Jim Schwartz drew a considerable amount of ire from Detroit Lions fans and media in recent weeks. Mounting losses and an inexcusable mistake on Thanksgiving Day made him vulnerable to criticism. However, he shouldn't be the only one feeling the heat.
General manager Martin Mayhew deserves every bit as much of the blame for the Lions' disappointing season. Maybe even more.
It's not a surprise that Schwartz has the biggest target on his back, though. In the NFL, head coaches are constantly under fire. Every decision they make is questioned; every mistake is magnified tenfold.
Head coaches bear the brunt of criticism for underperforming teams, and the Lions have certainly underperformed.
It's not just the losses that Schwartz is getting blamed for, though.
When he threw that ill-timed flag on Thanksgiving, he let his emotions get the best of him. That lapse not only cost the Lions a win, but it showed the world that Schwartz was an undisciplined coach.
That is why he's under fire.
Before this season, the blame for Detroit's well-documented discipline issues was placed solely on the players. Ndamukong Suh was responsible for not controlling his emotions. Titus Young was responsible for his insubordination. Nick Fairly and Mikel Leshoure were responsible for their troubles with the law.
Schwartz was simply viewed as a headmaster trying to corral a few bad eggs.
Not any more. Now the picture is clear: The Lions' discipline problems are clearly a reflection of their coach.
Schwartz's own lack of discipline has called into question everything from his game plan to his ability to manage in the fourth quarter.
Yet a season ago it was Schwartz who led this team to the playoffs. He turned the franchise around, changed the culture and won games in the fourth quarter. Schwartz hasn't changed his style, and neither have the Lions.
They're the same team they were in 2011.
For that reason, a lot of the Schwartz bashing needs to be tempered. Anyone who thinks the Lions would be better off if he was fired is fooling themselves.
While he endures the slings and arrows, Mayhew has flown quietly under the radar. It's time for him to stand up and take his lumps.
Last offseason he was put on a pedestal. He was the architect who turned an 0-16 junk heap into a playoff team, and his drafts were viewed as huge successes.
That view has changed. The wins aren't coming as frequently, and many of his draft picks have failed to reach expectations. In fact, out of Mayhew's first four drafts, Matthew Stafford and Suh are the only players that have.
Honestly, how much credit should Mayhew even get for those picks? Any team in need of a franchise quarterback would have picked Stafford and 99 percent of the NFL would have selected Suh No. 2 in 2010.
For NFL GMs, it's the later rounds where they prove their genius. If they can add top-tier talent and depth each year in the mid-to-late rounds, they're golden. Mayhew has been anything but.
Here's a list of his picks in the third, fourth and fifth rounds of his first three drafts (it's too early to judge last year).
|2009||Rd. 3||DeAndre Levy||LB|
|Rd. 3||Derrick Williams||WR|
|Rd. 4||Sammie Lee Hill||DT|
|Rd. 6||Aaron Brown||RB|
|2010||Rd. 3||Amari Spievey||DB|
|Rd. 4||Jason Fox||OT|
|2011||Rd. 5||Doug Hogue||LB|
It's safe to say that DeAndre Levy and Sammie Lee Hill were good picks, but the Lions have gotten little to nothing from any of these other guys. Williams and Brown are no longer with the team, Spievey is a huge disappointment, Fox has only played a handful of downs and Hogue is an adequate special teamer.
That's far from genius.
Mayhew must also be questioned for his first- and second-round picks of Jahvid Best and Titus Young. He took chances on both of them, albeit for different reasons, and the Lions are now paying for his recklessness.
They're still searching for a player to fill Best's role and Young's antics have put a dark cloud over the Lions' locker room.
Mayhew traded up for Best, a player who already had a serious concussion problem in college. He rolled the dice and lost.
The same can be said for Young. Mayhew took a chance on him even though he had red flags. He could have made a safer—and much better—selection, though. Randall Cobb was taken by the Green Bay Packers 20 picks later, and he's proved to be a more dynamic player.
Cobb could have filled Best's shoes in the backfield while also providing a complementary deep threat to Calvin Johnson on the left side of the field. He could have replaced Stefan Logan in the return game as well.
Mayhew missed a golden opportunity there.
Who deserves more blame?
Most damning for Mayhew, though, is his refusal to be a player in free agency. The Lions secondary has been a mess for two years, and he's failed to adequately address its shortcomings. He tried to plug holes with waiver-wire cast-offs and gamble that Louis Delmas would stay healthy.
Not surprisingly, the Lions are losing games—again—because the back end of their defense can't make plays, or get stops late in games.
This offseason will be do-or-die time for Mayhew. He must finally solve the problems in the secondary, have a successful draft and navigate the mine field that is Lions free agency. He also must come out on the right side of the Young drama.
He's managed to steer clear of the heavy criticism for now, but he deserves to be sitting on the hot seat just like Schwartz. The Lions' problems have just as much to do with Mayhew's personnel decisions as they do with Schwartz's foibles.