The Detroit Lions have done a lot of things over the past few years that make you cringe. The one that recently comes back to mind is the release of Mike Martz, say what you will about him, the Detroit Lions were a top 10 offense with him but what did they do without him? Exactly, we haven't done anything and now we will most likely have a Mike Martz run offense ripping through our defense twice year for the foreseeable future.
However they say that every cloud has a silver lining and I suppose the Detroit Lions releasing Mike Martz has one as well. The Detroit Lions release of Mike Martz helped spark an 0-16 season which resulted in the the resignation of Matt Millen and the firing of head coach Rod Marinelli who has now reunited with Martz in Chicago. Where is the silver lining you ask?
I believe that would be the hiring of head coach Jim Schwartz who I believe is the best hire the Lions have made since head coach Bobby Ross. Remember those days? That was back when we were practically guaranteed a finish within the 7-9 to 9-7 range and were at least in the running for a wild card playoff birth.
Now, with all that being said, Jim Schwartz was not perfect in his first year as a head coach and in this article I will be critiquing his first season in Detroit.
To begin with Jim Schwartz walked into the disaster left by coach Rod Marinelli and his terrible Tampa two defensive scheme and offensive coordinator Jim Coletto's non-existent offensive scheme.
There was a lot of work two be done on both sides of the ball especially on defense since Rod Marinelli invested in smaller speedy players with "good motors" while Jim Schwartz's scheme relies on bigger versatile players. So to begin with the Detroit Lions defensive players were playing catch up because during the offseason not only did they have to learn Jim Schwartz's scheme but they also had to bulk up.
The off season also brought the trades of Jon Kitna for Anthony Henry with Dallas and Corey Redding for Julian Peterson with Seattle. Add those to the previous midseason trade with Dallas which sent Roy Williams to Dallas for multiple draft picks and the Detroit Lions were in prime position to add multiple talented players on draft day.
When draft day rolled around most Lions fans were salivating at the prospect of Aaron Curry with the first pick of the 2009 draft or possibly an offensive lineman with the first pick in the draft and Rey Maualuga or James Laurinaitis with the 20th pick in the draft. As we all know the Lions decided to go with Matthew Stafford with the first pick in the draft and shocked everyone with taking tight end Brandon Pettigrew 20th overall.
The Lions had horrible blocking during their 0-16 season and Brandon Pettigrew was supposed to be a good blocker. It was also said that Scott Linehan's offense relied heavily on the tight ends as a receivers so Schwartz made the pick that pleased his offensive coordinator. To me this was the first mistake of Jim Schwartz tenure as head coach, I understand the logic behind it but I still can't justify this pick.
You NEVER, take a tight end in the first round of the draft as far as I'm concerned especially if your coming off of an 0-16 season with a billion other holes to fill. Just for reference CB Vontae Davis was taken five picks later at number twenty five by the Miami Dolphins. Davis finished the year with four interceptions which was two more than any player on the Lions defense.
The next mistake of Jim Schwatz's tenure and of the Detroit Lions 2009 draft was the selection of Derrick Williams with the eighteenth pick of the third round.
Derrick Williams was supposed to jump start the Detroit Lion's return game as well as provide newly acquired quarterback Matthew Stafford with a speedy target in the slot as a compliment to Bryant Johnson and Calvin Johnson who were slated for the number one and number two receiver positions.
I'm not quite sure what Jim Schwartz and company saw in Derrick Williams to prompt his selection in the third round. At this point in his career I'm not ready to call him a bust but things aren't looking that great for him.
Williams was pushed to the fourth receiver on the depth chart by the stone handed remains of what used to be a good slot receiver when the Lions traded Gerald Alexander for Dennis Northcutt. Williams also battled with sixth round draft pick Aaron Brown all season to see who could be a more mediocre kick returner.
To make matters worse, two picks after the Lions drafted Derrick Williams the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Mike Wallace with the 20th pick in the third round of the draft. While Williams was a non-factor in the Detroit Lions passing game, Wallace lit it up in his rookie season with the Steelers to the tune of 39 receptions for 756 yards and six touchdowns.
To put that in perspective the Detroit Lions No. 2 receiver Bryant Johnson had 35 receptions for only 417 yards and three touchdowns. The rest of the Draft was solid with the Lions finding good quality players like Sammie Lee Hill, Deandre Levy, and special teams ace Zack Follet throughout the later rounds.
That brings the Draft portion of this article to a close and moves us into the preseason where Jim Schwartz would also have his fair share of hits and misses. To begin with we had the motto of "the player who gives us the best chance to win will play" drilled into our heads.
I have a problem with this philosophy because NOBODY thought the Lions were going to win the Superbowl coming off an 0-16 season and practically everybody agreed that the Lions were at least two or three drafts away from being competitive. With that being said if there isn't a huge drop off in production why wouldn't you play your younger guys?
Coming out of the preseason Matthew Stafford would earn the starting job at quarterback,Brandon Pettigrew the starting job and tight end, and Louis Delmas the starting job at one of the safety positions. Sammie Hill was number two on the depth chart and defensive tackle, as was Deandre Levy at linebacker. Derrick Williams was buried on the depth chart behind Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt.
Former second round pick Drew Stanton was also buried on the depth chart behind Daunte Culpepper. Williams being buried on the depth chart coming out of the preseason was fine in my book because I figured he have the opportunity to work his way up.
Stanton, on the other hand, should have been placed above Culpepper because while Culpeper did nothing in the preseason. Yes Culpepper played against the starters and Stanton played against third stringers but he still played very well.
As the regular season progressed we saw the Detroit Lions secondary turn into a revolving door to the point where they would sign a guy and he would start. However not only would he start but he would get hurt that very same week! Also guys like Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry who were healthy would get rotated in and out of games to to their lackluster play.
The Detroit Lions linebackers and offensive lineman would see the same kind of rotation dictated by their play. I liked that aspect of the team, if somebody wasn't playing well they were taken out of the game in favor of somebody else. My only question is why didn't that same philosophy apply to quarterback, wide receiver, and to a certain extent kick returner?
When Matthew Stafford was healthy enough to start then he should have but there were a few games he had to miss due to injury. The first o which happened at the end of the Lions week four game at Chicago. During week five and six Daunte Culpepper got the start at Quarterback.
Culpepper proceeded to show everybody that he was washed up and couldn't throw a deep pass to save his life. It was during the week six game at Green Bay that I figured would assure that Culpepper never started another game as a Detroit Lion.
Culpepper was 6 of 14 for 48 yards and an interception. Once Culpepper went down with an injury Drew Stanton came into the game and threw five passes for 11 yards and two interceptions. Looking solely at the numbers it would appear that Culpepper had the better day, but you have to look at the big picture to truly understand why Stanton should have been elevated over Culpepper on the depth chart after this game.
Culpepper had his glory days when he was in Scott Linehan's system so he should have been able to run the Detroit Lions offense in his sleep, which it looked like he was at times. Culpepper also got the benefit of being able to practice and play preseason games the first and second string offense. Stanton on the other hand hasn't been in Linehan's system until this year and spent most of his time practicing with the the teams backups.
With all that being said after Stanton came into the Green Bay game the team looked unbelievably better on offense. Staton actually had some down field passes and had the offense moving the ball well. His first interception came after a pass bounced right off the hands of Brandon Pettigrew, he really can't be blamed for that one.
The second interception came in the red zone when he tried to force a pass to a wide receiver in the end zone. He shouldn't have tried to force the pass in there, but hey, when Culpepper was on the field the Lions offense didn't even sniff the end zone.
Had Detroit pulled the plug on Culpepper then and upped Stanton's practice reps he probably would have been better prepared for when Matthew Stafford went down with an injury later in the season. Yet even when that happened they gave Culpepper even more chances to show us how horrible he could be with the occasional glimpse of mediocrity.
When it finally came time for Stanton to get his chance he started a single game and didn't play well which prompted Daunte Culpepper to start at quarterback in the final game of the season. The same Duante Culpepper who will be gone next year due to free agency while Drew Stanton remains a Detroit Lion. For a so called genius simple logic seems to escape Mr. Schwartz at times.
Moving on from the quarterback situation the wide receiver situation also boggled my mind. If you haven't seen the Detroit Lions 2009 receiving stats leaders they look a little something like this.
Calvin Johnson - 67 Rec – 984 Yards – 5 TDs
Bryant Johnson – 35 Rec - 417 Yards – 3 TDs
Kevin Smith – 41 Rec – 415 Yards – 1 TD
Dennis Northcutt – 35 Rec – 357 Yards – 1 TD
Brandon Pettigrew – 30 Rec – 346 Yards – 2 TDs
Kevin Smith went down with three games left to play in the season and had six more receptions for two fewer yards than the Lions second leading receiver Bryant Johnson. Brandon Pettigrew who also went down with injuries before the season was over was also right there stat wise.
With Calvin Johnson drawing double teams your telling me that Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt couldn't beat single coverage? Not only that, your telling me that those too guys are so much better than Derrick Williams that he didn't even deserve the opportunity to prove himself why they struggled. For some reason highly doubt that Williams is so bad he didn't warrant at least an opportunity to start.
Just like with the quarterback situation the Lions dropped the ball here, they should have had a rotation for the receivers just like they did for the secondary players. They could have picked up a free agent wide receiver too but instead they chose to let Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt struggle to get open, then drop passes when they finally did get separation.
I guess you could argue that a wide receiver rotation could throw off the offenses chemistry. To that all I can say is look at the stats above again, does that look like an offense with good chemistry?
Last but not least is the kick returning situation. There may be some people who don't see this as a huge problem but I beg to differ. Due to the Detroit Lions defense (mostly the secondary) the Detroit Lions special teams had the opportunity to return 96 kicks, the most in the NFL.
Out of those 96 attempts the Lions special teams scored zero touchdowns with the longest return being eighty seven yards by Aaron Brown. Look what happens when you compare Detroit's stats to the team with the second most kick returns in 2009, the Chicago Bears.
Detroit - Kick Returns – 96 Ret (most) - 2,050 Yrds (most) - 21.4 Yrd Avg (26th)
Chicago – Kick Returns – 80 (2nd) – 1,999 Yrds (2nd) – 25.0 Yrd Avg (3rd)
3.6 Yrd Avg Difference X 96 Returns = 345.6 Yrds Of field Position
The difference in average would have been 75 yards away from our second leading receivers yardage total for the season. Unlike the wide receiver problem the Lions did try to address this one...kind of.
The Lions chose to keep switching back and forth between Derrick Williams and Aaron Brown both showed they couldn't cut it as the Lions kick returner. Meanwhile the Lions released kick returner Yamon Figures and brought in Adam Jennings who found his way on injured reserve quickly.
The Lions would also cut Tristan Davis from there practice squad even though he showed he was a speedy halfback in preseason and was also a good kick returner in college. That flurry of moves happened in the first few weeks of the season and for the rest of the season the kick return situation was only addressed by the constant switching of Aaron Brown and Derrick Williams.
During the final weeks of the season the Lions would sign Brain Witherspoon to take over kick return duties. Witherspoon didn't do anything spectacular either and ultimately the special teams coach Stan Kwan was finally released at the end of the season.
However, that still doesn't excuse the Lions essentially turning a blind eye to the kick return situation between the first few weeks and the last few weeks of the season. Why did it take so long for the Lions to finally address the problem?
I'm not a head coach but in my opinion Jim Schwartz and company should take a good long look at the decisions they made this year so they don't make the same mistakes in the future.