Jun 102013

Reggie Bush5. Detroit Lions
Head Coach: Jim Schwartz
2012 Record: 4-12
2012 Offense: 372 points scored, 17th in points, 3rd in yards (2nd in passing, 23rd in rushing)
2012 Defense: 437 points allowed, 27th in points, 13th in yards (14th in passing, 16th in rushing)


Key Additions
RB Reggie Bush, S Glover Quinn, WR Devin Thomas, DL Jason Jones, DL CJ Mosley. K David Akers, DE Ezekiel Ansah, DB Darius Slay

Key Losses
T Jeff Backus, K Jason Hanson, WR Titus Young, CB Drayton Florence, LB Justin Durant, DE Cliff Avril, G Stephen Peterman, CB Kevin Barnes, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE Lawrence Jackson

Why 2013 will be better
Reggie Bush brings a running game to Detroit, something that was nearly non-existent in 2012. Having any consistency from the running attack will nearly guarantee more production from an offense that had no problem moving the ball last season, but had difficulty turning yards into points. A defense that lacked aggressiveness underperformed in 2012, forcing only 17 takeaways for the year. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley had good seasons, with Suh doubling his sack production last season (8 sacks) while Fairley racked up 5.5, but the Lions overall pass rush took a step back. It is hoped that the additions of Ansah and Jones up front should add more pass rush and create a better wall against the run, but the loss of Avril is noticeable. The additions of Slay and Quinn should improve the secondary, though Slay lacks physicality to complement his coverage skills and is currently behind Ron Bartrell on the depth chart. Head Coach Jim Schwartz is coaching for his job this season, so nothing less than an 8-8 record is likely to be acceptable in the Motor City this season, and even that may not be enough. And if a head coach is fighting to keep his job, that usually means the same for the starting quarterback. Matt Stafford has tons of talent, but took a step back last season from his breakout 2011 campaign. He will need to return to form if the Lions have any hope of competing for the playoffs.

Why 2013 will be worse
Calvin Johnson is a sensational receiver, but the Lions lack secondary targets to help distribute the load. The Lions have done little to upgrade this group, meaning Johnson is again a predictable focus of any opposing defense. Having Bush as the primary back is a major plus, but if he struggles to gain consistent yards and move the chains, the Lions will again be a team who pass for a lot of yards but fail to put up points. The defense appears to be improved, but the linebacker corps is thin in talent, and is playing in a read and react system off of Suh and Fairley. Stephen Tulloch is among the nest middle linebackers in the game, but he needs DeAndre Levy and Ashlee Palmer to step up their games, or else the defense continue to hemorrhage points.

On paper another 4-12 season seems unthinkable; this team is more talented than that. But the Detroit Lions gave the vibe in 2012 of a team that felt it was entitled to win, but wasn’t necessarily willing to give the effort to make it happen. Schwartz doesn’t always seem to be in control of his own team, and the use of the term undisciplined seems an accurate way to describe this team, who ranked 23rd in penalty yards last season. Bush’s addition is important, but the receiver corps is weak after Megatron. Given the strength of the division that they are in, the Lions will do well to win six or seven games this season, in which case 2014 promises a new head coach as the first of what is likely to be many changes.

Jun 072012

I really enjoy Pro Football Talk (PFT). While most football blogs are nothing more than a mere regurgitation of  news items, PFT engages in thoughtful analysis and explores the implications of various situations and actions in the NFL. In some ways, PFT was a spark for our writers to pull together and create Gridiron Rats. We want to see more of a fan perspective, while also being thoughtful, analytical, and fun. But we will always tip our hat to Mike Florio for creating a wonderful site which has now become a part of NBC Sports.

Still, I sometimes think that Florio’s training as a lawyer can be his undoing. Early this morning, Florio posted an article suggesting that the most recent Bountygate report, involving the injury to Lions’ tackle Jeff Backus, might somehow undermine NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s assertion that the Saints used a pay for injury system. This was based on an earlier story on Yahoo! by Mike Silver noting that Sean Pamphilon had provided evidence of payments being made for clean hits in last year’s Saints wildcard playoff win over the Lions. The logic that Florio draws out is that because cash was paid for clean hits, but that no cash was paid out for an injury (torn biceps) to Backus, then the bounty system allegations are undermined because whoever injured Backus should have been paid.

Really, Mike?

Perhaps Florio is merely playing Devil’s Advocate, as his legal training has taught him to do. And that is certainly my hope. But in reading his site, I have sometimes found Florio’s logic to be more twisted than a carnival pretzel. So let’s help Mike remember why this most recent article does not undermine Goodell’s conclusions, and in this case I need look no further than one of the people who commented on Florio’s article.

Here is what we know about the Bounty allegations:

1. Roger Goodell and the NFL had warned the Saints not to use a bounty system on at least three occasions over a period of three years.

2. As recently as the 2011 system, the Saints were paying bounties despite those warnings.

3. Gregg Williams is on tape urging the infliction of injuries.

4. In the 2009 NFC Championship Game, Mike Hargrove (one of the players implicated in the scandal) can be heard running off the field shouting, “Pay me my money” after he believed that he had injured Brett Favre.

5. A ledger was discovered documenting payment to players. Additionally, Sean Pamphilon watched some of those payments being made.

6. Denials from players are carefully parsed. Players claim that they never paid money nor ever intended to pay money. But players are not alleging that they were never offered money.

7. The New Orleans Saints have acknowledged using a bounty system and apologies have been offered by both Gregg Williams and Sean Payton.

8. Early statements from players acknowledged a bounty system, but then were recanted as misquotes.

I work in an area where civil law applies, and I have had plenty of opportunities both to present cases and to rule on cases involving complicated fact patterns. Anyone familiar with the civil law system knows that it functions on the basis of a preponderance of the evidence, or what is more likely than not to be true (the 50.1% standard). In layman’s parlance, if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then we call it a duck.

This case is a damn duck.

The Jeff Backus injury is a red herring, and Florio (and others) should know this. According to Backus, a defensive player made a move to the inside and Backus hooked him, causing his bicep to pop. Thus, it was an accidental injury not caused by a Saints player. Exactly why would a payment be made? And then by extension, how would an absence of a payment undermine any of the information detailed above? I don’t need all eight of the points above to be able to conclude that it is far more likely than not that the Saints employed a bounty system. In truth, the first five are sufficient in my view to be able to reach a reasonable conclusion that such a system was being employed as late as last season. But #7 (the admission) is where this case becomes academic. Any protests of innocence by the players fall on deaf ears when the organization itself has admitted its misdeeds.

We therefore arrive back at my impatience and displeasure with current and former Saints’ players who try to deny the existence of the bounty system, as well as for all of the Saints fans who would prefer to deny evidence and simply conclude that the rest of the world is ‘hating on” the Saints. I have newsflash for those people. As a Patriots fan, I can appreciate the world ganging up on your team without a rational review of the evidence. Spygate was made out to be a “Patriots only” sin, when in fact the incident in question was a retaliation for earlier videotaping by the New York Jets, and was considered to be a widespread practice throughout the NFL. To call three Super Bowl championships into doubt as a result of Spygate is preposterous, and in my view is nothing more than hatred and jealousy being directed towards a successful organization. But I can never claim that the Patriots did not knowingly engage in a practice that they knew to be a violation of league rules, and it would be disingenuous for me to do so. Similarly, it is disingenuous of any current or former Saints’ player or any Saints fan to look at this evidence and suggest that no bounty system was employed.

Getting back to PFT, any suggestion that the failure to pay a bounty to the Saints defender who was involved on the play where Backus was injured is both illogical and unconnected to the rest of the facts in the case. I love reading Mike Florio’s work, but this one was a pretty bad reach and forgets the context of the overall case. I rather suspect that this is born of the frustration that the league has until now not come forward to make its case to the public, which would please many people, especially those of us who write about the NFL.

Perhaps, if this case were being tried in a criminal court, a conviction that the Saints employed a bounty system might not be forthcoming. Whether by some technical rule or by the opinion of one juror in twelve, it is not hard to imagine the organization or the players being cleared of wrongdoing in criminal court. But this is not criminal court, and the same rules do not apply here. And much to the displeasure of Saints players (and their attorneys), this case is quacking.