Detroit Lions scouting report: Still some Roar
From the great Bob McGinn, Journal-Sentinel Packer Insider Chief
~Green Bay — The Detroit Lions haven’t won more games than they’ve lost since 2000 and they’re not going to have a winning season in 2010, but are they as bad as their record would indicate?
“They’re a lot better than a 2-10 team,” said an assistant coach for a recent Lions opponent. “I think everybody that goes in there finds that out. They’re still playing hard. I think they do have a real shot.”
The coach was referring to the Lions’ chances of upsetting the Green Bay Packers (8-4), who visit Ford Field on Sunday as a 7-point favorite.
Of their six games on home turf, the Lions have yet to lay an egg. Despite their 2-4 record, they’ve outscored the opposition, 177-158.
“They play pretty well at home,” an executive in personnel for an NFC team said. “I think it’s going to be about what happened last week in Detroit. Detroit’s going to score, but they’ll make enough mistakes to lose.”
On Sunday, the Lions led at halftime for the third game in a row only to give up a decisive fourth-quarter touchdown and fall to Chicago, 24-20. It was Detroit’s fifth straight loss, a skid that began Nov. 7 when the Lions squandered a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter at Ford Field and lost in overtime to the New York Jets, 23-20.
In all, the Lions have a respectable point differential of minus-28, which is far better than anything they’ve finished a full season with since 2000.
“But I think this has been demoralizing, these last three or four games,” another personnel director said. “They’re the kind of team now, if you jumped on them early, then that might be it. If you let them in the game and some good things happen, then they’re going to go all the way through.”
Green Bay has won 10 in a row in the series and 18 of the last 20. Mike McCarthy is 9-0 against the Lions with a 14.5-point average margin of victory.
A victory would extend the Packers’ winning streak in Detroit to five. The only time the Packers have won more than five straight in Detroit was 1936-’44, when they captured nine in a row at University of Detroit Stadium and Briggs Stadium.
“The Packers are a machine. I don’t see (an upset) happening,” one scout said. “The Lions would have had a chance with (Matthew) Stafford and a few more wins so they felt like they had it going.”
Second-year coordinator Scott Linehan prefers a one-back, three-WR set, frequently from shotgun. The Lions’ 28th-ranked ground game (89.0) features stretch and counter plays, sometimes with “wham” blocking. The Lions are so weak at WR, they don’t even use four-WR sets. They rank 13th in points (23.2), 15th in yards (339.3) and tied for 16th in giveaways (21).
There were games early in Calvin Johnson’s four-year career when bump-and-run specialists such as Al Harris got in his face and won the day. The only way foes can contain Johnson now is safety over the top and redirects underneath. Johnson has great size (6 feet 5 inches, 236 pounds), speed (4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and jumping ability (42½ inches). Plus, he scored 23 on the Wonderlic intelligence test and has come out of his shell to shoulder more of a leadership role. Nate Burleson (6-0½, 198), who sat out the first GB game, is an adequate No. 2. A 65-game starter for Minnesota and Seattle from 2003-’09, Burleson is athletic, nifty and elusive after the catch. He’s also not very strong and not very tough. The rotating No. 3s, Derrick Williams (5-11½, 197) and Bryant Johnson (6-2½, 215), offer next to nothing. Brandon Pettigrew (6-5½, 265) is tied for second in receptions by a TE with 60. The 20th pick in ’09, Pettigrew is a tremendous all-around talent. He’s big, moves well with the ball, catches just about everything and can get movement as a drive blocker. Backup TE Tony Scheffler (6-5½, 255), a featured player through midyear, remains nagged by a rib injury and hasn’t been a factor.
GM Martin Mayhew made a great trade in April, acquiring LG Rob Sims (6-2½, 312) from Seattle for a fifth-round pick. Sims quickly became the Lions’ No. 1 blocker, excelling in pass protection, pulling well and making few mistakes. LT Jeff Backus (6-5½, 305), a starter since ’01, has been up and down but it still ranks as one of his better years. He’s consistently adequate. RT Gosder Cherilus (6-6½, 325), a three-year starter, has long arms, huge hands (11¾ inches) and a mean streak that has led to penalties. He’s no gazelle, but at least he has been more reliable. C Dominic Raiola (6-2, 295), a starter since ’02, calls a good game, goes all-out and races downfield but also will struggle against muscle. The weak link is penalty-ridden RG Stephen Peterman (6-4, 323), a scrapper whose stiffness is made worse by a foot injury that has limited him for two months.
Matthew Stafford (shoulder) and Shaun Hill (finger) are out, leaving Drew Stanton (6-3, 230) to start just the third game of his four-year career. He was OK against the Bears, directing a risk-reduced game plan and avoiding the killer miscue. Stanton is confident if not cocky, smart (Wonderlic of 35), marginally tough and a threat to run (4.75 40). He’s also scatter-armed and not nearly as good as Hill, let alone Stafford. Rookie Zac Robinson (6-2½, 218), a seventh-round pick cut by New England, joined the Lions on Nov. 9. He had 15 on the Wonderlic, runs 4.69 and was an iffy decision-maker at Oklahoma State.
Rookie RB Jahvid Best (5-10, 199) is coming off probably his best game since Week 5. His 4.38 speed was evident against Chicago, but he still can’t cut and elude like he did before suffering turf toe injuries on both feet in September. Best has exceptional vision, soft hands and terrific receiving skills. With RB Kevin Smith (thumb) on injured reserve for a month, former Seahawk Maurice Morris (6-1, 216) has been an effective backup. He’s tough as nails, gets what’s there and is seasoned out of the backfield. FB Jerome Felton (6-0, 246), a three-year starter, has ball-carrying
Coordinator Gunther Cunningham, 64, plays his DEs wide and stacks his LBs inside in a 4-3, trying to squeeze the run. He employs more of a “Tampa 2” scheme with a form of “quarters” coverage. Once a heavy blitzer, Cunningham’s pressure ratio has been moderate. The Lions are tied for ninth in take-aways (22), 21st in yards (350.0) and 25th in points (25.5).
Categorized as doubtful against Chicago (neck-shoulder), RE Kyle Vanden Bosch (6-3½, 278) missed his first game and remains highly questionable. He’s as intense as they come and brainy (Wonderlic of 38), a skilled rusher and an all-around inspirational figure. Behind Vanden Bosch, the backup combo of former Seahawk Lawrence Jackson (6-4, 271) and former Chief Turk McBride (6-2½, 278) isn’t bad. Jackson has long arms and ideal speed (4.84) but isn’t overly physical and tends to disappear. McBride is a high-energy edge rusher. LE Cliff Avril (6-3, 265) has added 15 pounds over a three-year span and become much more than just an upfield rusher. He plays hard, manages the run and is coming off a three-sack game. The strength of the defense is DTs Ndamukong Suh (6-4, 307), former Packer Corey Williams (6-3½, 320) and Sammie Hill (6-4, 329). Suh, the second pick in April, is learning to deal with double-teams on almost every play. He’s incredibly strong, reads blockers and finds the ball, likes punishing people and is hard to dislodge. He isn’t a great player yet but he should be in another year or two. Williams fit perfectly in Cunningham’s slanting front. He’s lightning off the ball (sometimes too quick with almost 10 penalties), powerful and productive. It’s probably his best season. Hill might be a better pure rusher than Williams.
The only keeper is MLB DeAndre Levy (6-3, 238), a third-round pick from Wisconsin via Milwaukee Vincent High School. Nagged by injuries early, Levy is solid but not special in all phases. OLBs Julian Peterson (6-3, 245) and Landon Johnson (6-2, 232) have no future in Detroit beyond the next four games. Peterson, 32, used to compensate for his mental deficiencies as a rushing threat and violent hitter. Today, he offers zilch rushing and hurts the defense because he’s fooled so often. Johnson, a stopgap starter in Cincinnati and Carolina from 2004-’09, has lost speed and doesn’t take on blocks.
Five of the unit’s paltry seven interceptions were by impressive little RC Alphonso Smith, who damaged his shoulder Sunday and is out. It’s a critical loss at what was a thin position even with him. Replacing Smith is Brandon McDonald (5-10½, 185), who started for Cleveland in 2008-’09 but was cut by the Browns and Cardinals in ’10. Having played five games, McDonald (4.58) has been aggressive and generally in the right place. Former Falcon LC Chris Houston (5-10, 178) can run (4.34) with anyone. But he doesn’t like to hit, gambles and is out of position too much. Former Bear Nathan Vasher (5-10, 185), a Pro Bowler in ’05, will have to be the nickel back even though he can’t run anymore. The best DB is FS Louis Delmas (5-11½, 202), who fires up teammates with big hits but might be too reckless for his own good. SS Amari Spievey (5-11, 195), a converted CB who became a starter in Week 8, is feeling his way in coverage but has tackled very well.
K Dave Rayner, a Packer in ’06, replaced injured Jason Hanson (knee) in Week 9 and is workmanlike. P Nick Harris, 32, is directionally-oriented and ranks 28th in net (35.5). Former Steeler Stefan Logan (5-6, 180) could be the all-pro KR. He can cut on a dime, break tackles and go the distance. He isn’t fumbling, either. LB Isaiah Ekejiuba leads coach Danny Crossman’s physical, effective cover units.
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