and uncanny accuracy. Kellen Moore was accurate in college, but that accuracy won’t translate to the pros because the throwing windows close so quickly. The only quarterbacks who even have a chance at getting a ball through a quick-closing window are those with strong arms.

Kellen Moore's quarterbacking reminds me, intensely, of Kurt Warner's Blue Period. Warner—never blessed with overwhelming tools, an undrafted free agent himself—had much of his passes’ velocity and catchability robbed by a thumb injury. He compensated as best he could with his incredible field vision and understanding of the game.

He’d make lighting-fast reads and heave up wobbling knuckleballs to the middle of nowhere; they’d just so happen to fall right into the arms of wideouts flying to get underneath them. Sometimes it worked, but often it didn’t; Warner was 8-23 as a starter from 2002-2006.

Unfortunately, that seems like Moore’s upside. Perhaps the ceiling is higher than that; perhaps he will travel a road similar to Warner’s. Perhaps he’ll hold the clipboard here for a few years, as Warner did in Green Bay. Perhaps he’ll bounce around, get an opportunity and seize it. Moore has a huge advantage over Warner, or even Tom Brady in this regard: he was an unquestioned four-year starting quarterback at a power program and made the absolute most of his opportunity there. His college resumé will get him a camp invite somewhere until he proves he can't compete at the pro level.

As Jim Schwartz told WZAM’s Dan Miller, signing Kellen Moore is an “absolute no-risk opportunity.” The Lions have an opening for a quarterback to hold a clipboard and learn; Moore will have every opportunity to be that quarterback. Bring him in for an invite, let him try to prove he has potential, and let him grow.

The one thing I’ve heard over and over about Moore is that he’s almost certainly going to have a long post-playing career as a coach. Michael Schottey, on Twitter and elsewhere, has said this repeatedly (and he’s far from the only one). Perhaps the Lions have drafted their future QB coach?

Okay, speculation time is over. Let's hear from the experts about what Kellen Moore's current reality looks like:

ESPN.com's Scouts, Inc. grades Moore a 42 of 100:

"Height-weight-speed: Vastly undersized in terms of overall measurables for the position. However, possesses prototypical hand size (9 1/2). Top-end speed is average."

"Intangibles: A football junkie. Intelligent individual and a well-spoken representative of the program. Possesses a high football IQ Has developed into the unquestioned leader of the team . . . Thrives under pressure and wants the ball in his hand late in the fourth quarter with the game on the line."

"Throws a catchable ball. Displays excellent anticipation and touch with his throws. Very accurate with short-throws and rarely forces targets to adjust to the ball. However, too often falls away with throws which can lead to him missing the mark especially high. Accuracy can also dip when having to drive the ball in tight window down field."

"Arm strength is average at best. Will have issues driving the ball down field and ball can hang in the air with deeper out routes allowing defenders extra time to recover. Bottom line will have to rely on above-average anticipation and timing to be successful at the next level."

CBS Sports.com graded Moore as the 12th-best QB, a 6th/7th-round pick:

Positives: Highly intelligent and has been extremely productive, making very few mental mistakes. Very smart and plays like an offensive coordinator on the field. Extremely accurate with above average ball placement. Puts the ball where he wants and understands where it needs to be. Plays with infectious confidence, allowing his teammates to feed off of his poise and fearlessness. Always keeps his eyes downfield and works through his progressions very quickly, making snap decisions . . . Good short-to-intermediate arm strength with beautiful touch . . . Works hard to prepare and lives in the film room; student of the game and works hard at what he does.

Negatives: Lack of height, measureables and overall size are huge red flags. Looks diminutive in the huddle. Lacks the arm strength to drive the ball downfield to keep defenses honest; throws too many rainbows/soft-tosses and lacks the cannon to zip the ball all over the field and threaten secondaries deep. Only an average athlete and has limited mobility; doesn't have the legs to consistently evade pressure. Funky mechanics, making too many passes off his back foot with his momentum going backwards . . . Gets lazy with his footwork and balance. Gets himself in trouble at times when he rushes his throws and tries to force things; appears to pre-determine a lot of his throws, staring down his targets. Accuracy on passes over 20 yards is very streaky; finesses passer with too much air in his deep throws . . . NFL Comparison: Chase Daniel, New Orleans Saints

SI.com grades Moore at 2.36, at the bottom edge of "FENCE PLAYER"; just 0.02 above "PRACTICE SQUAD":

Positives: Productive high-percentage thrower on the college level who lacks the physical skills for the NFL. Patient in the pocket, buys as much time as necessary for receivers and waits until the last moment before releasing the ball. Displays a terrific feel for the game, effectively leads the offense and knows where his receivers are on the field. Senses pressure, steps up to avoid it and always finds the open wideout on the field. Possesses a sense of timing on throws, accurate with passes and always gives receivers a chance to make the reception. Throws a catchable ball putting short and intermediate passes where only his receivers can make the reception.

Negatives: Has a short throwing motion and looks like he's pushing the ball. Passes have minimal speed. Lacks a quick release and the ability to immediately get the ball out of his hands. Takes chances on occasion trying to get the ball through tight spots, yet lacks the arm strength to do as much.

Analysis: Moore was a winner on the college level and a tremendous leader on the field who did the little things well. He lacks the size, arm strength and physical skills to start in the NFL yet could effectively be a backup in a West Coast offense.

Projection: 6th

New Era Scouting, via their media guide, ranks Moore as the 15th-best QB prospect and No. 301 overall:

Strengths: Moore has been incredibly productive in a system in college. He throws an accurate ball and has pretty solid touch on it as well. He throws the ball well to open spaces and can lead his receivers well.

Weaknesses: Looking at Moore you would wonder how he throws a football at all. He has to use his entire body to coil up and release a throw to have anything on the throw. He has poor arm strength and when trying to avoid contact it makes his arm strength appear worse than it really is.

Overall: Moore is a developmental quarterback that has to go play in the right system for him and even then it would be hard to see him being anything other than a backup. Currently he is carrying a free agent grade.

Right, so, Kellen Moore is a fantastic quarterback who does everything that points to unfettered success at the NFL level, except OMG LOL HA HA HA WTF HE SUCKS.

There’s only one way to sort this out. Only one authority to whom we can listen. Only one source we can trust to know whether Kellen Moore is a quarterbacking Promethus unbound or, you know, Chase Daniel: YOUTUBE HIGHLIGHT REELS.

This one’s pretty straightforward: just Moore doing his thing against top-level competition. Stands (somewhat) tall against the Oregon pass rush and finds this open man. This is Moore in his element.

Here's a little treat for Lions fans: Moore letting Titus Young do his thing. Moore may not be able to put the hot sauce on a 30-yard out, but he lofted this one a solid fifty yards downfield. No wonder the Lions jumped on Titus last season.

Now, when I talk about YouTube Highlight Reels, this right here is what I am talking about:

This just has it all: killer intro, outstanding graphics, solid music selection, some Xs and Os, PLENTY of hyperbole, and a smorgasbord of clips showing every conceivable strength without getting repetitive. Also, hilarious.

Overall, I agree with Schwartz’s assessment: this is a no-brainer great pick. I wanted the Lions to go for a boom-or-bust guy with protypical physical tools and big question marks, such as Ryan Lindley. But signing a UDFA with flawless mental tools and big physical question marks is a coup.

Kellen Moore may indeed join Chase Daniel, Ken Dorsey, Jason White, and Danny Wuerffel in the parade of college "winners" with major flaws that couldn't get it done in the NFL. Indeed, Moore may not make it out of traning camp.

Had the Lions been the team who bit and spent a mid-round pick, I'd be wailing and gnashing my teeth. But given the Lions were going to bring in a UDFA quarterback as a purely developmental flier, I'm glad they brought in Moore.


Meet the Cubs begins.

Kellen Moore will be up first, even though he didn’t get drafted. Look for it by Monday afternoon.


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