Detroit Lions' Troubles: Running Backs Aren't Team's Only Problem

Chris StewardContributor IFebruary 14, 2010

BALTIMORE - DECEMBER 13:  Kevin Smith #34 of the Detroit Lions runs the ball against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 13, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Lions 48-3. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Larry French/Getty Images

I understand the best part of being a Detroit Lions fan is the offseason speculation.  It brings me no greater joy in the absence of winning than playing Armchair GM, coach, and coordinator.  I'm sure others feel the same way.

But even with the fun of games such as "To Sign Or Not To Sign," it's more rewarding when keeping this in perspective.

Case in point?

According to this article, The Lions should consider exploring a plethora of running back options, citing the team's woeful rushing stats since the departure of Kevin Smith, the legendary "ankle-breaker."  While it's true the team has a huge question mark due to Smith's injury, I don't see a need to "reach" on a running back.

It's true.  The Lions have had only one top 20 rushing offense since 2000 and never reached higher than 24 (this year) any other year.  But let's not blame the running backs here.  There are other factors to consider before the Lions go signing free agents whom they are basically setting up to fail.


A. Play-Calling

It's no secret the running game was abandoned for one reason or another during Mike Martz's tenure.  It was no secret Detroit was going to throw the ball around a lot.  Although Martz was only on staff for two years, Jim Colletto was using a pared-down version of his playbook during the dreadful 0-16 2008 season.

The previous years featured the "Wet Toast" offense and opposing teams dared the Lions to pass by stacking the box.  They knew the Lions were unable to pass the ball effectively, or vertically for that matter, so stopping the run was easy.


B. The Score

This might be tied to the play-calling, but when you trail by 21 after 15 minutes, running the ball is not an option.  Not a smart one, anyway.  Our defense wasn't rated much higher than the running game during those years either.  During the last two, the defense has given up a record for most points allowed in 2008, and almost gave up just as many this past season. 

The same thing could be said in the previous years with the Lions never having a middle of the road defense anytime during the 2000s.  I'm so glad those years are gone.


C. The Offensive Line

If this list were set in order of priority, or blame, this group would be on the list as No. 1, No. 1a, and No. 1b.  Maybe even No. 2 through No. 4 as well with play-calling as No. 5.  The feelings for Backus have been well documented for years. 

For some reason, Jeff Backus has been considered the face of everything wrong that Matt Millen accomplished.  The problem with that logic is he is one of the handful of picks, along with Dominic Raiola, from Millen's era that is still on the roster.

Other than those two, the whole line has been a revolving door of sorts, especially at the guard positions.  Even our proven FA signings falter.  Damien Woody was supposed to be a rock.  He was, and sunk right to the bottom.  The right tackle spot was a laughing-stock until Cherilus Godsner was drafted No. 17 overall in 2008. 

It's been upgraded to a light chuckle.  Even with all the free agents and draft picks, we would still be better off getting the guard of Buckingham Palace.  If the Lions are going to sign people who get paid to stand still all day, then they might as well get the best money can offer.

Thankfully, all these issues can be addressed soon.  Scott Linehan has shown to be slightly more balanced with the play-calling, even though Stafford still averaged 37 pass attempts per game during his rookie season.  Stafford did this while throwing to the sorriest excuse for a receiving corps with the exception of Calvin Johnson.

The defense has some bright spots.  As a unit, they finished dead last again for the third straight year.  That sucks.  But what doesn't suck, however, is the the emergence of DeAndre Levy—who might be pushing Foote out the door—and Louis Delmas.  Delmas made a case for the rookie of the year, but his team's record made an even better case against it.  That also sucks. 

Sammie Hill has also been a bright spot, although I think he gets a little leniency due to the learning-curve. Well, that, and he wasn't supposed to start next year.  Also, Sammie might be getting a new partner in April to help take some pressure off and solidify the middle (DT, MLB, and S) for a terrible defense.  After all, they have nowhere to go but up.

The offensive line is, well, not as bad as we expected it to be.  Matt Stafford took about 2.4 sacks per game, but that meant he got off around 35 passes, so I can't complain too much.  But the unit has to be upgraded.  I can feel good about saying they exceeded expectations, but let's call it a fluke and upgrade it anyway. 

The tackles seem set (although most would disagree) and the center is locked (I would disagree).  But regardless, it's time for a changing of the guards (sorry, couldn't help it).  I'm not too sure how the Lions plan on addressing that need, but I cannot see how it doesn't happen this offseason.  It has to.