Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Force Awakens Re-Review

As promised, I'm going back over my original post on Star Wars: The Force Awakens since re-watching it a couple of weeks ago. I'm also going to go over some newly developed theories I've developed or seen online. If you're not into spoilers or speculation, you might want to check out at this point, because some of these seem pretty solid.

First, to whet your appetite, here are some theories I've developed based on Episode 7's use of some of
Ralph McQuarrie's original Star Wars unused concept art. I think in some cases McQuarrie's stuff was used to bring back the feel of the Original Trilogy, but also to draw connections from the OT to the New Trilogy. 

  • Jabba's Palace Gate. This concept was repurposed to be the entrance to the junker village on Jakku. Since Jakku and Tatooine are similar planets, it doesn't look out of place, but my further speculation is that the Hutts have an interest in the junking operation on Jakku.
  • Rey's Goggles & Speeder Bike. They were the original design for what Luke Starkiller's gear in Lucas's original screenplay (Starkiller became Skywalker). Again, it makes sense to use because the topography & climate of Jakku and Tatooine are basically identical, but it's a further connection between Luke and Rey, adding fuel to the theory that she's Luke's daughter.
Ok, now to the meat & potatoes. A second viewing all but confirmed Rey as Luke's daughter for me. The primary scene to break down is when Rey is called by, then receives a vision from, Anakin's/Luke's lightsaber. She first hears a baby crying, which is what draws her to the lightsaber originally. The baby is probably Rey on the day of her birth. Then she reaches for the lightsaber and has a vision. The first scene is the setting of Bespin, where Luke and Vader first fought, and where Luke was separated from this very lightsaber (Luke & Vader's fight prefigures Rey's first fight with Kylo Ren, btw). The next scene is the Knights of Ren attacking the new Jedi temple and wiping out all (or seemingly all) of Luke's apprentices. Finally, you see a much younger Rey, maybe 10-12 years younger, left on Jakku in the hands of Unkar Plutt, an unsavory character with connections to the First Order. Finally you see a scene from the future of Kylo Ren hunting for Rey & Finn in the forest on Starkiller Base.All of these things are important - the baby crying, Luke's first fight with Vader, the attack on the new Jedi temple, Rey's abandonment, and Rey's first fight with Kylo Ren. This seems to indicate a connection between Luke and Rey, going back to the day of her birth. There are other hints in the movie to this connection, but the vision from the lightsaber is the strongest.

Now, about getting left on Jakku, and especially getting left with a guy like Plutt... Here's a theory I saw on YouTube that might resolve that, and adds some intrigue for Episode 8 - Kylo Ren was the one who took Rey to Jakku:






The idea that Rey might be Luke's daughter raises further questions, but this theory solves most or all of them. First, I should mention that the theory is in large part based off of a fallacy - that the vision actually shows Rey at the Jedi temple when the Knights of Ren showed up. You don't actually see that. What you see is present-day Rey standing in the middle of the vision and reacting to things. That said, there is still too much there to ignore.

If Rey WAS trained at the new Jedi temple, it would explain how she quickly went from no knowledge of her own force powers to doing harder stuff like using the Jedi mind trick on the stormtrooper, snatching the lightsaber from Kylo in mid-air, and soundly beating a trained Master of the Knights of Ren in a lightsaber battle. If she WAS Ben Solo's cousin, it would explain his wavering in their fight & reluctance to use deadly force - again, their lightsaber battle was prefigured by Luke & Vader's fight on Bespin, including Vader's call for Luke to join him. I can't stress enough how connected Rey & Kylo's battle is with Luke & Vader's. After the vision scene, it's probably the most important scene pointing the way for the rest of the trilogy. Anyway.

If Rey WAS in fact saved by Kylo Ren and left on Jakku, unbeknownst to Luke & the Resistance, as well as Supreme Leader Snoke & the Knights of Ren, it would explain why she was left with Unkar Plutt (a First Order sympathizer). It would also explain Ren's reaction when he learns how BB-8 escaped from Jakku. You know the scene. He's throwing a tantrum, and each new revelation throws him off even more. BB-8 escapes. Finn's "traitorous" involvement. But when the messenger mentions a scavenger girl's role in the escape, Kylo Ren looks like he's about to literally "kill the messenger" and starts to interrogate him about the girl. Ren is pissed, but he's also extremely frightened, because he crossed Snoke by not killing Rey all those years ago and is in danger of being found out. Finally, Kylo Ren's involvement explains why her memory is so fuzzy about where she comes from. She looks at least 6 when she's left on Jakku. That's old enough to have some memories of where you come from and who your parents are. She doesn't seem to know, she just knows she's supposed to wait until they come for her. That suggests her memory was tampered with, which suggests Kylo Ren, who happens to be gifted in that area.

The fact that this theory is based on something you don't actually see doesn't bother me so much. When Rey sees Kylo Ren hunting her in the forest, her viewpoint is aligned with where her future-self will be, so it follows that the same is true of the part of the vision that occurs in her past. Plus, all the other pieces fit so well, so it doesn't bother me that the poster of the video slightly misinterpreted the scene. The explanation fits.

None of this answers the question of Rey's mother, and I don't have much to give you in that regard.
Urban Acolyte TV has a theory about that which explains Rey's accent, as well as some of her qualities that are a bit different from Luke, like her exceptional mechanical ability. I mean, Luke is no slouch in the garage and Anakin could fix just about anything, but this girl had the Falcon running better than Han ever did, and that's after it was basically sitting on blocks in a junkyard for years. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is slated to come out this December, so that might shed more light on this.

I've got nothing more to add regarding Finn's parentage, but I've got a bit more on his ability to break stormtrooper conditioning and possible force sensitivity. Finn could just be a regular guy, and I'd be fine with that, but I like the idea of him joining Rey & Luke against the Knights of Ren.

First, I noticed right off the bat that Kylo Ren looked right at FN-2187 as his conditioning was breaking down. That implies that either the conditioning was created by the force, that breaking the conditioning require some (probably subconscious) use of the force, or a combination of those 2 things. FN-2187/Finn doesn't overtly use the force in the movie like Rey does, and there aren't any overt implications that he's connected to the force, as Leia is when she senses Han's death. But there are more than a couple hints in the movie, EU/Star Wars Legends books, and elsewhere that point to this possibility (again, most of the credit goes to Urban Acolyte for doing the research on this, and I've attached the video at the time he mentions each supporting point):

  • Finn's stormtrooper abilities are exceptionally high. This is something you learn from novelization prequels to Force Awakens, so it's canon but not in the movie. He might just be a really good fighter and shot, but it could also be him subconsciously using the force to shoot better (Like Luke hitting that exhaust port to knock out Deathstar I)
  • Connection to characters in EU/Legends. Finn seems to be a sort of combination of 2 characters from the EU books that both became Jedi. Also, the name FN-2187 has a connection to the movie that inspired George Lucas to come up with the idea of "the force". That's going deeper into Star Wars lore than my knowledge went, but there are a lot of connections in the new movie to Star Wars' past, and while the new trilogy is rewriting the EU and designating it non-canon, it still is mining the EU for ideas and easter eggs for fanboys to jump on
  • Does Finn sense the destruction of the Hosnian System before it happens? This isn't something I noticed during either viewing of Force Awakens, but apparently a number of others DID. I'll have to wait for the blu ray to come out. This would be mostly like Obi Wan sensing the destruction of Alderaan, but it's also similar to Leia sensing Luke calling out to her through the force at the end of Empire Strikes Back
  • John Boyega appears to be going through lightsaber training. Boyega posted an Instagram of himself wearing some kendo/fencing gear. Kendo is the real-world model for the forms of lightsaber dueling. It's fair to say that we'll see Finn in a lightsaber duel down the road, and probably doing better a lot better than he did in Episode 7. I don't see much point in doing lightsaber training if he's not going to be a force wielder. It would basically be bringing a knife to a gun fight. So if Boyega is in fact working on his lightsaber skills, he's going to be a Jedi in training
Ok, the third and final BIG question I'm going to address is WHO IS SNOKE? This question has some of the wildest and most varied theories, some of which are ridiculous, and some which have a little merit, but not many that actually seem to bite. Probably the craziest theory is that Leia is Snoke, which is flat-out stupid. First of all, it would be an enormous betrayal of the character. Secondly, it doesn't explain her reactions to seeing Han, sensing the destruction of the Hosnian system, and sensing Han's death. This behavior doesn't match up with the front Palpatine put up. Thirdly, it doesn't explain her actions in trying to locate Luke. If she were really Snoke, why wouldn't she just tip off Kylo Ren to the whereabouts of the map instead of sending her best pilot to retrieve it? And once she found Luke's location, why wouldn't she just go herself, along with Kylo and the other Knights of Ren, to finish the job? Finally, why would Leia duck the opportunity to gain political power if her ultimate goal is to be another emperor? She was a princess and a senator, but she threw that all aside to general the resistance. It seems like she'd be in a better position to pull strings if she were a powerful figure in the Senate.

Another theory about Snoke is that
he's an older version of Ben Solo who traveled back in time to train his younger self. The support for this is that Kylo Ren has a wound on his face after fighting Rey that matches an ugly scar on Snoke, that Rian Johnson is the director of Episode 8, whose previous films include Looper, a time travel flick, and finally, a quote from Rian Johnson that we'd see something in Episode 8 that we've never seen in a Star Wars movie before, and time travel certainly hasn't been shown to be possible in the Star Wars universe yet. I absolutely HATE this theory, although not quite as much as the Leia theory. A major, major problem with it is that Ben Solo creating himself as Kylo Ren is a perfect example of the bootstrap paradox. It's a causality loop. How can Ben Solo teach himself new things? If he's teaching himself, his education has no origin, and neither does the alteration of his path from Jedi to Knight of Ren. I believe the new thing that Rian Johnson mentions is dark side training. As far as the matching scars go, they don't actually match. Snoke's scar starts at the crown of his head, fades out when it passes the bridge of his nose, and is pretty deep for a head wound. Kylo Ren's scar isn't very deep, and it appears to start considerably lower on his forehead, running mainly down his cheek. I'm feeling pretty good about this one being bogus.

Other theories about Snoke are he's either Vader (definitely dead, we see his force ghost in Return of the Jedi), Grand Moff Tarkin (probably dead, definitely not a force user), "Darth Jar Jar" (seriously), or Darth Bane (almost assuredly dead, reportedly killed by Jedi and would be over 1,000 years old if he wasn't). Of these, the Darth Bane theory has the fewest holes, but I don't really buy any of them.



The theory that has the most juice is that Snoke is Darth Plagueis, the teacher of Palpatine/Sidious who was killed by supposedly killed by Sidious and then mentioned by Palpatine to Anakin as a way to entice him to seek power he can't learn from the Jedi. It's an interesting theory, so let me go over the main points supporting it from the video:
  • Musical cues. The theme music for Snoke is almost exactly the same music that was playing during the scene in Revenge of the Sith when Palpatine mentions Plagueis. The source of the music in the scene is a Mon Calamari ballet called "Squid Lake" (the title Squid lake is one of the more ridiculous things in the prequels, which is saying something). It could be a cue connecting Plagueis and Snoke, or it could be John Williams using similar music (Tibetan monk chanting, in this case) to portray a powerful dark side user. When the Emperor appears in the original trilogy, similar super-low vocal humming/chanting can be heard in the scenes with the Emperor
  • Kylo Ren calls Supreme Leader Snoke "wise", as in Darth Plagueis the Wise. This is a bit looser than the musical cue, but it's something
  • What about Plagueis' status as a Muun? The EU books cover Plagueis' backstory as a Muun of one of the powerful banking clan families (among other things, Muuns don't have noses, Snoke does.. kind of). Since the new trilogy made the EU books non-canon, that threw everything in flux. The only things we know for certain about Plagueis are that he was a male Sith Lord, he could create life from the force somehow, and that he was killed in his sleep by his apprentice, Darth Sidious. Everything else is up in the air. Maybe he used his unique power to bring himself back to life
  • Snoke mentions in the novelization of the Force Awakens that he witnessed the rise & fall of the Galactic Empire. This doesn't necessarily prove that he's Plagueis, but he certainly can't be Leia or Future Ben Solo if that's true. Snoke would have to be at least 100 years old to have witnessed that, and probably older.
  • Another Snoke quote from the novelization, speaking to Kylo Ren: "I never had an apprentice with such promise - before you." That implies that Snoke had at least 1 apprentice prior to Kylo Ren. Now there are other Knights of Ren to whom that might apply, but Kylo is their master and probably Snoke's longest-tenured apprentice of that group. I find it hard to believe that Plagueis would actually consider Ben Solo better material than Sheev Palpatine, but this might just be flattery on Snoke's part, trying to build Kylo Ren up.
Now, Andy Serkis has come out and said that Supreme Leader Snoke is a new character, which could be true or could be misdirection. Not every character has to be tied to someone in the OT, Prequels, or EU/Legends. Personally, I'm inclined to believe Serkis. Snoke is most likely someone we've never seen before who was sitting back and running his super secret dark side cult from the shadows while the Sith schemed against the Jedi. The Knights of Ren were likely even at odds with the Sith, possibly a result of a dark side schism dating back to before Darth Bane's Rule of Two. A serious downside (for the Sith, anyway) of the Rule of Two is that a lot of knowledge is lost when the apprentice kills his master, especially before the master is able to pass on all his knowledge. It's probable that knowledge of the Knights of Ren was lost in one of these transitions of power.

I expect Episode 8 to delve more into the Knights of Ren, especially if it's as dark as it's purported to be. Kylo Ren has training to undergo, a new helmet to forge, and a new lightsaber to construct. I originally thought they wouldn't show much or any dark side training because a) that wasn't something we'd seen in Star Wars before, and b) the more secretive something is, the scarier it is. In other words, showing Knights of Ren in training makes them less scary. Well, the director's comment about "something we've never seen before" changed my mind about that. Plus, Snoke mentions further training for Kylo, and usually stuff like that is a teaser for the next move.

An interesting theory about Episode 8 is that the new baddie, played by Benicio Del Toro, is a grown up Ezra from the Star Wars Rebels TV show, now turned dark. Since the new trilogy IS tying in with newer novels, TV shows, and possibly video games, I find this VERY likely. Right now Del Toro's character's name is unknown, and they don't keep these things secret for no reason. Also of note, Episode 8's release has been postponed from May 26th of 2017 to December 15th of 2017. The next Star Wars title to come out will be Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which is currently scheduled for release on December 16th of this year. Rogue One is the first of the Star Wars Anthology movies to be release, that it, non-episodic. It tells the story of how the plans to Deathstar I were stolen (not the "many Bothans died" that Mon Motha talked about in Jedi), and possibly gives backstory, if you believe that theory, to Rey's mother.

That's it for geek-talk for a while. There's possible Lions news, Pistons, NBA All Star stuff, etc. that I'll want to get to in the coming weeks. If I have time, that is, since baby #2 is imminently approaching (not as ominously as that sounds, though).

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

I saw Ben Wallace's jersey go up

I haven't been to a Pistons game in about 3 or 4 years, when my wife & I saw the Pistons get housed by the Heat with my dad. Prior to that, my wife & I had gotten free tickets to a game against Charlotte during a snow storm, and man was that one a rough watch. The last game I'd gone to before that was game 3 of the 2009 playoffs against LeBron's Cavs, which was the single most pathetic effort by a Pistons team I'd ever seen. So I'd been gun shy of going to a game. I hadn't gone to a game that the Pistons won, or even looked competent, in 8 years. Man, did I pick a good one to go to this time.

First, it's a lot harder to get into the Palace than it used to be. This was compounded by the fact that they were retiring Ben Wallace's number. I was going with my dad, and our plan was to arrive around 30 min early. This would've been possible if there were no other cars on the road going to the same thing. Unfortunately for us, there were several thousand cars on the road all on their way to the Palace. It took us about 30 min to go 1 of the 2 miles we needed to get to our exit, after which we would've needed to get through 2 lights on Lapeer Rd and then navigate the parking lot. In that scenario we might've made the 2nd quarter, but it's tough to say. It was REALLY backed up. At that point we decided in a change of strategy, got over 2 lanes and drove down to the next Palace exit on Jocelyn, 2 miles past the first Palace exit. It took us about 5 minutes to drive the last 3 miles and park. We managed to take our seats right after the National Anthem, which was a HUGE relief.

The atmosphere was "rocking", as George Blaha likes to say. Most of the 2004 championship team was sitting courtside, and it was fun picking guys out. I noticed during the intros that Drummond came out and gave 'Sheed a handshake ('Sheed was formerly an assistant coach for the Pistons), although I couldn't tell if he shook anyone else's hand. They showed the different former Pistons on the jumbotron during commercial breaks. Ben Wallace got a HUGE standing O, which brought some tears to his eyes. The other starters got lesser ovations as well, with 'Sheed and Chauncey tying for next biggest.




As you can see, the Pistons handled their business in this one. KCP and Aron Baynes were the stars of the 1st half, and then it got a bit chippy in the 2nd half. Andre Drummond should've had a 20-20 game, but he missed a bunch of tip-in attempts. Reggie Jackson had a bad day from the field as well, AND missed 3 of his 4 FT attempts, but still ended up with a 20 & 8 line, no turnovers, and decent defense on the other end. Stanley Johnson was bad in the first half but great in the 2nd, and Steve Blake had a decent showing as the backup-backup PG.

On the other end, Curry struggled against Detroit's D in the first half, but had better luck in the 2nd half getting free on some illegal screens and dropping some shots that weren't falling earlier. Draymond Green had a totally bad game in general. He got some assists, but he couldn't get his shot to fall and nearly got himself kicked out of the game at one point. I think the officials probably favored the Warriors a little bit, but less than they were used to, and that got them flustered. I was surprised how effective the D was against their ball movement.



The halftime show of course was Ben Wallace's jersey retirement (full video here). During the first half, they had video clips of various players and coaches congratulating Ben on the jumbotron during commercial breaks. Kobe, Jason Kidd, Pat Riley, Stan Van Gundy, and a couple of others. They also showed the members of the 2004 team that were present. That led to a pretty cool crowd response during timeouts and the like. Other former players like Buddha, Mahorn, and Vinnie Johnson (who has even less neck than he used to) were there.

George Blaha gave a great into, and then handed the mic off to Tom Gores, who proceeded to talk FOREVER without saying much. My favorite line from Gores' speech was, "you don't deserve this, you've EARNED this." Uh, what? I like how he said that what Ben Wallace was about is what the Pistons are trying to build now, but most of what he said sounded like he made it up on the spot and didn't have a lot to draw from. Larry Brown gave a good speech AND drew attention to the fact that Dumars wasn't there, a glaring omission. 'Sheed gave a great speech as well, and then Ben spoke.

It made very little sense to have Gores talk, although it's his team so he calls the shots (big difference between him and Bill Davidson as owners). I think it would've been a more fitting tribute if they had canvassed the fans prior to the game with a video camera, asked them what Ben Wallace meant to them, and then mashed together their responses on the jumbotron. Here's what I would've said, if they had asked me that question:

Ben Wallace was the soul of that 2004 championship team and the centerpiece of the 'No Fly Zone', an historically great defense. But to Detroiters, he meant so much more. The level of effort and energy he expended on the basketball court, all the adversity he had to overcome, and his competiveness and determination went beyond the game and inspired us all. His style of play uniquely matched his fan base, where we could appreciate what he did on the court better than any other fan base in the NBA. Ben Wallace transcended the game.


My dad and I saw our fair share of Pistons games when Ben was on the team. We went to a game in the 2004 regular season and saw him block a hook shot from Shaq. We saw watched him on TV put vintage Kevin Garnett in a phone booth and close the door (KG gave him daps for that too. Respect.). We saw him basically block Shaq into his grave in game 5 of the ECF (jeez, that block still amazes me. It's Shaq, he's going up with 2 hands, Ben is coming down with one, it's Shaq, Ben Wallace is like 6 inches shorter and 100 lbs lighter, it's Shaq...). In fact, let me close with the Fear the Fro clip:






***ESPN came out with mid-season grades for all 30 NBA teams. If you don't have an ESPN Insider account, here are the Cliff's Notes:

Overall grade: B+
The Pistons are on pace to make the playoffs and beat ESPN's forecast by 10 wins. SVG's offseason moves have paid off, the starters are playing well as a unit, and the defense looks a lot more like what we've come to expect from a team helmed by Van Gundy. They have enough youth and good building blocks that this group should be able to grow together. They're not ready to be considered "contenders", but they'll be in the fight for a spot in the playoffs.

***

I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the Tigers' big move. On Monday night they signed Justin Upton to a 6 year, $133M deal. Upton has an opt-out clause after the first 2 years of the deal and a partial no-trade clause, so while the price isn't exorbitant in the current market, Upton has a lot of control. Also,  that salary should push the Tigers over the luxury tax threshold once everyone else is signed. That only impacts the owner, and he's stated that he's willing to pay, so no biggie as long as Mike Illitch is alive.

Upton is a pretty solid batter. He's only slightly above average defensively, but he does fill a need in LF. One thing that many have brought up is his right-handedness, which makes the Tigers pretty righty-heavy. Also, he's not better that what they got last year from Cespedes, who would've been more expensive and supposedly didn't want to come back because Ausmus didn't get fired. So that's a lot of money to give a guy that most would describe as "better than average, but not by a whole lot."

Friday, January 15, 2016

A Break from Sports: The Force Awakens

I'm going to do a short break from posting about sports to get into some Star Wars stuff I've been thinking about. I'm going to the Pistons-Warriors game/Ben Wallace jersey retirement ceremony tomorrow, so I'll have plenty to write about. Until then, here are some semi-organized thoughts about Star Wars...

The Force Awakens
I need to get back and re-watch Episode 7, but my first impression was VERY positive. Most movie review websites rank it behind New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, but ahead of Return of the Jedi. That was pretty much my opinion as well. I guess I should say something like, "Here there be Spoilers," but if you haven't watched Force Awakens yet, a) come on, man, and b) you probably don't care enough to be upset by a spoiler.

I was too young when the original trilogy (from here on to be referred to as OT) was released to remember how I felt about the viewing experience as a whole, although one of my earliest memories is my dad carrying me into the theater at the beginning of Jedi (pretty sure I slept through the rest of the movie). The prequels were too limp to generate any emotions higher than extreme excitement followed by extreme disappointment. This movie shook me up. I had the extreme excitement going into the theater, but after that it was a rollercoaster.







My wife came out of the theater feeling "ick" (in her words), but I was more up and down. The decision to kill off Han Solo was pretty hard to take. Harrison Ford as a grizzly, vulnerable, less sure of himself, elderly Solo was easily the best part of the whole movie. I was hoping to get more of that in Episode 8. And losing him was like losing a family friend. The whole scene had more emotional content than the entire prequel trilogy, and the way he died was especially rough. There have been a few crackpot theories that Solo isn't actually dead, but I don't rate them as very likely at all. I would think less of the writers if they played the fans like that. It was pretty ballsy to kill off the series' best-loved character. It challenges the fans and opens up a multitude of possibilities. A major problem with the prequels was they were basically pre-scripted from the beginning and there were essentially no surprises. Now, anything can happen.

I liked the new characters. I've liked John Boyega since I saw
Attack the Block several years ago, so it's good to see him in such a major role in a movie like this. I thought Daisy Ridley was fascinating as Rey. Maz Kanata and Poe Dameron were cool, and I especially liked Poe's flippant, flyboy style. Adam Driver was brilliant as Kylo Ren, but he lacked the menace of Darth Vader towards the end of the movie, which was spent largely without his mask. Kylo Ren is a mix of Hayden Christiansen's whiny, emotional mess in Episodes 2 & 3 (but better written and acted), and Vader's raging power trip in Empire Strikes Back. Supreme Leader Snoke is appropriately menacing, authoritative, and mysterious, but I could take or leave General Hux. Captain Phasma looks pretty cool but doesn't actually do much.

Mysteries of the movie:

  • Who are Rey's parents? Probably either Luke and somebody, or Han & Leia, but maybe neither. I think Luke is most likely based on Rey's strong connection with his lightsaber, her powerful connection with the force, and the looks she exchanged with Luke at the end of the movie
  • Why did they leave her on Jakku? The obvious answer is to protect her from the First Order, Supreme Leader Snoke, and the Knights of Ren, but that opens up more questions. Why Jakku, which appears to be the Star Wars universe's version of Arrakis? Why was she left to fend for herself instead of being left with a guardian (like Luke with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, and Obi Wan keeping tabs)?
  • Who are Finn's parents? Speculation is he's Lando's son, but that's mainly because Lando is the only black character from the original trilogy. Some speculation has arisen that he's Mace Windu's grandson. I don't buy this, because the Jedi of Windu's day were warrior monks, and Windu was very committed to that. I think what's more likely is that Finn isn't directly related to Mace Windu, but he comes from the Windu clan. More on this in a second. He might also be a clone of somebody, but the question would remain, who is his father?
  • How was Finn able to break conditioning? Finn was the first stormtrooper we know of ever to break his conditioning. What is so unique about him? Maybe there's something unique about his parentage, which goes back to my Windu clan (or Gosh Windu) theory. Without getting too deep, Mace Windu was a  Korun, a people who were all naturally force sensitive but didn't actually touch the force in the way the Jedi did. Finn could be just a regular guy, and I'd be all for that, but a lot of this fits. He's black, as were all the Korunnai. As his conditioning is breaking down, Kylo Ren senses something is wrong, which suggests that the force is somehow involved in his conditioning breaking down. And Korunnai didn't actually "wield" the force, they just used it naturally, and possibly subconsciously, through their own cultural rituals. Finn doesn't appear be force sensitive, but that might be due to the fact that he's a Korun and has a different sort of connection to the force
  • What has Luke been doing this whole time? He's been on Ahch-To, the supposed site of the first Jedi temple. What new things does he know? How is Luke's use of the force going to look different from how it did before? We know he can see the future, the past, things far away, and friends long gone through the force, so... why didn't he get off his butt when things started going to hell.
  • Who the heck is Snoke? Supreme Leader of the First Order, yes. Powerful with the dark side because he was able to turn and train Ben Solo and the other Knights of Ren. But where does his political influence come from? Where does his force knowledge come from? Some fan theories have speculated that Snoke is Darth Plagueis, who somehow fooled Sidious into thinking he killed him or managed to resurrect himself. Others have suggested he might be Darth Bane, probably the most powerful Sith ever, which would put him at nearly 1,100 years old at the time of Force Awakens.
  • Who are the Knights of Ren? There are at least 7 of them that we know of (from Rey's vision), not counting Snoke as the head of that order, which would make 8. That is a serious deviation from the Sith's "Rule of Two", instituted by Darth Bane 1,000 years earlier because the Sith tended to spend more time fighting and plotting against themselves instead of getting anything done. So what makes the Knights of Ren successful at working together where the Sith failed? Disney's wikia states that they are "an ancient cult of dark side force wielders" and Kylo Ren's lightsaber (which is SUPER sweet-looking, by the way) is supposedly based off of an ancient design. So these Knights of Ren are some kind of retro-throwback with a new look (kind of like The Force Awakens in general, right? By the way, this is a major parallel theme in this movie - both the light side and the dark side are taking an ancient thing and bringing it back to life). But how did Snoke know about all this stuff, how did they stay hidden from both the Sith AND the Jedi for so long, and why are they poking their heads up now?
  • How did Maz Kanata/Kylo Ren get her/his hands on Luke's lightsaber/Vader's mask? Another one of the parallels in this movie (and I'm expecting to see a lot more) is both the dark and the light sides have an artifact from the past that influences a main character. Ren has Vader's melted mask, Maz Kanata gives Rey Luke's old lightsaber. The last we saw Vader's mask, Luke had set it on fire in some remote part of the forest moon of Endor. The last we saw Luke's original lightsaber, it was spinning away into the abyss in the center of Cloud City after Vader had chopped off the hand that was holding it. So how did these things get back into circulation? I assume they are imbued with the force in some way, so it'll be interesting to see how that manifests as the movies roll along.
What's next?
  • Presumably some training with Luke & Rey on Ahch-To. If they follow the pattern previous Star Wars films have established, Episode 8 (no actual title yet, which would give us an inkling of plot) will pick up a few years after the events of the previous movie. Everything I've heard suggests that this will be the case with Ep. 8 as well. So, I expect Rey will be about mid-way through her training and either Luke will send her out, or she'll take off like HE did in Empire Strikes Back. But the training should be super-cool
  • Also, maybe some training with Snoke and Kylo Ren, but probably not. Snoke had invited Ren back to wherever he was to complete Ren's training. Since Kylo Ren was wielding a flawed saber, was a conflicted emotional mess, and got his ass handed to him by the entirely untrained Rey, some more training is definitely in order. But I doubt they show us much of this, if any. Baddies are more menacing if they're more mysterious. The unknown usually is. So, I expect we won't actually see any training but we might see some type of special dark side knighting ceremony or something.
  • Some light will be shed on Finn's backstory. Rey left Finn with the Resistance, still unconscious and recovering from his wounds. He's got a lot of inside information about the First Order and Stormtroopers in general, so obviously the Resistance will want to utilize that knowledge. He's also buddy-buddy with Poe Dameron, so I expect they'll partner up on missions, and Poe will help Finn find out more about where he comes from. There is a rumor about a Billy Dee Williams cameo in Ep. 8, which adds some fuel to the theory that he's Finn's dad, but I'd go the other way. A cameo suggests a minor role, and you would think if he were Finn's dad, he'd get a lot more screen time than "cameo". Anyway...
  • Some rebuilding from both sides. The good guys lost their governing body, the bad guys lost their main weapon. My guess is the First Order stays ahead of the Resistance in their rebuild due to stronger central leadership under Snoke. Nothing has changed there for them. Meanwhile, the natural inclination of the good guys would be to push General Leia more towards politics, maybe Queen of the Galaxy or something, and my feeling was she was trying to be done with all of that. Hopefully they only briefly cover the political mumbo-jumbo, because that was a big flaw in the prequels
  • More of a romance angle between Finn & Rey. This was teased in Force Awakens, but you only saw the beginnings of it. These two feel strongly for each other. Romances are more interesting when there's conflict, and I'm not sure how that gets introduced because they seemed to gravitate toward each other instead of clashing, like Han & Leia did. I'm fully expecting Finn & Rey's relationship to follow a similar path though, expect this to develop more fully.
Episode 8 is scheduled to release May 26th, 2017, so we've got a long wait ahead of us, albeit less of one than what Lucas imposed (1 movie every 3 years). The director is Rian Johnson, not JJ Abrams. Johnson directed Brick, a pretty cool noir spoof/homage, and Looper, a time travel movie with Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon Levitt that was ok but not great. In other words, it's not in as sure hands as it was when Abrams helmed Ep. 7, but I'm interested to see what he does with it. Some fans have petitioned to replace Ep. 9 director Colin Trevorrow (of Jurassic World fame) with Lucas, to which I would say, "Did you see the last 3 movies Lucas directed?" He hasn't directed a "good" movie since 1977.


I might have more to say, but that'll probably come after I watch Force Awakens again.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Lions Season Review & Outlook

This was a MASSIVELY disappointing season for the Detroit Lions. After narrowly missing out on their first playoff victory since 1991, expectations were high for the 2015-'16 season. But a combination of injuries, player turnover in free agency, and historically poor drafting left the roster talent-depleted. On top of that, Detroit had one of the toughest 1st-half schedules in the NFL. 5 of the 8 teams they faced would go on to make the playoffs, 2 of which clinched a first-round bye.

Detroit finished the first half of the season as the worst team in football, at 1-7. The offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi, was clearly a bad fit and certainly a poor play-caller, and he failed to improve whatsoever in his 2nd year at the position. Caldweld opted to fire him MUCH too late, just before the mid-way point in the season. They would be pointlessly better in the 2nd half under his replacement, Jim Bob Cooter (I'll never get tired of saying that name), going 6-2 with the easier schedule. The offense DID seem to click more, and the Lions narrowly missed sweeping the season series with the Packers, who memorably won on a 65-yard Hail Mary bomb that Caldwell somehow didn't see coming. Of course there were the Mayhew/Lewand firings which gave the fan base some hope, but that again came too late as the team is already devastated from years of poor drafting.

Now that the season is over, Pro Football Focus has come out with their player grades (I don't have a subscription but you can see the Lions' grades here on YardBarker). PFF assigns a value to each play a player makes, from -2 (really, really bad) to +2 (really, really good). Those values are reviewed by 2 or 3 other guys, and then converted to a 0-100 grading scale. For ranking purposes, anyone at 0-59 overall is ranked as "Replaceable", 60-69 is rated as "Back Up", 70-84 is at "Starter", 85-89 is at "Pro Bowl", and 90-100 is "Elite". Looking at the 17 major contributors on each side of the ball, the Lions finished with 1 PB level on offense and 1 on defense (CJ, Slay), 4 "Starter" level players on offense and 10 on defense, 6 backup level players on offense and 3 on defense, and 6 replaceable players on offense, 3 on defense. The next time someone says "this team has too much talent to lose" about the Lions, please refrain from punching that person in the face. Let's look a little deeper...

OffenseStafford finished as the 22nd-ranked QB in the league, BARELY making a "Starter" rating by PFF. He had a bipolar season though. He was atrocious in the first half of the season, top 5 in the 2nd half. Some of that epically bad 1st half performance should be hung on the OC Joe Lombardi though. The WR group was pretty bad after Calvin and Golden, which seems to be the case every year. The Lions will save a TON of money if Calvin retires, but he would also leave a pretty big hole at the position. The RB group made up for some of Detroit's receiving deficiencies, as all three rated above Starter-level as pass catchers, and Riddick was uber-Elite with a 99.9 Receiving value. They left a bit to be desired as runners however, but the fault of that lies with...

...the offensive line. Outside of Manny Ramirez, who played at near-Pro Bowl level, none of the OL rated above Back Up. The two guards were the most disappointing. The Lions used high-ish draft picks on Warford and Tomlinson in the last 2 drafts, yet neither player managed to be a credible starter. Swanson was the worst lineman on the team, but managed to steal snaps (88%) from the FAR superior Ramirez (45%). The good news is that this is a pretty young group, and you can expect vast improvements from Swanson, Warford and Tomlinson as they mature. Offensive linemen take longer to get up to NFL speed than other position groups. The bad news is that as young as they are, they still played below expectations, and Reiff is out of position on the right side. The Lions could upgrade 2 positions by acquiring a credible LT and moving Reiff to RT. If that happens and Warford bounces back (he was near Pro Bowl-level last year), this line could at least be average.

The Lions' worst position group BY FAR was TE. This is both unsurprising and supremely disappointing. You'd expect better from a position where the Lions spent 2 1st-round picks over the last 7 years, but Ebron was the #43 TE in the NFL and Pettigrew was 70th. With 31 other teams in the league, Ebron wouldn't even be the backup TE on 12 of them. Pettigrew's only value whatsoever is as a pass blocker. His run blocking, believe it or not, was worse than even Ebron's or Tim Wright's, who is a notably crappy blocker. The Lions could take almost any TE off of a scrap heap, dump Pettigrew, and improve this position. In fact, they did. When Pettigrew went down for the season in December, the Lions picked up replacement-level player Bear Pascoe, who played little over the final 3 games but finished with the 2nd-highest overall rating among Lions TEs. At replacement level. Yeah.

Defense:This was a much better group than the offense, although that's not hard to imagine because the offense was so bereft of talent. The Lions had strong seasons from their DE group, OLBs, and CBs, but DT, MLB and S could stand to see some improvement. The best S on the team was Isa Abdul-Quddus and if he had played full-time at the position, this would've been a better group. Unfortunately, he split time with James Ihedigbo there, with Ihedigbo getting the slight edge in snaps. Both players are UFAs this spring, so expect the Lions to try to re-sign Abdul-Quddus and let the door hit Ihedigbo on the way out.

Defensive tackle is a particularly troubling position. Once for the 2nd year in a row, basically everyone there except for Reid is set to be an UFA this spring. Ngata was the only guy who even played at Starter level. The Lions need to spend a top pick here, and probably re-sign Walker and one or 2 other guys. LB is in better shape, although the wrong guy between Tulloch and Whitehead is at the end of his current contract. Honestly, the Lions are better off signing Whitehead, cutting Stephen Tulloch (saving $4.2M off the cap), and going with one of Whitehead or Levy at MLB.

Slay was the best player on the entire defense, and Quandre Diggs played credibly after Rashean Mathis went down with a concussion. Mathis is under contract for 1 more year, but he's contemplating retirement and for the sake of the Lions and his own health, he should do it. This was essentially Nevin Lawson's rookie year, and he played like a guy looking to make a career as a special teamer, because he was AWFUL in coverage.

Coaching:The firing of Joe Lombardi and promotion of Jim Bob Cooter to OC seemed to get the offense going. After averaging 18.6 points per game in the first half (I know Cooter coached 1 game in the first half, but he had zero time to install anything until after the bye), Cooter took over and the offense became more balanced, scoring 26.1 per contest and averaging an extra 30 yards rushing.

Teryl Austin had a down year compared to last year, although he suffered a lot more from player turnover than did the offense. Still, his defense also improved in the 2nd half and he remains one of the better DCs in the game.

Caldwell... I would rate him somewhere between the middle to bottom-third of all NFL coaches. He's better than any coach the Lions have had since... well, let's just say the Lions haven't exactly had a good coach in a long while. Or even a mediocre coach. But Caldwell has cost them some games. His game management in the 4th and endgame strategy is really, really bad. However, his players line up for him, he appears to have a couple of pretty good assistants in Cooter & Austin (if Austin doesn't take a HC job somewhere), and the Lions' 6-2 finish may have bought him another year. I'm probably 50/50 on keeping him, maybe 60/40. Sean Payton was the hottest coaching commodity potentially available, and Chuck Pagano was probably #2, both of whom re-signed with their same teams. Without a more attractive name out there, I'd stick with what we've got.

Outlook/Off-season Strategy:This season was a failure, and the Lions are still looking somewhat anemic in the talent department, especially if Calvin retires. Their biggest needs are DT (again), OL (again), and WR. MLB and S can be fixed internally, although they'll need to at least add depth in FA or the draft. CB will need depth as well.

I'd like to see the Lions back the truck up and make a big-ish offer to LT Russell Okung, which would improve both the LT position and RT by allowing Reiff to move to where he's a better fit. Spend one of the top 2 picks on a DT, and one of the top 4 on a WR. There are a large number of decent-to-good WRs available in FA this spring as well, so if Calvin Johnson DOES retire, the Lions could spend that money on one of Alshon Jeffrey, Rueben Randle, Jermaine Kearse, Hakeem Nicks, or James Jones and have plenty to spare.

The biggest, and probably first, domino to fall will be the GM hire. I like that the Lions have interviewed some candidates from some quality programs, like the Giant's assistant GM Kevin Abrams, Seattle's co-director of player personnel Trent Kirchner, and New England's director of pro scouting Bob Quinn. They're also interviewing an internal candidate, interim GM Sheldon White. I don't know how many other candidates they want to interview, but I REALLY hope they go outside the organization. Back when they hired Mayhew and Lewand, the Lions allowed the stink of Matt Millen to linger. They already hired Rod Hood to replace Lewand, and Wood was very much an internal hire. If they want a culture change, they shouldn't hire a GM who has been associated with the team for 19 years.

Honestly, if everything goes right this off-season, Detroit can get back into the playoffs next year. Say they sign Okung, Calvin retires and they get 2 or 3 decent WRs to replace him, the draft goes well, they're able to upgrade the D line, and Levy stays healthy. That feels like a playoff team to me. Maybe even a division winner. But if a majority of those things go wrong, this team is in for another slew of losing seasons. Getting Okung, and a healthy Okung, is probably the main thing. They can't go another year with a crappy offensive line.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

I'm flipping (a little) on Stafford

Matt Stafford is making this tricky. After the KC game, it looked pretty clearly as though he would never earn his contract. Since then he's posted 4 passer ratings over 100 and 4 QBRs higher than 70 (only the top 5 QBs in the league have total QBRs over 70). He's bumped his overall passer rating from bottom quarter in the league to top 10. People, local people, are making a big deal about this. Stafford is finally answering his critics. He's won 5 of his last 7. Beat a playoff-level team on the road (Green Bay). He set a team completion % record for a game when he went 22-25 vs. New Orleans. Only thrown 2 picks. These are truly astounding numbers. 


The Lions would have you believe that Stafford is finally clicking with an offensive coordinator and all this is replicable. I think that's partly true, but I think what they'd like to gloss over is the fact that they've only played 2 above average defenses (St. Louis & Green Bay) in that span, and Stafford went 1-2 in those games, throwing both of his picks. Every other defense he's seen has been mediocre (Philly) to piss poor (New Orleans). Taking this into account, I still have to admit that while the version of Stafford we're currently seeing isn't real, neither was the crappy version we saw in weeks 1-8.

So what now? I've been advocating taking a QB with our top draft pick, preferably
Paxton Lynch. He has the measurables, accuracy, rocket arm, mobility, etc. that you want in a starting QB these days. The problem is that the Lions are now 6-9 and could easily finish 7-9, which wouldn't give them a high enough pick to draft him. A guy like Curt Cousins might be available in round two, but I'm less sold on the idea that the answer to turning this team around lies with a QB change.

The Lions have one of the worst offensive lines in the league.
Football Outsiders ranks them 26th out of the 32 teams, which is NOT good. I heard Trent Dilfer talking to a couple of local radio guys (Dery & Sharp) said something that struck me.
Ever since Matt Stafford has been there, the offensive line has stunk. You need a good offensive line to have a consistent offense. You need physicality, you need good pass protection, you need depth - 7 guys, not just 5. Every time I analyze Stafford, I come out of it saying, 'well, he can only do so much.' The offensive line doesn't just protect Matthew Stafford, it protects the Offense. It allows you to call certain plays in certain situations the comfort. If you don't have a good offensive line, your play-caller is scared TO DEATH for 60 minutes because every play is potentially a catastrophically negative play due to seepage.
When he said "the offensive line protects the offense", I thought about how bad we at picking up a 3rd & 1 or a 4th & 1. The Lions get stuffed A LOT on those plays. A big reason why Calvin Johnson has been so much less productive this year is because Stafford can't sit back in the pocket long enough for him to get down field. Another thing Dilfer brought up is that offensive line players take at least 3 years to develop. Anybody we draft now is going to be more for depth, less for instant impact.

Previously I probably would've rated Detroit's needs going into the off-season as 1. QB, 2. OL, 3. CB, 4 DL. Now it's more like 1. OL/DL, 2. OL/DL, 3. OL/DL, 4. CB. I'm still not crazy about Stafford, especially at the price he's going to command when his contract expires, but I think he could end up a "good" QB, given the right line. By the way, every time some draft analyst says something like, "you got a franchise QB, you need to get some toys to play with" in reference to whichever WR, I want to punch that guy in the face. The best gift you can give a QB is a really good line, not a "matchup nightmare" receiving threat.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Don't you love Eric Ebron? Don't you love the hack-a-whoever strategy? No???

I haven't exactly sworn off posting about the Lions, but I'm pretty close. I'm only interested in the outcome of the games as far as their draft position is concerned. I mainly watch the games to see players like Slay & Ansah come into their own and to identify what needs to change for next season. So, I don't see much point in posting anything until the season is over, unless something notable happens.


Well, something happened after the game that pissed me off. Following the loss to St. Louis on Sunday, there was more than the usual amount of attention paid to Eric Ebron. Detroit selected Ebron with the 10th pick in the 2014 draft, and he's been...underwhelming. The pick was superfluous at the time, and with needs on the OL, at CB, potentially at WR (Golden Tate was considered a questionable signing at the time) and with every DT on the roster at the time heading into free agency the following year, picking a TE that high was a head scratcher. OT Taylor Lewan went 11th, WR Odell Beckham Jr went 12th, and St. Louis took DT Aaron Donald with the 13th pick. Any one of those guys would've been a preferable alternative, although I'd rather not have to deal with Lewan's attitude problems. Both OBJr and Donald made the Pro Bowl as rookies. So a storyline going into this game (media are always looking for hot takes) was the comparison between the production the Rams get from Donald, a guy the opposition always has to account for, and what the Lions get from Ebron, who was 2nd on the depth chart behind our other stone-handed TE who is a better blocker.

The results on the field were about what you'd expect. Ebron had 3 catches on 5 targets for a total of 27 yards, the longest completion going for 11 yards. Donald had 5 tackles, 3 of them sacks, and 6 QB hits. He continually collapsed the pocket, drew double-teams, and forced the ball out quicker than the Lions wanted. In other words, Ebron was Detroit's 4th-best receiving threat and Donald was St. Louis' best defensive player.
Here's what Ebron had to say after the game:
“I’m happy for his success,” Ebron said of Donald. “I’m happy for the scheme he’s in. I’m happy that they’re giving him an opportunity to shine.
“I’m not upset. You guys are upset. The media is upset. The fans are upset. I don’t care. I didn’t choose to come here. They (Lions) chose me to come here. There’s nothing I can do about it.” 
On one hand, he's right. He didn't pick himself. A lot of the ire around Ebron comes from Mayhew's decision to grab him with the 10th overall pick, and that's something over which he has no control. On the other hand, it's not like his name was entirely out of place at that point in the draft. He was rated pretty highly, so the only weird thing was that it was Detroit, who already had 2 TEs, who was picking him there. His production has been more like that of a 3rd round pick, not a top 10 guy, and that is ABSOLUTELY under his control. You want to shut some people up Ebron? Play better. Stop dropping every other ball that hits your hands. Get open. Figure out how to block a little.


The biggest problem is the 2nd quote, where he says he isn't upset, he doesn't care, and he didn't choose to come here. First of all, he's clearly upset, so that's a lie. But he seems to take more of victim's stance instead of empowering himself to change. He hasn't been good. His comments seem to suggest that he thinks he's been good enough, there's nothing he can really do to get better, and he doesn't want to be here anyway. Great. Looking forward to watching Ebron go through the motions for the final 3 games?


***

The Pistons have essentially been a .500 team. They follow up blowout losses with blowout wins, heartbreaking losses with nail-biting wins, and so forth. Their actual record is 14-12, which I know is ACTUALLY over .500 (and their Pythagorean Win Expectation would disagree with me at 15-11), but they FEEL like a .500 team. I was hoping they could get over that .500 hump by stringing some quality wins together, but unfortunately some costly mistakes from Andre Drummond and the coach SVG led to another loss against the Clippers.



Drummond had an ok game. He was 4-8 from the stripe, which is acceptable for him, 20 & 15 with 3 steals is good, but no blocks and he only shot 8-17 overall. But he missed a key FT at the end of the 4th that opened the door for LA to tie it up (I'll get into why he was even on the line in a clutch situation in a sec), and he went rogue on Detroit's last defensive possession, which caused a lapse in the defense and left Jamal Crawford open for the game-winning 3.

Reggie Jackson was spectacular. 34 pts, 11 rebs, 7 dimes, .500 FG% & 2-2 from three, solid defense on Chris Paul. The bench was ok, giving rarely seen offensive production from Steve Blake and Aron Baynes. They were still in the negative for +/- but the Pistons started their big push to take over the game with the bench on the floor in the 4th quarter.



Stan Van Gundy made some largish mistakes at the end of the game that led to the Pistons losing the game. First, he left Drummond in the game while Blake Griffin was shooting free-throws. There were just over 25 seconds left in the game and LAC was about to be down by 2 if Blake made both (he did), so the Clips were in a situation where they HAD to foul. I didn't know you could commit a foul on a FT attempt with the ball in the air, and apparently neither did SVG, but Doc Rivers knew and so he had Redick foul Drummond with no time going off the clock. Drummond split the pair of FTs, putting the Pistons up by 3. Stan compounded the error by not fouling. If the Pistons foul there, either Paul or Blake are shooting 2 FTs and still have to foul or lose. By not fouling, Redick was able to get open and drain a 3. Whoops.

Last thing I'm going to say about this game. The fouling/intentional fouling situation is ridiculous. The games become unwatchable, they get unnaturally extended by excessive timeouts and substitutions, and no one wants to watch a free-throw contest/time out-off. I hated this even when the Pistons weren't as affected (hardly anyone employed Hack-a-Dre when we sucked), and now I hate it more. This game was particularly bad, and the final 3 minutes of regular time & 5 minutes of OT took nearly an hour. Here are my suggestions to fix the
current state:
  1. Treat all off-the-ball fouls like a defensive 3 seconds call. It's still considered a personal foul, but the fouled player gets 1 shot & the offense keeps the ball
  2. If the FT shooting team commits a foul on a made free-throw attempt, the FT is wiped off as with lane violations
 I don't know if either of these are exactly perfect solutions, but I think both rules would help close some (what I consider to be) loopholes and make the game more enjoyable to watch.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Lions win in most Lions way possible - Pointlessly

The Lions have been disappointingly good-ish the past couple of weeks. Ever since they won in Green Bay (for the 1st time since 1991) they've been on a sort of a roll... A roll in that they've won 3 straight games against struggling teams while only playing anything resembling "good offense" in one of those games. It's nice to watch the Lions win, especially on Thanksgiving, but... It's empty. All of it. There are 5 games left, and the other 3 teams in the division would basically have to all lose out for Detroit to make the playoffs. So forget about THAT.


Additionally, my dreams of picking up a top tier QB to replace Stafford are dwindling as the team continues to rack up meaningless wins and move backward in draft order (if the draft were today, they'd be picking 12th vs. the #1 overall pick they were in line for 3 weeks ago). Plus, the organization is less likely to want to replace Stafford as he lives up to his "Stat Padford" nickname by playing pretty well in some meaningless games against poor competition. Stafford's average QBR has been 9 points better in the last 3 games and his average QB rating has been 20 points better. The Packers are still reeling, so I don't know if they'll provide some real competition or if it'll be more of this fool's gold we've been getting.

All the good feelings I had about the Lions' organizational direction have dissipated, despite the wins. First, they hired Rod Wood to replace Tom Lewand as team president. This might seem like no big deal, but to me it mirrors what the Lions did when they hired Lewand and Mayhew in the first place - going with an internal hire instead of trying to change the culture. Then the Lions put their insecurity on display when they demanded CBS fire local radio personality Mike Valenti for being overly critical of the Lions on air. CBS decided not to censor their on-air talent, so the Lions announced they'll move their radio broadcasts to another channel. If that doesn't tell you what a crap organization this is, nothing will.

Check the video, if you have a minute. Valenti goes on a 10min rant about how the Lions PR department have gone after him over the past 10 years and tried desperately either to get him fired or change his tune. Now, I'll be the first to say that Valenti goes too far with his negativism. No doubt. But the fact that the Lions seem to care more about what's being said than by the product they produce should speak volumes. They've had too many Yes men over the years and not enough contrarians. That led to 7 years of Millen, followed by 7 years of Mayhew. When Martha Ford went through Allen Park firing people left and right, I thought, "Khaleesi!" After the Ford family hired Wood and pulled their broadcasts from 97.1 The Ticket, I thought, "Nope, she's Cersei Lannister."



***

On the flip, I'm pretty happy with what the Tigers have done so far, apart from retaining Brad Ausmus. Actually, sticking with Ausmus may have cost us the ability to re-sign Yoenis Cespedes, who I REALLY liked, so that actually goes down as a double-minus. But other than that, they made a nice trade for a decent closer in Fransisco Rodriguez, they traded for OF Cameron Maybin (yes, the same guy we shipped to Miami with Andrew Miller for Miggy), and just signed RHP Jordan Zimmermann to a 5-yr deal. There are more than a few issues with the Zimmermann signing, but given how tight their budget is right now, is was a pretty good move.

I was pleasantly surprised to see they let Alex Avila go, given that his dad is now the GM. AA was great behind the plate, but I won't miss watching him watch strike three go whistling by. They still need to add another bat, in my opinion, and probably 1 more starter and 1 reliever. I don't expect any more "swing for the fences" moves, but I'm not ruling it out. Mike Illitch wants to WIN.