Time For a Big Change in Detroit
The following year, Schwartz finally had his healthy quarterback for a full season and the Lions became the feel-good story of the NFL, starting the season off with 5 straight victories, including dramatic comebacks against the Cowboys and Vikings (two of my proudest moments as a Lions fan, I might add). Despite an early playoff exit, the season was an undoubtedly a success as a whole.
This season, the expectations were extremely high in Detroit for once. After building on their win totals the past three seasons, the Lions were expected to at least be a playoff team, potentially a sleeper for a deep playoff run. But not only has the young team failed to improve on last year’s success, they’ve actually taken a huge step in the wrong direction. At 1-3 after week 4, things just didn’t look right, and now at 4-8, it’s clearly time for changes to be made. Even though I love the guy and it would warm my heart to see him take down Harbaugh in a no-rules, weapon-of-choice cage match, it’s time for the Lions to move on past Schwartz, and here’s why:
1. Lack of Discipline:
The problem during last season was clear, and the answer was just never delivered. I love the energy Ndamukong Suh brings to the field, but he needs a coach that can control his endless motor, and I just don’t see any indication that Schwartz is that man. Along with Suh, there’s the whole Titus Young debacle and the team as a whole has just never been able to avoid un-timely and costly penalties since Schwartz took over. Two years ago, the Lions had the 2nd most penalties in the league. Last year, they had the 3rd most and this year they have the 6th most so far.
Schwartz needed his team to make a statement this year, a statement saying that this is not the same Lions team that beats itself with stupid penalties, and so far they’ve done nothing but further their unfortunate identity.
The recent dismissal of Young is a promising step, but for me it’s too little to late. What if the move was made earlier in the season? Although Ryan Broyles is now out for the season with a torn ACL, he was healthy at the beginning of the year, but barely saw any snaps, while Young was lining up in the wrong positions on the field and complaining about a lack of targets. Once Broyles started seeing the field, he was instantly a favorite target of Stafford’s and as one of the more humble athletes you’ll ever come across, it boggles my mind how it took the team until Week 7 to actually start giving attention to the NCAA’s Career Receptions Leader.
A true sign of growth for the Lions this year would have been a team that avoided the un-timely penalties of the past and it should have been one of the top priorities for Schwartz this season to make sure the Lions kept the miscues to a minimum no matter what it took.
2. Defense, Defense, Defense:
A former linebacker, Schwartz was brought in to help re-shape a Lions defense that had been one of the league’s worst for over a decade. There are still a couple holes and there have been a good amount of injuries this year, but it’s surprising to me how much this unit has underperformed.
Once Fairley started coming around about three weeks ago, the defensive line vastly improved, but it’s still not one of the stronger D-Lines in the league yet, despite having the potential to be. The linebackers are all strong and Chris Houston’s proven to be a solid number one cornerback, yet the team is just never able to get the stops they need to and always susceptive to the big play – against the Colts, the Lions allowed 4 plays of 40-or-more yards.
Defensive-minded coaches can’t allow their teams to have such consistent mental lapses, and I know I can’t speak for every Lions fan, but I certainly don’t have any confidence when our defense is out there and we need a stop.
3. Game Management:
As exciting as those comebacks in the beginning of the 2011 campaign were, they were also indications that the Lions were still a young team that hadn’t learned to play 60 minutes of football. Well it’s been over a year now, and the team is still similarly unable to do so.
In their first 6 games of the season, the Lions scored only 1 first half touchdown. This is the team with the league’s most dangerous endzone threat and possibly the league’s strongest throwing arm, but only once in their first 6 games this year did they find pay dirt in the first half of a game. Despite ranking 2nd in the NFL in total yards, the Lions are 11th in scoring.
Then in the last three games, the Lions were able to come out of the gate rather strong, but just couldn’t put that finishing touch on the game. Against the Packers, they couldn’t punch the ball in for what would have been a double-digit lead with under 5 minutes to go and settled for a field goal. Against the Texans in overtime, Schwartz refused to put the ball in Stafford’s hands once the team was inside Houston’s 30. Despite a running game that is notoriously one of the league’s worst, despite putting up over 400 passing yards on the day, despite the fact that the Texans had absolutely no response to Calvin and Broyles who both put up over 120 yards as Houston lacked their top corner Jonathan Joseph, Schwartz chose to go with a pair of rushing plays that went nowhere and then felt safe rolling the dice on the usually dependable Jason Hanson. A clutch 47-yarder is a kick that’s good nine times out of ten with Hanson’s leg, but this happened to be that one unlucky day unfortunately. Overall, it would have been nice to get him a few more yards, especially since he only missed by a hair.
Then, as if it were just beating a dead horse, the team went out and did almost the exact same thing against the Colts this weekend. They did everything they needed to do to win the game, except put that final nail in the coffin.
Okay, so this section ended up being a little longer, but I had a lot of frustration to get out, so thanks for sticking with me. Now is it entirely Schwartz’s fault the team just lost three straight games they quite easily could have won? Of course not. Part of the blame goes to the players themselves and maybe even Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan. But it’s Schwartz’s responsibility to make sure his offensive coach and his players are sticking to the game plan, and the game plan all season has lacked strength and has never been able to come through when the team really needed it.
Anyone can beat anyone on any given day, but what really matters is which team actually does get that victory, which team can actually go all 60 minutes, and in 3-plus years as the Lions head coach, Schwartz hasn’t been able to prove he can do that with his team.
It’s time for the Lions to bring in a coach with a track record of winning, a coach that won’t accept his team to finish as one of the most penalized teams in the league three years in a row, or won’t let his defense give up big play after big play. The list of candidates may not be long, but if the Gruden’s or Dungy’s or Cowher’s of the world are looking to get back on the sidelines, the Lions would be foolish to pass it up.