The Detroit Lions did not start the 2012 campaign in ideal fashion, but there are five things the team could use to turn their season around.
A last-second home victory to start the year, followed by three straight losses has put the Honolulu Blue & Silver three games back in the division and looking up at everybody else at the season’s quarter pole.
Historically poor special teams combined with average defense and surprisingly inconsistent offense has both the team and their fans befuddled as many were looking forward to another trip to post-season play.
The stat geeks tell us after a 1-3 start, there is a 15% chance for the Lions to make the playoffs. So how can the Leos help themselves and exhume this season? It’s time to go spend some of the Slows BBQ revenue stream, Lions, so grab your AMEX card and address these needs.
Here is the shopping list edition of the Van Etten V…
I: La-Z-Boy Recliner
I thought Detroit was past this, but the most reliable scoring threat on the Lions’ roster is still veteran kicker Jason Hanson. The 42-year old constant has delivered a dozen field goals, second in the NFL, while the offense becomes timid as it nears the red-zone. No different than a well-trained dog that nears an invisible fence; eight of Hanson’s field goal attempts have scrimmaged from outside the 22-yard line.
Hanson refused the gold Rolex last year after 20 years of devoted service to Mr. Ford and returned for his 21st season. The oldest player in the league deserves, at minimum, a plush recliner that will elevate his much needed golden right leg.
II: Pro Stix
If you’re not a golfer, you might need some explanation. Pro Stix are alignment tools, glorified yard sticks if you will, used at the driving range that help a golfer line up his target and give him/her feedback for basic fundamentals.
It’s no secret the kick coverage for the Lions has been abysmal this season. According to STATS, Inc, they are the first team since 1940 to give up both a kickoff return and punt return for touchdowns in consecutive weeks.
Special teams coordinator Danny Crossman recently admitted he needs to be a better teacher and that’s great but when a child admits he broke the vase, it doesn’t change the fact that the vase is still broken.
Hopefully Crossman went out and got a dozen sets of stix, purchased a Hank Haney DVD and threw them down on the practice field. Keeping his players in their lanes would have made a huge difference in the last two games and without some discipline going forward, expect more of the same.
I realize stick’em is illegal in the NFL, but has the legal system stood in the way of the Lions previously?
Brandon Pettigrew’s allergic reaction to the pigskin is sadly predictable, we’ve seen it before, but Calvin Johnson dropping touchdown passes cannot become The New Normal. Matthew Stafford has not been a sniper with the ball either, but when the ball hits the Lions logo, they have to haul in the rock.
And let’s face it; the Lions, to steal Denny Green’s line, are what we thought they were - an explosive offense with a marginal defense. When those 20-yard gains become nothing more than disappointing wind sprints, this team will struggle.
The penalties are down and so are the wins. Like it or not, this team plays better on the edge of sportsmanship. Get a 5-gallon drum of the sticky stuff, a Dutchboy brush and execute the three most important facets of receiving a football – catch the ball, catch the ball, catch the ball.
IV: Alarm Clock
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the strength of the Lions’ defense supposed to be the front-four?
The Lions rank eighth worst in sacks this year with only nine through four games and it’s time for the defensive line to wake up. Kyle Vanden Bosch has two sacks and franchise-tagged Cliff Avril heads into the season’s second quarter with only one QB takedown. Ndamukong Suh has not been much better. He has 2.5 sacks but only eight tackles which supports the notion that Suh’s run support is not All-Pro caliber.
Tom Lewand offered Avril a long-term deal in the off-season that would have given Cliff a standing reservation at Morton’s, or TGI Friday’s if he’s into melon ball libations like Vince Young. Avril said no, rolled the dice and thus far is putting up Value Menu numbers. Time is running out for the supposed leaders of the defensive front to start living up to the elite hype.
Defensive Coordinator Gunther Cunningham needs to set the alarm for Week 6 and leave the setting on buzz. The Lions can’t afford to sleep through the radio or waterfall settings going forward.
V: MIB Memory Eraser
Remember the phallus-looking tool utilized by Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in the Men In Black movies?
The gizmo from the future allowed the protagonists in black suits the ability to erase all memory of extra-terrestrial interactions and could serve a similar purpose for the Detroit Lions this weekend.
Let’s remember last year when the Lions had their bye-week and then traveled to Soldier Field to face the Bears. Many thought they would run their record to an impressive 7-2 having already embarrassed Chicago five weeks prior at home.
Instead, the Lions appeared to take a second consecutive bye-week and were crushed by the orange-clad Monsters of the Midway 37-13.
Having an extra week to prepare is no guarantee of success and although getting Louis Delmas back will help, breaking their 3-game losing streak in Philadelphia will be a monumental task. Detroit will need to play a near-flawless game and erase all memories of the Lake Michigan meltdown last year.
Most of these items probably will not make it to the Lions’ practice facility in Allen Park, but the message should – this team is far from a finished product and needs to “fix it” fast.
Maybe the anonymous general manager who dropped a bomb on the Detroit organization this week is right; maybe they are a one-trick pony and not as close as many had hoped. We’ll all find out on Sunday, because a 1-4 start with three of the next four on the road will probably end any discussion of playoffs.
James Van Etten is a syndicated sports columnist previously featured or linked on forbes.com, mlive.com, usatoday.com & yahoo.com
Follow him on Twitter @jbvanetten