Jim Schwartz's thinking man's approach

Friday, October 23, 2009

Good article by Michael Rosenberg at Freep.com on Coach Jim Schwartz's thinking man's approach to attempting to turn around the Lions.

While in the past the Lions have brought in system coaches -- the West Coast offenses of Marty Mornhinweg and Steve Mariucci; the Tampa Two defense of Rod Marinelli; Schwartz is not wedded to any particular concept that requires forcing players to fit into a particular system. Instead, he makes a study of what it takes to win in the NFL, and seeks out multidimensional players -- physically and mentally -- who can adapt to situations. Schwartz says that's a Bill Belichick trademark. It allows a team to better adapt to injuries and the other team's weaknesses.

There's an interesting passage on Schwartz's interest in football analyst Aaron Schatz's work:

(Schatz) is the founder of FootballOutsiders.com, which is sort of a think tank for football. Schatz crunches numbers to ask the same question Schwartz asks: How do you win?

"If you have multidimensional players, now you don't have to fit what you do to your strengths," Schatz said. "You fit what you do to other teams' weaknesses. The more multidimensional your players, and your team, you can go after what the other team can't stop, instead of what you can do well."

Not surprising, Jim Schwartz -- more than any other NFL coach -- has taken an interest in Schatz's work. When Schwartz was the defensive coordinator in Tennessee, he invited Schatz to spend a week with him in Nashville in the off-season, watching film and talking football. Schatz even stayed at Schwartz's house.

"He's the only coach in the league who knows what DVOA is, and he would rather see his team finish first in DVOA than yards," Schatz said.

DVOA is Schatz's biggest and best creation. The full name is Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. Essentially, Schatz matches every play against what the rest of the league does in that same situation, then adjusts for strength of opponent. It is an attempt to show that a 4-yard run on third-and-14 is not as valuable as a 4-yard run on third-and-3.

Schwartz has been preaching that for years. He can punch a hole in any of the commonly accepted stats. The total-yards stat, that drives him crazy. It gives too much weight to garbage time.

A few years ago, when his defense was struggling in the red zone, Schwartz picked up tape of the No. 1 red-zone defense in the league, to see if he could learn something. "I put in the tape, and I started watching," Schwartz said. "I'm like 'Good gracious!' They had two games where they finished games with the offense taking a knee in the red zone. They were losing the game! But that's a red-zone stop on defense. They also had an overtime game that they lost that they gave up a field goal in the red zone. That's a red-zone stop."

He has not looked at red-zone numbers the same way since. He has seen other coaches pile up stats at the end of games, sometimes putting their stars in harm's way to do it, and he is incredulous.

Everything the NFL takes for granted, Schwartz questions. That doesn't mean he disagrees. It means he does not automatically agree.

In Tennessee, he told the offensive coaches they should run more on third-and-short. He knew. He had crunched the numbers.

When the Lions were deciding what to do with their second first-round pick last spring, Schwartz pushed for tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The conventional wisdom was that they had bigger needs than a tight end. Schwartz says "our number one need was talent," and it would have been foolish to ignore the highest-rated player on their draft board.

So far the Lions haven't had a lot of success under Schwartz. But I like the guy's approach. I feel infinitely more confident with him at the helm than I ever did under Marinelli. You get the sense that now it's a matter of bringing talent in -- a massive undertaking post-Millen. And that given talent, Schwartz will know how to win with it.

Talk about it in The Den!

"Have at it” – ESPN.com Fields Suggestions on How to Fix the Lions

ESPN.com’s NFC North blogger, Kevin Seifert, threw up a post asking his readership to lay out their blueprint for the Lions’ future.  He received just about every conceivable suggestion, from pumping up the offense, to ignoring the offense and fixing up the defense, and everything in between.  This morning, Kevin collected some of the best answers and supplied his own.

He generally supported the no-job-is-safe approach that Schwartz has taken, though cautioned that sometimes, consistency is a virtue in and of itself.  He also advocated a long-term strategy of addressing both the offensive and defensive lines—something almost every Lions fan can get behind.

Frankly, the most dire situation isn’t the OL, whose play has been somewhere between “okay” and “pretty good”.  Nor is it the DL, where injuries have either felled or limited Jared DeVries, DeWayne White, Cliff Avril, Jason Hunter, and Sammie Hill.  That’s the top two DEs at each position, and three of the four projected starters on the defensive line.  Once the DL gets healthy, the front seven should be moderately stout.

However, the secondary remains a completely unfettered disaster.  Theoretical #1 cornerback Anthony Henry started off solid, but is starting to show why the Lions have wanted to switch him to safety.  Phillip Buchanon has the talent to be a #1 corner, but his play has been wildly inconsistent.  Will James, would be an excellent nickel corner, and an okay complement opposite a true #1.  However, he’s currently the Lions’ best corner, and that is not good.  Ko Simpson has played very well next to Louis Delmas, but Simpson’s been dinged up, and Delmas is playing like the very talented rookie that he is: talented . . . but a rookie.

Don’t forget, Gunther Cunningham’s aggressive blitzes can’t work, and won’t be called, if the secondary can’t hold it down behind them.  As long as the defensive backfield is in such disarray, the Lions won’t be able to run their defense like they want to.  Minimally, the Lions will need to either acquire a veteran starting corner, or spend a weekday draft pick on one.  After that, they’ll have to either settle on Ko Simpson or scout out his replacement.  Finally, they’ll have to rebuild the depth at corner with a mid- and/or late-round pick or two.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

Lydon Murtha Snatched by Dolphins and Other Practice Squad Moves

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pressure was building, the movement was gathering--fans from Mlive to Scout and around the Detroit Lions Nation were starting to grumble about Lydon Murtha. The 6'7", 315lb lineman from Nebraska was finally healthy and looking like a great addition to the active roster. Certainly he must be better than what is out there now, right?

Then, as the trade deadline passed, each Lions fan breathed a sigh of relief as no milleneque move was performed. No aged veteran on the down slope of his career was added to the roster.

Then the headline came, "Miami Dolphins sign Lydon Murtha off Lions' Practice Squad."


On the bright side, Lions fans, Murtha was just a 7th round pick who wasn't even on the active roster. However, Murtha being coveted by a team with a decent offensive line means that he probably had enough upside to make our lowly line.

Double Doh!

The Lions replaced Murtha with Joe Cohen, a second year defensive tackle out of the University of Florida. The 6'2", 310lbs behemoth was originally a 4th round pick of the San Francisco 49ers but has bounced around due to injury.

In another practice squad move, the Detroit Lions released DT Jervonte Jackson and replaced him with Jahi Word-Daniels. Word-Daniels is a rookie cornerback out of Georgia Tech.

Phil Simms: I'd take Stafford over Sanchez AND Ryan, Flacco

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wow ... who snuck the Kool-Aid into the CBS booth?

Former Super Bowl winning QB Phil Simms appeared on the "Scores Report" last week and talked about a number of NFL-related topics. Most interesting to Lions fans: a few questions about rookie QB Matthew Stafford and how he measures up to other young QBs. Here's an excerpt from the interview:

The Scores report: If you’re starting a franchise tomorrow and you have your pick of these four young quarterbacks, whom do you go with: Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez or Matthew Stafford?

Phil Simms: Am I the coach, too? That could determine whom I choose.

TSR: Yep, you run everything – you’re the coach, the GM, everything.

PS: If I had to take one of those four guys right now and we’re going to start tomorrow, I’d probably take Matthew Stafford.

TSR: Really?

PS: Yes. He’s got the arm and he’s a lot more mobile then I thought he would be when I saw him at Georgia. I’m not saying he’s got Brett Favre’s arm, but he has an arm that is going to last a long time. Of course, Joe Flacco does too, but Stafford would be my type of quarterback.

I think Stafford's already shown he's not going to be a bust. I think he's also shown he's got a lot of upside, as he seems to keep improving week by week.

So I'm not surprised to hear Simms say he'd take Stafford over Sanchez -- and even Joe Flacco (though Flacco was a game-manager type his rookie year and now really seems to be blossoming). But over Matt Ryan? Bold statement there. Not sure if I'd concur.

But Simms was a very good QB, and he's one of the best color analysts out there. So ...

A link to the full story isn't working, so I don't know if there's more. But here's Freep.com's blurb on it.

They're talking about it in The Den!

Roster Moves for Week Six

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A bevy of moves coming out of Allen Park this week.

Drew Rosenhaus reported from his Twitter page that John Standeford has re-signed with the Lions. The 6'4", 206lb wide receiver from Purdue has spent time with the Lions, Colts and Redskins in his six year career. Standeford takes the roster spot of Adam Jennings who was placed on IR, ending his season.

The Lions have also taken steps to shore up their secondary by signing CB DeMarcus Faggins. The 30-year-old has 36 starts along with 216 tackles and five interceptions. He is also known as a brilliant special teams player. To make room, the Lions released Chuck Darby.

On the practice squad, John Niyo reports that the Lions have released DeAndre Wright and signed DE Robert Henderson who had worked out with the team on October 6th. Henderson, 6'3", 278lbs was a sixth round draft pick of the New York Giants after playing his college ball at Southern Miss.

Also on the practice squad, the Lions have signed Jervonte Jackson, a 6'3", 300lbs DE from Florida Atlantic a 2009 rookie free agent who has played with the Eagles and Jacksonville. The Lions also signed recent tryout, WR Kole Heckendorf, a Wisconsin native. The 2009 North Dakota State alumni is his school's all-time leading receiver. The Lions released Matthias Askew and Logan Payne.

The Lions have also recently tried out OT Levi Jones, C Melvin Fowler, and rookie free agent CB/S Jahi Word-Daniels.

Secondary worse than last year? Is that even possible?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Free Press writer Nick Cotsonika has an article pointing it out.

Except for interceptions -- the Lions have three by defensive backs, after one last year -- the stats are dreadful.

Last year, the Lions allowed opponents to complete 68.4% of their passes and post a 110.9 combined passer rating. Those were horrible numbers, worst in the NFL in both categories.

This year, they're worse. The Lions are allowing opponents to complete 73.3% of their passes and post a 119.7 combined passer rating. Again, they're worst in both categories.

Consider the NFL records for individual quarterbacks. The highest completion percentage ever in a season was 70.55 (Cincinnati's Ken Anderson in 1982). The highest passer rating ever in a season was 121.1 (Indianapolis' Peyton Manning in 2004).

In other words, it's like the Lions are facing the best quarterback of all time -- all the time.

The pass rush certainly plays a role. But the Lions have been beaten physically and blown assignments too often on the back end. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he hesitated on a touchdown throw Sunday because he was expecting to see a safety and couldn't believe his receiver was so open.

Schwartz also notes in the article that the long runs the Lions are giving up far too often are also on the secondary.

There's only so much that can be done in one off-season. The Lions certainly turned over the secondary and brought in a lot of new names. But it never seems to matter, even when the coaches and coordinators change. It's the same awful results.

CB and S opposite Delmas seem to need help desperately, and the Lions really need to get a 10-to-15-sack DE in the draft as well.

They're talking about it in The Den.

Polamalu & Parker Doubtful for Sunday's Game

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Jason La Canfora (NFL.com) reported October 7th that Troy Polamalu has resumed light practicing on a regular basis for the Pittsburgh Steelers but that he is not expected to play week 5 against the Detroit Lions. He is looking forward to a week 6 return against the Cleveland Browns.

Similarly, the AP has reported that Rashard Mendenhall is preparing for a bulk of the rushing load on Sunday. Willie Parker has yet to practice and personally, does not expect to play.

Other Steelers currently banged up: Hines Ward did not practice on Wednesday but expects to play; Andre Frazier (shoulder) and Chris Kemoeatu (ankle) both are questionable.

For the Lions:Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Gosder Cherilus, Sammie Hill, Kalvin Pearson, and Ko Simpson all missed practice on Wednesday. Keep an eye on their status as all could play but will be late Friday decisions.

Cliff Avril, Kevin Smith, Grady Jackson, and Ernie Sims all practiced on Wednesday and are expected to play.

Lions Activate Follett, Sign WR, Work Out Others

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

This week, the Detroit Lions made a great deal of their fans happy by signing Zack Follett off of the practice squad. The seventh round pick out of California became a fan favorite in the offseason.

Follett should bolster a lackluster special teams corps and back up Julian Peterson on the strong side.

To fill his spot on the practice squad the Detroit Lions signed Logan Payne a third-year receiver out of Minnesota. Payne has spent his career as a member of the Seattle Seahawks filling in when injuries struck their underachieving receivers. In 2008, he was signed to the active roster and responded with a two catch game.

He was injured in his second active game with the club and placed on the IR for all of 2008.

As a senior he was the Golden Gophers' number one receiver.

In addition, the Lions tried out a new list of players this week for their "short list:" RB Jehuu Caulcrick, LB Vinny Ciurciu, SS Vernon Fox, DE Robert Henderson, SS Todd Johnson, OG Kurt Quarterman, and OG Issac Sowells.

Schwartz showing a lack of tolerance for poor play -- how refreshing!

Good article by MLive.com's Tom Kowalski today outlining that for all of Coach Jim Schwartz's other qualities -- he seems to be an intelligent, confident, forward-looking coach who isn't overwhelmed by his new position -- he also possesses something new General Manager Martin Mayhew has shown as well: ruthlessness.

When a Lions player isn't getting the job done, Schwartz doesn't tell us he'll need to check the film to make sure his eyes worked on Sunday; he makes changes to the lineup. The latest is taking underperforming Aaron Brown off kick return duties and installing fellow rookie Derrick Williams -- and essentially putting Williams on-notice to perform or else.

But that's only the latest such move by Schwartz, Killer notes. Others have included:

* After signing Phillip Buchanon to a 2-year, $8.5 million contract with the expectation he would be a starting CB, Schwartz has replaced Buchanon in the starting lineup with journeyman Will James. James has played solid, consistent football and made it difficult to take him out of the lineup, Schwartz said. But this also has to do with how Buchanon's been performing, and it's interesting that his contract isn't saving him. Writes Killer: "Buchanon didn't just slide to the nickel back position or even the dime -- he's at the bottom of the depth chart. For two games now, he has seen only time on special teams."

*LB Ernie Sims, a first-round pick, could be losing more and more playing time to third-rounder DeAndre Levy; as could veteran Julian Peterson, who was signed in the offseason with fanfare and high expectations. Why? Levy's simply getting the job done better.

*Left guard Daniel Loper practiced with the first-team offense almost all of training camp. He's been replaced as a starter by Manny Ramirez.

*S Kalvin Pearson gave way to Marquand Manuel, who gave way to in-season signee Ko Simpson, as Schwartz continues to look for solutions on the other side of NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month Louis Delmas.

Noticing a pattern here?

There's a fine line between accountability for your play and too much of a revolving door leading to no continuity or improvement. But as Killer points out, a lot of coaches talk tough, then don't back it up. Schwartz seems willing to back up his talk with action.

"I've never been known as a patient person," Schwartz said. "There's a fine line between staying the course and being on the right track and then going the other way and continuing to do the same things and not having results and expecting things to change. It's my job to recognize that.

"We keep putting the same people in the same positions and the job doesn't get done, so we need to make a change. Either put players in a different position, or put different players in the same position."

Talk about it in The Den!


Monday, October 5, 2009

For those of you who were fans of the (mostly) excellent science fiction/fantasy/thriller/suspense show The X-Files, I have an excellent link for you.  A moderator at Lionbacker.com, a Lions blog and forum site, thought he saw something unexplained in the video replay of Johnny Knox’s gamebreaking 102-yard kickoff return for a TD.

What he saw was no touchdown at all.  Take a look at the evidence for yourself.  Was it a touchdown, or an illusion?  A critical failure of the Lions’ special teams, or a league conspiracy to ensure the status quo in the NFC North goes unchallenged?  Tell me, Lions fans—is the truth out there?

Discuss it here, in The Den!

How long is Stafford out? IS Stafford out?

An ugly loss in Chicago had the potential to become even more nightmarish, with franchise pillars QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson both leaving the game with leg injuries.

Calvin says he'll be fine; Stafford's prognosis is still unclear. He'll undergo an MRI and other tests on an apparently momentarily dislocated knee.

It looks like we'll just have to wait and see, as speculation is all over the place as to how much time, if any, Stafford may have to miss. It ranges from he could be back in next Sunday to he's going to miss a week or two, and it could be "much worse."

Stafford's demeanor on the sidelines late in the Bears loss didn't seem to indicate any long-term injury -- you can often see on a player's face if they're seriously hurt.

They're talking about it in The Den.

Matthew Shepatin On Gunslinging

Friday, October 2, 2009

I have to admit that I am not fond of the term 'gunslinger'. It reminds me too much of bad Saturday afternoon serial westerns from the pre-cable days, and in a way I am sure the word has biased me away from wanting a 'gunslinger' on the team. Call it something else and I would probably be a little more receptive.

That said, Matthew Shepatin had some good points to chew on in an interview posted yesterday at the New York Times.

It’s no wonder that gunslingers like Sammy Baugh, Bobby Layne, Ken Stabler and Joe Namath are all but a thing of the past. Young quarterbacks like Tony Romo, Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez have the skill and guts to carry on the great gunslinger legacy but I fear that the swashbuckler is being kicked out of them. Did you see Sanchez’s headfirst dive into the end zone Sunday against the Titans? Risky, possibly even stupid, and I loved every second of it. I, for one, hope that Sanchez continues to go out there and play with a free spirit. That’s the way Romo used to play when he first came on the scene. It’s what gave him a dangerous quality. He could strike at any time. He was out there making plays. Having fun. Now I watch Tony Romo and he doesn’t look like he’s having much fun at all. It’s not only sad as a spectator but what Wade Phillips doesn’t seem to get is that it’s counter-productive to getting the most out of him. Simplify the offense and let Romo do his thing. Same goes with Jay Cutler in Chicago.

Romo and Cutler are natural gunslingers. Where they get in trouble is thinking too much out there (worried about the consequences of failure) instead of just playing their game – which is on the edge, with passion, with verve, making plays with their feet and arms. When the gunslinger is allowed to play with abandonment, he’s not only capable of dazzling feats but he also energizes his whole team to make plays (see Vikings receiver Greg Lewis and Catch Of His Life).
It is Shepatin's last point that resonates best with me. How often have we read about Favre's linemen being willing to run through a wall for him - mainly because they know he will run through a wall for them. Going back, same thing with Jim McMahon. I didn't have the privilege of watching Baugh or Layne so I can only assume that they shared those qualities. I don't think we ever read about teammates having that kind of respect for Jon Kitna, even though he had a very competitive attitude when he was here. With Joey Harrington it may have been the opposite.

Obviously I am talking about Matt Stafford here, and the idea that he may be able to energize the team with his play warms me a bit more to his potential. While I still feel that Culpepper would have given the team a better chance to win that point is no longer relevant. They've won, and while the win had its share of dysfunction we also maybe saw some of those qualities from Stafford for the first time. The passes to Will Heller and Bryant Johnson and the 26 yard run on third and long in particular. Oddly this was a quality that Culpepper used to have and seems to have lost. In his prime he made a ton of mistakes but made even more plays.

The Lions' strategies from the last two games in particular had Stafford careful leashed against Minnesota and less carefully so against Washington. It will be interesting to see the playcalling evolve as Stafford grows. I expect that we will be both excited and infuriated, sometimes on consecutive plays.

Louis Delmas named Defensive Rookie of the Month

Thursday, October 1, 2009

For this first time in the 13-year history of the honor, the Defensive Rookie of the Month award has been bestowed upon a Lions player: former Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas.  Delmas, who overcame incredible adversity to be a defensive difference-maker, is on track to continue that success into his Lions career.

Delmas provided one of the few bright spots in the Lions’ opening-week loss to the New Orleans Saints; a fumble return for a TD that briefly got the Lions back in the game.  He also helped bottle up Redskins’ Pro Bowl TE Chris Cooley, holding Cooley to just 3 catches and 38 yards in the Lions’ streak-snapping 19-14 victory.

While a fan vote plays a part in awarding the honor, it’s unknown just how big of a part it plays.  While it’s safe to assume that whoever else had input into the award didn’t grade the finalists on every snap they played, and Delmas’s SportsCenter clip probably sealed the deal for him, it’s still remarkable to have a Lions defensive rookie recognized by the league for his impact playmaking three weeks in.

And all this from a draft where the Lions “didn’t address the defense”!

Discuss it here, in The Den!