Detroit Lions: 4 Reasons Jim Schwartz Is to Blame for Sputtering Start
The NFL is a ruthless league that does not give much credence to past achievements. Although some head coaches are unfairly targeted for their team's shortcomings, Jim Schwartz is at the center of everything wrong with the Detroit Lions this year.
The Lions have been one of the NFL's biggest disappointments so far through 2012. After winning 10 games and making the playoffs last season, the Lions are sitting at the bottom of the NFC North with a 2-4 record.
Although one could point to several different reasons why the Lions have floundered so far, it all starts at the top with head coach Jim Schwartz.
Schwartz deserves credit for bringing the Lions to prominence last season. After going 2-14 and 6-10 in 2009 and 2010, Detroit broke out in 2011 and put forth one of the NFL's most explosive offenses. However, despite entering this season as one of the NFL's most talented up-and-coming squads, the Lions now have the second-worst record in the NFC after seven games.
Jim Schwartz deserves the lion's share of the blame. There is no reason a roster with this much talent should be dangerously close to falling out of playoff contention after only six games.
Let's take a look at four reasons why Schwartz is to blame for his team's struggles.
Lack of Professionalism
Jim Schwartz is a fantastic individual to bring in to jump-start a sputtering organization. He has a fiery personality that has the ability to inspire his players. His "us against the world" attitude can make for a coach that players can identify with.
However, Schwartz—and his team—have portrayed an overall lack of professionalism over the last several seasons.
This past offseason alone saw defensive tackle Nick Fairley arrested twice, running back Mikel Leshoure arrested twice for marijuana possession, offensive tackle Johnny Culbreath also booked for marijuana possession and cornerback Aaron Berry (who has since been released) arrested for DUI.
The culture of this team needs to change. Although Schwartz can not babysit his players, he is ultimately responsible for allowing six different arrests to occur before taking serious action. He brought in these players that have since gone on to embarrass the organization, so the onus is on him to make sure they straighten themselves out.
Off the field incidents aside, "handshake-gate" serves as a mircocosm of how the inner workings of Schwartz's locker room operate. With a head coach that has a tendency to lose his cool, the players see that as an example and fail to display composure in situations that professionalism is required. We've seen that from Ndamukong Suh throughout his career, and Schwartz has been ineffective in instilling admirable core values into his team.
Failure to Improve Team in Offseason
Detroit finished last season with the NFL's fourth ranked passing offense after amassing 4,814 yards through 2012. Calvin Johnson was unstoppable and Matthew Stafford had finally broken out of his shell.
However, the Lions finished the season ranked 29th in the league in rushing. Despite the huge discrepancy in their offensive game plan, the Lions did next to nothing to improve their rushing attack this offseason.
Despite the NFL's transformation into a pass-first league, it's still essential to have a running back that can gain yards on the ground if needed. Lions running back Kevin Smith has been inactive so far this season. With that Joique Bell, Stefan Logan, and Mikel Leshoure have been unable to generate anything resembling a consistent rushing attack.
Although the Lions do not have the personnel to run the ball right now, they could have acquired players in the offseaon to create a more balanced offense. Cedric Benson was available and even BenJarvus Green-Ellis would be an upgrade over anybody in Detroit's backfield this season.
The Lions passed on upgrading the running back position, and their offense is paying dearly for it this season.
Although the defense has improved, the rest of the league has figured out the Lions' offense. General manager Martin Mayhew deserves some of the blame in this as well, but Jim Schwartz's scheme dictated to him what personnel should be brought in.
The Lions' one-dimensional offense is now sputtering, and there is next to nothing that can be done about it.
Matthew Stafford's Regression
Matthew Stafford has not regressed physically.
He still has a cannon for an arm and solid 6'3" frame to work with. However, his footwork has been spotty, his side arm delivery has effected his accuracy and his decision making is below average. In short, Stafford has not developed into the fundamentally sound quarterback that he was drafted to become.
Stafford's shortcomings this season are directly attributable to Schwartz's failure to coach the former No. 1 overall pick into developing good habits. Stafford has become so reliant on Calvin Johnson in the passing game that it has caused the Lions offense to stop dead in its tracks.
In last night's matchup against the Chicago Bears, Johnson had a safety draped over him all game. Instead of spreading the ball around to his other receivers, Stafford threw to Johnson 12 times and only completed three of those passes.
Teams are willing to let the Lions other wide receivers beat them, but Matthew Stafford has been unable to utilize his other offensive weapons so far.
Jim Schwartz has had three seasons to develop Matthew Stafford into one of the league's elite quarterbacks. While Stafford has shown flashes of brilliance, he has thrown more interceptions this season than touchdowns. Jim Schwartz has not put him in a position to succeed, and the Lions are suffering for it.
Calvin Johnson's Lack of Involvement
Calvin "Megatron" Johnson has made one touchdown this season through six games.
By comparison, Megatron had nine touchdowns through six games in 2011. However, Johnson has seen 10 more targets through six games this season than he did last season but has only registered two more receptions. Team's are double teaming Megatron and draping a safety over the top of him.
That said, Jim Schwartz has to find a way to get his most physically gifted player involved in the offense. Whether that's running the ball more, moving Johnson around into the slot on occasion or even just stretching the field with Titus Young and running Megatron on underneath routes, the Lions need to get the ball into Johnson's hands.
Johnson did not get worse between the end of 2011 and the start of this season.
He's still 6'5" and 236 pounds. There are very few cornerbacks in the NFL capable of matching up with him. However, the Lions have put the same offensive scheme on tape for the last year and a half.
It's time for them to get more creative and start using their personnel in different ways. It starts with Calvin Johnson.