The Lions Have The Talent. They Need A Coach. [BLOG]
By: Eric Thomas
It’s the go-to phrase since Tony Dungy said it in the beginning of the season. “Same old Lions!” We latched onto it, and continue to spit it out as the season has pitched and swerved from amazing highs to stomach churning lows. Leave it alone, because it’s missing the point of what’s happening on the field.
The phrase took a few weeks off. The team rallied for a heart-stopping win against the Cowboys and beat the Bears at Soldier Field. Many of us who’ve watched the Lions saw the dawn of a new era, where night is day and dogs are friends with cats. Then they lost to the Steelers and Bucs, two contests where they were winning much of the day, won on Thanksgiving against the Packers, and it all fell apart again the driving snow against the Eagles.
Most in the media have zeroed in on a single goal for Schwartz and his fellow head coaches, “Win the division and the head coach can stay.” Before we all nod that through, can we ask a simple question: Why?
Dismissing the 2013 Lions as “Same Old” absolves the current coaching staff of responsibility. That cliché seems to suggest it’s not Schwartz’s fault. They would be able to win, were it not for this darn curse! That’s garbage.
Even in the Lions losses, you can see it. This team is really talented. The defensive line is on loan from the Monstars, Calvin Johnson is the best in the game, the linebackers are adequate and Matt Stafford has an elite NFL arm. Put it together and what do you get? They’re clawing to win one of the NFL’s weakest divisions. That’s pretty pathetic when the Lions haven’t had any major injuries that lasted more than a game.
We’re pinning the Lions future on a single year of Jim Schwartz’s tenure as coach. If we zoom out, the pattern emerges. Their fate on the field is largely guided by the talent on the field. You can say that about a lot of teams, but with the Lions it’s more egregious. There aren’t any scheme-related tricks. It’s just the will of one team against the other.
There isn’t a lot of creativity. The defense relies on the front four’s ability to oil around the blocks. Matt Stafford almost shrugs before he throws a bomb to Calvin Johnson, knowing full well that everything else in front of him has broken down—again. The latter can be blamed on the lack of a second receiver, but what happened to the designed middle screens to Reggie Bush from early in the season? Are they saving them for something?
Schwartz seems content to coach the Lions through a work of blunt trauma, allowing the talent to thrive without needling. That approach, if that’s what it is, has been a bust. You get what you’ve had the past year. Up and down. Dominant and feckless. Jimmy Johnson threw his hands in the air, mid-analysis, and sputtered that Detroit has the talent to be a Super Bowl winner. He’s right. This is what we get with said talent?
Let’s hover on the Jimmy Johnson quote for a moment. Other coaches, good coaches, salivate over a roster like this. This wasn’t a particularly good job when Jim Schwartz got to the Lions. It never is when the Lions change coaches. The last several times, the Lions were a complete re-build job—a smoking heap of draft busts and failed schemes. That’s not the case with these Lions.
Schwartz has done an admirable job bringing the Lions back to life. He’ll be a head coach in the NFL again. In Lions’ coaching lore that alone is worthy of the kind of party usually reserved for Italian Prime Ministers. He’s raised the team from historical futility to a place where they should reach the playoffs every year. That alone is a victory. While that is an accomplishment, they continue to be felled by the same pitfalls week after week. Nate Burleson said this week, “The only team that can stop us from doing what we want to do is the Detroit Lions.”
That’s been the case for the past two years, and that’s kind of the point. Schwartz has been ill-equipped to stop it. To say “Same Old Lions” ignores the fact the team has been the most talented on the field but unable to adjust to adversity—losing winnable games against beatable opponents. The team needs a seasoned coaching veteran with some tricks up his sleeve. The Lions are this years’ version of the 49ers and Chiefs of the past few years: a talented team missing a steady hand to guide them. They don’t need a head coaching first-timer or the college coaching flavor of the week. They need someone who’s been there before.
What do you think? Should the Lions part ways with Jim Schwarz regardless of how the season finishes?