The fact that the Detroit Lions are 1-3 at this point in the season defies all predictions heading into the season. I would think most observers and prognosticators had the Lions winless at this stage of the 2009 campaign. Detroit has already achieved 100% more than it did last year by claiming victory in at least one contest, but this is a deficient squad still many, many pieces away from contending with NFL heavyweights.
Some opinions at the 1/4 yardstick:
MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
The Offensive Line
The Detroit offensive line has been getting adequate push off the ball for the most part, but still have succumbed to several costly penalties and faulty communication. Despite its usual shortcomings, the Lion O-line is showing signs of jelling. The interior cohesiveness of center Dominic Raiola and guards Stephen Peterman and Manny Ramirez might be the biggest strength of the line. Second-year right tackle Gosder Cherilus is progressing, but its unfortunate that veteran left tackler Jeff Backus is looking like the weak link. With the way head coach Jim Schwartz has been ruthless in switching starters for lack of performance (see DB Phillip Buchanon), expect to see either Jon Jansen or Ephraim Salaam getting some time at left tackle, sooner than later.
Rookies Louis Delmas, DeAndre Levy and Sammie Lee Hill seem poised to all have respectable careers in Detroit. Delmas (22 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery for TD) was the NFL Defensive rookie of the month in September and has shown he can potentially be the type of playmaking safety in the mold of a Brian Dawkins or Ed Reed. Levy has been a machine at linebacker since filling in for an injured Ernie Sims. Levy (16 tackles) will continue to steal snaps from Sims and probably Julian Peterson if he continues at his high level of production. Hill has been injured recently, but if continues to learn to play the game they NFL way, the small-college star could develop into a devastating defensive tackle with his copious raw talent. Ko Simpson and Cliff Avril add to the mix of young emerging defenders, although Avril has also been bitten by the injury bug and Simpson has just recently seen significant action after being acquired form Buffalo prior to the beginning of the season.
MOVING ASS BACKWARDS
The Stank Wan’s Special Teams
Yes, the Stank Wan is an abomination of a special teams coach. Yes, he should not be with the organization. At least Schwartz is wielding some authority in the direction of special teams and making some changes after the atrocity on kicks, returns, kick coverage (basically all facets of the special teams game) in the loss to Chicago last week. Aaron Brown, you muffed a few kicks. No longer a returner. Derrick Williams, Penn State rookie, the job is yours for Week 5. Darnell Bing, linebacker from USC, you just aren’t what we’re looking for. BYE. Practice squad crazy man Zach Follet, welcome to special teams duty. The Lions are looking for a sparkplug on the unit and Follet may be the man to provide some dynamite.
Same ‘ole Miscues, Penalties, Errors, etc.
The Lions have not improved in the area of mental toughness. There are still too many excruciating penalties, blown coverages, bad reads and unfortunately, a lingering string of bad luck. Eventually, Schwartz is going to weed out the mentally weak and replace them with someone who can perform at a high level. Both Schwartz and GM Martin Mayhew have no patience when it comes to inexcusable errors and they aren’t afraid to make changes swiftly. The Lions will keep slowly improving, but until they can effectively cut away from all of the toxic, peripheral junk surrounding their actual real-time game play, its going to be a long and slow process.