One year after Lions fired Millen, Detroit's biggest problem remains
Lions fans celebrated when the organization fired ineffective general manager
Today, the Lions are mired in a 19-game losing streak, tied for the second longest string of futility in NFL history. And this dysfunctional organization is still gripped by the same two major problems it suffered when Millen was in charge:
1. They've fielded a series of the worst pass defenses that have ever existed.
2. Team management is apparently too clueless to realize that pass defense is the singular reason why they haven't won a game since 2007 and, as a result, the situation is only getting worse.
Pigskin pundits love to talk about the need to run the ball well on offense and stuff the run on defense. It's a nice a story that gets the testosterone of beer-fueled football fans coursing through the system.
But the truth is the NFL, since the invention of the T-formation in the 1940s, has always been a league that has rewarded good passers and punished bad ones. Teams that pass well on offense or stop the pass well on defense win games, with or without a strong run attack.
Conversely, teams that pass poorly or can't stop the pass on defense are destined for failure. The winless Lions of the past 19 games provide some of the most humiliating examples in history of a team that simply can not stop the pass.
In fact, here are four bone-chilling Cold, Hard Football Facts about the utter futility of the Lions pass defense.
1. The 2007 Lions, the team that launched the current 19-game losing streak, was the first team in history to allow opponents to complete more than 70 percent of their passes over the course of a season.
2. Things went from bad to worse the following year. The 2008 Lions posted the
Only five quarterbacks in history have bested a 110.8 passer rating in a season, and four of them are named
It's no coincidence that the first 0-16 team in history also fielded the worst pass defense in history. As we said, it's always been a passing league.
3. The 2008 Lions were so bad on pass defense that they intercepted just four passes all year. That was the fewest number of picks by any team since -- hold your breath here -- the 1934 St. Louis Gunners, who nabbed three INTs.
But comparing the 2008 Lions to the 1934 Gunners is a little unfair ... to the Gunners.
That short-lived franchise played just three NFL games, posting a 1-2 record in 1934, before fading into oblivion. Yet even this forgotten squad intercepted three of the 52 passes attempted against them. The 2008 Lions faced 443 pass attempts and got their hands on just four of them.
4. It gets even worse, folks: The 2009 Lions might set new standards of ineptitude.
Through two games, the Lions have produced a gruesome
The Lions can barely even force an incompletion, let alone intercept a pass or stop a drive.
Coupled with a rookie quarterback on offense, this crushingly inept pass defense is a recipe for yet another disaster -- with another 0-16 season a very real possibility.
For example, the Cold, Hard Football Facts have a new
The Lions are already the worst team ever in this category -- their
That number will probably improve over the the season ... but it's still so bad it's hard to fathom.
For example, there are only a handful of teams in history who can boast a team-wide passer rating of 94.5, period -- almost all of those teams in the past 20 years. Yet the Lions are minus 94.5 points in the hole when we compare their offensive production to their defensive production.
Like we said, the NFL rewards great passing teams and punishes bad passing teams -- so you can see why this truly awful Passer Rating Differential is a huge problem.
So here's the problem in Detroit in a nutshell:
• The Lions fielded one of the worst pass defenses ever in 2007.
• It got worse in 2008.
• It looks like it will be even worse once again here in 2009.
What's management done to rectify the situation? Just about nothing but embarrass itself.
In the 2008 draft, fresh off a season in which they allowed opponents to complete more than 70 percent of their passes, the Lions did not draft a single defensive back until their very last pick: safety
Lions ownership made one step in the right direction -- firing general manager
This year, fresh off a season in which they surrendered their record 110.8 Defensive Passer Rating, the Lions made a colossal draft-day gaffe when they selected a quarterback with their top pick.
Stafford could prove to be the second-coming of
The Lions had 10 picks in this year's draft. Six of those picks, including the first two, were expended on offense. Only one pick, second-rounder
The Lions did clean house, remaking much of the roster: the entire defensive backfield that kicked off this season, for example, is different than the one Detroit fielded last season. But remaking the roster and improving the roster are two different things. Here's a look at Detroit's starting secondary this year:
The other Week 1 corner,
Starting strong safety
This group represents Detroit's effort to rebuild the worst pass defense in history: no big-name free agents, few high draft picks on the roster, and little hope of success -- once again -- in 2009.
Sooner or later, the Lions brain trust will figure out what's wrong with their team and stop drafting wide receivers and quarterbacks with their top picks. Until then, we'll just keep counting the losses.