The Detroit Lions have some trouble winning games. That is not up for debate. What is up for debate is the root cause of the losing plague.
Rather than rehashing the entire Millen-era, I would rather focus on the present. Millen was horrible, mistakes were made, he was retained for far too long. There, done with the past. Our very own Scott Bischoff used his first SideLion Report post to point to some incremental progress the Lions have made and concluded that this team still suffers from a lack of talent.
Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg has come to the same conclusion. He had been an advocate of the general “culture of losing” theory but has recently come to accept that the Lions just don’t have good enough players. He had this to say in today’s column:
It’s easy for the passion to turn into anger, a feeling that there must be something fundamentally wrong with these guys for them to play that bad. The feeling is not exclusive to fans. Pretty much every Lions coach comes in determined to “change the culture.”
I used to think this was the Lions’ biggest problem, especially in the years when Shaun Rogers would eat a pregame meal before his pregame meal. But the culture is not close to the Lions’ biggest problem. They just haven’t had enough talent.
The problem we have as fans in accepting this theory is that we aren’t professional football talent evaluators. In some cases it is easy to tell that a particular player just doesn’t belong on an NFL field but most of the time the differences are too subtle for us to detect from our living room couches.
It doesn’t take a breakdown of game film for us to make some reasonable observations about the talent level on the Detroit Lions. Just looking at how some of the players came to be Lions offers quite a bit of information regarding how other NFL teams view a number of current Lions.
Chris Houston and Alphonso Smith represent upgrades over the cornerbacks that have played in recent season for the Lions. Just because they are better doesn’t mean they are great. Atlanta was willing to part with Houston for just a sixth round pick in the 2010 draft and a conditional seventh round pick in the 2011 draft. The Broncos traded Smith to the Lions for Dan Gronkowski, a player the Lions would have otherwise set free at final roster cuts. That says a lot about the way those teams viewed their former players.
On the offensive side of the ball, the guard position has been one the Lions have struggled to solidify for a number of years. Stephen Peterman was signed to the Lions practice squad after simply being cut by the Dallas Cowboys. Not a vote of confidence for a players once drafted in the third round. On the other side of Dominic Raiola squats Rob Sims. The Seattle Seahawks were willing to dump him for a fifth round pick despite starting in 14 games the previous season and sitting on the right side of 30 years of age. One explanation for the low price tag is that he no longer fit the Seahawks’ offensive philosophy. Ok, fine, but the final deal of just a fifth round choice doesn’t make it sound like any other teams were willing to engage in a bidding war for his services.
I’m not saying that Houston, Smith, Peterman and Sims can’t be productive players. They can. The acquisitions are proving to be good values but we should be careful to not overestimate what these players are. Putting these players into proper perspective highlights the fact that the Lions still lack a lot of talent up and down their 53-man roster. The league’s best teams have quality depth throughout their roster. The Lions are not there yet but they can get there if this regime keeps earning their reputation for making shrewd moves and strong drafts.