Detroit Lions' fans are getting the sick feeling that they have seen this before. After winning seven games in 2007, the Lions didn't win any in 2008. Last year the Lions won 11 games and made the playoffs, narrowly losing at the Cowboys in the wild card game. Now they look nothing like that team, are the only winless team through five games, and have the look of a team that could do a whole lot more losing going forward. I can't sugarcoat it - things are bleak for this team. They are in a very bad place, and it's hard to imagine dramatic improvement in a hurry.
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So, what does the future hold for these toothless cats? Here are six thoughts:
Offensive line is horrifying: Most talk of the Lions and their woes focuses on Matthew Stafford and his poor play. While that is definitely a factor, it all can't be blamed on his lack of development and poor decision making. The fact is that Stafford plays behind the worst offensive line in the league, and that makes it very tough for him to do anything well. He's under pressure this year in nearly 40 percent of all snaps he takes - well above the league average and by far the worst rate he has faced in his career. He is often running for his life, and even when he's not he has to be looking for the inevitable line failure to come. The line also can't set up the run, so opposing defenses aren't as challenged to face Stafford as they could be.
It's a very tough situation for any QB, and Stafford hasn't proven capable to overcome it. Few could. It's not as simple, then, to just suggest that Stafford is the problem and that he needs to get better for this team to improve. This line needs to get much better, and it is hard to see how that will happen in any hurry.
Orlovsky isn't viable: Even if the line weren't so bad, this team is faced with the same issue that head coach Jim Caldwell experienced when he coached Peyton Manning in Indianapolis - his franchise quarterback has a very underwhelming backup. Caldwell tried to spark the team last time out by benching Stafford for Dan Orlovsky, but not even Orlovsky's mother believes by this time in his career that he is a viable starter for anything but a doomed team. He's just not good and is too far into his career for that to change. That limits the options for Caldwell and makes it even tougher for the team to turn things around.
The attitude is a disaster: You can tell just from watching this team that they aren't in a good place mentally. In at least two of their games they have just flat out quit on themselves and their teammates en masse in the fourth quarter. They aren't communicating or supporting each other, and coaches don't seem enthusiastic and energetic. It looks like a team in trouble. That's not going to help things turn around. Winning teams act like winners - there is no such thing as a fluke in the NFL.
It's only Caldwell's second year: Caldwell is not doing great things with this team right now, but management faces a real issue when it comes to what to do with him. This is just his second year with the team. In the 18 years since the long tenure of Wayne Fontes ended, Caldwell is the eighth head coach. Teams that succeed don't see turnover like that. They make a good decision and enjoy the benefits. This franchise desperately needs stability, but I struggled to believe that Caldwell could provide that stability when he was hired, and it's obviously even harder now that the team has taken a massive step backwards in his second year.
Does the team grin and bear it, hoping for the best? Or do they make yet another change and hope they finally get it right? The questions aren't going to get any quieter as the season goes along at this rate, and the last thing this team needs is more distractions.
Schedule could certainly be worse: The schedule remaining has few really dire spots. They play the Packers, and that obviously is a major challenge. Beyond that, though, the other games would range from manageable to very winnable for even an average team. Things could be worse on this front. They wouldn't have to improve dramatically to get a few wins over this group.
ATS performance to date: The Lions this year have covered just one spread in their first five tries. That's not good but also not surprising given their woes on both sides of the ball. In an ominous similarity, they were also 1-4 ATS in the first five games of the grim 0-16 2008 season. That year the team went a much better 6-5 ATS the rest of the way as the expectations of bettors dimmed and spreads grew.
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