Written by: JT Bowen
The Lions dropped to 3-9-1 on the season in a loss to Minnesota last week, tallying their sixth straight loss and furthering this year’s descent into all-time hilarity, and followed it up with an embarrassing performance against Tampa to hit ten losses.
They did, however, improve their draft position, rising up to number 5. Though they’re still a few spots away from all-world target Chase Young at number 2, they’re trending in the right direction towards a top-3 pick, and should have their choice at just about any player save Chase Young or Joe Burrow come April.
As I note in every article, this season has been meaningless for over a month now. Games are (or should be) used to evaluate talent, which I have harped on, and to save jobs (which Detroit brass doesn’t seem too concerned about).
Clearly, as cynical fans, we want Detroit to lose out here. And frankly, in spite of the upcoming matchup against a similarly poor opponent in Denver, I don’t think this team can win even if they play well, due to numbering factors. But Detroit’s complete and utter futility after a promising season’s start should make the franchise’s direction the more burning issue than draft placement.
While other bottomfeeders can pinpoint certain glaring issues as the impetus behind systemic failure (Cincinatti’s quarterback roulette and Miami’s roster teardown, for example), Detroit’s problems are wide-reaching and can be attributed to varying reasons.
The most clear, though, starts at the top.
For decades, poor ownership has fueled the Lions’ continual ineptitude. Former owner William Clay Ford’s tolerance for inadequate coaching and wasting of all-time players like Calvin Johnson and Barry Sanders plagued Detroit for the better half of a century, and when his wife took over five years ago, things were supposed to finally change.
However, Detroit, in spite of having a franchise quarterback at the helm and talent across the roster, has only regressed since she began her tenure.
Though it’s not clear what will happen following her death/retirement in terms of ownership, the vast majority of fans will likely hope for the team to be turned over to a new family altogether. Martha Firestone Ford has shown greater competence than her predecessor in a short amount of time, the Lions have shown no progress across two coaches and are far from contending.
I give immense credit to Mrs. Ford for her job as a woman in her mid-90s who is still largely involved in day-to-day operations in a maligned organization. However, it’s not good enough — Lions fans don’t deserve any more of this, and they haven’t for the past 30 years.
Unfortunately, an ownership change is much different than a coaching change. Owners don’t have to worry about being fired since they can’t, and dictate a huge portion of building team culture in addition to dealing with the business side. An ownership change typically only happens after scandal, renewed failure, or death. And though I’m not calling for the death of Martha Ford, just five years of her as owner has shown she’s not the savior of Detroit.
Clearly, as illustrated by my past few paragraphs, I feel the bulk of the Lions struggles can be heavily blamed on poor ownership, both currently and historically. But I have no say over their position, and can’t reasonably suggest they resign, so I’m going to leave them out of the ideas section despite them being the main issue in my eyes.
There are, though, issues that loom large beneath the ownership woes, starting at the coaching spot. In less than two years as the Lions’ coach, Matt Patricia has already drawn the ire from the majority of the fanbase for not just being mediocre, like the Caldwell-era Lions were — they’re bad. Patricia, after a first season marred by scheme change and ushering in a new regime, was cut some slack after a disappointing 6-10 2018 campaign. But they’ve been decidedly worse this year.
Detroit currently sits at 3-10-1, long eliminated from contention and guaranteed to finish last in the NFC North for the second straight year. After a promising start which saw the Lions go 2-0-1 against quality opponents, the Lions entered free fall mode, losing ten of their last eleven, and haven’t recovered since.
For those doing the math, that’s a cumulative record of 9-20-1 for Patricia, with an obvious regression in his second season. It raises questions about his ability to elevate players, deal with the rigor of being in charge, and most clearly, run a team.
At this point, especially after the blowout defeat against demigod Jameis Winston, it seems as though Patricia will survive this season, despite the awfulness of his team. And though it’s early in the process, there are no rumblings about Patricia being replaced — everything points to him being coach next year, for better or worse.
That reasonably sums up the Lions’ current outlook. Now, I’ll provide a few ideas as I have in the previous articles, aimed to realign the Lions.
Fire Paul Pasqualoni: Bit of a harsh start here, but justifiable. Pasqualoni has been incredibly unsuccessful as the Lions defensive coordinator, fielding a defense that has been woefully overmatched and outplayed in just about every game this year. Coupled with the haul of free agents and draft picks spent on defense recently, Pasqualoni should be the first to take the fall for Detroit’s massive issues on defense.
Retain Darrell Bevell: I already stated this in the first article of this series, but I’ll rehash it here. Bevell has been great in his first year as offensive coordinator. Admittedly, the offense has stagnated in past weeks with shoddy quarterback play, piling injuries, and a running back roulette, but the offense was stellar with Stafford at the helm. He’s done enough with very little this year to prove he’s the long-term answer as Stafford enters his thirties, and should stay regardless of other regime changes.
Keep Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn, but on an extremely short leash: It took a lot of self-control to not put ‘fire’ here, but after some thought, this is the better route. Under Patricia and Quinn’s regime, the Lions have been bad. And for all of us and probably them, it’s incredibly frustrating, and we want blood. I get it. But it just makes more sense to me this way. Frankly, I don’t see the Lions being too much better next year, regardless of who’s coaching, whether that be a new hiring or Patricia again. So why not give Patricia two or three games and see if he can finally put it together next year? If the Lions suck early on, blow everything up. Let Bevell or Robert Prince coach the Lions for the rest of the year, and while they’ll still probably not do much better, it allows the Lions to evaluate the roster’s future front-to-back, and see if they have an in-house option at head coach. There’s validity in complaining that this wastes another year of Stafford’s prime, but I think it’s more sensible for Detroit to allow Patricia to at least begin his third term and see if progress has been made before rushing to hit the reset button.
Ride with Matthew Stafford: If it weren’t evidenced by Stafford’s play earlier this season, Matthew Stafford is a high-caliber signal caller in this league, and will be for the next five years. Stafford stomped out rumors and whispers that he wasn’t the long-term answer after a lackluster 2018 campaign, recording arguably his best half of a season in the first eight weeks. He continues to excel regardless of who’s catching passes or calling plays, is loved by the city, and is tough as nails. He’s done everything in his power to take this team to the next level in spite of awful coaching and personnel, and is the franchise’s best quarterback ever. We take him for granted as fans, and is the perfect figurehead for the team. Stafford’s the guy.
Pray for Martha Ford to sell the team: Like I said, this is purely speculative and hoping for the best. But the root of the issues in Allen Park can be traced back to ownership. Martha Ford hasn’t shown marginal improvement from her husband, and though I give her credit for remaining involved at her age, the Lions still suck. A change at the top of the franchise could be the answer to reverse the historic atrocity rendered by the Ford family.
Draft or trade up for Chase Young: Though he said in an interview he plans to return to Ohio State next year, I fully expect Chase Young to enter the draft this year. The guaranteed money will prove to enticing for Young to pass up on, in addition to the risk of injury that comes with another season. Regardless, I’m all in on Young. He is one of the most hyped-up prospects in the last decade, with generational talent on the edge. Detroit desperately needs an edge rusher to generate pressure across from Flowers after the regression of Devon Kennard and Romeo Okwara, and Young is nothing short of stellar. Detroit controls their own destiny in terms of draft placement in some regards, but to get to #2, some cards will need to fall their way. But if they can get to #4 or #3, they would be foolish to not try and trade up. Young received a warranted amount of Heisman attention due to his outstanding play, and with the relatively inept front offices ahead of Detroit (New York, Washington), I expect them to make their pick available. Chase Young can immediately deliver a Von Miller. DeMarcus Ware-esque impact to the Lions’ defense, and add a superstar in the coming decade.
Thanks to all for reading this series, I have thoroughly enjoyed delineating the Lions’ current outlook. In all likelihood, the Lions’ dreadfulness will persist as it has for the better part of the last century, but we can all hope for change.