Detroit Lions Start 2010 Season 0-3: What It Does and Doesn't Mean

Dean HoldenAnalyst ISeptember 28, 2010

I know Lions fans are all about firing people in charge, but this guy needs to stick around.
I know Lions fans are all about firing people in charge, but this guy needs to stick around.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Well, the Lions are once again pretty much out of the playoff hunt by the end of September.

That's something I know we're all a little tired of. It's not that Lions fans expect to make the playoffs each year, but it's nice to be nominated once in a while. We appreciate being able to have a legitimate playoff discussion in November and not be snickered and pointed at.

Oh well. Any faint hopes the Lions had at the playoffs this year went down in Week 1 with Matthew Stafford's shoulder. As far as I'm concerned, having the playoff discussion over early is a distraction that's out of the way.

A callous statement, perhaps, but not untrue. Don't shoot the messenger on this one. I know the Lions aren't mathematically eliminated; that won't happen until late November or early December.

But this team's goal was not ever to win a Super Bowl in 2010-11, and deep down, you know that as well as I do. The goal is to play better as a unit, and continue to grow towards that ultimate goal.

So are they in the process of completing that goal? It's hard to say, since half of the unit we wanted to see is currently being treated for injury. But those are the cards the team has been dealt this year, and we have little choice but to ride it out. Again.

After a mostly uninspired game against the Minnesota Vikings, many Lions fans are looking for answers, and several have taken to absurdly irrational overreactions.

I can help with both of those. Here's a helpful guide of a few events of the 2010 season, and how to understand them without completely losing your mind.


The Lions' 0-3 Record

What It Does Mean

The Lions aren't going to the playoffs. They're not winning 10 games. They're not finishing above .500. They are still not a very good football team, for all the good pieces they have in place. There is a long way to go yet.

And yes, the Bears, Eagles, and Vikings are, for now, better teams than the Lions.


What It Does NOT Mean

The Lions are not moving in the wrong direction, and they are not getting worse as a team. Last year, that Lions' point differential was minus-27 through the first three games. This year, it's minus-22.

Not a huge difference, unless you count the fact the Lions actually won their third game by five points last year against the hapless Washington Redskins.

Sure, I'd take a win and two blowouts over three close losses, too. But unlike last year, the Lions haven't played a team as bad as the Washington Redskins this year. If they lose to the Rams, we'll talk.

Also, STOP the talk about firing the coaching staff (you know who you are). Winning takes time, and the Lions are making strides. The Houston Texans didn't go winless in their expansion year like the Lions did in 2008, and only now are they starting to look like a legitimate playoff contender.

The Lions are on track to make a turnaround in about half the time it took the Texans, but massive rebuilding projects take more than two offseasons to complete. If people want to just keep firing coaches halfway through their rebuilding projects, then the cycle of two-to-four-win seasons will just continue indefinitely.


Matthew Stafford Is On the Shelf Again

What It Does Mean

Maybe they should stop playing him against the Bears. Two of Stafford's three major injuries have come in Chicago, and he has yet to finish a game at Soldier Field.

Seriously though, the Lions, as a whole, need to stop letting Stafford take those kinds of shots.

It's tempting to blame the offensive line, and indeed, Julius Peppers pulled a blow-by on Jeff Backus on the way to blindsiding Stafford's shoulder into the turf.

But the majority of the hits Stafford takes can be attributed to multiple units. If his receivers got open, he wouldn't have to hold the ball as long. If the running game were more effective, the pass-rushers would have to slow down, and wouldn't be able to pin their ears on third-and-14. If the defense allowed less points, Stafford wouldn't have to throw the ball as much.

Of course, if the offensive line could protect him, none of that would matter so much.


What It Does NOT Mean

Stafford is not an injury-addled bust. Yet.

Try to understand that we are three games into Stafford's second NFL season. He has had injury issues, as some analysts (me) predicted he might if thrown to the wolves right out of the gate with a sub-par supporting cast.

But he's not on IR and has in fact resumed throwing a football, which is important for a quarterback (unless he's Michael Vick, then everybody loves him regardless of completion percentage).

Also, before throwing the offensive line under the bus, remember that two of Stafford's three biggest injuries came on the tail end of lengthy scrambles, for which you cannot blame the offensive line.

There's no question Stafford needs to play more than half a season to get to the level Lions fans want to see, and he needs to stop getting drilled into the turf to play more than half a season. Regardless of how much faith the Lions' coaching staff has in Jeff Backus and Co., they're aging, and even truly great players (which Backus and Co. are not) get replaced when they age.

So presumably, Stafford will be afforded the protection to play a full season sooner rather than later, at which point we can see if he's an effective quarterback.


The Defense Is Still Bottom-Feeding

What It Does Mean

It needs work. A good defensive line makes it easier on the secondary, but they still have to be competent. Opponents have been feeding on two of Detroit's weakest areas: the back seven and their depth.

There should be no doubt in anybody's mind that the Lions have one defensive unit that ranks among the league's best (front four), and two (linebackers/secondary) that are still so bad, they bring the good one down.

But to make matters worse, there have been injuries. DeAndre Levy and Zack Follett, two second-year linebackers expected to start and make an impact, have both missed time. Levy missed the first two games of the season with a groin injury, and Follett missed the third with a concussion.

In other words, a unit that was expected to be weak even with its starters hasn't even had a chance to play all of its starters yet this year. Of course, Levy is in a new position, and Follett is a project, so don't expect a huge jump in performance even when they are both healthy.


What It Does NOT Mean

The defensive line is not overrated, and Ndamukong Suh is everything he was drafted to be and more. They just can't do it on their own.

There's a reason the defense consists of 11 players and not four. Right now the Lions have about seven or eight guys starting that they don't immediately need an upgrade for. Pretty good, considering that defense has eight new starters from last year.

By the way, nobody needs to call for Gunther Cunningham yet. Let's give the man the right personnel before we say his scheme doesn't work.


Shaun Hill Can't Complete the Comeback(s)

What It Does Mean

He's not the starter the Lions want. No secret there.

Hill is a backup quarterback in every sense. He makes short, safe throws, and is the quintessential game-managing quarterback.

He does have an above-average ability to raise the stakes late in the game, but he lacks the ability to follow through once he has, as we have seen in three straight weeks.

That's okay. Late-game comebacks are for elite quarterbacks, not 30-year-old journeyman quarterbacks who lost a starting job to Alex Smith.


What It Does NOT Mean

Hill isn't a slouch, and the Lions should NOT be starting Drew Stanton. I'm officially off the Stanton bandwagon, and I invite you to join me at the next available stop.

Stanton has shown nearly zero progression and even less resistance to the Lions bringing in multiple quarterbacks of questionable quality ahead of him. Accept Hill and move on.

Now, about Hill.

Simple fact: the Lions aren't the Steelers, who are so loaded with talent, they can win with whatever quarterback happens to be lying around. Hill would flourish there.

The Lions are at a point where they need a talented quarterback who can make plays (Stafford), not just facilitate others (Hill) to win games. As they continue to amass talent, though, Hill will be a perfect backup quarterback for the Lions.