Postmortem: The 2009 Detroit Lions

Thomas KnappContributor IJanuary 4, 2010

When you look back on a season this bad, it more feels like an autopsy than a remembrance.  Rather than warm feelings, it's like examining a cold dead corpse.

Let's be perfectly honest with ourselves; the Lions really didn't make many strides this season. 

They really didn't improve all that much. 

The attitude really hasn't changed considerably either. 

The line to the IR and the hot tub is still a mile long.

The faces in Allen Park are pretty much the same faces that have been there for years.

And William Clay Ford Sr. continues to stare down upon the disaster like a dope, grinning in some dementia riddled haze before taking his nap during the second half of the game.

2-14 (even on the heels of 0-16) is still a terrible, awful season with very little good to say for it. Anyone who tries is fooling themselves.

This is still a terrible team with very little talent. 

While Mayhew and company improved the talent level slightly, he still made far too many blunders and missteps to have any hope that this team will be anything better than bad for a long while.

Sure, there were moments where they showed they weren't going to roll over and give up...but the Lions problem has never been effort. They've lacked talent and execution, and at the end of this season, they still lack talent and execution.

Where are they now, and where do they need to go?

Let's find out...

Quarterback:  Matt Stafford proved to be everything his supporters and his critics said he was. 

On one hand, he was by far the Lions best option, and the best of a rather weak draft class.  He has heart, a quick throwing motion and release, a powerful arm, and a desire to be a winner. 

Unlike the last face of the franchise in Detroit, the team is behind him, and he rallied them together in a way no one else has done for a decade or more.

But at the same time, he demonstrated the same questionable accuracy and poor decision making that was a red flag at Georgia. 

Memo to you Matthew, while a quick decision isn't a bad is when you make the wrong choice.

Nonetheless, he made very significant strides in just one season before predictably the rest of the team managed to get him sent to the IR.  He needs help, but could be what the Lions need at the helm.

Culpepper and Stanton aren't even worth analyzing.  They're both done as Lions, and if either of them are on the team it'll be out of desperation.

Running Back:  Kevin Smith came into the season claiming about how hard he worked, and how it was his time to prove that he belonged in the NFL and that he was a true starting running back...

...then never did.

I dunno, Kevin, you look like the same marginal player to me. 

You still can't hit the second level with any speed, you still get pinky tackled by any defender that can get in your vicinity. 

Did anyone let you know that the NFL isn't a "one-hand touch" league?

And on top of that, he joined the long list of wounded Lions to hit the hot tub. 

I don't think there is any reason to continue this experiment.  He wasn't that great to begin with, and as it is, likely won't be back until the middle of next season. He's the new Kevin Jones...just let him go now.

Meanwhile, the Lions shouldn't have to go very far to replace him. 

Maurice Morris should be given the opportunity to showcase himself as the Lions primary back next season. He's not going to thrill you, but he can hold the fort while the Lions groom Aaron Brown (who has some incredible physical skills if he can polish off his vision and decision making), or draft their next halfback in the future. 

There are too many other holes to fill in to worry about it right now.

Wide Receiver:  I want to go on record; I was not thrilled with the selection of Calvin Johnson. 

I felt he was a luxury for a team that needed beef on the line of scrimmage.  I still feel that way. 

So it may be bias when I say I was not at all impressed by what I've seen out of "Megatron" so far, both this year and in his career to date.

He may be a physical freak, he may have hands of glue, but he's worthless to the Lions. 

This team can't get him the ball consistently, and is simply not what the Lions needed, need, or likely will need for a couple more years. 

This season was not just disappointing in the win column, but even his personal stats left much to be desired.

The Lions attempts to give him a secondary option also failed. Bryant Johnson demonstrated why two teams have given up on him; he simply doesn't have the focus, drive, or talent to be good. 

Northcutt proved to be one of Mayhew's many blunders this season; with a secondary in disarray, he trades away a potential starter for a No. 3 receiver that accomplished next to nothing both offensively and on special teams.

Williams might have something to offer, but as of right now, I'm not seeing it. He looks like your typical fifth wideout; not quite good enough in any one area to provide anything tangible for the long term.

Tight End: Again, I wish to go on record that I felt the Brandon Pettigrew selection was the wrong pick at the wrong time for the Detroit Lions; so again, my opinion might be biased.

Contrary to some reports I've read, I do not see an "elite" Tight End in Pettigrew. He's too slow to stretch defenses. His hands aren't reliable enough to really cause anyone to worry. 

He's a sound blocker, though.  I will give him that.

He wasn't the "second option" to relieve the defensive pressure on Calvin Johnson either.  Why bring up a safety to spy Pettigrew when an outside linebacker can do the job?

Then, to top it off, what little speed he did have will likely be gone thanks to a season ending ACL injury. 

Face the facts, Lions fans, you have a blocking Tight End.  While that's should expect more out of first round picks.

Heller did everything Pettigrew could do, only was more reliable and was on the active roster through sixteen games. 

Between the two of them, the Lions shouldn't need (or want) to address this position again for a while.  Which is good, because they need help on the...

Offensive Line:  Actually, in all fairness, this unit wasn't awful. 

They weren't good, by any stretch of the imagination; but mediocre enough (especially when Stafford was behind center) that they could probably live with another year or two as is while the defense is finally patched up.

Jeff Backus, the scapegoat for much of the O-Line woes over near the last decade, wasn't hideously deficient.  In fact, he was fairly decent. 

Yes, he still needs more help than you would like to handle any defensive end with speed. 

Yes, he still makes far too many disastrous miscues at precisely the wrong time. 

But, when you consider the other problems the Lions have, focusing an inordinate amount of team resources into finding someone who won't make one mistake in every ten plays simply cannot be a priority.

Same for Dominic Raiola, his red-headed stepbrother.

Yes, Dom still can't move anyone a measly three inches in short yardage.

Yes, he whiffs more often than Mr. Magoo at the plate against Roy Hallady.

Yes, watching Raiola reach the second level of a defense is a disaster on par to watching two trains going opposite directions on the same track.

Meanwhile, the musical chairs at guard (be it through incompetence or injury) continues.  I'm not sure what to say about the likes of Ramirez or Loper because I simply never saw enough of them to tell.  That the Lions couldn't make up their minds probably speaks volumes, though.

Are Backus and Raiola the linchpins for a true championship caliber Offensive Line? 

Absolutely not. 

They're still a problem, just not the biggest problem. 

I maintain that one of them needs to be upgraded eventually, but there's just too many other problems that need to be addressed immediately. 

One of them is right on the...

Defensive Line:  You could put the collective Defensive Line in a dumpster, set it out at the end of your driveway, and the garbage man would refuse to collect it

This unit was flat out horrid, week in and week out.

The Lions were blitz happy partially because it's Gunther Cunningham's tendency, but also because the front four could not generate any pressure on the QB without it. 

That by itself is the single biggest factor to the success or failure of a defensive unit, and the Lions failed horribly with every game.

Sammie Lee Hill was a gamer, but in reality, he's best suited as the third DT in a rotation.  That the Lions had him starting is a testament to how ridiculously poor the talent level was.

Grady Jackson was done roughly three years ago; a panic move by Mayhew when he realized that there was no one worth anything he'd likely reasonably be able to acquire.

The Cohens were fodder, and not much else. 

For all his strength, Landon might as well have been Sasha.  He got pushed around far too easily.  As for Joe...he never stood out to me as someone who could be counted on.

At the end, Lions fans saw occasional flashes of potential, but not much else, nor should they expect much else. 

No one had any fear of an edge rush, and I don't see any of McBride, Hunter, Avril, or White becoming that threat. They simply don't have the consistency to do it. 

Hunter was the most promising, and could be a complementary end to a true pass rushing demon on the other side...but that about all I think should be realistically expected out of that collection of "talent."

This is where Priority A of the Lions should be in the offseason, especially considering the talent that currently is in the draft pool. 

Linebacker:  Here the Lions saw probably their greatest improvement, and if there is a glimmer of hope to be found that Mayhew might have some inkling of a chance of turning this team's fortunes around, this is where you'll find it.

Levy emerged as a truly versatile player able to contribute both in the middle and the outside.  He was probably one of the biggest successes of Mayhew's first draft.  Finding contributors with those mid-round and late round picks are how you maintain a team.

Larry Foote provided capable leadership, an understanding of the game, a stabilizing presence, and sound production of his own.  He's not that old either, giving the Lions time to groom his replacement down the road.

Ernie Sims had a bit of a revival near the end of the season, but I am wary that its the result of a sense of desperation.  He's shown too much lack of disciplined play and poor decisions for three games in garbage time to change my mind. 

I pray the Lions don't fall for it, and send him packing for whatever they can get.

Julian Peterson disappointed me, to be honest, but I can't say I was surprised. The instant the trade flashed before my eyes, I thought, "You don't trade away a multiple Pro-Bowler for Cory Redding unless you know something."

Peterson clearly has lost a step from his days as one of the league's best. He's the new Pat Swilling, an over-the-hill player hanging on more by his past reputation than any dominance in the present.

At least the Lions didn't give up Willie Roaf for this guy, I suppose.

Secondary:   Another disaster. 

I mean, we're talking Star Wars Holiday Special bad. You saw the Lions secondary once, and you hoped you never saw it again.

There's pretty much no hope currently at Cornerback.  There's literally nothing there to build upon.

Buchanon was frequently called out by his own coaches for poor effort and poor play. 

Will James was about as consistent as a Texas Tech player or staff member talking about Mike Leach.

Aaron Henry was a two-fer of badness; a bad corner and a bad safety.

Speaking of Safety; to Ko Simpson, I offer this amendment to your catch phrase, "I'm Ko Simpson, Safety for the Detroit Lions!  I'm worthless! "

One gleaming bright spot, however, was Louis Delmas. 

I suspect, had he played for any other team in NFC, he'd be looking at a Pro Bowl selection and Rookie of the Year.  He, out of everyone on that defense, was the one that really intimidated opponents, and did so very quickly.

Delmas made sure that Receivers, Tight Ends, and Running Backs (even Adrian Peterson), figured out where No. 26 was when they got the ball.

Delmas still has some rough edges to work out.  For example, he tends to focus so much on the big hit that he missed opportunities to make a big play or even a solid tackle. But make no mistake, the future is bright for this young man.

Special Teams:  There really wasn't much special to be found here. 

Hanson had a disappointing season, and the return game and coverage was decent even at the best of times.

One player, however, once he got his chance, seized it and didn't let go. 

Zach Follett emerged about halfway through the season, single handedly serving as a spark plug to inject some energy and start a momentum shift with his big hits and non-stop effort on special teams.

To get anything useful out of a seventh round pick is gravy for a team...but judging from Follett getting snaps with the defensive unit by the end of the season tells me the Lions think he can provide more than special teams hits. 

They might be right.

Even if he doesn't, it's a good message to send; that if you take the opportunities that are given to you, you'll get your chance.

The Future: If through some moment of stupidity, the Rams take anyone other than Ndamakong Suh out of Nebraska, his abilities would look great in a Lions uniform. 

He could literally perform any role on the Defensive Line, as a DE in a 3-4 scheme, a penetrating DT in a 4-3 scheme...I wouldn't even doubt him making a transition as a traditional pass rushing Defensive End.

If not, Gerald McCoy or Eric Berry would provide an instant infusion of talent to a defense that desperately needs it. A good DE should also be available in the second round to continue building up the worst defense in the NFL.

In Free Agency is where the Lions should continue to look for that complementary piece for Calvin Johnson, as well as upgrades at Guard (taking a chance on that position in the middle of the draft wouldn't be a bad idea either).

The Offensive Line (as much as it may anger the fans) simply is going to have to wait, and there probably won't be much help for the Secondary yet, either.

Do not fool yourselves this time, folks...the Lions are going to be a very bad team next year as well.

It's still a very long road, and I remain unconvinced that Mayhew is the man who will lead the Lions out of their 50-year exile in the desert. 

For every Louis Delmas, there was a Dennis Northcutt.

He (and the rest of the front office) is going to need to do better than one step forward then a half-step back if they hope to be a contender anytime by the end of the next decade.

Tip your glasses to another season in the's dead, and there's nothing more to see here.


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