Monday, April 30, 2012

Panic In The D, Panic In The D

It's been a pretty excruciating month for Detroit sports fans. The Red Wings got bounced from the playoffs after managing to win only one postseason game. The Tigers got swept by the lowly Mariners, lost Delmon Young to alleged racism, then cut ties with long-time Tiger/sacrificial lamb Brandon Inge. The Pistons disappointing season came to a relieving end, though there is little reason to be optimistic things will change in the near future. And to top things off, THE LIONS TOOK A RECEIVER IN THE SECOND ROUND. THE WORLD IS ENDING! MILLEN IS REBORN! CALVIN JOHNSON IS CURSED!

This hasn't been our best month. But the pandemonium that the fans have displayed in the past weeks has been eye-rolling at best and apocalyptic at worst.

I'm not going to post specific tweets or link to certain message boards; the purpose of this post is not to instigate a witch hunt. If you're interested in the specifics of the uncontrollable chaos, it really shouldn't be that hard to find with rudimentary googling skills.

Instead, I am going to tackle these issues one-by-one in an attempt to set the Doomsday Clock back a couple hours from midnight.

Red Wings - I am starting with this one because it's the toughest to come to terms with. Hockey has always been my second love behind football, and for the past 15 years the Red Wings have been at the center of April in the D. But after playing in only five postseason games, fans are left unsatisfied and confused.

The team may not need to be blown up, but its more than obvious that the team is trending in the wrong direction. Nick Lidstrom may be done, and whatever free agent the Wings muster up, he will fail to fully fill the skates that Lidstrom has hung up.

I could try to sugar coat the situation by pointing to the Wings' 23-game home winning streak, but anyone who watched knows that the Wings looked anything but dominant during that stretch. In fact, during the three months of the streak, the Wings were a paltry 13-13 away from Joe Lewis Arena.

Uh, yeah, so...optimistic spin time. First and foremost, we're spoiled. It was nice to think that the Wings' dynasty would last forever, but it can't and won't. Though the Wings haven't reached the conference finals in three years, they've reached the playoffs in 21-straight seasons which is the longest active streak in any professional sport.

That streak is not likely to end any time soon, either. The Red Wings still have two cornerstones to the team: Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Both were struggling with injuries throughout the season and didn't quite look 100% during the postseason. And while the Wings failed to have a 30-goal scorer on the roster this season, second-tier players Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler both saw a significant increase in their production. And it looks like they may have a budding star in Gustav Nyquist. Their roster is still a good two to three lines deep, and with a couple of solid defensive additions and perhaps a goal-scorer, the Wings could be right back in the hunt for the cup a year from now.

Tigers - Perhaps the most surprising development of "April in the D" was the mighty struggle of the Tigers. After an extremely promising start, the Tigers have dropped eight of their last ten and now sit at 11-11, tied with Chicago for second in the AL Central.

If I were to put a Homeland Security coded color to the Tigers' crisis, it would be beige. The season is approximately 12% done. The Tigers lost their #2 starter in his first start of the season and will be getting him back soon. Doug Fister's return will give the Tigers a much-needed boost on the mound.

Additionally, the Tigers have had a pretty brutal schedule to date. Their opponents have included the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, White Sox, Royals, Rangers and Mariners. All of those teams (outside of the Royals, whom the Tigers swept) are either 0.5 game below .500 or better. Of course, come playoff time, the Tigers will need to start beating the better teams in the league, but that's still four months away and the team is still figuring out its chemistry.

As for the Young situation, it was a classic case of overreaction before the entire story was released. Young was clearly in the wrong for his actions, but in the end, they weren't all that severe. To put things in perspective, the off-field actions of Miguel Cabrera in the past few years (DUI, alleged domestic dispute, etc.) have been much more severe, yet every time he steps into the batters box, all seems to be forgotten. This is, of course, because WE LIKE WHEN MAN HIT BALL FAR. But when Young pushes a guy to the ground, says a hateful word and is labeled as a "hate criminal", we should crucify him, because he rarely hits dingers. It's all hypocritical and reactionary. Take a breath and see where we are in a month from now.

Pistons - Uh...hey, at least THIS isn't us. Remember 2004? When fros were to be feared? Ah...*strokes jewfro*...those were some great times. My best advice: become a football fan.

Lions - I've saved the most absurd for last.

Instant criticism of the draft is nothing new to Lions fans (or any football fan). In fact, that's pretty much what the draft is all about. But I guess I was a bit naive to think that Martin Mayhew and the rest of the front office had gained the benefit of the doubt by now. After Mayhew pulled this team out of the smoldering pit of doom in just three years, you'd think many would just sit back and let the miracle worker do his thing.

"Play...offs, Helen. Playyyofffffs."

But after the number that Millen did on Lions fans, there's a now-biological reaction to the Lions drafting a wide receiver that involves internal bleeding, vomiting, delusions of persecution, and, of course, foaming at the mouth. It happened with Titus Young last year and it happened ten-fold when the Lions took Ryan Broyles in the second round on Thursday.

When you sift through all the reactionary panic, this pick actually has some intrigue. Though the top three receiver spots on the depth chart are occupied, the fourth receiver is bound to see the field plenty throughout the season. I would be shocked if we didn't see some four-wide sets from Scott Linehan next year. Additionally, Broyles will get a ton of playing time once Calvin Johnson succumbs to the Madden Curse and suffers a terrible ACL tear (kidding). The Lions' identity is clearly a pass-first team, and giving Matthew Stafford more weapons is never a bad thing. Broyles offers a pair of reliable hands that should be around long after players like Nate Burleson have passed their prime.

Were there bigger needs? Sure. Were there players on the board who seemed like a safer bet according to media scouts? Definitely. I, admittedly, was a little disappointed upon hearing the center Peter Konz was still available at that point. But clearly he wasn't high on the Lions' board. Call it "blind faith", but I have full confidence in the Lions' ability to put together a draft board. Actually, don't call it "blind faith". My faith is based on three years of solid drafting and rebuilding a team from nothing. Mayhew has earned my trust more than any mock drafter or any television head. As they say, "In Mayhew We Trust." And though the picks often seem strange, lest we forget: "Mayhew works in mysterious ways."

April comes to an end tonight. With it, let's put all the terror and fear in the rear-view mirror. Better times are ahead as long as we allow them to happen. At the very least, we won't have to listen to the crappy "April in the D" song anymore.*

*Does this song still actually exist? I don't get FSD here in California.


  1. Let me start out the witch hunt that you so eloquently avoided. I was one of the many panning the Lions draft. It's just what I do. In fact, I'm like an inverse barometer for how good the Lions draft was. I liked many of Millen's drafts because he drafted like a fan. I have disliked many of Mayhew's picks, but they've been largely successful. Eventually I will come around fully, as I have on the Leshoure and Titus picks of last year.

    However, let me play the unreasonable side to the unchecked, unfiltered, completely sensible reason being spewed by you, Ty, and Neil these past few days. What if your draft strategy has to change as your team gets better. Drafting BPA is all well and good if they come in as an immediate starter, which we've seen with guys like Pettigrew, Delmas, Best, etc. Couple that with aggressiveness in free agency to fill big needs (KVB, Burleson, Tulloch, Durant, etc.) and you really have something to create a great team quickly. But then if your free agency focus shifts to keeping your best guys and your draft focus remains a positional dart board, where do you fill your needs? You may scoff at "needs" because it's associated with desperation and reaching and all sorts of bad things. But your needs are called such because it's the easiest way for your team to improve with new personnel. By staying the same, there's no guarantee that the strategy will continue to work. Only time will tell, but it's worth arguing.

    And another thing. Can we stop acting like the Lions have arrived? This is by far the best Lions team I've ever watched, but they essentially performed about as well as your beloved Red Wings that you're trying to pull off the chopping block. This team can compete with anyone in the league, but they have a long way to go until they're actually as good as a team like the Saints or the Packers. Mayhew and Schwartz have done a great job of resurrecting this team, but now the race is all uphill and they'll have to adjust.

    1. Short answer, no, their strategy shouldn't change. It's the same strategy employed by some of the most sucessful teams in the league. How many times have the Patriots cut players in their "prime" to be replaced by talented guys that continue to be productive?

      As far as "needing" to draft a CB? First it's not like the Lions didn't try to make a move to pick up one of the first round guys, the price was just too high this year with all the movement and they didn't want to mortgage our future on a position that just isn't that valuable in our defensive scheme.

      Second, we don't need a superstar press cover corner, we just need some talented guys that can give a flash of brilliance at just the right time. Our line is built to make sure if the QB does get the pass off cleanly it isn't going exactly where he wants it to go because he didn't have time to let the play develop. Don't forget that Chris Houston was a second round castoff from the Falcons because of the belief that he wasn't living up to his draft status and has flourished in this system.

      Third, remember that A) through the first half of last year the Lions quietly put together one of the best pass defenses in the league and B) while the Lions were getting torched in the secondary last year after suffering injuries and suspensions, the best 3 teams in the NFL last year (Packers, Patriots, and Saints) were having similar numbers posted against their defenses. THREE QBs put up 5000+ yard seasons last year, and they weren't all playing the Lions every game. With the way the league is going we need to raise the bar on what getting "torched" actually is. Giving up 300 yards through the air isn't as bad as it was 10-15 years ago.

      Finally, good long-term teams have enough talent stockpiled that an incoming rookie just isn't going to be cracking the starting jobs because A) there already is a clear starter in that position and B) that team isn't going to be getting the high draft picks that expect to start right away because they win too many games. Not seeing your rookies starting right away is a great luxury not many teams have.

      And yes, the Lions indeed have arrived to the party. We haven't "arrived" yet since that distinction usually comes with a trophy and a ring, but we were a better team last year than the team that did get that trophy and ring, we just didn't hit our stride at the right time. Turning it on at the right time is something that comes with experience, something that the Lions sorely lacked last year.

    2. Actually, some successful teams often draft for need, like the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots. The Pats work around their draft position and "reaching" by constantly trading their picks. They basically just pick wherever they want in the first round, so they scoop in when a need and a value pick meet.

      And don't get me wrong. I'm leaning towards agreeing with you. I love what these guys have done. I'm drooling over having a left tackle of the future and a slot receiver that can catch just about anything. I love that the front office uses injuries and character concerns as keys to getting undervalued guys. But I am concerned that the biggest weakness of the team last year got weaker.