Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Week 2 Wrap Up & Thoughts on the Lions

Lousy week.  Went 6-9-1 ATS and 7-9 straight up.  Next time I think I'll just flip a coin 16 times and try to predict the outcome.

The Pats lost to Arizona, the NFC West went 4-0, and the Saints are the only NFC team without a win.  I'm confused, and now just 14-17-1 ATS and 18-14 straight up for the year.  Hopefully things are starting to come into focus for week three.  

Instead of trudging through the details of every crazy game, I'm going to stick to the only topic I'm certain I know anything about anymore ... the Lions.

Here are my thoughts on the 27-19 Sunday night loss to San Francisco ...

  • Let's start with the most pressing issue:  the Lions' secondary.
    • I'll start with this - Chris Houston, Louis Delmas, and Amari Spievy did not play.  That's three starters.  Not three great starters, but three starters.  Houston and Delmas were supposed to play, but apparently they weren't ready.   We need them back, and should have them back this week.
    • Instead, we got a starting lineup of Drayton Florence (cut by the Broncos earlier this year), Jacob Lacey (cut by the Colts), John Wendling (cut by the Bills in 2010), and Erik Coleman (cut by the Falcons last year).   Let's be honest about what this is - a solid Division 1 secondary.  You could swap this quartet out with any team in the SEC and call it a wash.  None of these 4 guys are NFL caliber as starting defensive backs.  All 4 are serviceable backups (though not what I would call good depth) and Wendling serves as a great special teams player.  Lacey was miserable last year on a 2-14 team, and Coleman and Florence were just happy to find a job.  (Incidentally, Florence broke his forearm and will be out for the rest of the year).  Remember, we also used to have CB Aaron Berry (who sucked), but he was released after his second arrest of the summer.  And we lost CB Eric Wright (who sucked) in free agency.  We also cut CB Alphonso Smith (who sucked too).
    • The frustrating thing is, we have fantastic depth at other defensive positions.  For a cheap way of analysis, consider the overall player ratings on the Madden scale.  Our starting D line averages an 87 on Madden.  Our normal starting secondary would be about a 72.  This makeshift secondary is maybe a 55.   The frustrating part is -- our 4 backups on the D line average about an 80.  When your backup D line is way better than your starting secondary, you know you've got problems.
    • So here we are, 5 years removed from the 0-16 season, and still talking about our inept secondary.  The fact is -- Jim Schwartz and Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand have repeatedly neglected the secondary in favor of flashier positions.
      • I have no problem with the 1st round selections of Suh and Reiff ... those were good picks ... and Fairley wasn't horrible, though he should have been Prince Amukamara ... but 3rd round picks like WR Derrick Williams and RB Aaron Brown ... and 2nd rounders RB Mikel LeShoure, WR Titus Young and WR Ryan Broyles ... not to mention 1st rounder Jahvid Best ... at least two of those picks should incontrovertibly have been starting cornerbacks.  For that matter, Brandon Pettigrew (20th overall) could have been stud CB Vontae Davis.  Pettigrew is a decent player, but Vontae is much better overall.
      • Remember that wretched Derrick Williams pick in the 3rd round of 2009?  Did you know that 6 picks later, Lardarius Webb (currently the 4th best CB in the league) went to the Ravens.  Let's see ... Williams had 9 receptions in his stunning career ... and Webb has 7 interceptions ... so it's basically a wash.  Thank goodness we had Matt Millen to advise us on that pick.
      • I'm not saying the Lions should be able to get every draft pick right.  No one can do that.  I'm just saying, if you don't ever pick a cornerback, you definitely won't improve the secondary.  It's better to swing and miss on a CB than take a 5th string receiver.
      • But routinely, we wait until the 5th or 7th round to grab some corner from the University of Little Switzerland who has ... wait for it ... "great upside."   Sorry Chris Greenwood and Bill Bentley, but if you were passed on by every NFL team 4 times, I'm not thrilled about watching you try to guard Vernon Davis with millions of people watching.  Unfortunately, Schwartz lives by a faulty logic that says -- just bring in anybody who can fog a mirror, and the fans will think you've improved the secondary.  Bonus if the guy has dreads.  But it requires more than warm bodies and new names to improve our chronically terrible pass defense.  We need guys with speed, size, instincts, playmaking skills ... we need guys who can stop Michael Crabtree on 3rd and long when the game is on the line ...  we need guys who can keep Brandon Gibson out of the endzone ... we need to be able to defend a deep pass without interference ... we need NFL-freaking-caliber cornerbacks!!  And until we get them, we're going no where in the playoffs.
      • It's not like we haven't had a chance to find these guys before.  Asante Samuel was ours for the taking, but we passed.  Same with Cortland Finnegan.  And we could have made a run at Jonathan Joseph.  But we always pass on the high-end CBs in free agency, because we're confident that when the Arena Football League has its final roster cuts, we can swoop in and find our starting secondary.    
  • There are numerous other problems with this team.  The running game -- Best can't get healthy, LeShoure can't get his head out of his ass, and Kevin Smith has no explosion.  The O-line -- sometimes good, sometimes bad, usually mediocre.   The outside linebackers -- very average.  The pass rush -- overrated.  Coaching -- rage is not a substitute for a gameplan.
  • But it has to be said that so far this season, one of the biggest weaknesses has been Matthew Stafford's decision making and accuracy. (Uh oh.)  What's going on -- is he regressing?  Was last year a fluke?  Is this year a fluke? Did he spend the offseason boozing and signing autographs and forget how to throw a simple screen pass?  His throws seem telegraphed and his delivery seems slow.  His ability to look off the safety and step up in the pocket appears to have vanished.  He is especially inaccurate on short passes, even bubble screens.  Is it rust?  Is he feeling the pressure of high expectations?  Should we not overreact to just 2 games?  Should we be extremely concerned that the crappy Rams picked him off 3 times?  Why does he not ever throw the ball to Burleson or Young?  Why doesn't Broyles even see the field?  
    • You know what Stafford needs ... he needs to face the Tennessee Titans, who have allowed an average passer rating of 118 through 2 games.
    • For the record, I'm not even close to panicking about Stafford ... I think he'll end up the season as a fringe top 5 QB.  But I'm simply pointing out that the first two games have been ugly.  And if we didn't have Megatron, we'd be 0-2 on the way to 4-12.
  • A few others thoughts ...
    • Either Broyles or Titus should be running back kicks.  Logan doesn't have it anymore.
    • Can't wait to have Leshoure back next week.  Not expecting him to be great, but Kevin Smith sure as heck can't carry the load.  Smith is pretty much only valuable on screen passes.
    • The D-line is overpursuing and getting trapped ... just like last year.  They've got to learn some patience and play smart.  We gave up 27 yards on that Manningham end-around because Cliff Avril cut inside instead of sealing off the edge, which allowed the pulling guard to move to the next level and block the linebacker, which turns a 3 yard play into a 27 yard play.  That kind of crap has to stop.  I learned about sealing off the edge in 5th grade.  Come on Avril.
    • When is Reiff going to play?  Can't we at least let Reiff play the 2nd quarter or something while Gosder sits?  It's not like Gosder has done anything to deserve a starting role. I'm just saying, 1st round rookies shouldn't sit the bench.  Don't draft an offensive lineman if you're not prepared to play him.
    • I know it's early, but the Lions desperately need to win both of the next two games before the bye (@TEN, home for MIN). Sitting at 3-1 with 2 weeks to prepare for tough road games @Philly and @Chicago gives us a good chance to be 4-2 heading into a pretty easy stretch of games (SEA, @JAC, @MIN) which leads up to a crucial three-game homestand (GB, HOU, IND).  Then it's @Green Bay, @Arizona, and then we finish up with two NFC games at home - Atlanta and Chicago.  I see us being 10-5 heading into week 17 against the Bears, with the winner of that game being playoff bound and the loser going home.  But first things first, we gotta take care of the Titans.
    • The NFC is in a really strange place after two weeks.  The 49ers have stood out as the best team and the clearest playoff team, while the Eagles have completely sucked but are also 2-0.  Eleven teams are 1-1, including the entire NFC North,  while the Falcons (2-0) have an important early lead on the 0-2 Saints, who can now play the "Nobody Believed In Us!" card for the rest of the season.  Among the 1-1 teams, St. Louis, Minnesota, and Seattle are the only ones I would feel safe about eliminating from serious playoff contention.  The entire NFC East is legit, although Washington lost both outside linebackers (Orakpo and Carriker) to season-ending injuries. The jury is out on how serious Carolina and Tampa will be as playoff contenders.
    • Then, there's the Cardinals, who are 2-0 after shocking the Pats in Foxboro.  I have no idea how that happened, but I do know the Cards' D is no joke.  Bill Bellichick praised Calais Campbell after the game as one of the best D-linemen in the league, which is good enough for me to buy in.  Granted, the Pats should have won, almost won, and would win 19 times out of 20 if the teams played again.  But still, Arizona is 2-0, so for now, they have to be reckoned with in the wildcard chase.
    • In the AFC, it's interesting to see Houston and San Diego as the only undefeateds, while 5 teams are winless, with Cleveland looking the most hapless of the bunch and having a clear lead in the Matt Barkley Sweepstakes. Baltimore looks like the best 1-1 team in the league, with the Packers and Pats (who apparently won't be going 19-0) close behind  The game of the week is New England @ Baltimore on Sunday night.   Aaron Hernandez is out for a while, and Wes Welker appears to be behind Julian Edelman on the depth chart.  (My gut tells me Welker gets traded by the end of the week).
    • Week Three picks will be up soon.  Hopefully I can get some dang games right this time. 

    • GO LIONS!

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