Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Well, This Was a Bad Idea, But What the Hell
We are at the half-way point of this terrible season. I didn't really want to call it a terrible season - I mean, it is already better than last year's abomination - but the Lions are 1-7, which projects to 2-14 over the course of a full season, and, well . . . yeah. Okay, so things haven't exactly gone all that great this season, but what the hell, we have been through worse, and I suppose ordinary failure is preferable to apocalyptic failure. I suppose that counts as progress, right? Just agree with me or there is a good chance that I will stick my head in the oven. And my oven is an electric oven so that shit will just hurt really bad before I am eventually burned to death. Thank you.
Anyway, in lieu of the normal gibberish, I thought I would give a short overview of where things stand right now at each position group. Of course, you know by now that whenever I say short, that the word is relative and there is always a sizable chance that shit could get out of hand and I will be left with chapped hands and bleeding eyeballs after writing a billion words. But that is stinkin' thinkin' as Socrates used to say, so let's just get on with it.
It's kind of hard to judge where everything stands right now. Matthew Stafford is the unquestioned starter, but I get the sense that we haven't seen the true Matthew Stafford yet. His injury threw everything into a terrible tailspin that has been difficult to recover from. His timing with receivers is off, he hasn't gotten a decent rhythm going, and it's obvious that he's still a work in progress when it comes to reading defenses. Still, all that said, there is a reason why he is the unquestioned starter. His physical abilities are obvious, but he also has the sort of confidence and charisma that the best franchise quarterbacks have. He's a leader, and like I have said before, I think it's only a matter of time before the team molds itself around his personality, and that's when things will finally start to take off.
Unfortunately, aside from the flashes of the future that we have seen from Stafford, the other reason why he is the unquestioned starter is because the stooges behind him on the depth chart don't exactly inspire any confidence. It is telling that after a game in which Stafford threw 5 interceptions that no one really thinks that Daunte Culpepper should start. This is because, finally, it seems like most everyone is on board with the notion that he, well, sucks is one way to put it. Someone should euthanize him is another. A little meaner, but what the hell, these are terrible times, and none of us can afford to be delicate. Meanwhile, my irrational disdain for Drew Stanton, or Ol' Plucky as I have taken to calling him, is well known, and because this post will end up being long enough, I will not bring all that tired old shit up again.
I am disappointed. Coming into the season, I thought that our running game actually stood a decent shot at being a strength. Kevin Smith came off of a surprisingly effective rookie season in which he got better and better as the year went on, and I figured that a year as the fulltime back would reveal him to be a player on the verge of stardom. Instead, Smith has been shockingly ineffective for most of the season. Sure, he's been banged up a bit, but aside from the anomalous game against the Vikings, Smith has struggled to find any running room at all. Smith has 460 yards rushing so far this season, which projects to 920 over the course of a full season. That's not that far off last season's pace, but you have to remember that last year, Smith didn't really become the full time back until somewhere in the middle of the season. Most troubling - and telling - is that Smith's per carry average is a terrible 3.3 yards. That's almost a full yard lower than it was during last year's hell ride.
Sure, you could say that the offensive line is terrible - and it is - but Smith's backup, Maurice Morris, has looked surprisingly effective whenever he's had to replace Smith in the backfield. Morris has run for only 126 yards, but his per carry average is 4.2 yards. If Smith was running as effectively as Morris, he would have run for roughly 580 yards so far, which would put him on pace for 1160 for the season. Okay, okay, playing around with numbers can be a fool's pursuit - I mean, after all, each number doesn't exist in a vacuum. If Smith were running the ball that effectively, chances are he would have seen even more carries already, and his numbers could potentially be even higher. Similarly, that would likely change the entire complexion of the offense, and then everything starts to go to hell. What we're left with is the numbers that are there, and right now, for Smith, they aren't good.
Besides Morris, the Lions have also gotten a little bit from Aaron Brown, who they have used with some success on outside runs. Brown has only run for 83 yards, but he's averaging 4.4 yards per carry and I wouldn't be surprised in the Lions tried to find more and more ways to get the ball in his hands as the season progresses. He could be a real weapon.
At fullback, Jerome Felton has been in and out of the lineup due to injury. I think he's a decent player, and he can also carry the ball a bit, which offers a nice changeup that teams have to watch out for. With Felton injured, Terrelle Smith has gotten the start at fullback and he has proven to be a decent lead blocker. He doesn't do anything else, but he's about all you can ask for out of a backup fullback.
This has been frustrating as hell. Calvin Johnson has been injured for a good stretch of the season. He missed two whole games and virtually a third due to a knee injury and before that he was banged up with minor, nagging shit that kept him from being 100% effective. Due to all this ridiculous bullshit, St. Calvin has only managed 24 catches for 352 yards and 1 touchdown. That obviously doesn't project very well, but even if you take out the three games he missed, it still only projects to somewhere around 75 catches for 1150 yards or so and 3 touchdowns. Okay numbers, but they are a step back from last season when he had noodle armed Dan Orlovsky and shitty old Daunte Culpepper throwing him passes. He obviously hasn't developed much of a rapport with Stafford yet. I think this will come with time and as long as both of them stay healthy over the remainder of the season, St. Calvin's numbers should get better and better, and then hopefully I can talk about what he does on the field instead of writing absurd gibberish about Shakespeare, time travel and Dr. Manhattan every week.
The other wideouts have been okay. Bryant Johnson is a decent number two option who has struggled when he's been asked to fill Johnson the Greater's shoes in his absence. He only has 20 catches for 276 yards and 2 touchdowns, but he has flashed some big play ability and it seems like Stafford might be most comfortable with throwing him the ball so far. He drops too many passes, but hey, that's why he is Johnson the Lesser.
Dennis Northcutt and Derrick Williams are really the only other players who have seen significant time. Northcutt is the number three receiver and he's okay. He's what he's been his whole career, a decent slot receiver who shouldn't be asked to do much more. Unfortunately, with St. Calvin out, Northcutt was asked to play the role of the number two receiver and he didn't really do much. No big surprise there. He has 17 catches on the season for only 161 yards and a touchdown. Williams, meanwhile, has been virtually invisible despite the lack of numbers at the position. He only has three catches all season, and I remember that at least two of them were on the final drive of the game against the Steelers. He is threatening to turn into a bust, and if he doesn't pick it up, his struggles both here and in the return game might mean that he'll be kindly asked to leave.
At tight end, everyone grumbled early on about Brandon Pettigrew, which was dumb because the dude is a rookie and because he missed a lot of training camp with an injury. He has stepped it up lately and appears to be Stafford's favorite target. Against Seattle, Pettigrew truly looked like the safety valve that everyone expected him to be, and even made a couple of plays downfield. He quietly is third on the team with 21 catches for 239 yards and a touchdown. I look for him to only improve as the season goes on. The other tight ends, Will Heller and Casey Fitzsimmons, have both seen some time this season. Heller has been thrown to a lot more often than I thought he would, catching 10 passes so far, and up until the Seattle game, he was the clear number 2 tight end. But Fitzsimmons played a lot against the Seahawks, catching 6 passes. He has 12 for the season, and it will be interesting to see how the coaches use both players as the season wears on. Pettigrew is the obvious starter now, and I think his continual improvement will see minutes for the other two tight ends erode a bit. Heller is a better blocker, but Fitzsimmons is a better receiver. There is probably only room for one of them to see any significant playing time.
Well, this has sucked. No big surprise there, but there was some hope that a year of playing together would provide some cohesion and allow the line to operate as a unit stronger than its individual parts. Instead, the same old bullshit has gone on. Jeff Backus can't protect the quarterback's blindside, Gosder Cherilus is still kind of dumb, Dominic Raiola is too busy telling the fans to fuck off and Stephen Peterman is stiff and not athletic enough to be anything more than a marginal starter. Meanwhile, the Lions seemingly have a different starter at left guard every week, and whether it's Daniel Loper, Manny Ramirez or Jon Jansen, the results are always the same, which is a wall of shit that gets obliterated by the defensive line.
So far, the line has allowed 26 sacks, or a little more than 3 a game and that's kinda shitty, you know? Meanwhile, the running game has been a disappointment, as detailed above. While I laid a lot of that at the feet of Kevin Smith, a decent chunk of the blame has to go to the offensive line. There have been way too many runs where Smith has gotten the ball only to find defenders diving at his knees a couple of yards behind the line.
This is one area that went largely unaddressed during the offseason and it shows. These dudes kinda stink, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Mayhew/Schwartz regime makes the line a priority during the coming offseason.
The defensive line has actually been surprisingly effective so far this season. They haven't been great - or really, all that good - but they haven't been soul crushingly awful either, which sadly enough is a sign of tremendous progress. This is shocking, both because there doesn't seem to really be much talent here, and because there have been an absurd amount of injuries so far this season. Just about every player on the defensive line has missed time, either in practice or in games due to injury, and it's a minor miracle that on a terrible defense, this hasn't been the weakest part. That's really, really not saying much, but going into the season, I figured the line would look like something out of Guernica.
In the middle of the line, Grady Jackson and Sammie Lee Hill have provided a lot of beef that runners have had a hard time pushing through. They are both true run stuffers. Jackson is a giant fat man who is nearing the end of his career, but Hill is young and raw. I figured that he would spend much of the season on the bench, but he has started from day one and when he has been healthy, he has shockingly held his own. I am excited to see how good he'll be once he figures out how to actually play.
Dwayne White and Cliff Avril have both struggled with injury all season long, and as a result, the pass rush hasn't been quite as effective as it could have been. However, Jason Hunter has been something of a surprise. He's looked pretty good so far, but again, he's struggled with injuries.
If all of these dudes, along with Landon Cohen, Turk McBride and Andre Fluellen, can stay healthy, they might actually, dare I say it . . . be . . . decent?
This has been the strength of the defense. That is no surprise, seeing as how, coming into the season, it was the only place the Lions had actual NFL players lining up. Still, I would actually say that I have been mildly disappointed with the linebackers. Julian Peterson is a former Pro-Bowl mainstay, but it's kind of obvious that he's nearing the end of his run as an impact player. He's been decent, but he hasn't dominated at any point. He leads the team in sacks, with 3.5, but a lot of the time he seems like just another dude out there. Sadly, I have also been disappointed with the play of my man Ernie Sims. The Lizard King is still overrunning plays, making himself ineffective way too often. He still has a ton of potential, but he needs to play more in control to be really good. Perhaps his monkey needs to slap him around a little. Larry Foote, meanwhile, has probably been the Lions best player on defense. He's made a lot of big plays in the running game and has given the Lions that anchor on defense they have lacked for years.
While I have been kind of disappointed with the starters, the backups at linebacker have really impressed me. DeAndre Levy has been pretty great whenever he has gotten the chance to play. It's going to get harder and harder to keep him out of the lineup as time marches on. He's great against the run and he has also been pretty damn good in coverage. Jordan Dizon, meanwhile, has done his best to shed the bust label that he's been carrying around, and I actually have hope that he'll be a productive player for the Lions.
It's a strange feeling, to know that not only the starters are quality NFL players, but that their backups are too. This is the one position group that is largely there already, if that makes any sense. A team can win with these linebackers, and hopefully, the old dudes will hold it together a while longer and the young dudes will just keep getting better. If the light turns on for Sims, then this group could be frighteningly good for several years.
OH LORD, WHY??? To say that these dudes have been terrible would be like saying that Hitler was kind of an asshole. It doesn't even begin to describe the sheer scope of the horrors that have gone on. Virtually everyone the Lions have faced have been able to pick these shitheads apart all game long. It seems like every stat line opposing quarterbacks put up is something like 25-30 for 250-300 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The cornerbacks just aren't good enough. Anthony Henry is old and slow and looks like this year's Brian Kelly. Phillip Buchanon isn't consistent enough to be a top cover corner and William James is what he is, a decent backup who should never ever be a team's top cornerback, which, sadly, he is here. Other than those three, there has been a cast of thousands. New corpses are brought in every week to throw onto the shit pile while others are flushed down to hell or flung into the Detroit River or eaten by the demons who haunt Ford Field. Terrible, just awful, and there is no real hope that it will get any better the rest of the season.
At safety, things are a little better. Louis Delmas has struggled some. That is because he is young and always plays like he wants to kill someone. He's way too aggressive, but he's also the only dude who makes plays. When he calms down a little bit, he'll be a great player, and he's the dude the Lions will build the secondary around. Both Ko Simpson and Marquand Manuel have seen time at strong safety. Manuel isn't very good, and the only time his name really gets mentioned is when the trainers are helping him off the field. Simpson is more talented, but inconsistent. He was plucked from Buffalo right as the season started so he's had to play catch up all season long. There is a slight chance that he could get better as the season wears on, but I wouldn't really count on it.
The situation here is beyond terrible. Delmas is the only player who should be starting for an NFL team and even he is too young and reckless to really be all that good right now. All we can hope for is that, like the offensive line, the Mayhew/Schwartz regime makes the secondary a priority in the offseason. One piece of the puzzle is in place, but they need a whole hell of a lot more before things even become adequate here. Good is a long way off.
Every week, I have to try to find a new way to say that Stan Kwan should get fired. I like to think that I am reasonably creative, but fuck, there's only so many ways to say GET THE FUCK OUT OF TOWN before breaking down into a pile of tears. The return game is terrible once again and the kick coverage units have been a joke. Zach Follett murdered a dude once, but that's about it. Nick Harris is averaging a middling 42.8 yards per punt, and really this whole unit would be an outright disaster if it wasn't for Jason Hanson. Which is, sadly, what we have come to expect here.
Even Hanson has been a bit off this season, though. Part of this could be because he missed most of the preseason with an injury and part of it could be because he is 168 years old. Seriously, I'm pretty sure he fought at Gettysburg. Hanson is 11-13 on field goals, but both of his misses have been kicks that he always makes, including one from inside of 40 yards against Seattle. Still, in the land of the retarded and the worthless, Hanson is a beacon of light, as he has always been during his time with the Lions. The day will come when he is gone and that is a day that I do not want to think of. Hopefully, it comes later rather than sooner.
Okay . . . JESUS, this was a stupid idea. I should have at least broken it up into separate posts, but what the hell, these are strange times and occasionally we all get swept away in a sea of ridiculous ideas. I fear that none of this has been particularly interesting or entertaining and I am making a billion typos because I can't feel the tips of my fingers and my eyes are crying blood. I would start cursing out the Lions for being terrible, but really, this whole exercise in stupidity is my own foolish fault. I hate writing these kinds of posts. They are always entirely too long and they become torturous about the time you become sick of writing and you look and realize you are only halfway done. I am an idiot in a mad world, but who isn't these days? We will do this again, and I will bitch some more and you will skim the nonsense and laugh at a few dumb jokes and we will all go on and on and on and . . . I have lost it, haven't I? Oh well, as the great Patrick Swayze said in Point Break, I'll see you in hell, Johnny. Indeed.