Monday, November 19, 2012

No ONE is to Blame, but Everyone is to Blame

One of the few nice things about being a Lions fan is that nearly every week they play at the 1 PM EST time slot. That sort of routine and predictability is nice to have in one's life. It's also nice, because when the Lions blow a lead late against a quality opponent, you can bury your head in more football to prevent insanity from setting in.

If you've ever perused a Lions message board, Mlive comment section or twitter after a Lions loss like the one against the Green Bay Packers yesterday, you know exactly what I'm talking about. The chaotic witch hunt/SKY IS FALLING/FIRE EVERYONE ribble-rabble is too much for me to take anymore. Instead, I find it very therapeutic to turn off the computer, sit back and distract myself with my favorite sport. And while "what ifs..." and "we shouldas..." creep in from time to time in between Tom Brady touchdowns, I mostly let the game fully digest in the periphery of my consciousness.

But I get the desire to place blame on someone. I get the tendency to throw vitriol at anyone and everyone. I used to do it myself. It's comforting. If you find the culprit of the Lions' struggles, you figure out the simple solution. Find the whitehead and thoroughly squeeze the shit out of him. BOOM, pimple gone.

But it's a lie: both about the team and to yourself. The Lions' problems are not simple. They cannot be solved by firing one guy, or drafting another. In fact, no problem is ever that simple in the NFL. And while the Lions are not a team far, far away from success, their issues won't go away with one new coach or player.

People forget the simple fact that if you get rid of someone, you subsequently have to replace him. So if the Lions decide to fire Scott Linehan (which I doubt will happen), they have to hire a new offensive coordinator. Who will it be? Will the Lions' roster fit with the new guys' game plan? How long will it take for the players to adjust to new schemes? The firing of a coach almost always precedes a few years of rebuilding and adjusting. And while the team may be better off in the long run (though often, it's not), it is not the quick fix that many dream it is.

Changes don't come any quicker through the draft, either. You need not look further than Riley Reiff for proof. After looking so promising in a situational role for nine week, he struggled when he was forced to replace Jeff Backus yesterday. Likewise, if the Lions decide to draft any shutdown corner, he's going to go through some serious growing pains before he can make a huge impact.

The real answer is slow, gradual change. And while that answer is both frustrating and hard to accept, it's the truth. And, behind the scenes, that's exactly what the Lions' blueprint is. It may seem that the Lions grew complacent with last years' team and failed to upgrade positions of need, but that is not the truth of the matter. The Lions drafted a left tackle for the future, who would have time to groom behind Backus before throwing him to the wolves. The Lions drafted several defensive backs, who were meant to be just depth guys until they were ready. And similarly, the Lions had a veteran wide receiver, who was supposed to lead by example, while the youngster learned their craft.

But injuries have taken their toll, in perhaps the most vulnerable positions on the team. The Lions are forced to put young, mistake-prone players out on the field. The depth of the team is desperately thin, almost all around. And while it's easy to blame the coaches and managers that came before, they are exactly the men who are responsible.

The Lions were not a better team last year, they were a more fortunate one. Nate Burleson was healthy, Jeff Backus was healthy, Louis Delmas was (mostly) healthy. They were the beneficiaries of a Carson Palmer overthrow and two Tony Romo picks. And a Joe Webb fumble. And a Jay Cutler broken thumb. Did they deserve to make the playoffs? Absolutely. Luck is part of the game. And this year, they find themselves at the stem-end of the four-leaf clover.

The Lions have made some mistakes along the way. The Brandon Pettigrew experiment didn't turn out quite as good as we'd hoped. Same goes for Gosder Cherilus (though he was drafted know who). Jahvid Best was a big risk that didn't pay off, and I'm not sure Titus Young will ever turn things around. The lack of depth on the current roster is partially the result of those mistakes. But for every missed pick, there have been three or four great moves; your Stephen Tullochs, your Matthew Staffords, your Justin Durants. They have brought this team to respectability again, and in the mean time, the front office is building this team for even better things in the future.

So who is to blame? Everybody. Our predecessors, the angry Lion-hating football god that took away our emotional leaders on offense and defense this year, the inconsistent play of the offense, the great play of the defense...until we really need it, the special teams blunders, the play-calling. They've all played a little part in the perfect storm that has been a 4-6 season.

And the answer? Time. I understand the worst thing you can tell a Lions fan is "you need to be patient", but guys, we need to be patient. Creating a Super Bowl winner can't happen in four years in the modern NFL. It's just not possible without an insane amount of luck. The Lions are not in need of a complete overthrow. They are still extremely competitive, they still have superstars locked up for years to come. And when the Lions have a chance to finally fill out the rest of their roster, they'll be ready. A big change will only set the plans back further. So until then, I'm going to bury my head in more football and wait until next year.

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