Friday, September 5, 2008
Lions Season Preview Part 3: The Horror Continues
Part 3 of the Lions season preview will focus on the lines, both offensive and defensive. Part 4 will focus on the linebackers and defensive backs. Part 5 will focus on the Special Teams, Coaches, Management and general predictions and nonsense about the upcoming season. So, without further ado, here is Part 3.
It has been years since the Lions had an even adequate offensive line. Really, they've been struggling with the line ever since Mike Utley decided he'd be more comfortable spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair and Erik Andolsek wandered in front of a car while working in his garden. The decade of the 90s saw the Lions have success with the running game despite this. This is because they had Barry Sanders, perhaps the one man who could survive and, indeed, thrive without an offensive line in front of him. The rallying cry for Lions fans during the great Barry vs. Emmitt Smith debate was "Imagine what Barry could do behind that line in Dallas." To be fair though, the Lions did have a couple of decent lineman during this time in Kevin Glover and Lomas Brown, so perhaps Barry had a little more help than we want to admit. But once those guys retired, no one has stepped up to provide even a semblance of blocking prowess. It has been a rough decade. But, the good news here is that it is unlikely to be worse this season than it has been the past several seasons. The bad news is that this will be more attributable to scheme than to the players involved. There will be a lot more max protect looks this year, a marked difference from the EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF OH GOD WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE protection schemes of Mike Martz.
The tackles were horrible last year, partially because they were too often left on an island, with little tight end help, and partially because, well, they just aren't that good. Jeff Backus is the left tackle and he has always been an adequate sort - for the most part anyway. He's not really big enough or talented enough but he's a decent tactician sort who gets good leverage on his blocks. He also gave up 15 1/2 sacks last year, which is apocalyptic and part of the reason why Jon Kitna will die before his fiftieth birthday due to water on the brain.
George Foster is the right tackle, and, uh, well, George fucking sucks. He came over from Denver last year along with the Underwear Thief for Dre Bly and at the time Lions fans were actually somewhat impressed with the deal. They both seemed like solid players, but that was before it became clear that Underwear Thief couldn't run the ball at all and enjoyed stealing other men's drawers and that Big George couldn't understand the concept of a snap count. The man was responsible for more false start penalties than I think I've ever seen a single player be responsible for. It was embarrassing and it reached the point that the Lions had to bench the big retard even though there was really no one to take his place. And even when he wasn't diving across the line too early, he gave up too many sacks and generally looked like a massive, massive bust and was regarded as someone who the Lions needed to replace immediately. Enter Gosder Cherilus, a rookie out of Boston College who the Lions drafted in the first round. With all their problems, they identified Big George as the biggest problem, which when it comes to the Lions means Big George was a really fucking big problem. Right away Cherilus was anointed the starter at RT, but then training camp started and a funny thing happened: he couldn't win the job from Big George. Okay, so it's not funny ha ha, more like funny OH FUCK I WANT TO DIE, which I guess makes it not funny at all. Anyway, the Lions have tried to spin this as Big George making a ton of progress during training camp, but I am not buying it. No sir. Lions players simply don't improve. They don't. And so I am left to believe that Cherilus is just going to be one more flailing piece of failure on the Lions offensive line. Oh well, at least he will fit right in.
At guard, things remain dicey as well. Starting left guard, Edwin Mulitalo is a big, nasty roadgrader type who had some success with Baltimore before signing as a free agent with the Lions. The hope was that, even though he was getting older, he could open some holes for the Lions running game that haven't been there in years. Of course when the season started he was too fat and too old and generally looked like a saggy pile of shit out there, but hey, if he was too old last year, surely he won't be this year, right? RIGHT???
Starting right guard Stephen Peterman is a player who the coaches seem to love. He's a brawler, a tough hardworking blue collar player who would be a fan favorite if it wasn't for the fact that he's just not very good. His lack of athleticism is too much to overcome and he doesn't have the stamina to be anything more than a substandard starter, especially with his style of play, that mean, grating style which requires a shit ton of stamina.
Backing up at guard is Manuel Ramirez, who is limited athletically but is a hard worker who seems destined to be a career backup in the NFL. Inspiring, I know. The hope was that these guys would be better suited for the power running game than they were for Martz's system. Unfortunately, during the preseason the Lions still couldn't run the ball worth a shit, leading me to believe that these fuckups will continue to suck ass this season.
Starting center Dominic Raiola is a frustrating player. He is one of the most athletic centers in the league, but he is also too small and too weak and gets pushed around by bigger defensive tackles. He seems like he should be better than he is, but he just never is, and the result is always a sort of stalemate between his potential and his lack of strength and what ends up being on the field is a somewhat adequate player who can do well as long as he's not asked to muscle anyone backwards. Unfortunately, that is kind of his job. Besides, the dude is named Dominic. He has a brother named Donovan who is also a football player, and it is just impossible to take a man seriously as an ass kicker when his name is Dominic or Donovan. He sounds like a Franciscan Priest, and unfortunately, that's how he plays too.
The lack of depth on the offensive line is kind of shocking. If the Lions have injuries along the line or if someone sucks ass(IF?) there is really no one there to step in. It looks like it will be another long year. I predict that Kitna will be sacked less, but again that will have everything to do with the change in offensive philosophy and almost nothing to do with the shit pile in front of him. I also predict that the running game will struggle mightily behind this line, especially as teams begin to key on it more now that they know that is what the Lions want to do.
Grade: D if everything works out the way I expect, D+ if Cherilus is somehow not a total spaz, and F if someone gets hurt and we have an Apocalypse Now on our hands.
OVERALL OFFENSIVE GRADE: D+. The Lions should be able to throw the ball still, but the numbers will be down due to the scheme change.(Note: In my first draft of this I spelled scheme as shame and didn't notice until the last minute. Honestly, that should tell you all you need to know.) Unfortunately, I just don't see a corresponding increase in the success of the running game. The line still sucks, and while the offense used to be almost manic depressive, either exciting and high flying or embarrassingly inept, this year it will struggle to achieve a placid consistency, devoid of any highs but probably not having any real lows either. The result will probably be a team that doesn't get blown out too badly, but one that lacks the ability to show up and just ambush a team like the Lions were at least capable of before. Besides, these guys will just be boring now. As Lions fans, we're used to our teams being fucking atrocious, but the one thing we won't abide is a boring ass team. I am not optimistic.
The one constant for the Lions has always been that their defense sucks. Sucks sucks sucks. Occasionally there will be someone who flashes some competency, a Chris Spielman or fatass Jerry Ball, but they are always the exception rather than the rule, talented dudes drowning in a sea of shit. But the defense, like everything else, has been especially bad the last several seasons and I see no real reason why this one should be any different. Sure, there are more players now who fit Rod Marinelli's beloved Tampa 2 defense, but there is a reason why they are here now and not somewhere else. They are castoffs who couldn't cut it anymore in Tampa Bay, who seem to be fine with giving us their spare parts and old junkers. And any improvement the Lions are likely to make will probably be negated by their trading of Shaun Rogers to the Browns. Sure, Shaun was fat and lazy, but he was also the one guy the Lions had who could be a disruptive force on defense. Marinelli didn't like him, but then again Marinelli looks like he is only a year or two away from being found wandering down Woodward pantsless and drunk.
With Rogers gone, the Lions are left with a serious void of playmakers along the line, a serious problem since the Tampa 2 system relies on quarterback pressure to be effective. Replacing Rogers at defensive tackle is Chuck Darby, one of the Tampa Bay castoffs who make Marinelli swoon. Darby is undersized and undertalented but is a hard worker, basically the complete opposite of Rogers. Some people think he will be effective now that he is reunited with his old position coach in Marinelli, but others have noted that he is probably only good for 10-15 snaps a game, which, like...WHOAH. That means that the dude will barely be on the field, essentially meaning we have an even bigger hole than the one we thought we did when Rogers was shipped out of town. Man, Rogers' propensity for getting shitfaced and beating on strippers doesn't seem so bad now.
Lining up next to Darby as a starter is Cory Redding. Redding was a below average defensive end for a few seasons before being switched to defensive tackle midway through the 2006 season. Amazingly, he was absolutely dominant after the move, posting almost a sack of game and providing the sort of disruptive presence on the line that Marinelli had in Warren Sapp with Tampa Bay. Of course it was only half a season so odds were that it was probably a fluke. Matt Millen, being an idiot, decided that half a season was enough to make Redding one of the most highly paid defensive tackles in the league. Of course, last year, Redding returned to earth, leaving the Lions with a hole at defensive tackle where Shaun Rogers used to be and an overpaid lump next to that hole. I don't know about you, but I'm sure excited!
Backing them up are Shaun Cody, who seemed like he could develop into a starter when he came into the league but hasn't really progressed beyond that and Langston Moore, a big space eater who broke into the league as an offensive lineman before being moved over to the other side of the football. I predict that Darby will fade away as the year goes on and that Cody will step in as the starter there, but I'm not all that sure that is really an upgrade, and so we are left with a significantly softer middle than we had a year ago, a problem since the Lions absolutely have to stop the run in order to give the secondary a break.
At right defensive end, Dewayne White is solid. Another player who came over from Tampa, the Lions gave him a big free agent deal before last season despite the fact that he had never been a full time starter with the Bucs. Amazingly he performed well for the Lions, getting consistent pressure on the quarterback and generally being a disruptive force on the defense. There were times last season when he was nicked up and when he was out the Lions defense was markedly worse. And now that Rogers and his harem of beaten down strippers have left town, the onus on White is even bigger. He is really the only consistent threat the Lions have on the line and if he has a great season the defense as a whole might rise to barely competent. If he struggles or is injured, the Lions might as well start playing scenes involving Col. Kurtz on the scoreboard during games.
Last year's starter at left defensive end, Kalimba Edwards, was a perpetual tease. He was athletic and fast, and always seemed on the verge of breaking out but he never did and so now he is gone. Unfortunately there really is no one to take his place, a familiar theme when it comes to the players that the Lions shipped out. Jared Devries is a hard worker who never quits, but he is slow, white and shitty. He might get a couple of sacks just because he'll catch a tackle being lazy, but he is a serious weakness on the Lions defense. Ikaika Alama-Francis has an awesome name and awesome talent, but he is raw as hell and doesn't really know what he is doing yet. He is probably another year away from contributing - at least. Then again, he is Hawaiian and a part of me likes to hope that he somehow trains and hangs out with BJ Penn and that he will come out this season as an ass kicker extraordinaire. This will not happen, but still I dare to dream. Also in the mix at end is Corey Smith who has flashed some talent but seems to be destined to remain a quality backup and nothing more.
Grade: D+ if everything works out as I expect it to, C- if someone, maybe Francis, turns into a pass rushing threat, and D- if last year was a fluke for White and Redding continues to be mediocre.