2009 Detroit Lions: Are you sure this isn’t Déjà vu?
Sunday the Lions wrapped up another pathetic season. It was a year that the team, with a new coach, new quarterback and new front office, wasn’t expected to take the league by storm, but at least show that it had the building blocks for a successful future.
But personally, it’s hard for me to be optimistic about the team’s future after seeing them only muster up two wins on the year. I was expecting six or seven victories, with the team improving as the year went on, competing against some teams that are on the top of the heap.
I was wrong. Dead wrong. In fact, as the season progressed, the Lions took steps backwards along the way. Most of us thought Matthew Stafford had settled into the role of NFL quarterback after them team had an impressive showing against the Steelers (a loss) and a last-play win over the Cleveland Browns. However, over the succeeding games, we were brought back to reality as Stafford struggled greatly in the realm of accuracy and decision-making.
Of course the lack of a consistent run game and the Lion’s Swiss cheese offensive line didn’t help the rookie in his freshman campaign.
And Jim Schwartz, a head coach I thought would come in with a tough guy mentality and whip Detroit’s defense into shape, hasn’t delivered so far. Sadly, I often found myself forgetting Rod Marinelli was out as the Lions’ coach. But it’s not time to give up on Schwartz, or Stafford, for that matter.
But on defense, it is time to give up on some guys.
First, the Lions’ defensive line, in my humble opinion, is the catalyst for the team’s last-place passing defense and needs to be upgraded badly. Ndamukong Suh, stud defensive tackle from Nebraska, is going to be at the top of the draft board (along with the Lions) and the new front office czars, Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand, can’t afford to keep putting off fixing the trenches. In the months leading up to the draft, the Lions should dump some dead weight on their defensive line and free up some spending to ensure Suh is signed and in camp ASAP. A presence on the defensive line that not only makes the opposing O-line tremble, but the opposing quarterback as well, is the surest way the Lions can improve their passing defense. We’ve seen the revolving door of cornerbacks come through, but when every QB throwing against you is in a clean pocket, it’s just not feasible to place the blame solely on them.
And speaking of offensive lines, have you seen the Lions’ lately? I swear, if Jeff Backus is on any other team in the league, his career is over. But not on the Lions, he’s been our “cornerstone,” though not exactly a rock, since he arrived and has played every game. I can’t for the life of me understand why this guy is kept on the roster, let alone in the most important spot on the offensive line. Free agency has to have someone better, and we’ll see how the front office does in finding some new players to protect Stafford and hopefully put together some semblance of a running attack.
After the lines are upgraded, than 2010, even though it’s a ways down the road, can give the Lions some true litmus tests on what they’ve got. Is Kevin Smith a legitimate running back who is worth keeping around as a franchise runner (I say no)? Are Northcutt or Bryant Johnson reliable as secondary options to Calvin Johnson (probably not)? Is Ernie Sims really always getting to the spot late or is the defensive line just getting beat so badly the linebackers can’t react (he’s late)? Are the Lions’ defensive backs really as bad as they look, or do the opposing quarterbacks simply have so much time that it doesn’t matter (both)?
None of those questions can be answered unless the trenches are maintained on either side of the ball.
While many football plays go for 20, 30, or even 50 yards, it all starts on two feet of either side of the ball. A tiny area the Lions have yet to control.