It seems like only last season that the braintrust behind the Detroit Lions -- general manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz -- were lionized (sorry) for the miraculous team turnaround they engineered. Oh, wait ... that's because it WAS only last season. Just three years after the nadir of the Matt Millen era had the team going 0-16 in 2008, the new-look Lions went 10-6 in 2011, and lost a playoff shootout to the New Orleans Saints. It was the Lions' first postseason appearance since 1999, and most people thought the Lions were well on their way to more success.
So far this year, it hasn't gone that way. The Lions stand at 1-3 this season, and the boo-birds are coming back out. Thing is, it's not the fans wearing bags over their heads and wearing whatever version of the "Fire Millen!" T-shirt that would be most appropriate. At least one NFL executive recently took the Lions to task for their personnel decisions -- especially on a defense line that was once thought to be one of the NFL's best, and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, supposedly the star of that unit. From Pro Football Weekly:
"They don't have enough good players, and the players they think are good are not that good. Suh belongs on the All-Hype team. [DE Cliff] Avril is not that good — put on any game and you can watch him get blocked time and time again. Corey Williams is solid, but nothing that wows you or makes you wonder how you are going to block him. The other guy [DE Kyle Vanden Bosch] is a try-hard guy getting up in years that does not really threaten you. For as much as people talk about that D-line and all its depth, where are all the players?
"I have listened to the media hype about Suh since he got in the league — what has he done? Even the year he had all those garbage sacks, the guy took a million plays off and got pushed around in the run game. I have never thought he was a very good pro player. I liked him coming out and thought he had a chance. But I also never thought he was going to be the second coming that he was labeled. I am not sure who bestowed that on him, but it is kind of a joke."
"That fires me up," Lions center Dominic Raiola said in response. "If they had any [guts], they would say who they were. That's kind of like a coward statement to me. We just have to get back to what we did last year. Talent-wise, it's all the same. To take a shot at the Lions' organization like that, that ain't right."
It was Suh, the primary target of that anonymous ire, who responded most succinctly.
"True men do that. But I don't know who he is, so I can't tell you if he's one," Suh said, when asked if the GM should have put his name behind his comments.
"Anonymous? I can't comment on anonymous things," Schwartz concluded. "Hey, we're 1-3. That's what we are right now. We need to go win. We're judged on winning. We're not judged on popularity contests or what somebody says under the cloak of anonymity. We are judged by how many wins we get over 16 games. That's enough for us right now."
In truth, things aren't as bad for the Lions as they might seem. Yes, they've only won one game, but they're just minus-14 in point differential, and they rank 15th overall in Football Outsiders' efficiency metrics. Their special teams have been awful this year (which is how they lost their Week 4 game against the Minnesota Vikings -- two return touchdowns proved to be the difference), but if I'm a general manager speaking under the cloak of anonymity, I'm probably taking a lot more shots at the Kansas City Chiefs or Jacksonville Jaguars at this point.
Or, perhaps Mr. X was aware that enough people have thrown those teams under the bus, and it's buzzier to take after a new target. One thing's for sure -- we'd like to know the team-building resume of any guy blowing up any other front office.
Especially when the guy in question actually defends Matt Millen.
"What has he [Mayhew] really accomplished? Matt never said he did a good job — he was not ready for it. He did not have enough good people around him. There were things that if he had to do it again, he would not do. And he did not have the experience or the right people around him to get it done.
"So much of this is having the right people around you — I don't know that Detroit has all the pieces in place like they think they did, and people are starting to see the cracks."
The cracks may be in the Lions' roster, but they're also pretty rampant in this executive's analysis.
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