I AM BACK!!!!!

In the past, I tried to do too much with this site with way too little time. Yet, I have been feeling a need to write about the Lions lately. So I have decided to change the Detroit Lions Observer to a few basic things. Writing articles when I feel a need to, keeping track of their wins and losses, and I am still deciding if I will go through and update Ndamukong Suh's Sack List.
Ndamukong Suh's Sack List
Keep track of which quarterbacks Suh has faced and which ones he has taken down.

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1/28/10

Detroit Lions in Review - Tight End

If the Lions did not have a high profile rookie Tight end in 2009, this position would almost be a waste of time to grade. The Detroit Lions have a serious history of no0t using the tight ends while other teams make a living at it. Yes, I know many will say that the Lions have not had a true receiving tight end in many years. Hog wash! I know Gaines and Fitzsimmons were not speedsters at the position but they did not have a big habit of dropping passes either. They were under used for their abilities. Then, along came the 2009 draft and with the Lions second pick in the 1st round, they took Brandon Pettigrew and it looked like they were changing their ways.

Brandon Pettigrew was nothing special in the first half of the season as he only had 14 catches in the first eight weeks of the season. As the season continued however, he began to pick up the offense a little better. In his next three games he had 15 grabs for 165 yards and 2 touchdowns. In a full sixteen game season those three games would pace out to be 80 receptions for 880 yards and 10 touchdowns. Unfortunately in week 12, Pettigrew only had one catch before hurting his knee and his season ended early. Brandon Pettigrew looks to be an up and coming star at the position but his injury has to be considered a mark against him. One thing that all the greatest players have in common is durability.
Grade =
( B )

Will Heller is a big strong tight end with adequate speed at best. He is one of those tight ends that can do it all but is never looked to enough to make a name for himself. The evidence of that is in his game log. Before Pettigrews injury, Heller averaged 1.6 catches a game. After the injury? 2.1 catches. Not much of a difference for a tight end who suddenly became the starter.
Grade = ( C )

Casey Fitzsimmons had his second best season since his rookie year when he caught 23 passes. The fact he had more grabs in 2009 than any of his last five seasons and he was the third tight end on the team says a lot for him. One interesting fact is that of his 18 receptions, 11 of them came in two games. If he has the talent to have 5 or 6 receptions in a game, two different times... don't you have to wonder why the Lions don't use him more often in other weeks? Especially with their lack of ability in the receiver position! Still, the unproductive weeks were too often whatever the reason.
Grade = ( C- )

Overall Grade = ( B- )

1/25/10

Detroit Lions in Review - Receivers

I have been wondering how to truly judge the Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. He had a sub par season, far below what he is capable of, but was it his own fault?

After a 2008 season in which Megatron brought in 78 catches for 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns, he followed that up with a mediocre 67 grabs for 984 yards and only 5 touchdowns. Defending him are the simple facts that he was injured often in the season and he had a rookie quarterback in Stafford and a has-been in Culpepper throwing to him. Neither QB played very well this year. To make things worse, the two receivers who were supposed to take some pressure off of him (Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt) were horrible.

Yet even with the excuses, I felt Johnson looked slow. Calvin Johnson is as talented a receiver as you will find in the NFL. He has superb speed, great size, huge leaping abilities and strength to drag defenders with him to go along with his well above average hands. My thought against him is that he doesn't seem to have learned how to shake a defender very well. Maybe his routes never call for him to fake defenders out, I cannot say ye or nay on that. All I know is that it is rare he goes deep and leaves the opposition eating his dust. Far too often for a receiver of his talents, he will have the defenders running right along with him on deep routes. Until he learns to shake the defenders off and break away, I cannot grade him as a true elite receiver in the league. Maybe he was simply slowed down by his injuries this year. Time will only tell. But of his three seasons in the NFL, he has spend time on the bench due to injuries in two of them. That in itself is something to worry about.

Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt were as I have already said. Horrible! While defenses double teamed Calvin Johnson, these two were in consistent one-on-one battles and it was not often enough that they broke into the open. When they did there were too many dropped passes. In fact, the two of them together did not match up to the sub par season by Calvin Johnson. To make things worse, both of them barely matched up to the output of the rookie Tight End Brandon Pettigrew who only played 11 games.

Considering the situation and the injury to Calvin Johnson, I would give him a "B+" for the season. Bryant Johnson would receive a standard "F" while I would give Northcutt a "D". Northcutt I give a little leeway due to the fact he is a slot receiver and not supposed to put up huge numbers.

Receiver Grade overall = ( C )

1/20/10

Detroit Lions in Review - Running Backs

This is one area that absolutely needs to be addressed. Whether it is in the draft, free agency or trading, the Detroit Lions need to improve at the running back position.

Kevin Smith is simply no better than an average player at this position. After 29 games and 455 carries, Smith has only broken a run for over 32 yards once. It was a fifty yard scramble and he was caught from behind, keeping him from scoring a touchdown. Only one carry for over 32 yards! Kevin Smith is not big enough to be a bruising back who drags defenders for the extra yards and he just does not have the extra gear to break away for long runs. In other words, when he is in the game, the defenses do not worry about him. Grade = ( D )

Maurice Morris is not much better than Kevin Smith in this area. Many fans will look at how well he played after Smith went down with the injury and think he can be a good running back. Don't be fooled, he is nothing better than average himself. Maurice did have one very good run where he broke away for a 64 yard touchdown. Keep in mind however that other than that one long break away, Morris did not have another run for more than 16 yards in his other 92 carries. Grade = ( C- )

The Lions do have one speedy running back in Aaron Brown, but for some reason I have not begun to understand, Schwartz did not feel the need to give him a chance. Every fan who watched the Lions could see their running backs are slow, but rather than give the speedy kid a chance, Schwartz kept him on the bench while he continued to play slower, less talented running backs. I know Brown did not do well as a return specialist, but that has nothing to do with playing running back. In his limited carries, Brown still had a better yards per carry average than the other running backs and he has good hands coming out of the back field. Grade = (inc.)

There is some talk of the Lions looking at taking a running back in the draft. The only way I would even consider this move is if they can get a running back with the entire package. Size, strength, good hands and most importantly, exceptional speed. The only reason I would even consider this is because the upcoming draft is supposed to be loaded with linemen, both offensive and defensive and they can take one player and still have time to take linemen. If the real deal is not available, they have to build the trenches up.

Overall Grade = ( D+ )

1/12/10

Detroit Lions in Review - QB - Matthew Stafford

The 2nd in a series reviewing the Detroit Lions

I make no qualms about saying that I was not a fan of drafting Matthew Stafford as the 1st pick overall in the 2009 NFL draft. Now it is time to put that opinion aside and judge him for what I saw and what he did.

Stats = 201 of 377 (53.3%), 2,267 yards, 13 TD, 20 IT, 24 sacks. He also ran the ball 20 times for 108 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Throughout the season most of the fans who liked Stafford kept comparing his numbers to those of Peyton Manning in his rookie season. In taking a close look at this I will admit there are a lot of similarities. If Matthew Stafford's numbers were to be projected to playing a full 16 games as Manning did, they were almost identical in Yards, Completion % and Attempts per game.

Here are a few places where these two quarterbacks do not compare. Stafford would have thrown five less TDs and four more interceptions and he would have taken 16 more sacks. Stafford's QB rating also was a full 10 points lower. Now those stats may not seem like much but that is a TD/IT differential of nine! Another glaring thing Stafford supporters are not considering is this. Manning is only ONE player. There have been many star quarterbacks in the NFL. There have probably been a whole passel of rookie quarterbacks who had similar numbers to Manning's rookie season and never turned out to be anything. To find one star QB whose numbers are similar and say, "See? He is in line to become a great player" is ridiculous. Another simple fact is that it is almost useless to look at statistics alone to judge a rookie quarterback.

There are too many factors to look at in order to judge a quarterback. If a quarterback has a great running game, he will find more open receivers to throw to. What kind of protection does he get from his offensive line? What kind of plays does the coach call for him? How good are his receivers? Are receivers getting open? Is he hitting his open receivers consistently? Is he reading defenses well? How tough is he? How durable is he? So many things to look at. To look at the statistics of one other QB and say he is in line to be a great QB just doesn't cut it.

Here are some other stats he has in common with another QB. This QB was closer to Stafford than Manning was in Completion % and QB Rating, he took 29 less sacks in a 16 game projection and his TD/IT ratio was better than Stafford's by more than six! The rookie QB I am comparing him to? Joey Harrington! Before you scoff at this, also consider one other fact. Look at the team support Stafford has compared to Harrington had. Which receivers would you rather throw to? Calvin Johnson, Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt, or Roy Williams, Mike Williams and Charles Rodgers? Who had the better running game to support them? Who had more time in the pocket to find open receivers? Who would you rather have calling plays? Scott Linehan or Steve Marriucci? At least in my opinion Stafford has a much better supporting cast than Harrington had by a large margin, yet his numbers were not a lot better than Joeys across the board. That shows how little one can compare numbers of two rookie quarterbacks.

Matthew Stafford has a big problem with accuracy. I know many fans of his will look at some of his big plays where he put the ball right on target and call him a very accurate QB. I cannot help but to look at the far more numerous times when he had a receiver running wide open across the field and not having any pressure in the pocket and still throwing over the receivers head or behind him. A couple of great throws in a game does not make one an accurate passer if he misses the wide open short routes twice as often.

Matthew Stafford's big TD pass to save the game against Cleveland won over a lot of fans. The fact that he dislocated his non-throwing shoulder and still came back out to throw a touchdown was great to see. I will give him kudos on the fact he is a tough quarterback. What worries me is that as tough as he is, he still missed games due to a dislocated knee as well as a dislocated shoulder. He ended the season on the IR and had surgery on his knee. He may be tough but his durability looks to have issues.

Another area of concern for Stafford is his struggles to put any touch on his passes. Many of his picks came from throwing the ball on a rope to his receivers when he needed to put a little air underneath them. If you are throwing a short route, you can throw a lot of zip on the pass. When throwing a deeper route, he needs to put more air under them so the linebackers cannot simply reach up and snatch the ball out of the air. Over and over again Stafford threw deeper routes on a rope where any defender between him and his target could grab the ball.

I would even question his decision making just a little. Too often he had Calvin Johnson in a one-on-one match up and was not willing to put the ball up for Megatron to make a play. Yet often enough he threw the ball to Bryant Johnson when he was in double coverage.

Aside from the bad, there were some flashes of brilliance from the rookie quarterback. There were some great deeper passes and there were times he did very well running through his reads before throwing the ball. There were some good times but in my opinion, just not enough of them to believe he is going to be a good quarterback much less a star.

In ten games as the Lions QB, Stafford had two or three where he played decent. The rest he looked pretty bad. I expect some growing pains but from the number one pick overall in the draft, I expect better. If he was not expected to play better, then he should not have been named starter to begin the season. Remember, Schwartz named him starter because he felt he was ready to play. If that was ready, then that was a failing grade.

GRADE = D ... Though I will say that would be a "D" with an expectation it will be much better next year.

1/5/10

Detroit Lions in Review - Jim Schwartz

The first in a series reviewing the Detroit Lions

Before the season started, most of the fans were hyped up about Jim Schwartz taking over the Lions. He was young, he seemed intelligent, he was a defensive coordinator for a good team and he was not Marinelli.

In April of 2009, Schwartz had his first draft for the Lions. The Lions had the worst offensive line the previous three seasons, giving up over 50 sacks each of those years. They also had one of the worst defenses in NFL history the year before. His first two picks, both of which were in the first round? A quarterback and a Tight End. Both of those players showed marginal talent growth before ending up on the IR needing surgery.

It was a questionable move to draft a quarterback 1st overall when you didn't have the personnel to protect him. It was even more questionable to start him in game one when you had a very serviceable veteran who actually out played the rookie in the preseason. I know Culpepper did not look good when he started later on, but that is because he was not taking 1st team snaps all year and did not have any chemistry. He would never have been a star for the Lions but with the Lions offensive line, neither would Stafford in his rookie year.

The first two picks are still a huge question mark, but in the later picks there were some very good talent. In the 2nd round they took safety Louis Delmas who has looked like a star in the making. As a rookie, he ended the season making all of the secondary defensive calls while accumulating 94 tackles. The next pick, in the third round was linebacker DeAndre Levy who had 85 tackles and like his rookie teammate, ended the season making all of the defensive play calls. That is two very successful draft picks who were not first rounders.

6th round pick - Aaron Brown showed a lot of speed and signs of being a decent running back, however, Schwartz refused to ever give him more than a few carries in a game. Brown ended the season with the best yards per carry out of the running backs with 4.9 yards per attempt. Kevin Smith showed the fans that he did not have break away speed and he only averaged 3.4 yards per carry. When he went down and the season was a lost cause, there was no reason Schwartz shouldn't have looked to see what Brown could do with a heavier workload. He had nothing to lose but everything to gain in giving him a real look. Yet he chose to go with Maurice Morris, the nothing but average veteran instead.

In Schwartz press conference after the season was over, he made some very worrying statements. A reporter asked him what players does he not have to worry about replacing next year. Other than the obvious like Calvin Johnson and Stafford and such, he said he was good at left tackle with Jeff Backus, good at center and liked Sammie Hill. To make things much worse, he said that Backus should have received pro-bowl consideration. Seriously?

I will admit that Jeff Backus actually did have his best year yet. He really cut down on his penalties as the season went on. He actually may have even been the Lions best run blocker as Schwartz pointed out. But pro-bowl? I seriously do not see that. That was a statement that really loses a lot of credibility for Schwartz.

He was good with center? Schwartz is actually happy with Dominic Raiola at center? First off, Raiola is under-sized and never gets a push up the middle in short yardage situations. In fact, when it comes to 4th and 1 plays, it seems to me he is often pushed backwards. Secondly, if you can go back and watch a game from this year, you will see that Raiola telegraphs the snap on shotgun plays. He did well enough in normal snaps but in the shotgun, he always bobs his head right before the snap. Not just a little. Every snap in the shotgun his head practically whiplashes a half a second before he snapped the ball. This allows the defensive linemen to get a good jump on the snap. If the Lions are good with Backus at left tackle, that is one thing, but they absolutely need a bigger, stronger center who does not telegraph his snaps.

Schwartz is happy with Sammie Hill? A total of 26 tackles and no sacks and he is happy with that? At best, I will label him a possible starter in the future but right now he has not shown me enough to say I am happy with him at defensive tackle. The Lions defensive linemen were absolutely manhandled this year. That is especially because they had no true big and powerful tackle to force the pocket backwards. Without a good defensive tackle to draw a double coverage, the defensive ends could not break loose very often. With the line not putting any pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, the secondary was forced to cover far too long on each play.

Jim Schwartz only did so so in the draft and whether or not it is deemed successful or not will depend on if Stafford and Pettigrew ever become stars or not. He failed to give players like Aaron Brown a chance to run the ball more, even though when he did get his chance he looked good. He is making ridiculous statements like Jeff Backus belonging in the pro bowl and he feels he is set with the undersized Raiola at center. He ended the season with only two wins with a roster that was much improved on paper over last years roster.

GRADE = C- ... If it wasn't for the success of Delmas and Levy he would get a failing grade.

1/3/10

Lions Lose to Bears in week-17

Daunte Culpepper actually looked pretty decent in the Detroit Lions finale against the Chicago Bears. The Lions quarterback threw for 262 yards, 2 touchdowns and one interception. He completed almost 68% of his pass attempts.

It looked to be another repeat performance of the Culpepper / Stanton type of play in the last couple of weeks, but as the game carried on, Culpepper settled down and played well. He scrambled several times to keep a play alive and his play almost was enough to give the Lions a win in their final game of the 2009 season. Now I ask.... "What good does this do for the Lions now?"

The Lions lost. Culpepper will be a free agent and the Lions are not likely to resign him. In the off-season he will either sign with another team or retire... again! So what do the Lions gain from starting Culpepper and seeing him have a good game? The answer is absolutely nothing!

I did not believe Culpepper would have a good game. I don't believe anyone in the world actually believed he would look good this week. But he did look good. Why? Because it is always possible for ANY player in the league to have a good game if he plays. That is why it should have been Stanton playing instead of Culpepper. Because if that slight chance came through and he had a good game (as it did with Culpepper), then the Lions stood a chance of gaining from it. It would likely been a small gain but when you are consistently one of the worst teams in the NFL, any gain is important.

If Stanton would have played and looked good, there might have been a team out there who would be interested in him as a back up with potential. Maybe the Lions could have gotten a 6th or 7th round pick for him. But it wasn't Stanton who looked good. It was Culpepper! Now Culpepper will be gone and Stanton has another year on his contract and the Lions don't like him. The Lions have gained nothing! By playing Culpepper, the Lions never even allowed themselves a small chance of gaining anything.

In the end however, the day ended pretty happy for me. The Lions lost and that means they still have a small chance of getting the Defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh and I won the Championship in one of my Fantasy Football leagues. The only disappointment in the day was that the Rams couldn't hold onto the 3-0 lead over the 49ers they held at half time. If the Rams would have won, the Lions would have had the #1 pick overall in the 2010 draft and only another ridiculous draft pick would have kept them from taking the best defensive player and probably the best player overall in the draft.

Once again the Lions allowed the opposing quarterback to have an all-star performance against them. Once again the Lions let the opposing running back look great. Once again Aaron Brown looked good when he got the ball but was only allowed to run with it three times.

Another long and suffering season as a Lions fan is over much too soon.