Matt Stafford’s rookie season was derailed by a shoulder injury.
Your challenge today is to keep track of the number of times the words bad, worse, worst, inept, embarrassing and awful are used in this preview of the Detroit Lions. It will seem like the author is piling on, especially if you’re a fan of the Lions. But you can’t appreciate how truly bad this team and what an uphill climb they face without knowing what got them here in the first place.
This is the story of an NFL team that, because of one man’s unmitigated arrogance and his woeful lack of qualifications for the job, literally buried a franchise for years to come.
First though it’s the obligatory look ahead to the 2010 season.
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From an NFL betting standpoint there’s one positive that comes from following a team like the Lions. If a team is straight up bad (2-14), then usually they’re a pretty good fade against the spread. That was definitely the case in 2009 when Detroit was 4-10-2 ATS. The Lions were the closest thing to a sure thing on the road where they went 0-8 SU and 1-5-2 against the number. In fact, since 2001 the Lions are a staggering 8-50 away from Ford Field.
Detroit’s offense was bad, the defense worse. The Lions ranked 27th in scoring per game (16.4) and were 26th in TYPG (299). They were 24th in rushing and 21st in passing. They had a -18 turnover ratio and nine rushing and 16 passing touchdowns on the year.
The defense rests
The Lions were dead last in every defensive category except one. They allowed an average of 399.2 yards per game including 265 through the air. They gave up 30.9 points per game more than a touchdown worse than any other team in the league.
It’s no wonder that the Lions are listed as 90/1 long shots to win the NFL title and 50/1 to capture the NFC crown. If you’re a glutton for punishment, you could always put down a few bucks on the Lions to win the NFC North (+1500).
Youth is served
Detroit is pinning its 2010 hopes on the continued development of Matthew Stafford and the arrival of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Stafford was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft and immediately installed as the starter by head coach Jim Schwartz. He started 10 games, passing for 2,267 yards and 13 touchdowns, and enjoyed his finest day as a pro in Week 11 when he threw a touchdown pass on the final play of the game to beat Cleveland, 38-37.
Stafford finished that game with 422 yards, a rookie record, and five touchdown passes but suffered a separated shoulder on the next to last play of the game that ended his rookie campaign.
Can somebody lend a hand?
Stafford’s receivers need to step up, especially former first-rounder Calvin Johnson who had a team-high 67 catches for 984 yards and five touchdowns.
The Lions running game has to be more productive if for no other reason than to give Stafford a break. Detroit had the sixth-most pass attempts in the NFL last season, a sure-fire way to burn out your QB.
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They selected Cal’s Jahvid Best in the first round with the hopes that he’ll become the team's featured back. If Best isn’t ready for Week 1, then Kevin Jones, who rushed for 747 yards and four TD’s, will be the starter.
The big news on defense is the arrival of Suh who was the second player taken in the 2010 draft. He was a man among boys during his senior year at Nebraska recording 12 sacks, three blocked kicks and one interception.
His MVP performance in the Big 12 Championship Game against Texas was nothing short of amazing. Suh had 12 tackles, including seven for losses, and 4½ sacks in the 13-12 loss.
Suh will join a pair of pretty good linebackers in DeAndre Levy and Julian Peterson, plus rookie cornerback Amari Spievey from Iowa who has drawn comparisons to Jets shut-down corner Darrelle Revis.
What's done is done
It will take years for the Lions to undo the damage done by Matt Millen, who might possibly be the worst management hire in NFL history. He was team president from 2000 through 2008, and during his tenure the Lions posted the worst eight-year record in the history of the modern NFL at 31-97.
Millen's list of bad coaching hires is legendary like Marty Mornhinweg who, upon his arrival in 2001, said the “bar is high.” His team proceeded to go 2-14. The following year he said the “bar is higher” and the Lions responded with a 3-13 record.
Even Millen himself admitted that the team's record under his leadership was "beyond awful," while NFL executives have publicly stated that Millen "has made more bad draft decisions than anyone else in two centuries."
His legacy of first-round draft flops includes but is not limited to the likes of Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Mike Williams. The jury is still out on Calvin Johnson and Ernie Sims, but you get the idea.
With Millen out of the way the Lions have actually had two good drafts (2009 and 2010) offering a glimmer of hope to long suffering Lions fans. The numbers don’t lie. Detroit has only one way to go and that’s up.