Disappointment, dismay, dejection, dissatisfaction and disgust are all accurate descriptions of fan sentiment in Detroit right now.
Those are a lot of heavy “d” words for Lions fans to carry during the rest of the 2010 season.
So it’s time to lighten the load with a reality check.
The Lions are a much better team than their win/loss record indicates. And yes, they have improved significantly since last year in almost every measurable way except penalty and rush yardage, and of course, wins.
For example, after 16 games in 2009, Detroit had scored a total of 262 points, averaging only 16.4 points per game. With five games yet to play this season, the Lions have already scored 258 points, raising their average to 23.5 points per game.
In 2009, the Lions offensive line allowed 43 quarterback sacks. Through 11 games this year, they have allowed a total of 20 sacks.
Last year the Lions defense recorded only nine interceptions. Detroit has already matched that number this season.
Detroit’s defense sacked opposing quarterbacks a total of 26 times in 2009. After only 11 games this season the Lions have already recorded 28 sacks.
Ranked 26th in kick returns last year, the Lions are now first in the NFL.
A Closer Look at the Record
Five of the teams the Lions have lost to this season (Bears, Eagles, Packers, Jets, and Patriots) are now either in first place or tied for first place in their divisions.
Yet Detroit lost the first four of these games by an average of 3.25 points per game.
While it’s true that the bottom line in the NFL is a team’s win/loss record, Detroit fans should realize that their team is finally moving in the right direction above that line.
Salvaging the Remainder of the 2010 Season
The Lions obviously want to win all of their remaining games, and while that goal is far from impossible, at this point most fans probably don’t expect it to happen.
However, Detroiters are hoping that the Lions can still accomplish two important milestones this year:
-Win a game on the road
-Double last year’s win total
The Lions have two remaining road games this season. The first is against the 7-3 Buccaneers and the second is against the 5-5 Dolphins. Although both games are winnable, Detroit’s best chance for a road win will be Week 16 against Miami.
Detroit’s last five opponents are Chicago, Green Bay, Tampa, Miami and Minnesota. The Vikings are the only team on this list with a subpar win/loss record.
Beating either Chicago or the Packers, even on Ford Field, would probably require the Lions to play near-flawless football. The Lions best chance to get win number four will be Week 17 against the Vikings.
If the Lions are destined to salvage some semblance of success this season, it could all boil down to how well they play the last two games of the season. The ghost of Vince Lombardi will be watching and whispering, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”
Reaching either milestone won’t be easy, but if the Lions can accomplish these two goals, they will erase at least some of the “d” words listed at the beginning of this article. And they will have established momentum going into next season.
Leadership of the Lions in 2011
Some people have suggested that the Lions should hire Bill Cowher as a consultant or Bill Parcells as team president to provide Super Bowl-seasoned guidance to Jim Schwartz and Martin Mayhew.
Neither of these suggestions are bad ideas. There are very few teams in the NFL that wouldn’t benefit from having either “The Chin” or the “Big Tuna” in their corner.
Regardless, calling for the heads of Schwartz, Scott Linehan or Gunther Cunningham is premature by at least a full season or two. Some of the NFL’s best coaches got off to slow starts and none of them began their tenure after taking over a team that went 0-16 the year before.
Sure, Jim Schwartz has made a few coaching mistakes, but he’s unlikely to repeat them.
Fans should be a little more patient and allow Schwartz to grow into the job.
Instead of looking over their shoulders after every loss, the Lions coaching staff and front office should be free to focus on the only reliable method of building a winning franchise: acquiring talent and skill players and utilizing them effectively.
There are only three ways to improve an NFL team’s roster: trades, free-agent signings and the draft.
It’s very likely that Detroit will have a top-ten draft pick in each round next April. Few people would argue that the last two Lions drafts weren’t successful. There isn’t any plausible reason to expect that the 2011 draft will be any different.
This year, the signings of Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nate Burleson demonstrated that the Lions were willing to open their check book and sign quality players available in the free agent marketplace.
Expect Detroit to do the same next year if a couple of good-fit free agents are available.
The Lions also made some shrewd trades this season for Corey Williams, Rob Sims and Tony Scheffler without giving up any serious talent or significant draft picks in the process.
In 2011 Detroit will be in the best position it has been in years to make trades.
A Few Lions That Have Potential Trade Value
Kevin Smith, 24, has been an exemplary member of the Detroit Lions organization. He has never failed to give 100 percent during practices or games.
In his 35 games with the Lions over three years, Smith has gained 1,856 rushing yards, had several 100-plus yard games, and has accumulated 824 receiving yards.
Smith has played through pain, and when he was sidelined by a serious ACL knee injury late last season and had surgery, he rehabbed hard and rejoined the active roster in time for Week 4 this year.
When the Lions moved back into the first round of the draft in April to get Jahvid Best, Smith didn’t grumble or complain. He’s the kind of selfless, dedicated guy teams crave.
Much like Rob Sims when he played for Seattle or Corey Williams when he played for Cleveland, Kevin Smith is a solid player who is no longer a good fit for Detroit. Because he’s a gamer, he’ll be valuable to a lot of teams in the NFL.
Guard Stephen Peterman, center Dominic Raiola, and strong-side linebacker Julian Peterson also have decent trade value.
And although Drew Stanton’s contract with the Lions expires at the end of this year, if the Lions decide to re-sign him to a one-year deal until they settle on a developmental quarterback, Stanton would also have some trade value before next year’s projected October trade deadline.
The one unit most fans probably don’t want the Lions to mess with is the current defensive line rotation.
Recipe for Success: Steady Improvement and Talent Acquisition
Although taking Detroit to the next level will require more than tinkering at the margins, the Lions already have a solid core of coaches and players they can build on. They don’t need a radical makeover.
Some of the improvements the Lions have to make fall under the category of discipline.
During the last three years, Green Bay had a huge penalty problem that peaked during Week 3 this season when they were flagged 18 times. As ESPN writer Kevin Seifert has noted, the Packers have managed to overcome this problem. By Week 11, they had accrued the third fewest total penalty yards of any team in the NFL.
If Green Bay can significantly reduce their penalties, so can Detroit.
The Lions also have to establish an effective running game. The last time a Detroit running back gained over 100 yards in a single game was during Week 3 last year.
This problem is primarily the result of poor offensive line run-blocking performance, which is in part a talent issue. While continuity is important, the newest member of the Lions’ offensive line, left guard Rob Sims, has arguably been its most consistent performer this season.
Detroit’s offensive line is especially ineffective on the right side where three year veteran (and first round draft pick) tackle Gosder Cherilus is partnered with six year veteran guard Peterman. It’s pretty hard to argue in favor of continuity there when the Lions lead the league in negative yardage rushes to the right.
The Great Annual Debate Has Already Begun
Fans will argue well into next year about which team positions need to be upgraded the most, and who the best candidates are to fill those spots. Detroit fans, like the Lions under Jim Schwartz, never give up.
There seems to be an early consensus among fans that first and foremost Detroit needs to strengthen its offensive line, linebacker corps and secondary.
What do you think?