Thursday, September 3, 2009

Lions Season Preview Part 1: The Quarterbacks

The season is about to start and I am just now starting the season preview, which promises to be eleven billion words, so shit is going to be flying fast and furious over the next week or so, and hopefully I will be able to get all this nonsense in before the opening kickoff on Sunday. Note: I had a Paul Walker joke after the fast and furious phrase, but I couldn't fit it in, but I still feel I should mention this as the excuse, er, I mean the reason for using the phrase "fast and furious". Already off to a grand start! Anyway, we'll start with the quarterbacks, and then head on down the list, hopefully hitting the coaches and management and all that fun bullshit sometime near the end of next week. I am going to have to double up some days, but fuck it, the season's almost here, I am pumped up, and I wobble between sanity and insanity most days anyway, so I might as well just bury that needle for a week or so. And, well . . . here we go.


For decades, centuries, eons really, the Detroit Lions have struggled to find anything resembling a competent quarterback. If there is a heart to the Lions struggles and stupid pratfalls, it is that. Well, on the field anyway. It's almost staggering how long the Lions have gone without having someone behind center who didn't make fans weep tears of blood, curse in ancient languages and howl at the moon. Not since the booze soaked body of Bobby Layne staggered out of town have the Lions had an effective signal caller. Oh sure, there have been flashes here and there - the incredibly productive statistical season of Scott Mitchell in 1995, the reassuring flashes of competence from Erik Kramer throughout his stay in Detroit - but they were flashes and nothing more. In fact, the truth is that even while Mitchell was putting up ridiculous numbers, Lions fans were always terrified that the next game would be the one in which he reverted to form and tossed the season away in a hail of misguided wobblers. And when the playoffs began and the Lions strode into Philadelphia, cocky and ready to take on the world, that's exactly what happened. And Kramer? Well, Kramer's competence was constantly overlooked as the coaching staff looked for better and flashier options. The end result was an erratic string of seasons in which Kramer would get the job done for a few weeks only to be replaced by the next failure who the coaches deemed a better player. And then he was gone and we were left with the Rodney Peetes of the world while we hoped for a savior to drop from the sky.

There was hope, at least for a tiny sliver of time, when the Lions drafted Joey Harrington out of Oregon. But, like Chuck Long and Andre Ware before him, Harrington was a sorry bust who only makes Lions fans shiver with disgusted terror whenever his name is brought up. The Harrington debacle went on for far too long, and felt like a scene from Hellraiser. Just a terrible thing, full of flesh being ripped apart, weird demon creatures with fucked up mouths chasing after us and a crazy son of a bitch with pins in his head taunting us, laughing at us, letting us know that we would never win so long as that piano playing fool was jazz handing his way through the league, a smile on his face and failure in his heart.

But then Joey was exiled, and in his place, Jon Kitna rode into town with the power of the cross and a gigantic bible to keep those evil failure demons at bay. And when plugged into the pass happy offense of Mike Martz, Kitna's numbers were impressive. But they were impressive in the way that Mitchell's had been, inflated by the offense and masking a propensity for stupid decisions and costly turnovers. And when Martz was forced out of town, any magic that resided in Kitna's arm seemed to go with him and only a few games into that season of perpetual pain and misery known as 2008, Kitna's back flared up and the Lions politely asked him to stay home for the duration of the season, while ugly rumors began to surface that Kitna wasn't hurt at all and that the team wanted him gone because they didn't want him screwing up the team chemistry. Which, you know, didn't really seem to work out so well. But that was all scandalous hearsay and stupid rumor and who knows if any of it was true? After the season, the Lions quickly unloaded Kitna on the Dallas Cowboys and that, as they say, is that.

After Kitna went down, the Lions leaned on Dan Orlovsky, he of the noodle arm and the propensity for taking extended scenic jaunts out of the back end of the Metrodome while everyone looked on, slackjawed. Orlovsky was actually mildly competent - at least by Lions standards, and even more so by last season's apocalyptic standards. Of course, that is like celebrating being the world's tallest midget or the world's smartest retard, or, well, the world's happiest Lions fan. In the end, it didn't mean a hell of a whole lot and when the season ended, the Lions decided to let Orlovsky leave, free to run out of the back of someone else's end zone for a change.

Of course, even if Orlovsky looked marginally competent, it was way too much to ask for to keep him healthy, and so when he went down, the Lions did the sensible thing, panicked and brought in a 300 pound Daunte Culpepper, even though he hadn't played all year, and hadn't been a decent NFL starting quarterback in several years(if he even ever was one, but that is Ty's drum to bang, not mine and so I will let it go.) There were plenty of Lions fans who simply saw the name Daunte Culpepper, went HEY! and remembered him raining down bombs to Randy Moss, but the sad reality was that Culpepper was nowhere near ready, which should have been blindingly obvious when announcers started telling stories every week about him picking up his daughter from school and playing Mr. Mom one day, and then starting at quarterback for a real life NFL team(ignoring the obvious joke here about the Lions being a real life NFL team)the next. And when the season ended, I bemoaned Culpepper's horrid reign as starting quarterback, pointed out that his numbers were even worse than the talent deficient Orlovsky, and hoped like hell that the Lions would find somebody, anybody, else to take the snaps this season.


Daunte Culpepper hasn't been a decent NFL quarterback in half a decade. He has either battled serious knee problems, been out of shape, or just plain bad. It is silly to expect him to somehow turn it on, five years removed from his last decent season. That said, he has looked good in the preseason, and his athletic ability does seem to be the best it's been in years. He has moved well in the pocket, and he still has a big arm. But he's not the future here in Detroit and so I'm not sure why we would roll the dice on him improbably racing up the ladder back to decency when we have the future standing right there, ready to go.

Matthew Stafford is that future, the golden child with the bazooka for an arm who makes the panties melt off of anyone with just a wink of the eye. In fact, I am not wearing pants right now. Okay, I'm sorry, that is all too weird. But the fact remains that the Lions did not pay Matthew Stafford a fortune in gold bullion, a fleet of hummers, a harem of sorority girls and an endless supply of Natty Light just so he would sit on the bench while Culpepper fumbled and bumbled his way to mediocrity. He was chosen for one reason, and that is to be the man. And to be the man, you have to be on the field, leading the charge, not holding the clipboard.

Look, I have been over this too many times already, and I am fucking bored with it. I don't want to get into why I think Stafford should start, or why he's ready, or why everyone who says he shouldn't start is wrong. So, I will just passive aggressively leave you with that and move on.

Instead, let's focus on what we are getting with Stafford. He's got a ridiculous arm, for starters. There have been several passes already in the preseason where I have just been stunned by how good it is. There was one in the game against the Colts, a simple out route, that went for a first down. It doesn't sound like much, but the vast majority of quarterbacks would have had that pass intercepted and returned for six. Stafford's went for a first down. Honestly, I am more excited about him doing that than throwing the ball 160 yards and blowing the clothes off of everyone on the sidelines like some sort of cartoon. Okay, I kinda want to see that happen too.

There are concerns about Stafford, namely that his decision making might not be on the level of a robot Stephen Hawking and that he might trust his arm a little too much, but these are the concerns that we had when we were debating whether or not the Lions should draft him. They did, they gave him a tribute that would make Genghis Khan blush, and he is the man. There is no point in debating those questions any longer because he is going to start, like it or not.

Even though the starting quarterback will be either Stafford or Culpepper, the guy who has captured every heart but one is Drew Stanton. Now, I know that I am the only dude who doesn't like Stanton, and it is starting to make me feel like the fucking Grinch or something, and so I won't rail against him like I usually do, and instead will offer up this olive branch of peace: Drew Stanton is a fine third string quarterback. He brings a certain gritty athleticism to the position that is easy to get behind. I can understand that. However, he'll never be a starting quarterback in the NFL for a good team because, well, no matter how many people wish it weren't true, he just isn't quite good enough. I hate this, because it makes me feel like an asshole.

Right now, Stanton is waiting to hear from Dr. James Andrews, whose name strikes fear and dread in the hearts of sports fans everywhere. If your guy is visiting with Dr. Jim, it's not usually a good thing. If Stanton's knee injury ends up being diagnosed as serious, it's likely that he'll be headed to the injured reserve.

The other options with Stanton out(and oh, Culpepper too, who somehow managed to leave himself a bloody heap after stubbing his toe on the carpet in his house. Yeah.), include Brooks Bollinger, a career backup who was likely brought in just to make sure the Lions can get through the last preseason game, and Kevin O'Connell, who was expected to be the backup to Tom Brady in New England, but who surprisingly found himself getting a boot in the ass. The Lions, being the shittiest team in the league, were able to snap O'Connell up off of waivers, and now they find themselves with an intriguing situation. If Stanton is indeed out for the duration, then they have a guy in O'Connell who most scouts seem to think has a future in the league, regardless of his unceremonious departure from the Patriots. They can try to develop him, and see if they have something here. They can build him up and either keep him as their number two of the future or trade him for a decent draft pick. If Stanton does come back, well, then chances are they just trade O'Connell now and still pick up a sixth or a seventh rounder.


I think Stafford will start. If it isn't right away, it will certainly happen at some point this season. By the end of the year, this will be his team, for better or worse, and there's really no point in railing against it. Culpepper has no future with this team, and if Stanton does get back quickly and they decide they like O'Connell, they could conceivably just cut Culpepper loose. I expect this position to be better than it was a year ago. Then again, a quarterback who has enough sense not to bail out the back of an opponent's end zone without being touched would be an improvement. The bar is shockingly low, and it's with that in mind that I think Stafford should be given the shot. Why not? No one's expecting anything, and if he falls down and shits his pants and begins sobbing, well, at least it will happen now and not a year from now when we are starting to get anxious. This team is in kindergarten right now, and we should expect them to fall down and hurt themselves every once in a while. By the end of the season, I think there's a good chance that we'll all be excited about next season, and really, when's the last time any of us felt that way about one of our quarterbacks?

GRADE: C. I expect a lot of mistakes mixed in with some big plays, some throws from Stafford that make you go HOLY SHIT and get all hot and bothered and then some throws that make you have flashbacks to that smilin' fool tickling the ivories. C for competence, which is a hell of a lot better than we are used to.

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