I will preface this post by saying that I have been a Jim Caldwell supporter. He led the Lions to an 11-5 record in 2014, his first year on the job. This was the team’s best record since 1991. He is, by all accounts, a great man who has the respect of the players. This is evident in the discipline the team has shown in most of the games under him, a quality that was entirely lacking under Jim Schwartz. However, he lost me last night.
Last night’s loss to the Green Bay Packers summed up decades of the Detroit Lions’ incompetence for me. Let’s start at 1:02 of the first quarter, when Calvin Johnson had just made an incredible touchdown catch that put the Lions up 17-0. At this point, the Lions’ coaching staff had two basic choices:
- Remain aggressive, and try to rip the heart out of a Green Bay team that came in having lost 4 out of 5 and quickly found themselves in a huge deficit.
- Begin to control the clock by being run-first in the play calling.
Now, I understand the thought process behind the second choice. The idea is to wear down the defense and sooner or later, completely break the other team’s will. It also is lower risk, in the sense that you’re more likely to turn the ball over and cause “sudden change” through the air than on the ground. But, here is the problem with this, and it is a very fundamental problem that I have seen over and over again with Lions’ coaching staffs throughout the years:
Going with this strategy shows that Jim Caldwell and his staff do not understand how to use the personnel they have. Period. (Remember Bobby Ross pulling Barry Sanders in goal line situations? That’s another example of this problem.) The Lions’ running game is not as good as their passing game. Not even close. The Packers showed absolutely no ability to stop the Lions from moving the ball through the air early on. Eric Ebron went in for a TD that made it 10-0, where it looked like a totally blown assignment by the Green Bay secondary. Then there was Calvin’s TD grab. It was working. So why go away from it?
Well, the predictable result of the ultra-conservative play calling from the second quarter onwards was that the game was close late. At this point, we saw two atrocities that are absolutely unforgivable.
First, after the Lions picked up a first down with about 2:30 to go and Green Bay out of timeouts, their strategy to run out the clock was to hand it off 3 times in a row to Joique Bell… who with all due respect, is their slowest halfback… and to have him run it up the middle. While I agree with running the ball given the situation, you have to call running plays that at least give you a chance of picking up the game-sealing first down. Those plays weren’t going to do that. They were asking the Packers to get one more chance to win. That is unacceptable.
Second, as everyone knows by now, when the Packers had one final shot at the game-winning touchdown, from their own 39 yard line, Jim Caldwell thought they would try a hook and ladder play rather than a Hail Mary. This is so insanely stupid that it defies belief and I still am not sure that I really heard this correctly, despite it being drilled into my head through sports radio, Lions’ Facebook fan groups, and text messages with fellow fans all day. Here we have Aaron Rodgers, one of the greatest quarterbacks in the game, and Jim Caldwell, who supposedly gets paid to be a professional football coach, doesn’t think the play will be a Hail Mary? This is one of the most outrageous, absurd errors in judgment I can recall by a Lions’ head coach (and trust me, there are many momentous mistakes to choose from in the team’s sad history).
So, rather than having the 6’5” Calvin Johnson back in the end zone to defend the play everyone besides Jim Caldwell knew was coming, the Lions had 1) fewer players back in the end zone than they should have and 2) Tahir Whitehead and Josh Bynes, who are decent linebackers but who are not going to outjump the other team’s receivers. So, now, here we are, after yet another shameful, embarrassing, heartbreaking, and pathetic loss. What to do?
Martha Ford must continue what she started when she fired Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand last month. The Lions are currently searching for a new general manager. But that is not enough. The entire coaching staff must go. While, as I said at the start of this article, I have mostly been a fan of Caldwell, I can no longer deny that his game management is questionable at best. There are several examples throughout his tenure of the team opening up sizable leads, only to let the opponent back in the game by playing scared and playing not to lose, rather than staying aggressive. Few teams can win this way in the NFL.
Furthermore, every single person in the front office needs to go. Yep. Every… single… one. The Lions have scouts who have been on hand for decades. That is mind-boggling given the obvious failure to identify talent over the years. For far too long, the organization has rewarded incompetence. That must change. The fans deserve better, and so do the players. They deserve coaches who will play to their strengths, rather than against them, and management who will fortify the weak areas of the team.
Will all of this happen? Probably not. But if the coaching staff and at least most of the front office members go, and a proven general manager is hired, that will be good enough to get me to believe it really will be different with Martha Ford in charge. She is off to a good start by removing Mayhew and Lewand. But don’t stop there.