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5 Detroit Lions Who Aren't Earning Their Keep

Dean HoldenAnalyst IOctober 18, 2011

5 Detroit Lions Who Aren't Earning Their Keep

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    You know something? Even when the Detroit Lions were 5-0, they were riddled with holes. It's just that they were harder to see behind the glare of an undefeated record.

    So, I don't want to hear anybody say I'm just getting down on the team because they now have a digit in the loss column.

    Frankly, the problems the Lions have didn't show up for the first time against San Francisco; they've been there all season. It's just that San Francisco is the first team to make them pay for it.

    And, for all their flaws, the Lions are still a good football team, and will continue to be. But because they are a good football team, there are certain expectations for each player.

    In many cases, those expectations have been exceeded. That's why these Lions are 5-1 after being the next-to-last undefeated team in the NFL.

    But in these five cases (four players and one unit), those expectations have not been met, and part of that is why the Lions are no longer undefeated.

Jahvid Best

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    Just so we're clear, I'm not exclusively blaming Best for his lack of production, and this has nothing to do with his second concussion of the season (though that is certainly a concern now). 

    Blaming Jahvid Best for his inability to get anything going on the ground is like blaming Matthew Stafford for being uncomfortable in the pocket when he has about two seconds to get rid of the ball.

    More on that in a minute. Let's focus on Best for now.

    Best is not in the role the Lions probably wanted for him. For proof of that, look no further than the Lions' willingness to trade up 19 spots for Mikel Leshoure. There is no reason for the Lions to have jumped for Leshoure unless he was meant to be the every-down, load-carrying back.

    And yes, I know Jahvid Best is a first-round pick, but he's at his best with fewer carries. Look at the Chicago game. Best notched 163 yards and a touchdown on only 12 carries. Most of that was a result of the poor Chicago defense giving up big plays, but that is an almost ideal stat line for him.

    The Lions don't want him to wear down between the tackles. They want to wear down the defense with a heavier runner and use Best as a dangerous home-run hitter. The more carries he has in a game, the less potent he is on each carry.

    But that's not the only thing holding Best back. I bet you know where this is going.

Minus Rob Sims, the Entire Offensive Line

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    I've been trying to defend the offensive line to the extent that I thought they deserved it.

    It's not that I considered the unit to be a league-leading unit or anything, it's just that I thought they were average, and getting a bad rap.

    Now, I'm not so sure. The run blocking has been worse than awful all year, but Matthew Stafford was given time to throw on most downs, and was kept mostly clean and upright this year. I gave them a pass as a unit with bad run blocking and above-average pass-blocking.

    To be fair, the Lions still aren't allowing the kinds of jailbreak pass rushes exhibited on a near-weekly basis by the Bears, Steelers, Jets and Eagles, but they're at a point now where they're only a cut or two above that bottom-dwelling level.

    They can't generate push in the run game, and they were bullied while trying to protect Matthew Stafford. The pressure kept him off-balance all day.

    Jeff Backus let a lot of that pressure through. He was more effective than a turnstile, but not by much. Justin and Aldon Smith (no relation) went around/through him most of the day.

    And he can't blame the lack of consistency at left guard anymore, because Rob Sims is the most consistent anchor the Lions have had there in a couple of decades.

    I'm tempted to give Gosder Cherilus a pass, because his biggest mistake was getting flagged for a questionable chop block (bad call by a flag-happy crew) that negated a big play late. But it's not like that was the first time Cherilus has torpedoed a winning effort with a flag, so we'll just consider it the latest chapter in a trend.

    Much like the Lions' game against the 49ers, which was a new low point for an offensive line that appears to be getting worse as the season goes on, not better.

Stephen Tulloch

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    This is going to seem a little off, especially coming off a game in which Stephen Tulloch notched six tackles and a sack. Bear with me on this.

    Stephen Tulloch is the Detroit Lions' middle linebacker. He is responsible for making defensive calls before the snap, communicating with his defense and patrolling run gaps created by opposing offensive lines.

    So, why, exactly, do the Lions keep getting gashed by simple run plays up the middle? I understand that offenses are running draws and traps to use the defensive line's aggressiveness against them. But wasn't this the whole point of upgrading the linebackers? To allow the line to focus on bringing pressure, with the linebackers able to clean up the overflow?

    This isn't all on Tulloch, and I realize it's unfair of me to single him out as such. But Tulloch is known as a speedy run-stuffer, and he's the de facto leader of a defense that gives up huge running plays as a weekly routine.

    It's unfair, but when you can't blame an entire unit, you blame its leader. Especially when that leader's specialty is the problem. It doesn't get any easier with Michael Turner coming to town next week.

Nate Burleson

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    Seeing Nate Burleson catch a touchdown that was eerily similar to another end zone catch to which we've applied the term "process," I couldn't help but ask a question.

    Where has Nate Burleson been?

    I mean, the man exploded out of the gate, with 12 catches for over 150 yards over his first two games. And then what?

    This Sunday marked the first time Burleson caught more than two passes since Week 2 against the Chiefs. It was also his first touchdown catch of the season.

    What happened to Burleson being the deadly secondary threat alongside Calvin Johnson? What happened to him taking advantage of favorable matchups and single coverage? Why is four catches for 34 yards and a touchdown his best performance in over a month?

    He's not injured, and it's not like Johnson hasn't lived up to his end of the bargain. He's been pulling consistent double-teams for weeks. Burleson just hasn't capitalized. Like last year, Jahvid Best and Brandon Pettigrew are getting more targets and more production.

    I would throw Titus Young on this pile, too, but Titus is a rookie, and I expected him to take some time to get up to speed. He has had good games and bad, but I expect that from a kid with six games of experience, not a 30-year-old with nine years.

Corey Williams

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    Outside of a couple nice plays, has Corey Williams really made that big of an impact on the Lions' first six games?

    On a line full of flesh-hungry pass-rushers, Williams is the run-stuffing space eater in the middle.

    How's that working out for him (hint: Lions are 26th overall run defense)?

    Much like Tulloch, it's probably unfair to single Williams out for this. Tulloch and Williams both play in a scheme designed to force the opposition to beat them with the run.

    It's a great scheme in a pass-happy league...until opponents start beating them with the run.

    In run defense, Williams and Tulloch are both ultimately expected to compensate for the schematic disadvantage with their considerable physical talents. That's a tall order, but they are talented guys, and neither appears to have answered the bell to the extent they're expected to.

    And it isn't like the Lions are incapable of stopping the run if they commit to it. When they stack up the line and make a real effort, they can stuff the run maybe better than anyone. Instead, they play the majority of the game in the pass rush-centered wide-nine look.

    That leaves Williams and Tulloch on an island and tell them to pick of the slack, and, to this point, they haven't.

    Is it their fault? Probably not. Are they expected to do too much? Probably. But they have their responsibilities, and they've fallen short thus far.

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