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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Game 16 @ home versus the Chicago Bears


Inconsistent

The Detroit Lions close out the 2012 season with their 8th loss in a row for a total of 12 losses by losing to the Chicago Bears at home with a score of 24-26. While a number of people preseason predicted the Lions would struggle to make the playoffs again this year I don't think many, if any, predicted a 4-12 season.

The team played cold, and hot, and cold, all game long... leading the way was the inconsistent play of Matthew Stafford who was 24 of 42 for 272 yards 3 TDs and 1 INT. He also lost 2 fumbles. Meanwhile, Calvin Johnson caught 5 passes for 72 yards falling just short of making the 2,000 yards in one season mark (but still breaking the record held by Jerry Rice last week).

Logan was benched and never returned a kick this game, so last week was probably his final game as a Lion. Jason Hanson made his one field goal in what may be his final game in his career, maybe. For that matter, there are a fairly large number of Lions players that may have just played either their final game as a Lion or their final game in the NFL. Heck, there are even rumors about the coaching staff and front office... most of which I don't think are true as Schwartz and all his coordinators signed new extended contracts just a few months back. Tomorrow is black Monday so we'll see if anyone got themselves fired this year.

So begins the roughly 7 months of off season work, starting with signing or re-signing players for 2013, then the draft, then perhaps some more free agents, OTAs and various other practices. This part at least isn't inconsistent, this part we Lions fans are quite used to. Even the fact the Lions will be drafting in the top 5 is something we are quite used to (unless they actually trade down for more picks). I'm so used to all this in fact I'm in no major hurry to blog about it... but blog about I will, soon. Or as news develops.

The one thing I find amusing though, is how can we fans be so consistently disappointed by a team who is so inconsistent?

I'll let you all ponder on that for a few days as I work up material to blog about.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Game 15 @ home versus Atlanta Falcons


Sorry.

The Detroit Lions lost their 11th game of the year to the Atlanta Falcons with a score of 18-31. That makes 7 losses in a row. Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford is within striking distance of being the first QB ever to hit the 5,000 yard mark in 2 consecutive years. In fact, all kinds of records are occurring, from NFL.com: Lions receiver Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice's NFL single-season yards receiving mark of 1,848. He also became the first player with 100 yards receiving in eight straight games and the first with 10 receptions in four games in a row.

Sorry to report, we're kind of short on record breaking news from the defense or special teams.

I will admit though, it was nice to see the defense call and execute some blitzes. For the most part, the blitzes were producing results, however individual breakdowns still allowed the Falcons high powered offense to score too often. Hopefully a few successful blitzes can be called in every game next year.

The offense was both good and bad. Matthew Stafford was 37 of 56 for 443 yards but with no TDs and 1 INT. The lack of redzone production has haunted the Lions all year and it would appear either the coaching staff has no clue how to fix it or the talent level isn't there (even if the team returned 21 of 22 starters in 2012). Obviously, I'm sorry to report, I'm leaning heavily towards the coaching staff side of the problem.

Special teams saw a new one though... after the defense got a safety the Falcons had to free kick it and Logan caught the ball at the 7 with no one immediately in front of him, then kneeled. Apparently he thought he was in the endzone. I'm sure that'll be the last we'll see of Logan fielding kickoffs, or at most one more week of it, I'm just not yet sure if the special teams coach will be unemployed in a weeks' time.

I've been asked about how likely it is Schwartz will be fired, the answer is I'm sorry to say, not likely at all. He only recently signed a contract extension this past summer and it's reported it was for 3 more years. I'm not as sure about the coordinators though, so we'll see if there's any shakeup coming from those ranks.

The Lions will be drafting between 3rd and 9th with a 5th through 7th being the most likely landing spot, but my forum has been discussing the draft of 2013 for nearly 4 weeks now so most of you probably already know this.

One more week to go, against the Chicago Bears who are vying for a playoff spot (believe it or not) so I'm sorry to say that even though Calvin may put the WR record out of reach for decades to come and even though Stafford may become the first QB to hit 5,000 passing yards in a season in back-to-back years, the odds of them going to 5-11 is very small.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The 2013 Rebuild Part III


Various Lions players need to execute the plays much better then they have in 2012. Some aren't capable of actually playing any better and an upgrade may be required (if it's feasible to do so) to improve the team. One player will be hard pressed to improve... that's Calvin Johnson of course. Even he has made an error here or there that could help the team win games, but they are few and far between and to tell the truth, may not actually help the win column at all. The other 52 players on the team have more work to do.

Matthew Stafford has had up and down games this year. In fact, he's had up and down series within the games this year. He's also getting some blame that is undeserved because various guys who are paid to catch the ball are not catching them, not running their routes correctly, not fighting to get open correctly, not coming back to the QB when flushed out the pocket correctly, and in other words just aren't helping matters much. That said, there are times when his mechanics are off, way off, and there are times when his accuracy isn't anywhere near what it needs to be to thread needles that need threading. In addition to that, he's not going through all his reads and is instead checking down a lot... partly because receivers aren't getting open, partly because the OLine isn't giving him more time... partly because he assumes these things when not true and checks down when it's not needed. I realize that the trust may not be there, I realize the talent may or may not be there, but pocket awareness and mechanics are still key to accurate throws.

The Lions run game is being forced. The OLine may be somewhat decent some of the time at pass blocking but they aren't a power run blocking unit. Never will be. Leshoure was drafted to be a power back when short yardage is needed, he is not an every down back. He shouldn't be being used as one. He's slow, his hands are not that great, and it's not helping the team win games when he's playing. The Lions need a running back and they need better players on the OLine that can both run block AND pass block. Even if it's just one side of the line (as Raiola will never be a power center). Until you have those pieces of the puzzle you should stick to your strengths.

The Lions defense is predicated on a heavy pass rush from the front 4. When healthy the defensive tackles are better then most even if they too have room to improve their game. That said, they are good enough to be getting double teamed most of the time leaving one-on-one coverage with the defensive ends. Play after play the DEs are not getting the job done. Some fans have suggested scrapping the wide 9, others say the Lions need to blitz more (and it wouldn't hurt to do that once in awhile I will grant you), but the biggest need on defense is better DEs. KVB hasn't the gas to make it 60 minutes a game nor 16 games a season any more and Avril isn't the monster he thinks he is. Defensive need number 1 is DE in 2013 especially if you are keeping a defense that absolutely requires a pass rush from the front 4.

The Lions linebackers are playing better of late, unfortunately 2/3 of the corp are free agents next year. The front office needs to make sure that unit doesn't go backwards and obviously improvement would be fantastic but it must at least stay elevated to the level it's currently at.

The Lions secondary saw some draft picks added to their ranks last year and hopefully one or more of them will be worth adding to the starting corp in 2013. Hopefully Delmas will remain healthy and hopefully Houston can be re-signed too. But regardless if those things happen there is a need for some new talent at the safety position and perhaps at the corner position as well. Guys who can tackle (and stay healthy) preferably.

As I've said and as it's been reported the Lions are going to be tight on cap space next year and they have a lot of free agents to either sign or replace. As the Lions have said, they want to build through the draft. When you look at the 2012 season that is currently 4-10 and looking bleak for the last 2 games you wonder how they can turn it around with the current regime in place. But it's not really that black of a future... a few better game management decisions and the Lions had another 2012 win... a few better red zone calls by the OC along with better execution of the plays and the Lions had another couple of 2012 wins... better players on and a more disciplined special teams unit garners at least one win... and more talent on the defense, more young blood actually played, a few key blitzes to make up for the lack of pressure... yeah there's got to be a win there too... add it all up and the 2012 Lions are 9-5 instead of 4-10 and looking to push the Packers out of the way for the division title.

It's (the 2012 season that was) not any one thing that went wrong, it's a little bit of everything that went wrong, and that's why it's so hard to answer the questions being asked. Not one coach or player (perhaps other then CJ) can point a finger at another without also first pointing a finger at themselves.

In my forum ( http://badnetrat.proboards.com/index.cgi ) I posted a roster of 53 made up solely of returning players, the forthcoming draft, a few cuts and even fewer re-signed free agents along with some players off the current practice squad (in other words, not a single free agent outside of the Lions organization), and with just a little work it could have fit under next year's cap... so it is possible for the front office to field a team next year without having to suffer cap hell first, it just won't be easy. In the end however, if the players drafted aren't of a better caliber then of late (see part I) and if the coaching staff doesn't do it's part (see part II) then nothing about part III (this blog entry) will matter. After the season is over in a couple of weeks I'll blog here about some potential roster makeups (or mock ups if you will) for next season.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The 2013 Rebuild Part II


Jim Schwartz has input into the draft, input into free agency, control on game day, is in charge of Linehan and Gunny (Gunther Cunningham) (the OC and DC) and all the other coaches, and is also in charge of the 53 on the roster and the practice squad. Ultimately, he is in charge of it all other then having the final say in draft picks.

When he throws a challenge flag on a play that can not be challenged it doesn’t matter who said what to him, he needs to know it’s a penalty and a loss of the challenge. When he plays the wrong guy he needs to be responsible for that action. When the coaches under him play it wrong, he has to own up to it. When his players play incorrectly he is directly responsible for it. When he says a loss is 100% on him, it is, every single time, including the times he doesn’t say it is. Players do not get to remain on the active roster if they continually make the same mistakes over and over and neither do coaches. Should Schwartz not understand what went wrong and should he prove incapable of correcting those mistakes, he is gone. He is not gone for 2013 however as he recently signed a contract extension and is going to be given every chance to show he can indeed fix what ails the Lions (and his own errors).

His (Schwartz’s) very first challenge in 2013 is to look very, very carefully at his OC, his DC and his special teams coordinator. A very important decision must be made as to whether he can improve those positions with other choices. Whatever his final choice is, success is required for his continued employment as the head coach. He has to live with his final decision and so do we fans. There really isn’t any room for error here; Lions fans have had nearly 4 losing seasons for every 1 winning season in the past 50+ years, Lions fans will turn on a dime if they realize the errors can be placed on one individual. At this moment, nearly everyone is confused as to what went wrong, so one more year is granted regardless, a second poor year will be viewed quite differently however, so making the correct choices now is extremely critical.

Time to swallow pride, time to forget friendships, time to make the hard choices, and time to improve the team no matter what it takes. Time to make the right decisions.

I am concerned (since I'm not behind the scenes I can not know the answers either), very concerned, about the ability of the OC and ST coaches to take this team back to the playoffs. I'm extremely curious to see what Schwartz thinks on these issues, not his public comments, but his true feelings on them, his decisions for 2013 will tell the tale.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The 2013 rebuild part I


After the NFL’s worst team ever went 0-16 in 2008 Matt Millen was replaced by Martin Mayhew who went on to hire Jim Schwartz as head coach. The largest rebuild of an NFL team ever had begun (that would be in my opinion anyway). Mayhew and company had a plan to rebuild the team and a large part of that plan was to build the team through the draft (as various other perennially competitive teams do such as the Green Bay Packers).

Total disclosure: after nearly every one of the drafts under Mayhew I was quite pleased with the results immediately after the draft, not all the picks, but most of them.

Anyway, the problem with building through the draft is you have to actually draft well. So let’s see how the Lions have done with their drafts under Mayhew and how much those players from those drafts have contributed in the highly anticipated 2012 season.

2009 with a total of 10 draft picks 5 are still on the team and 5 are helping in 2012:

1-1 #1 Matthew Stafford QB Georgia
1-20 #20 Brandon Pettigrew TE Oklahoma State
2-1 #33 Louis Delmas DB Western Michigan
3-12 #76 DeAndre Levy LB Wisconsin
3-18 #82 Derrick Williams WR Penn State
4-15 #115 Sammie Lee Hill DT Stillman
6-19 #192 Aaron Brown RB Texas Christian
7-19 #228 Lydon Murtha T Nebraska
7-26 #235 Zack Follett LB California
7-46 #255 Dan Gronkowski TE Maryland

2010 with a total of 6 draft picks 5 are still on the team and 2 are helping in 2012:
1-2 #2 Ndamukong Suh DT Nebraska
1-30 #30 Jahvid Best RB California
3-2 #66 Amari Spievey DB Iowa
4-30 #128 Jason Fox T Miami (FL)
7-6 #213 Willie Young DE North Carolina State
7-48 #255 Timothy Toone WR Weber State

2011 with a total of 5 draft picks 3 are still on the team and 2 are helping in 2012:
1-13 #13 Nick Fairley DT Auburn
2-12 #44 Titus Young WR Boise State
2-25 #57 Mikel Leshoure RB Illinois
5-26 #157 Douglas Hogue LB Syracuse
7-6 #209 Johnny Culbreath T South Carolina State

2012 with a total of 8 draft picks all are still on the team and well, some have helped here and there in 2012:
1-23 #23 Riley Reiff T Iowa
2-22 #54 Ryan Broyles WR Oklahoma
3-22 #85 Dwight Bentley DB Louisiana-Lafayette
4-30 #125 Ronnell Lewis LB Oklahoma
5-3 #138 Tahir Whitehead LB Temple (traded 2013’s 4th to get)
5-13 #148 Chris Greenwood DB Albion
6-26 #196 Jonte Green DB New Mexico State
7-16 #223 Travis Lewis LB Oklahoma

Since none of the 2012 draft picks are starters or even heavy rotational players yet at this point, let’s look at just the first 3 years. 21 picks, 8 are starting and 1 is rotated in somewhat regularly. I’m not sure what the percentage needs to be to make building through the draft a viable plan, but one would think something closer to 60% or more would be helpful. At closer to 40% then 50% you kind of have to say there is room for improvement. A lot of room for improvement. One could even say that other then 2009 the draft have been somewhat of a rather large disappointment actually.

So step 1 in the Detroit Lions 2013 rebuild plan is to, in fact, draft better. All the great wheeling and dealing in the world doesn’t help if the selections keep failing in future years to add to your core team.

We already know it’s easy to do worse then Mayhew has done and equally hard to do better, but doing better is going to have to be a requirement to keep the job and improve the team.

For a complete list of the Lions drafts please visit http://www.drafthistory.com/index.php/teams/lions

Monday, December 17, 2012

Game 14 @ Arizona Cardinals


Nothing to play for.

The Detroit Lions lost to the Arizona Cardinals 10-38 dropping their record to 4-10 on the year. Calvin Johnson became the first player in NFL history with consecutive 1,600-yard receiving seasons and tied an NFL record with 7 straight 100-yard receiving games. Unfortunately, the Lions have lost 6 games in a row in the same span. Other then Calvin Johnson being within a couple hundred yards of setting a new NFL yardage record for a wide receiver (currently held by Jerry Rice) the Lions don't have anything much to play for.

Except their livelihood, of course. Not only are they playing for their jobs with the Lions, but so many of the team are free agents in a couple months that they are also playing for a job on another team if they can find one. You really couldn't tell that by this game however. The fight for a win, the fight for themselves, was hard to see if it existed at all. I'd have to include the coaching staff in that boat as well, I don't think they can really bring back all of them and expect different results.

Then again, unless the drafting and free agency pickups if any (which always appears great on paper at the beginning of the year) don't dramatically improve with actual results it won't much matter who is coaching, or who is playing, or what draft position the Lions are heading towards... since there won't be anything to play for in the future either.

By the way, if you want to know what is wrong with the offense aside from the lack of touchdowns you need look no further then the stats for number of receptions. CJ had 10 which is great, and everyone else on the team had 3 or less, which is not good at all. Now you can blame injuries for this game, but they weren't all injured all season, and this issue hasn't just recently cropped up either. Is this issue due to Linehan or Stafford becomes the question (or as I believe it to be, both). The other part of that question is, why isn't Schwartz doing anything about it, or if he is, why isn't it working. Meanwhile, Stafford heads towards his 2nd year in the record books along with Calvin Johnson, but no one else is being much of threat, so how safe is Mayhew in all this? Considering how long Millen got, I'd say Mayhew is quite safe, and probably Schwartz too, but if everyone is safe what will change to make the future brighter?

You got to give the fans something to pay for.

In addition to counting down to the draft (the Lions are currently sitting in the 5th spot) there is free agency (with almost no cap space to play in) and of course there may be coaching or front office moves... you would think that someone in the organization would figure this out and spread the word, giving everyone something to play for... but apparently that has not yet happened. If it has, if this is the team in total playing as well as they possibly can, it's already going to be a long 2013.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Game 13 @ Green Bay Packers


Time

For the 22nd year in a row the Green Bay Packers won their home game against the Detroit Lions with a final score of 20-27 giving the Packers 1st place in the division and the Lions a 4-9 record.

The Lions defense held Aaron Rodgers to 14 completions on 24 pass attempts for 173 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. That alone was quite an accomplishment. Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford was 27 of 45 for 264 yards and one touchdown to go with his one interception and a funble.

Some will say the refs were the reason for the loss, others will blame the secondary, I shall go with a combination of Stafford, the weather, and injuries. Playing Durham who was on the practice squad just last week as the number 2 WR because of injuries to Burleson, Young, Broyles, and finally Pettigrew was more then the offense could overcome. The weather appeared to cause Stafford to fumble the ball on a key play early in the game and then later in the game Stafford became very very inaccurate. In the end though a loss is a loss and the only fix for the team is more talent. What is about to happen is a mini-rebuild due to the fact the Lions are talent deficient at various positions, low on cap space for next year, and have a lot of players who are in their final year of their contracts. The current rebuild from the Millen years has run out of time.

I have created a spreadsheet of the current players on the Lions roster, whether they are under contract for 2013, what their cap hit will be if kept, cap hit if cut or traded, and cap hit if cut after June 1st 2013. You will find this at http://www.thenetrat.com/Lions2013Roster.xls

If want have the time, you can look over this sheet and find out the state of the roster. You should conclude that the Lions have (as it stands right now) less then $12 million in cap space for next year and will need about 17 players. More if they cut or trade some current players... of course, strategic cuts would free up some cap space. Some contracts could be reworked as well to free up more cap space but at a cost of future cap space. It may be the right time to eat some cap in one year in order to be more competitive in future years. That is, if the coaching staff and front office haven't run out of time as well.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Game 12 @ home against the Indianapolis Colts


That's Okay.

The Detroit Lions lose to the Indianapolis Colts 33-35 taking their 2012 NFL record down to 4-8... but that's okay.

Matthew Stafford was 27 of 46 for 313 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. Andrew Luck was 24 of 54 for 391 yards, 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Both the score and the QB stats make it sound like it was a close game, but it wasn't. The lions had this game completely in hand leading by 2 scores for most of the game right up until their final field goal with 4 minutes and 9 seconds remaining on the game clock. The Lions once again felt they could seal the win using the ever popular prevent defense coupled with an ultra conservative offense to run out the clock. It failed spectacularly. But, that's okay.

Mikel Leshoure had 21 carries for a whopping 57 yards and a touchdown, the longest run being 7 yards. 21 carries! For 57 yards! Joique Bell had only 7 carries for 81 yards. Yet the infinitely wise coaching staff continues to play Leshoure play after play. I applaud them their stout determination to get Leshoure the ball more then any player on the team, it really is helping them win games. Yes, I'm being facetious. That's okay.

It's all worth it because Calvin Johnson is breaking the Madden Curse and on his way to breaking Jerry Rice's single season receiving record!!!

What? You'd rather the Lions make the playoffs? That opportunity was pretty much gone weeks ago... it's only now that the math agrees with that sentiment.

Did you know that 8 different players caught a Stafford pass this game? That's right, 7 players caught a total of 14 passes and 1 player (Megatron) was the recipient of the other 13 passes. That is not what they mean by spreading it around.

I'm not entirely sure exactly which players and coaches are afraid to win, but that is why the Lions are 4 and 8. The best receiver is Calvin Johnson, the best running back is Joique Bell, hardly any other players did squat, so in the final 2 minutes of the game you do not keep giving the ball to the RB averaging 2.7 yards a carry and thus giving the ball right back to a guy named Luck. You do not trust your patched together defense to hold, no matter how well they played before. You do not go to what has lost you games previously this year and that is "playing not to lose". Do you know why? Because, you lose. You are not good enough to play prevent up only 2 scores. You are not good enough to kill a clock handing the ball to Leshoure. You are not good enough to play conservatively, at all, ever, during the game. Let up off the throttle and you stop moving, you stop moving you get stuck. Now you are 4 and 8 and wondering what went wrong, but you know what, that's okay.

Why do I keep saying it's okay? Because obviously someone is too stupid to figure this out... what's the sense in trying to make the playoffs only to lose and go home the first game. We fans don't need another first round loss, we fans want to win, in regular season and in post season. So if it's necessary for all these mistakes to be made to learn from them, then let's get them all out of the way in one year. Learn from it and don't do it again. That's what you the coaching staff tell your players, and that is what we the fans who invest ourselves so heavily in this team say to you.

You want to make a ton of mistakes, miss the playoffs, go 4 and 8, that's okay. Just, ah, learn from it and don't never EVER do it again!