Elegy for the Lions

By Os Davis  |   Thursday, December 13, 2007  |  Comments( 7 )

Detroit Lions
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Do you hear that? It's the sound of thousands of Detroit Lions awakening from a wonderful dream into the nightmare that is reality. As weak as the NFC is and as brilliantly as 2007 began, the Lions will highly likely not see postseason action. Sure, Detroit has yet to be mathematically eliminated, but with nearly all tiebreakers falling in favor of the opposition, observers shouldn't have any dream-like illusions about the team's chances.

Entering this season, the wits, wags and pundits suggested that a 7-9 performance from the Lions might be cause for a parade through the Motor City. Apparently lulled to sleep by Jon Kitna's lullaby of a 10-win season, the depressing reality of that 7-9 is bearing down upon fans quicker than the inevitable 53rd (and counting) sack of Kitna. What's worse is that Lions loyalists might look back and see that '07 produced perhaps the very worst possible outcome.

What a season. Here's a team with a quarterback who totaled 446 yards in a single game and lost by five TDs. Here's a team that produced an an all-time record 34 points in a single fourth quarter, chased it with a combined 42 points in the next three games, and topped that with a 44-7 blowout. Here's a team that "ran" for minus-18 yards against the Arizona Cardinals.

Yet, a borderline-.500 season implies a certain vote of confidence from Detroit's brain trust to many who will guarantee losing seasons to come. Mike Martz's so-called genius has been nigh invisible this season. Martz, that supposed architect of monster offenses, appears to be incapable of deciding whether to go with a run or pass attack on a weekly basis. Sometimes he's calling plays for the 1999 St. Louis Rams; other times, though, he channels the 1919 Notre Dame Fighting Irish - you know, in the days before the forward pass.

Problems in this offense are rife. After seemingly heading into the season with the scary prospect of T.J. Duckett seeing quality playing time, Kevin Jones made a speedy recovery from his Lisfranc injury and gave Detroit three options at halfback. The result? Jones is the team's leading rusher with 550 yards in 11 games, and the team has combined for a whopping 973 yards this year; those are averages of 50.0 and 74.8 per game, respectively.

As for the offensive line, after giving up a ridiculous 63 sacks last season, the Lions made offseason acquisitions designed to bolster their main weakness. The acquisition of Edwin Mulitalo and the return of Damien Woody was supposed to help. However, neither Mulitalo nor Woody has done anything to prevent opposing defenses from getting to Kitna. The hardly immobile Kitna is on pace to hit the turf 65 times this season; nice improvement there.

Meanwhile, coach Rod Marinelli continues to be outdone by anyone with a pulse. So IBM's Deep Blue once beat Garry Kasparov in chess; I've got a retro Atari 2600 CD ROM and a laptop that would give Marinelli a game. You've gotta hand it to the man, though; he's consistent in one area: Each officially licensed NFL Films highlight clip comes replete with a shot of the Bald One chewing out poor special teams coach Stan Kwan.

By the way, it's not just an over-talented and confused offense we're talking about here; the defense, led by coordinator Joe Barry, also deserves blame. The Lions' uniquely slack version of the Tampa 2 scheme has resulted in the third-most points allowed in the NFL, just a field goal ahead of 0-13 Miami. Disturbing is the opposition's 7-of-8 success rate on fourth down, but mind-boggling are the numbers turned in by quarterbacks facing Detroit: The average QB throws for 266.8 passing yards, two TDs and one interception per game against the Lions, for a stunning quarterback rating of 95.5.

The running 'D' may be middle of the road statistically, but the truth is the Dallas Cowboys' fourth-quarter comeback last Sunday was fueled nearly as much by the rush as the pass. And just how did Marion Barber III get in on that fourth-and-goal attempt? Did Barry really not suspect that might be the call? And how did the Lions' defense allow key scores in the final minute of both halves? (These are rhetorical questions, mind you.)

The worst part of all this? These subpar performances by a subpar team will, by dint of the "success" of a 7-9 season, actually lead to inept key figures being retained by the Lions. Atop this pyramid of ineptitude is the "mastermind" of this decade of Detroit "football," team president Matt Millen.

Surely, 7-9 will convince the Ford family that Millen has these guys on track for the future. After all, when he took over back in 2001, he got a 9-7 team: That's progress. With all the money still available after paying out $10 million to dead contracts on guys no longer on the team, the free agents will come running to improve the Lions. Hey, there's the nucleus of a good team here, and who knows what can happen with a mid-round draft pick? If Green Bay drops off just a bit and the Lions can avoid a late-game collapse or two, these guys could compete for the 2009 playoffs ...

Ah, what a lovely dream ...
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About Os Davis

Os Davis has taken a twisted route to get to RealFootball365.com in his nearly 17 years in professional writing, working in any number of capacities in the sportswriting, news reporting and film criticism worlds. In print media, Os has served as editor at a few publications, including Albuquerque's...
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