For some, the notion of firing coaches who guided the Detroit Lions from the depths of despair at 0-16 to a 10-6 record with a playoff birth three years later would seem downright insane.
Then again, when you consider that nearly half the winning games in 2011 could have ended up the other way around, that notion suddenly doesn't seem as absurd. The fact is, many of the same mistakes have plagued the Lions week in and week out for the last four seasons, and the team can't seem to overcome them in order to be consistent. In the meantime, on the field and off the field issues have become serious distractions. That speaks to cracks in Jim Schwartz's influence as a head coach, and Scott Linehan and Gunther Cunningham's ability as coordinators.
Listening to Schwartz any given week trying to explain this is an exercise in the routine. Hyperbole flows at the weekly presser. "We just gotta find a way to make one more play," Schwartz admitted this week after his team's third straight fourth quarter collapse. How? What deeper insight can be given into what went wrong? "There's no doubt we can beat anybody, we just have to get it done," Schwartz remarked when pressed on if the Lions have choked.
But when will it happen? Why can't they get it done now? The Lions haven't yet learned how to play complete games under Schwartz and his staff's watch. They can rally in games just fine, but when it comes to dominating an opponent from start to finish or winning a close game when they're ahead, the results have often been downright comical. Rarely have the Lions led an opponent at halftime in 2012, and when they have, they've now blown three of those four leads in the second half. That speaks to a larger team mindset. Remember, this team isn't full of rookies; many of the players have been seasoned for some time.
The fault falls equal parts on circumstance and Schwartz's staff. Nobody is pretending that without a healthy Louis Delmas and Amari Spievey that Don Carey and Ricardo Silva can excel in the defensive backfield. Still, the pressure is on Schwartz and Cunningham to be teachers in those situations. In New England, does anybody doubt that Bill Belichick and his staff would turn a nobody into a somebody? We're still waiting for that to happen in Detroit, where the revolving door has been spinning in the backfield since the beginning of time. Martin Mayhew hasn't given Cunningham a full complement of capable defenders, but can this coaching staff coach who they're actually given?
Offensively, it hurts Linehan that untimely injuries have crippled the running game and receiving core in back to back years. However, that doesn't excuse his putrid fourth quarter play calling lately with the game on the line. Calling for an inefficient run game at any time when points or yardage are needed is fools work, especially when no matter what, you're guaranteed to have Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler on the field at your disposal. Those are mismatches which should be exploited. On the issue of Titus Young's insubordination and Linehan's infighting with receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, each situation is embarrassing. On a serious, determined team, things like this wouldn't evolve into larger than life issues.
Mistakes or not, Schwartz constantly stands behind his men. When asked Monday if a season like this lends to some self evaluation (presumably hinting at if he's considering any offseason staff changes) Schwartz essentially blew off the question. In part, he responded "we need to be more consistent, and when we are, we'll win." That's a nice, general way to slide off topic.
His aloof attitude isn't necessary, but to Schwartz's point, consistency, winning and play making are at this point. If the right things don't start happening, when the 2012 season unceremoniously ends, all three of the team's coaching figureheads should be strictly evaluated by upper management. The Lions do have several solid players that can win in this league. The next key could be finding the right motivators who can put them in the position do it repeatedly.
Are those people Schwartz, Linehan and Cunningham? Possibly. However, if the Lions are serious about becoming a solid NFL franchise that wins consistently and is not just a flash in the pan, they must do their due diligence in the offseason and consider all options to figure things out.
As Schwartz often likes to say, you're judged on 16 games. Through 12 of those, no matter what your excuse of choice, the Lions look to be staying on the track of mediocrity. The reasoning behind that falls on the coaches as much as their players.
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