Thursday, November 19, 2015

Pistons offense comes around vs. CLE & a Tigers trade reaction

I'm behind in my posting. I wanted to write about the Pistons yesterday, but I was having some technical problems getting the highlights video to post to the Lions recap piece. So, here I am, a day late and a dollar short.

I had been getting worried about Reggie Jackson. The Pistons invested a lot in him, $80M over 5 years. They essentially traded for him last year so he could audition for the role of PG of the Future, and he was good enough to land the role. His stats last year? 17 ppg, 9.2 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 3.5 turnovers, and decent shooting percentages. He looked like a totally different player through the first 10 games. He was looking for his own shot more, pounding the air out of the ball, and turning it over like crazy without racking up the assists. On the telecast, Greg Kelser mentioned that SVG sat down with Reggie after the LA game (which was a nightmare game for him) and watched film from when he was playing better last year. Apparently it worked.

Reggie was a new man. He started the game off with a beautiful lob to Drummond, and the rest of the first quarter was much of the same. When the reserves came in, the ball movement proved to be contagious as it was whipped around the arc, inside and out. It got a little bogged down in the 2nd half, partly due to a little regression from Reggie, but the 4th quarter was all Pistons.

Drummond played a manful game. He looked tentative in his PNR defense for a stretch of the game, and Cleveland exploited that to make a couple of runs. The defense tightened up in the 4th quarter, especially on LeBron James. He would finish the game with a nice stat line of 30 pts and 6 boards on decent shooting numbers (11-21, 4-7 from 3 and 4-5 from the line), but only 3 assists and 4 turnovers. His 4th quarter was particularly ugly: 2-5 from the field and 1-2 from the line for 5 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 2 turnovers (both in the final minute of the game). A big reason involved Stan Van Gundy's end game strategy of putting Reggie Jackson on LeBron and swinging Drummond over on the double-team when LeBron tried to bully him in the post. It was a brilliant move, forcing LeBron to get rid of the ball, once throwing it into the backcourt for a violation.

A strategy I expect to see a lot of this year is the Hack-a-Dre. We've been spared this brand of ugly basketball prior to this year because the Pistons haven't been very good. Now, opposing coaches fear this team more than they have in the past and have already employed Hack-a-Dre in a couple of games. It was weird to see the Cavs use it while they were ahead, though. For example, the Clippers were behind by 9 or 10 when they broke out Hack-a-Dre. Drummond missed a couple of FTs, Stan pulled him from the game (big mistake), and LA took over from there. This time, Stan stuck with Drummond, and Dre rewarded him by knocking down his FTs. 5-9 for the game isn't ideal, but it's good enough to making Hack-a-Dre a dubious strategy.

Overall, the offense looked the best it has all year. The defense wasn't always there, but it certainly showed up in the 4th quarter. The excellent ball movement led to all 5 starters finishing with double-digit scoring totals, including 20+ point games from Drummond (3 boards away from yet another 20-20 game), Reggie Jackson (also had a double-double with 12 assists), and Ersan Ilyasova. The bench was bad again, but Brandon Jennings sat down with Blaha and Kelser for an in-game interview, and I have a lot of hope that he'll be back soon to bolster the bench unit. If that happens and Reggie's PG renaissance continues, this team could be a force in the East.


The Tigers made an out-of-the-blue move yesterday, trading a mid-level prospect for Francisco Rodriguez. On one hand, this move smacks of every ill-conceived closing solution Dave Dombrowski ever came up with - trading for an aging closer on the down side of his career. None of those worked, because Dombrowski kept getting guys who had little to nothing left in the tank.

The difference here is K-Rod (so called because he racks up a ton of Ks) has morphed from a flame-thrower to a more savvy pitcher. He's 33 and his fastball isn't what it was when he was striking out 11 guys per 9 innings. Per fangraphs, his average fastball has dipped from 95 mph at his peak to just below 90 mph. I had been under the impression that Rodriguez was done as a closer, but after a couple of years of growing pains when his velocity started to drop, he's come back as one of the better closers in baseball by mixing his pitches. He'll start the season at the age of 34, but there are encouraging comps in Trevor Hoffman (very successful into his 40s) and Koji Uehara (still good at 40) of closers who followed a similar path.

My initial reaction was that new GM Al Avila was following in Dombrowski's footsteps for acquiring a new closer, a path that led to much weeping and gnashing of teeth. A deeper looks shows that not only does K-Rod have something left in the tank, he's improved to be a more effective pitcher now than he was 5 years ago.

Off the Schneid

I thought the only positive thing to come out of this Lions season would be good draft position and the end of the Matt Stafford era. Fortunately, I was wrong. The Lions beat Green Bay at Lambeau Field, something that hasn't happened since December 15, 1991. That is a LONG losing streak. The victory potentially hurts their draft position (they go from dead last to now 2nd-to-last, tied with 4 other 2-7 teams and behind 2-8 Cleveland), but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we can lose enough down the stretch to still be able to draft Paxton Lynch. It REALLY feels good to get off the schneid from that Lambeau losing streak.

The game was super ugly. Some of this was good game-planning by BC Teryl Austin, but a good deal of this was Aaron Rodgers was AWFUL. I haven't seen him play as bad as he has the past 3 games in a LONG time. He's inaccurate, missing open receivers, and he sometimes doesn't look like he knows whether to run for it or pass. The Lions shut down GB's run game, so it was basically all on Rodgers and right now he's like a pitcher who needs a week off to work on his mechanics.

Detroit's offense was BARELY better than GB's. They benefited from a near kickoff return for a TD. I thought Ameer Abdullah crossed the goal line, but Caldwell elected not to challenge. I get why you don't challenge there - teams eventually punch it in about 99% of the time from there - but the Lions ALMOST screwed that up. I REALLY didn't like the play-calling there. The Lions ran Joique Bell off tackle once (the words "Joique Bell" and "run off tackle" should never be in conjunction) and a bubble screen thing to Tate (which doesn't make sense in that situation with a shorter field) netted 0 yards, and I was legitimately concerned. Thankfully, they called a play that actually made sense on 3rd down and Stafford connected with Pettigrew in the end zone.

I spent the entire game guessing how the Lions were going to blow this one. Stafford threw a BAD pick right when they were at least going to get 3 points. Matt Prater, solid on FGs, was 0-2 on extra points. He's missed no FGs all year, 3 extra points. Go figure.  The Lions then allowed GB to cut right through their defense and score, but lo & behold, played solid D on the 2-pt conversion attempt and recent call-up Crezdon Butler knocked Rodgers' pass away (although somehow he wasn't credited with a pass defended on the stat sheet). At this point, the game should've been over, but Mason Crosby executed a pretty good on-side kick and Calvin Johnson let the ball slip through his hands. A couple of plays put the Packers inside his FG range, but I think he mis-hit it and also had it partially blocked. The end of the game was crazy, and the Lions ALMOST did enough to lose it, but not quite.

My wife, of all people, noticed the Lions' new right tackle Michael Ola, who I thought played a pretty good game overall (turns out that was only as a pass blocker as he sucked big-time in the run game). The Lions' DBs were good for the most part, which should come as little surprise considering Rashean Mathis was out. I thought Nevin Lawson was acceptable (although he probably deserved to get called for PI a couple of times) and Butler was also solid when called on, which is remarkable considering he was watching the games from his couch last week.

I don't like watching the Lions lose, but I hope for their sake that they finish with a record in the bottom 3, because they desperately need a top tier player. OT is probably the boringest but rightest solution, but I'm hoping for a QB.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Michigan is quietly playing well, Pistons offense is unhealthy

I really should be writing more about the Wolverines. The Lions suck, the Wings are kind of meh right now, and the Pistons are barely getting started. Meanwhile, the Wolverines are in the midst of their best season since Lloyd Carr hung up the clipboard (unless you want to count Hoke's counterfeit 11-2 campaign in 2011). Their losses? An opening loss in a tough matchup, playing in Utah, and the flukiest crap you ever want to see (or don't want to see) when the punter fumbled it right to a Spartan defender who ran it into the end zone as time expired.

I've missed Michigan's last several games, for various reasons but mainly because I've found myself very busy on Saturday afternoons. This is kind of a shame, because Jabrill Peppers is turning into Charles Woodson. He's Michigan's best defender - he covers well, tackles well, slips past blocks like they weren't even there. He's also a very useful offensive player, with 6 carries for 24 yds and 2 tds, plus 3 catches for 38 yards. He'll run as a wildcat QB, a decoy on a play fake, or line up as a traditional RB or WR. He's also Michigan's main kick & punt returner. He hasn't been the ball-hawk that Woodson was, but he's getting on the field A LOT and making a positive impact. He'll be a Heisman candidate in a year or two.

Some recruiting news, per ESPN Insider:
Jim Harbaugh is targeting the state of New Jersey in a big way. Since the Class of 2011, only twice has a school inked three of the top-seven prospects in the Garden State -- Rutgers in 2011 and Penn State in 2015. To date, the Wolverines also have commitments from three of the top seven in ESPN 300 end Ronald Johnson Jr., athlete Jordan Fuller and receiver Brad Hawkins. While that is quite a haul in itself, and with the Wolverines seemingly leading for No. 1 overall player Rashan Gary and top running back Kareem Walker, Michigan could have an all-time run in New Jersey. If Harbaugh pulls it off, Michigan would not only be sending a national message by inking Gary and Walker, but also putting a stake down in the Garden State that could create a future tidal wave of momentum in the state. 
 If Harbaugh can pull off that NJ coup, this could be the best class of recruits Michigan has had in a LONG, long time. And that's saying something, because Hoke & Rich Rod had some good classes come in. Rashan Gary, the #1 overall prospect, is a big DT who could turn your defense from being kinda good to top 5 in college. Every school in the NCAA seems to have extended an offer, but Michigan was his first visit, whatever that's worth. A strong finish to the season would go a long way toward convincing the top recruits that Michigan is back.


After stringing together a couple of losses in a row, I have some clearer ideas about who the Pistons are and I have some concerns. The ball movement has never been good this year, but it was especially clear in the last 2 games that this offense is sick. It seems that PG Reggie Jackson and Coach/GM Stan Van Gundy are at philosophical differences on how the offense should be run. The Freep's Vince Ellis wrote piece on this very issue, with Reggie Jackson criticizing the pace of play and SVG bemoaning the lack of passing.

They're both right, although I'd say SVG is MORE right. This is a young team playing at one of the slower paces in the league. They need to run more. On the other hand, you can't always run, and the play on offense has been very selfish. Even facing set defenses, Jackson's primary complaint, this offense should be performing a lot better. They aren't finding open shooters. They pound the air out of the ball and then either jack up a contested jumper or drop it off to Morris and watch HIM take a contested jumper, hoping Drummond gets the rebound.

I'm hoping they can come to some sort of compromise. If they can, with Jennings on track to come back next month, I think the Pistons make the playoffs. If Reggie Jackson and SVG remain at odds and the ball movement doesn't improve, they're headed back to the lottery. It's that simple. The defense is a lot better than I expected they'd be, and that will be enough to win them some games. But the offense is so unhealthy the best they can hope for is middle of the road, the way things are currently going.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Pistons put on the cape in the 4th

Last night's game in Portland featured one of the strangest turns of fortune I've ever seen in an NBA game. The Trailblazers owned the Pistons for 3 quarters. Just check the scoring by quarter: 1st quarter - POR 32, DET 22; 2nd quarter - POR 25, DET 24; 3rd quarter - POR 35, DET 32. Portland really only killed them in the first quarter, but they still won every quarter going into the 4th. And for once it wasn't due to Detroit's offense. Marcus Morris and KCP weren't having their best shooting games, but the team as a whole was shooting about 44% from the field. The defense was letting them down. It wasn't the worst defense I'd ever seen, but they were definitely leaving Portland's shooters too much space and Portland wasn't missing. Then the 4th quarter rolled around and the script, as they say, flipped.

Drummond had been scooping up rebounds and hitting hook shots all day. Portland's interior defense isn't particularly strong, and Drummond had already put on a couple of moves that actually reminded me of Hakeem a little bit (settle down) - a quick spin into a hook shot, and then an up & under dunk on the very next possession. But really that's all Detroit had going. Then the defense put the clamps on defensively. Portland started turning it over, the Pistons got some stops as well, and like the Grinch's heart, the basket grew 3 sizes for Reggie Jackson. Jackson was 10-11 in the quarter (2-2 from long range), and 4-4 from the stripe. Isiah Thomas had a 25-point quarter in the '88 Finals (on a sprained ankle, no less). Wil Bynum (Wil Bynum???) exceeded that mark in 2009 with a 26-point quarter, and Reggie has now matched Bynum's team record for points in a quarter.

The numbers for this game are unbelievable. Reggie ended up with 40, 5 & 5. Drummond ended up with a Wilt Chamberlain-like 29 & 27 with 3 blocks and 2 steals. KCP & Morris didn't shoot well, but they combined for 7 steals and their defense was crucial down the stretch. Between the turnovers and the offensive rebounds, Detroit ended up with 20 extra shot attempts for the game, and they managed to outscore Portland 41-11 in the 4th quarter. Drummond should've ended up with 30 pts, but he missed 5 out of 6 FTs when the Blazers went into Hack-a-Dre with 2:30 left.

The Pistons are now 5-1 overall, looking down at most of the East. Drummond is averaging 20 & 20, and actually looks to be IMPROVING. Reggie Jackson isn't managing the offense as well as I'd like, but he's scoring it pretty well at 23 ppg and his shooting numbers are pretty good (.455/.455/.794). If they were to hold the All Star game in November, Drummond and Jackson would be starting. Keeping this all in perspective, there are 76 games left to play. On the other hand, this is Detroit's roughest stretch of road games all year and they've started it 2-0.

I didn't check the Phoenix game because I had family stuff, but it looked for everything like a boring, everyone scores type of win. Which is great, don't get me wrong, but a bit less fun to write about that Drummond & Jackson putting up video game numbers in a wacky 4th quarter blowout. Anyway, the NBA scheduled the Pistons a loss tonight, we'll see how that plays out.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The thorn is pulled from the Lions' paw

I had the afternoon off yesterday, so it was while I was driving home that I heard on the radio what was going on in the Lions' front office. It was a bloodbath of Neesonian proportions. GM Martin Mayhew was gone, President of Operations Tom Lewand was gone, and the quote I heard was "the bosses are walking the halls, looking for people to fire". Holy crap. That sounds like a scene straight out of Wolfenstein 3D.

This is an exciting time for Lions fans. To understand why, you have to go back to the Millen era. The owner at the time was William Clay Ford, current owner Martha Ford's husband. Millen sucked. He continued to suck. He made it sound good at times, but everything he did sucked. His reign over the team was a gigantic, 8-year long face palm. There were rumblings from the fan base much earlier, but the formal beginning of the FIRE MILLEN movement was probably the so-called "Millen Man March", held on 12/18/05 prior to the game that day against the Bengals. Despite enormous fan outcry, Matt Millen managed to cling to his job for nearly 3 more years, until Ford's son spoke out to the media during the 0-16 season, pressuring the owner to finally take action.

The mechanism from the Millen years somehow remained in place, however. Lewand and Mayhew were formerly Millen's underlings, and there was a lot of concern that some of his bad calls were also their bad calls. There was also a lot of concern that the issue with the team was the Ford ownership. The Lions had been a successful team in the '50s (3 championships & 1 runner-up), but they've only made the playoffs 11 times and won only 1 playoff game since Ford bought the team in 1963. Fans breathed a guilty sigh of relief when WCF Sr. died last spring, but many wondered whether the new ownership would be any different. Millen was fired in 2008, but his stink continued to swirl around the team as his replacements made many of the same types of mistakes that he did. Yesterday we saw the difference between Martha Ford and her late husband: Martha. Don't. Play.

None of the coaching staff were fired (because, why bother?), but it sounds like the Fords are going to utterly clean house as soon as this season is over. It sounds to me like the interim GM Sheldon White might actually be a decent GM, which is unfortunate because Martha Ford cannot afford to keep any holdovers from the previous administration. That was her husband's mistake. So, ruling him out, there have been a number of other names I've heard floated out there for the new GM position. The ones I liked best?

  • Mike Lombardi (no relation to the Lions' former OC), a former scout and GM and current assistant to Belichek's coaching staff in NE
  • Nick Caserio, another New England guy, currently the Director of Player Personnel
  • Trent Kirchener, Seattle's Co-Director of Player Personnel
Lombardi is the only one of these names who has a retread-y feel, although I think he was hosed during his previous stints as a GM - first by Al Davis calling shots in Oakland, second by getting axed in Cleveland before he had a chance to do anything. The other two guys are player personnel guys on teams with a history of great personnel moves.


A big question, maybe THE big question, is with a new GM, wherefore art thou, Matt Stafford? Once it became clear this year that a) the Lions were going to end up with a high draft pick, and b) Matt Stafford was never going to be a good QB, I started to advocate drafting a QB in the first round of this draft. New GMs like to put their stamp on the team (as Mayhew did with Stafford), and Stafford's contract gets increasingly expensive but also non-guaranteed following this season.

Stafford has always had the talent to be one of the greats, but apparently he never put in the work. Former Lions DE Lawrence Jackson said as much this past spring, and Stafford's play this year has born that out. Stafford has all the physical tools, but he hasn't put in the mental work. This may have cost Joe Lombardi his job. I'm not one to defend Lombardi - his play-calling was atrocious, and the offensive scheme he tried to implement did NOT fit the players here - but a big reason why his offense didn't work was because Stafford wasn't able to comprehend the intricacies of it, and Lombardi couldn't dumb it down enough for Stafford to understand. This was coming from Lombardi, so take it with a grain of salt, but it fits what I see on the field.

Stafford sucks at reading a defense and finding an open receiver when the blitz is on. He doesn't make the players around him better, and he rarely shows the type of fire you want from the guy supposedly leading your offense. His stats look impressive, but as Jackson said, they're counterfeit. If the new GM sees the same thing I do, Stafford could potentially get cut outright, traded, or we might keep him on and eat that huge salary increase while developing his replacement.

Getting back to Lawrence Jackson, one of my favorite tweets from yesterday was LoJack's "I might go buy a Ford today to celebrate".

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Pistons lay an egg

The Pistons were one of 2 undefeated teams in the East, playing an 0-3 Pacers team that is a bit like a doughnut - all the goodness is on the outside, nothing in the middle. This looked like a perfect team for Detroit to exploit and walk away with an easy win. Naturally, they were blown out.

There are really only three things worth talking about from this game - Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson the point guard?, and the bench. So, not to be accused of burying the lede...

Andre Drummond - 25 pts on 12-17 shooting, 29 rebs (11 Off), 3 stls, 1 blk

Drummond was an absolute beast. He could not be handled by anybody on Indy's roster. If a rebound was near him, he got it. If a Piston missed a shot, he was often there to tip it in. His post game looked better than ever. In fact, I wanted the Pistons to run more plays for him in the low block. Most of his buckets came off of put-backs or tip-ins, and most of the rest came off of lobs. When he did post up, he was about 50%. Drummond attempted only 2 FTs (he attempted at least 10 in the other 3 games), which was largely a product of the way Detroit used him on offense. More post-ups would equal more FTs (you know the offense is failing when you'd rather Drummond shoot FTs than anyone else on the court take a shot). Also, I don't trust Reggie Jackson to run the PNR effectively right now (more on this later). So, despite the fact that Drummond catching a lob is a more reliable shot, I wish they'd posted him up more.

Reggie Jackson, PG? - 20 pts on 8-20 shooting, 6 asts, 6 tov, 1 stl, 1 blk
Jackson was the next most effective scorer after Drummond, but that's not saying much. You need to score more than 20 points on 20 shot attempts. And when Drummond has a game like he had in this one, the PG should NOT lead the team in shot attempts. Reggie's inability to run a cohesive offense has been a storyline all year. He just doesn't get it. It's not that he looks for his own shot too often, it's that he looks for it ALL THE TIME. And that's only a small part of the problem.

6 turnovers is good if you're a baker, bad if you're a point guard. Most of Reggie's turnovers were off of "self-inflicted steals". What I mean by that is, yes, the defender made a play on the ball, but only because the Piston PG basically put the defender in position to make the play and telegraphed where the ball was going. I keep holding out hope that Jackson will become a better PG as he learns the offense, but the kinds of mistakes he's making are not encouraging. I usually don't have a problem with shoot-first PGs, except when there's a much better option. In this case there ABSOLUTELY is a much better option in Andre Drummond, yet Jackson plays as though he is the first, second, and third option in the offense. His orientation is flipped from what it should be as a PG. That has to change, or his contract will be a waste.

the bench

I'll include Stan Van Gundy in this category, although I primarily mean the subs. The Pistons might have the worst bench unit in the NBA. The 2nd quarter began with the Pistons up 30-24 and all 5 starters were resting. 4:47 later, the Pistons were down 30-44 and the starters were forced to come back early to staunch the bleeding. I don't want to put this ENTIRELY on the reserves, but the starting unit had an average Plus/Minus of +3.2 and the bench unit averaged a -12.7. Indiana's bench outscored Detroit's bench 43-2. Whenever that happens, you're going to lose.

A particularly telling sequence came with about 9 minutes left to play. Detroit was down 13 points when Rodney Stuckey was called for a flagrant 1 on Stanley Johnson. It was a legit call, dangerous foul, but still this was a big break for Detroit. They get 2 shots and the ball, which meant they could cut the deficit to 8, the lowest it had been since early in the 2nd quarter. What happened? Well, Stanley missed his two FTs, Anthony Tolliver missed his 3pt attempt, and the long rebound went to Indiana, who then knocked down a jumper. That's a 7 point swing right there.

Van Gundy is partly culpable in all of this. The turning point in this game was Indiana's 20-0 run to start the 2nd quarter. Stan didn't call his first timeout until Indiana had scored 10 straight, and he didn't make any substitutions. He didn't call his second timeout until Indiana had scored another 10, at which point he finally brought the starters back in. That's a 5 min stretch of time where the opponent out-scored you 20-0, yet you only called 1 timeout and made no personnel adjustments? That is bad coaching.


The overall team performance was pretty soft. The defense was usually late to close out on a shooter, and the passing was as bad as I've ever seen it. It reminded me of a game when Stuckey & Knight were sharing PG duties a couple of years ago, I can't remember the opponent. Almost every pass was tipped, batted, or otherwise affected by the defense. I had thought our PG play was supposed to be a lot better.

The team's weaknesses were more glaring in this game than they had been in the previous 3, although the signs were there.

  1. Our PG doesn't effectively run the offense
  2. We lack a consistent 1-on-1 scoring threat
  3. Our bench is terrible
I think Drummond can be that consistent 1-on-1 scoring threat as his post game develops. Marcus Morris was covered by Paul George in this game and was clearly out-matched, but I think most of the time he can provide that as well. I'm starting to get worried about weakness #2, and weakness #1 terrifies me. We invested a lot in Jackson as the PG of the future. We swung a trade that gutted the team last year to get him, we signed him to a pretty nice second contract ($16M/yr for 5 years), and in doing so, announced that we would be moving on from Brandon Jennings at PG. Jennings was having a pretty good year last year, until he blew out his Achilles tendon. I'm not calling Reggie Jackson a wash just yet, but he definitely is not a "natural" PG.

Short of praying guys like Bullock and Stanley Johnson take a leap, I see no easy answers for the bench unit problem either. The only positive there is Brandon Jennings is expected back before Christmas. If that holds, we can cut Blake or send Dinwiddie back to the D League, and the bench unit will have at least SOMEONE who can hit a shot from time to time. But until Jennings returns, the Pistons will be very up & down.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Lions are Zombies, but Pistons & Wolverines Look Lively

The Lions have reached a status with me that they haven't had in a while. There were a number of seasons where I would check out of games REALLY early. I'd watch a quarter & a half and say, man, I don't need to put myself through this again. They haven't been there for about 4-5 years, but those Marinelli days are back. I missed most of the first half because I was at church. I caught the last few minutes of the half, watched the 3rd quarter and the first series of the 2nd quarter and then switched it to HGTV for my wife's benefit and for my sanity. Ironically, the show that was on at that point was Flea Market Flip - a show were two teams pick up garbage and turn it into something worth owning. Maybe Mayhew should watch too.

The thing that killed me about the Lions' performance in London was they looked everything like a team that had beaten themselves before the coin toss. They blew blocks, missed tackles, committed stupid penalties, dropped passes, missed wide open receivers, took sacks instead of trying to escape... Chris Carter had it nailed pretty good with his comments on NFL Countdown. The Lions' effort yesterday was disgraceful. They are too talented a team to be 1-7, but everyone seems to be going through the motions in about as half-assed a way as you can imagine.

Autobiographical side note: The level of enthusiasm and focus of these Lions remind me of the JV team I played on when I was a junior. I was relegated to JV my junior year because I was buried behind 3 seniors at my position (defensive end) on the Varsity team. That JV team had an embarrassingly bad loss in week 1 (I hadn't been relegated yet), and it didn't take me too long to realize that there were only about 1 or 2 people on that team who were locked in. Everybody else seemed to be jerking around or they didn't get it. I would say at that point that I was a SLIGHTLY above average talent at DE, but on that team I looked like JJ Watt.

My first game with them I had 2 sacks and something like 11 tackles. That's a TON for a DE, comparable to an LB getting 20 (
the leading tackler among DEs this year is Kerry Wynn, who is averaging 5.1 tackles per game and hasn't had more than 8 tackles in any game). I figured I'd get called back up to Varsity after a couple more games, especially after one of the starting Varsity DEs got injured. The problem was that while I remained one of the best players on the team (certainly the best defender), my play deteriorated as the season went on. My effort was still there, primarily, but I made a lot more mental mistakes. It's like I'd been infected with whatever afflicted everyone else on that JV team. I'd been bitten. I wasn't a zombie yet, but I was starting to turn. This Lions team has that same look. The offensive line has been The Walking Dead for the past few weeks, maybe all year, and the virus has spread to everyone else.
In short, the Lions are dead in the water. They could potentially wake back up if some of these new coaches can light a fire under them, but I'm guessing they win 1 or 2 more games at the most. Until they show they're invested in the games they're playing, I'm not going to be invested in watching. I'll check them out for a quarter or two and keep watching if it's worth it, turn it to HGTV if it's not. It's pretty disappointing that we've reached this point with only half the season done.

With the season essentially over, the only thing to really discuss are what changes need to made for next season. First and foremost, Martin Mayhew has to go. He's been an abysmal drafter, other than that 2013 draft, and his misread of the Ndamukong Suh situation was VERY costly. Not to mention the whole situation was his fault in the first place for the way he restructured Suh's contract twice. Mayhew only looks good in comparison with Millen, who had so many blown top 10 picks that he deserves his own wing in the NFL Hall of Shame. The NFL trade deadline is tomorrow and Mayhew seemed to think that the Lions would be buyers which is, to use his own phrasing, "comical". So, #1 - Mayhew OUT. They can chuck him right after the deadline up to the day after the Lions' last regular season game, anything later would be tardy.

The second thing, and I've been thinking this basically all year, is Stafford has to go. He's not mobile enough in the pocket or clever enough to read the defense. The sacks are at least 1/4 his fault. He's inaccurate (always has been) and doesn't have a winning fire, despite what Mayhew seems to think. I like the idea of Memphis's Paxton Lynch, a 6'7" 245 lb athlete who can run it or air it out. I haven't seen a lot of film on him though, and there are other guys to look at, but he's on my radar as a replacement for Stafford who might enter this draft.

I'm undecided on Caldwell. I liked him as an alternative to Schwartz last year, but overall I think he's a neutral coach. Not especially terrible, but not outstanding either. The Lions could keep him or fire him and I wouldn't feel strongly either way, at this point. If they decide to let Caldwell go, the ideal replacement might be Teryl Austin, the current D Coordinator. Other top assistants in the NFL:
Josh McDaniels, OC of the Pats was a HC in Denver for a minute and hopefully learned from mistakes made there. He's been OC for all of New England's championships, and called plays for one of the best offenses in history, that 2007 team that won every game except the Super Bowl.
Todd Haley, the Steeler's OC also has some head coaching experience.

A guy like Pat Shurmur, Philly's OC might be a good option as well. He's a solid OC, and he had the tough luck of having his only HC opportunity so far come in Cleveland. Plus, he was born in the area and has plenty of Michigan connections.
Indianapolis's HC Chuck Pagano looks to be on the hot seat, although most of their problems are related to the personnel moves the team made this past offseason. He's a guy I could see Detroit firing Caldwell for.

That's it for now. I'm pretty tired of even THINKING of the Lions.


On the other hand, Michigan won in a stunner on Saturday, and the Pistons are now at 3-0 after fighting past Chicago in OT. Both of these are legit wins. Chicago is still one of the top teams in the East, eking out Cleveland in their opener, and Minnesota was a winning team playing in an emotional game, after their beloved head coach stepped down for health reasons. Michigan has a couple of games I'm penciling in as wins (Indiana and Rutgers), and then finishes the season with a couple of pretty tough games, Penn State and OSU.

The 3-0 Pistons look a LOT better than I thought they'd be, although the shooting hasn't come around yet. So far they've beaten Atlanta, who finished 60-22 last year, Utah, who finished 38-44, and Chicago, who went 50-32. This year those teams are a combined 8-0 against teams other than the Pistons. These were not fluky wins, and this isn't a counterfeit win streak. They earned their 3-0 record, unlike Toronto, who've played 3 shaky teams, or Minnesota's 2-0 record, which has come against basement teams.

So far it appears that the Pistons are hanging their hat on their defense, which FEELS right but actually hasn't been the case since 2008. This game went into OT and yet neither team reached 100 pts. Marcus Morris absolutely WORKED over Tony Snell in this one, Reggie Jackson had some nice drives opened up by rolling with Drummond, but no one else for Detroit looked special on offense. Drummond had a 20/20 game, but most of his points were on putbacks. I will say this - his foul shot looks a lot better this year, and his post game is taking baby steps to the point where it might go from a wrinkle in Detroit's offense to a feature.

The defense is strong, though. The worst defenders (who actually play) are probably Blake, Tolliver, and Meeks - who is out now for 3-4 months. Ilyasova isn't any great shakes on that end either, except he draws a LOT of charges, so that makes up for some of his 1-on-1 deficiencies. KCP looks like a legit stopper now, which was his rep/not the reality for his first 2 seasons. Stanley Johnson has looked like a capable defender, which for a rookie is like saying he's 1st Team All Defense. Morris has been good, Reggie Jackson has been adequate, and Drummond has had a LOT more luck closing off the paint with Monroe gone.

We don't know anything yet. Not really. The Pistons could be riding high and fall apart in their next game. They've been riding Marcus Morris on offense, and that might not be sustainable. They will need to adapt as the season goes on. But early indications are promising.