Detroit Lions – What I Know (Thoughts Of A Dreamer)

First off – Hope everyone had a happy and safe holiday season!

I’ve been ruminating on a myriad of things regarding my favorite team.  And since I have joined a Facebook group called Detroit Lions Die-Hards, I find that I am not so alone in my fanaticism of the oldest team in the NFL to have never made a Super Bowl appearance.

Over the last month or so, I have been gathering statistical information regarding our Lions.  And after watching the Ricky Jean Francois interview, it appears that many of us are in agreement on changes that need to be made.  It’s not so much about turning over the roster (which seems to be the go to action) but rather wanting to change the culture.

He referenced Ghandi in regards to change.  While I could not find the quote he mentions, the quote I came closest to it is just as relevant to the Detroit Lions culture:  “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

Since the Ford family purchased the Detroit Lions in 1963, the culture of the Lions changed.  What was once a powerhouse team, appearing in the post-season 6 times from 1930 to 1963, winning 4 championships during that time and posting a 7-2 post-season record, they became a doormat.

From 1963 to the present, no championships and a dismal 1-12 post season record.  55 years since the Ford family purchased the Lions and 61 years since winning a championship.

Despite the Ford family being the constant presence in all of this, I don’t feel the current configuration is the problem.  Martha Ford and the Ford daughters have made significant changes.

Bob Quinn was hired away from the New England Patriots with the hope of making the Lions more of a presence in the NFL.

Jim Caldwell, despite the fact he had twice in his four year stint, was fired because he couldn’t get them past the first round.  I’m sure that both Martha Ford and Quinn weren’t satisfied with merely making the playoffs.

Which brings me to us, the Lions fans.  So many times I have heard and read that a successful Lions season is making the Wild Card.

Well screw that.  All that has done for us is compile an 0-12 playoff road record.  That’s supposed to be successful?

PROTECT THE HOME TURF

It’s been said by many announcers that the Detroit Lions have some of the best fans in the NFL…and in the same breath, have been waiting for the team to produce.  Ford Field needs to become a place that teams fear instead of having a 60% to 70% chance of winning.

My first foray in to statistical analysis was to compare the Detroit Lions to 2 other NFL teams that have had tremendous success since 1990, the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots.

Both the Packers and the Patriots stress the importance of wining at home.

Since 1990, the Pack has averaged a 6-2 home record while going 4-4 on the road.  10 years of going 10-6 will get you into the playoffs a lot.  From 1990 to 2017 (27 years), the Packers have made the playoffs 19 times and winning 2 Super Bowls.

The Patriots?  Even better.  They averaged 6-2 at home and 5-3 on the road.  That translates to an average of 11-5 over 27 seasons.   They also made 19 playoff appearances and won 5 Super Bowls.  They played 26 playoff games at home and won 22 of them.  In all of the road playoff games, they went 3-6.

In that same time frame, the Lions have averaged a 4-4 home record and a 3-5 road record for an overall average of 7-9.  Eight playoff appearances in 27 years and a 1-9 record, the lone win a 38-6 home win…all of the other playoff games were on the road, all losses.

Both the Packers and the Patriots stress winning at home because they know home field advantage is an even bigger intangible during the playoffs than the regular season.

FIND AN IMAGINATIVE OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR

When Jim Bob Cooter took over as offensive coordinator, there was cause for some celebration.  Cooter was not well known to the average fan but since 2007 when he was a graduate assistant for the Tennessee Volunteers, he gradually worked his way up to offensive coordinator for the Lions after stops as an offensive assistant with the Colts (2009-2011), Quality Control Coordinator with the Chiefs (2012), Offensive Assistant with the Broncos (2013) and as QB coach with the Lions (2014-2015).

His start as OC for the Lions began when the play-calling of Joe Lombardi was fired in 2015 when the Lions started out 1-6 and for the most part, what really triggered the firing could be Cooter’s undoing as well:  Not getting enough production in the Red Zone.

Of course, as always, Lombardi has moved on to better things and is now the QB coach for the New Orleans Saints, a favorite to win the Super Bowl this year.

Cooter’s early success didn’t last and this year, perhaps hampered by new Head Coach Matt Patrica views on how the offense should operate, the Lions find themselves at the bottom of the league in both yards and points.

Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings was a perfect example:  The Lions got out to a 9-0 lead.  But a 9-0 lead in the NFL is markedly different from a 21-0 lead.  Vikings got 2 TD’s before the half (including the back-breaking Hail Mary catch by Kyle Rudolph) to take a 14-9 lead.  Detroit never scored for the rest of the game as the Vikings dominated the Lions at Ford Field.

Cooter has now become conservative in his play calling, pretty much making the Lions a team trying not to lose as opposed to trying to win.

There is a subtle difference there.  In my opinion, when you “race” out to a 9-0 lead in the first quarter, you don’t try to protect that lead for the rest of the game.  Great teams and great coaches press the gas pedal down and keep putting up points, breaking the will of their opponents.  I point to the Saints, Patriots, Rams and Chiefs this season as prime examples.

We all know that the Lions have rarely had an effective offensive attack.  Despite the many different types of offenses run during the years of Barry Sanders (including the June Jones/Mouse Davis run & shoot phase), it was still pretty much run Barry, run.

And when the Lions did have an offense (based on scoring), the defense was normally (based on scoring) ranked in the bottom half of the league.  In fact, only one time since 1990 did the Detroit Lions rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive scoring:  1997 where the Lions scored 379 points and the defense gave up 306 points.  Lions were #4 in scoring that year and the defense was #10 in points allowed.

So now the Lions, with yet another losing record (their 19th in 28 seasons) are seeking yet another change in offensive philosophies.

The Lions have had 13 offensive coordinators since 1990, the longest tenured was Scott Linehan who served for 5 years (2009 – 2013).  They have had their share of notables such as Linehan, Mike Martz and Dan Henning.  And about the average stay since 1990 is just a little over 2 years.  Unlike other teams who lose OC’s for head coaching jobs, most Lions former OC’s have taken steps back or are out of football.

So now the search for a new offensive coordinator will be underway after the season.  It is my opinion they should tap someone from the college ranks to breath some new life into the offense and focus on imaginative play calling in the red-zone.  Oklahoma’s Cale Gundy has done good things to open up the Sooners offense, might be a good choice to open up the attack and see what plays he could create for Theo Riddick and Kenny Golladay.

If the Lions are going to promote from within, George Godsey, the Lions current QB coach would be a logical ascension.  He’s called plays before during his stint in Houston.  While he may have a good rapport with Stafford, I’d be afraid that we’d be in for the same old tired offense.

Todd Haley is an offensive guru with a huge ego to go along with it (re:  Mike Martz) but he would have no issues with pushing Stafford.  Haley’s coaching jobs normally have ended in disasters and both he and Stafford would need to check their egos at the door…but with Haley’s play calling and Stafford’s talent, they could bring out the best in each other.

SPEAKING OF MATTHEW STAFFORD

As far as I’m concerned, I think it would be a mistake to trade or release Stafford.  With a salary at $26.5 million, he is the second highest paid QB and it would be nearly impossible to have another team be willing to take on that salary.  And despite his talent, the Lions would never get significant value for him..so the dream of getting multiple high draft picks for him is just that, a dream.

Lions might be wise to draft a quarterback this year with the expectation to back Stafford up for the next two years and then when the decision is made to go younger, they have a solid QB waiting in the wings.

Draft Tek has Justin Herbert out of Oregon (do we dare think of another Joey Harrington?) as the #1 ranked QB in the draft class but I don’t think the Lions will take him with their first pick, not when the D-Line needs so much help.

More likely, they will have a shot at Brett Rypien out of Boise State or even Garner Minshew from Washington State.  They will need some seasoning before they can lead an NFL team.

If Bob Quinn makes a trade with the team that has the first pick (most likely the Cardinals) to take Herbert, that means they would lose their #5 pick and any shot at getting Joey Bosa.  Cards need a QB as well and might want more than the Lions would be willing to give to give up Herbert.

And with that, I look forward to the Detroit Lions 2019 season with hope…again.