Mike O'Hara: Monday Countdown
National NFL experts sound off on bunch of Lions' issues
Five respected followers of the NFL have been asked to address five issues involving the Lions.
The issues: if they're better than their record; areas that must be upgraded; whether general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz are the right leadership tandem; Matthew Stafford's value and future; the national buzz on the Lions.
If you're a Lions fan, the answers provide more hope than might be expected for a team that has had double-digit losses for the ninth time in 10 seasons.
For example: Are they as bad as their record?
"They are more like a six-win team that might end up at 3-13," ESPN's John Clayton said.
Added Peter King of Sports Illustrated, NBC and anywhere in the world that football is talked and written about
: "If the question is, "Are they a hopeless two-win team?' Then, absolutely not."
Is the national buzz the same old Lions?
"They're not a joke," said Gil Brandt, the super scout and personnel wizard who helped build the Dallas Cowboys into America's Team.
"The buzz is considerably more than a year ago or two years ago. There are more people talking about the Lions."
What about Stafford?
"They'd definitely have four more wins with Stafford," said Jim Miller, a former Michigan State quarterback whose 11 NFL seasons included a year, 2004, with the Patriots that earned him a Super Bowl ring.
What needs fixing first?
"Almost anything with the pass defense, and assume that means the secondary," said Clark Judge, CBS Sports' national NFL columnist. "I'm astonished by how easy it is for opponents to gash these guys with the pass."
For this week's Monday Countdown, Brandt, King, Clayton, Miller and Judge were asked to give their views on the five issues involving the Lions. It was done before Sunday's game with the Packers to avoid being swayed by a possible upset victory.
Here are their responses:
Are the Lions better than their record?
Brandt: "They easily could have and should have won the Bears game in Week 1 on that play (Calvin Johnson's nullified TD catch). They're playing like a team that's got five or six wins right now, and it doesn't look like they've quit or anything like that. It seems like they all playing hard. I'll tell you who's playing good is that left tackle, Jeff Backus.
"They're definitely a more prepared team than I've seen them. Jim has them much more prepared than ever before. I think he's doing an above average job."
King: "They've had four tortuous losses to likely playoff teams, and they play hard. And they've finally got a good defensive front for the first time since the Robert Porcher days."
Clayton: "They have played better than a two-win team. They were robbed on the Calvin Johnson play at the beginning of the season. A few other calls have cost them in the close games."
Judge: "The feeling is that the Lions are at least interesting for the first time in years and dangerous if you're not careful. Can't remember the last time I said that."
Miller: "Whether it's due to officials or what, they're better than 2-10. That offense is doing something. They actually have a good offense moving forward, if they can keep Stafford healthy."
Are Mayhew and Schwartz the right leadership team?
King: "One hundred percent yes. The Lions are making progress, have drafted reasonably well, and have some superb, young building blocks. Give this administration at least a four-year chance."
Brandt: "I talked to Bill Parcells last week, and we were talking about them, and he said, 'I hope one thing. I hope they give this guy a chance because I think he is really a good young coach.' That's straight from the great Parcells.
"Mayhew has a very good idea of what it takes."
Clayton: "Making a change at coach or general manager would be a mistake. The talent base is building up nicely, and Jim Schwartz gets good effort out of the players. Replacing Schwartz could cost them Linehan, and that would set the offense back."
Miller: "It seems like he (Mayhew) is taking the feedback from the coaches, and it carries a lot of weight. That alone is different from the past of the Lions.
"They're coordinated. It's figuring it out and having a plan. They've been aggressive. Look at all the trades in the offseason."
Judge: "Too soon to make a call on Mayhew/Schwartz. I will say that the player acquisitions have been better, much better, than the Matt Millen years, but they should be. The bar was set low. Jim brings the right attitude to this team, and the club seems to have responded. But the bottom line is, with four games left in the season his record is worse than Marty Mornhinweg's two years.
"It's one thing to say the club looks and acts better. But it better win more, and it hasn't. I'll cut Jim some slack because of the Stafford injury, but I'm startled the Lions aren't better on defense. That's Jim's side of the ball, and one where I thought the Lions would make the most improvement."
What areas need to be improved?
Clayton: "They've got to strengthen the offensive line, but they can spend the 2011 offseason on their defense. Stafford has to stay healthy for the Lions to advance. I look at it as the Lions are two drafts away from getting better on defense. They made a mistake letting Ernie Sims go to Philadelphia because they'll be in the market for two outside linebackers."
Brandt: "They have to draft like they have the past two years. They need another good draft, and in that draft, they need to get a cornerback. And the second thing that would help the most is if they get an offensive lineman. There are a lot of offensive linemen around this year."
Miller: "I still think the offensive line has to be added to. Jeff Backus can't play forever. I don't think everybody's sold on their secondary. They basically got some guys who were failed high draft picks. They have to add to their linebackers. It's the offensive line and the back seven. Jahvid Best ó that guy is a special player. I think Scott Linehan hit a home run there."
King: "1. Get Stafford healthy ó and find out for certain if these shoulder injuries are fluky or an unavoidable habit. If they are, cry for an hour, then go get some legit QB insurance. 2. Get two new pieces for an aging and just-OK offensive line. Urgent."
Judge: "I would find a cornerback or two. Draft an offensive tackle to protect the quarterback and hope like heck that Stafford isn't what he appears to be -- which is fragile."
Is Stafford the quarterback for the future?
Brandt: "Stafford's return means everything. He is capable of having the same kind of success that Sam Bradford is. He's a talented guy, and not only is he a talented guy, but a guy who works at it.
"He lives close to my house in Dallas. When he comes home in the summer and it's 115 degrees out there, he's out throwing the football with kids who were in school with him. And he's smart. That where the whole thing starts."
Miller: "They actually have a good offense moving forward, if they can keep Stafford healthy."
Judge: "I have no doubt that Stafford was the right guy, but he sure looks like an injury waiting to happen. If his shoulder is as vulnerable as it seems, it keeps the Lions from moving to the head of the class -- for a while. You can't go anywhere without solving that position, and I won't believe it's solved until I see Stafford make it through a season without sitting in the ER."
King: "They got totally screwed by the injury, and re-injury, to Matthew Stafford. It's hard to build momentum when your franchise player can't stay on the field."
Clayton: "Stafford has to stay healthy for the Lions to advance."
What is the national buzz about the Lions?
Brandt, who does a daily show on Sirius satellite radio: "The buzz is considerably more than a year ago or two years ago. There are more people talking about the Lions. Interest in the Lions has gone up considerably.
"It's not anymore, 'If they ever win a game.' It's, 'What do you think of the progress they're making?' It's not like they're a joke."
King: "There's a feeling of hope for the future when I talk to people about the Lions."
Miller, who does a daily show on Sirius, pinpointing the identity: "Every player I talk to, and I went down and talked to the offensive linemen of the Bears, they say it's the defensive line.
"They could realistically go a five-down defensive front. They can't because of their secondary, but their front can absolutely bring it. They know that it's going to be a competitive game against the Lions. They play with tremendous effort."
Clayton: "Before the injury to Matthew Stafford, there was a decent buzz about the team. Even though the Lions weren't showing much advancement in the win column, there was definite progress in the product on the field. Losing Stafford and then Shaun Hill took the Lions off the mainstream."
Judge: "The Lions are an improved team, close to where they want to be, and just a player or two away. Most people agree that if Stafford hadn't been hurt, Detroit would have had a far better season than it's had. The bottom line is this: The Lions are on the right track."
From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20101213/...#ixzz184Er9DNU