After a beating like the one suffered at Baltimore, Detroit Lions fans are likely asking themselves two questions: What is Daunte Culpepper doing still playing professional football, and why are we still watching Lions games?
I’m here to answer one of those questions. I don’t know what to tell anyone about Culpepper anymore.
But the Lions are still worth watching, if only to learn the answers to questions about 2010. After all, what did you expect this year? You all knew they weren’t going to the playoffs when August rolled around.
So there’s no reason to give up on them now. They’re doing exactly what they were expected to do. If you were going to give up on them, you would have been gone after last season.
This season is now and has always been a preseason for 2010. It doesn’t matter. If the team finishes 2-14 or 5-11, it makes only as much difference as draft position. And there was no chance the Lions were going to finish much better than 5-11, even when opening week rolled around.
So why play the games, right? You don’t play the games as if they don’t matter, you play to win the game (Hello?).
That’s absolutely true, and the ragtag bunch composing the Detroit Lions are doing just that. But the level of talent is infamously low, so playing to win the game is very rarely going to produce that result. That’s just how it is for now.
So in the spirit of looking ahead to next season, here are the big players to watch in the Lions’ final three games.
All Three Quarterbacks
Alright, we get it. Culpepper wanted a shot. He worked really hard in the offseason, lost all the excess weight, got into great shape, earned the respect of his teammates, and seemingly buffed up every part of his body except his throwing arm.
I'd rather see "Captain Checkdown" every game than the guy we saw at Baltimore, "Captain Try-To-Go-Deep-And-Underthrow-By-20-Yards."
So can we collectively say that we’ve seen enough, now?
Perhaps not. Against all logic, Culpepper is still playing football, and starting, no less. And barring some kind of extremely ill advised contract extension, Culpepper’s commitment to the Detroit Lions ends in three weeks.
On the other hand, Drew Stanton is under contract for another year, and would appear to be next year’s apparent No. 2.
But despite what could be a golden opportunity to play Stanton and see what they have in him, the Lions are stubbornly playing an expiring contract instead of a question mark.
Even if the Lions thought Culpepper gave them a better chance to win (which is hard to believe considering his 2009 body of work), is that really the point right now? He doesn’t give the team any chance to win next year when he’s a free agent.
Beyond that, is there any chance of a Matthew Stafford sighting in the final three games, or will the coaching staff shut the battered kid down?
Stafford has nothing left to prove this season. He can make the throws, he can take a hit, and he can make the throws after taking the hits.
He’s certainly a work in progress, but he’s not going to work out his kinks in three games. There is little reason to let him play injured down the stretch.
Larry Foote was perhaps the loudest free agent signing for the Lions last offseason.
“First-to-Worst” stories littered the Lions beat, as Foote requested a release from the Pittsburgh Steelers to join the rebuilding effort in Detroit.
Problem is, despite Foote’s stated wish to retire as a Detroit Lion, a tentative coaching staff and front office offered him a mere one-year deal.
Now that year is almost up, and Foote is leading all Lions in tackles by a wide margin. It would appear he has staked a claim to the full-time job, but will he get it? And if he does, what will his contract look like?
DeAndre Levy/Ernie Sims
Ernie Sims: Stud weak-side linebacker, first-round pick in 2006, but has seen little development in recent years, and has spent much of this season injured.
DeAndre Levy: Stud weak-side linebacker, third-round pick in 2009, having every bit as successful a rookie campaign as Sims did in 2006, thanks to Sims’ injury.
So now what? It seems that Sims is close to being on the mend, but his stock is falling and it seems like Levy’s is taking a ski lift up Everest.
It’s not like the Lions have to choose between two talented players very often. It’s a good problem, but one they’re not accustomed to.
Expect to see both players get some time in the final three games, and whoever makes the most noise wins. If it’s Levy, Sims becomes tasty trade bait. If it’s Sims, he’ll likely split time with the still-developing (and cheaper) Levy anyway.
Maurice Morris/Aaron Brown
It’s official. In was shaping up to be a career game for Kevin Smith, he goes and blows out his knee.
Story of our franchise.
So with Smith out, all eyes turn to the rest of the running back stable. Who will step up? Who will get the majority of carries in Smith’s absence? More importantly, what, if anything, will that mean for next year?
Maurice Morris made a name as a steady producer in Seattle. Not flashy, but capable. In Detroit, he has been a consistent non-factor.
With the productivity of Aaron Brown and an offseason coming up, this may be Morris’ last chance to show what he can do before he finds himself staring at his name on a cut list.
Brown is a bit of an enigma. It seems like whenever the Lions get him the ball, he makes good things happen with his speed. But he has said himself that he isn’t “built to be an every-down back.”
Still, the way he handles an increased workload in the next three games will likely play a big part in determining his role on the team next year.
Sammie Lee Hill
Not much was expected out of Sammie Hill when he was drafted out of Stillman College in the fourth round of the draft.
He was a project at draft time, a big, 330-pound pushing machine for Jim Schwartz to mold into his second-generation Albert Haynesworth. He still is a project, but apparently one with enough raw talent to crack the Lions’ starting roster.
However, the Lions’ defensive line is still a poor bunch, creating very little push, less penetration, and zero pass-rush.
Enter Ndamukong Suh.
The Lions, likely looking at a top-five pick in the 2010 draft, have a distant shot at the Nebraska standout who has been all the rage ever since he nearly single-handedly fought the undefeated Texas Longhorns to a stalemate.
But then, the Lions have many needs aside from defensive line. And they are not likely to start two defensive tackles next to each other with a combined one year of experience between them if they feel good about Hill.
Realistically, the Lions are not very likely to get a shot at drafting Suh, and if they do, they likely won’t pass. They probably shouldn’t.
But if Hill shows proper development (that means strong performances and staying healthy to finish the season) and the coaches are happy with him, they probably won’t be too worried about it.