Monday, September 29, 2008

Is A Weakened NFC North Really A Good Thing For Lions?

Loved the comments by NBC’s Al Michaels Sunday night during the Bears-Eagles game when he was discussing how wide open the NFC North race is now that Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is banged up.
He went over all the teams in the division and got to the Lions, "..and Detroit is Detroit," he said.
Meaning the Lions have no chance.
I agree with him. Who doesn’t? The Lions have been terrible this season. I can’t see them getting into any playoff contention.
But if they were to win Sunday against the Bears - and, granted, that’s a big "if" - their 1-3 record would put the Lions right there in the division race.
Now is that good news or bad news? My contention is the sooner the Lions look to the future, the better.
Is that fair to the team? Or head coach Rod Marinelli? Not sure. I only know the Lions have let people down to such a great degree, and presented so little hope, it’s difficult not to feel that way.

Random Thoughts

- Five reasons the Tigers will contend next year: Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Justin Verlander. There is still very strong core there.

- Obviously, I don’t think they should deal Mags. Well, unless it’s for a front line starting pitcher. And that isn’t going to happen.

- Is Brandon Inge the best .203 hitter in the history of baseball?

- Michigan’s Stephen Threet is a better quarterback than most people are giving him credit. So is Michigan State’s Brian Hoyer.

- I usually have a Heisman Trophy vote, but at this stage, I see no clear-cut favorite. I see Javon Ringer as having a fighting chance. Just wonder if he can stay healthy carrying the ball that much.

- College football’s most underrated team is Texas. The Longhorns will prove it a week from Saturday against Oklahoma. It will prove to be the game of the year.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Who Is Campaigning Harder: Obama, McCain Or Floyd Reese?

I have heard William Clay Ford described a number of ways. While he is personable enough in conversation, I’ve never thought of him as a "delight" - like Floyd Reese. The former Tennessee Titans general manager and ESPN commentator is shamelessly campaigning for Matt Millen’s job and kissing up to Ford unlike anyone since Wayne Fontes, seemingly monthly, would proclaim Ford as, "The best owner in sports." Hey, it worked for Wayneo...
Thing is, Ford and the Lions have to be careful here. Reese and Charlie Casserly of the NFL Network are on television and making themselves sound smart. But isn’t that how Millen got the Lions’ job?

Random Thoughts

- So Jim Leyland is going to be back as Tigers manager, but it appears less likely Chuck Hernandez will return as pitching coach. The Tigers pitching staff did tank badly this season, but that was as much because of poor staff selection by general manager Dave Dombrowski as any other factor - including Hernandez. So I guess it wouldn’t be fair to Hernandez in a way, but this point is indefensible on his behalf - his message clearly wasn’t getting through to Tiger pitchers, either.

- What an embarrassment it would be for the Tigers to have to play the last game Monday in Chicago to decide the American League Central title - as the division’s last place team.

- Two old football sages the Lions should consider as consultants to evaluate their organization: Former Dallas Cowboys player personnel director Gil Brandt and former Bills coach Marv Levy. They should not turn to anybody for this with even a remote interest in becoming their general manager. The last thing the Lions need is someone with their own agenda.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Millen Had To Go, But What Now?

After all these years, and all those losses, there are no profound thoughts that come to mind about Matt Millen being dismissed as Lions team president other than, "It’s about time."
In his position, Millen was a like a library book that had been checked out in 2001 - and never returned.
He fired three coaches. He lost an average of 12 games per season. His drafts were utter farces, which will hamstring the next general manager mightily.
But there are couple questions that need to addressed as the Lions move forward.
1. Rod Marinelli should go, too, but after the season. There is no tangible evidence he is a good NFL head coach. Only the opposite. The problem with dismissing Marinelli is his staff is so bad, there is no obvious interim replacement for him as head coach, like there has been in the past with Gary Moeller and Dick Jauron, who were actually better coaches than those replaced - in my opinion. What are the Lions going to do, make Jim Colletto head coach? Even they’re not that clueless.
2. The sooner the Lions make a change at quarterback, the better. Every game with Jon Kitna as starter is a waste. They need to find out what Dan Orlovsky can do, before moving to the brighter hope for the future, Drew Stanton.
3. The Lions need to study this and come up with a sound organizational structure. In the past, owner William Ford Clay has waited forever to make moves dismissing people, but often acted in a knee-jerk manner when hiring them. Ford has either given one person too much authority (Millen, Bobby Ross) in the past, or had it shared and unclear who was in charge (the Chuck Schmidt-Wayne Fontes-seven vice presidents era). The Lions desperately need to strike a proper balance.

Random Thoughts

- Look, I’d bring Jim Leyland back as manager of the Tigers. I’d give him a contract extension through 2010. But the way the Tigers have played lately, particularly during Tuesday night’s loss to Kansas City, is not helping his cause. To fall to last place, given the expectations this season, is amazing. Losing that much ground to the Royals in that short a period of time is even more so. The Tigers played with no competitive spirit whatsoever Tuesday. Seems like Leyland stopped being heard long ago. It’s different with a new season, but he’ll be drowned out quickly next season if he doesn’t get a contract extension.

- The Red Wings and Pistons remain the great hopes in this town, eh?

- Two most overrated schemes in the history of football as far as I’m concerned: The West Coast Offense and the Tampa 2 Defense. They sure didn’t do right by the Lions.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Lions Have Absolutely Nothing In Common With Cowboys

Dallas was playing the Packers Sunday night and NBC’s John Madden started talking about Jay Ratliff, the Cowboys’ nose tackle. He was a seventh round draft pick in 2005 and has developed, in Madden’s opinion - and that of many others around the NFL - into one of best inside defensive tackles in the NFL.
Right there tells you the difference between the Lions and the Cowboys. Dallas finds players. Not just acquires big-name players such as Terrell Owens. Or just get good value in the first round like with Felix Jones or DeMarcus Ware. Tony Romo was an undrafted free agent. The Lions never, ever find players like that.
The Lions’ start this season is obviously alarming. I don’t think they are a well-coached football team in any way shape or form. Whatever Rod Marinelli addresses doesn’t show up on the field.
But the No. 1 culprit - by far - has been a string of unremarkable drafts by Matt Millen. And so far, this year’s draft doesn’t look any better, does it?

Random Thoughts

- The Tigers should have a formidable lineup next season, but one of the overlooked keys to their offensive production is Carlos Guillen. He was hurt a lot this year, and had to go though difficult personal issues (he and his wife went through child birth complications) that weighed heavily on him. The Tigers need a comeback season from Guillen. He is one of the gauges for their success. The Tigers surprised in 2004 when Guillen had a productive season, they disappointed in 2005 when he was hurt, they won the pennant in 2006 and got out to a hot start in 2007 when he was hitting well, and floundered this season as he struggled and missed significant playing time.
They need Guillen at third base to solidify their infield. If the Tigers had a captain, Guillen would be it. They need a bounce back season from him in 2009.

- Road games at Indiana and Northwestern will go a long way in determining whether Michigan State is a contender or a pretender. The contenders beat those teams on the road consistently. The pretenders don’t. The Northwestern game, in particular, could be dicey.

- I do think Michigan has a chance at home against Wisconsin. The Badgers offense is not explosive. Michigan’s defense is capable of holding Wisconsin’s offense down. Look for a close, low scoring game - if UM avoids turnovers.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Millen Totally Disconnected From Lions Fans

It's not like we haven't been down this road before with Matt Millen. We have. Way too many times.
It's one thing to go 31-83 over such an extended period of time. It's another to act as if you don't understand why fans are upset about it.
That's what I took out of Millen's odd comments to Lions beat writers Thursday. The primary tendency of people around here is to be fair. That's one thing. It's another to be playing them for fools.
Whatever the Lions are doing in practice isn't working. They have lost nine of their last 10 games. They have gotten smoked in their first two games this season.
To act as if that is irrelevent is ridiculous.
Millen has not only lost at an incredible clip, he has never understood this town. There is a total disconnect between him and the fans. It's cost the Lions mightily lately at the box office. Their reputation is the worst it has ever been.
And yet, somehow, Millen took it too a new low Thursday.

Random Thoughts

- I do think Michigan State will beat Notre Dame Saturday. Notre Dame's offense had just 260 yards total offense against Michigan and couldn't stop the Wolverines' running attack. I don't see the Spartans turning the ball over at home. Nor do I see the Fighting Irish stopping Javon Ringer.

- With no obvious choice for the American League MVP, does Miguel Cabrera deserve consideration given his statistics? No, because those numbers are mostly empty. Where was he when the pennant race was on?

- I was surprised how well Freddy Garcia pitched Wednesday. I think the Tigers could benefit by signing him for next season. Just wonder how much interest he will draw from other clubs.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Can You Imagine An All-Chicago World Series?

Southeast Michigan has always had a varied relationship with Chicago. Sometimes it’s hate because Chicago seems to look its collective nose down at us, but we do share the same Midwestern roots.
Having thought that, I don’t know whether I would want to see an All-Chicago World Series or not.
It would be fascinating from one standpoint, dreadful from another. There is also the possibility of the Angels-Dodgers. That I don’t want to see. The best matchup on paper would be Angels-Cubs. The best for drawing interest: Cubs-Red Sox.

Random Thoughts

- First of all, Cedric Benson wasn’t an effective player for the Bears. Second of all, he’s had some serious off-the-field conduct issues. Thirdly, does either he or Shaun Alexander play defense? Because that’s the Lions’ real problem, isn’t it?

- Of all the Red Wings players, the one I’m most interested to see how much he has progressed since last season is Jonathan Ericsson. There were several flashes of brilliance he displayed during his brief stint with the Wings last season, although he is still raw. Once he refines his budding skill at that size (6-foot-5), he could be exceptional.

- Penn State hasn’t played anybody yet, but don’t be surprised if it emerges as the sleeper team in the Big Ten. It remains to be seen how he does under pressure in close games, but it appears to me like Daryll Clark is the best quarterback in the Big Ten. He’s an underrated passer and a terrific runner.

Monday, September 15, 2008

It's Getting Close To Time For Ford To Step In. Will He?

When it gets to this point, and everything has gone horribly wrong for the Lions, all the attention about the organization shifts to owner William Clay Ford.
Will he finally make a move?
Ford is personable enough. When I was the Lions beat writer, I enjoyed talking to him (they don’t dare venture him out there in front of the columnists, unless insured a soft ball interview). He was honest and forthright, too, particularly when Bobby Ross resigned. It was appreciated.
But there are two things about Ford as owner of the Lions I find to be disturbing. One is the constant reminder he gives to everybody in the organization that it is his team - and his team alone. He’s done that even to his own son.
Secondly, there is a complete and total disconnect between Ford and the fans. I have never heard him talk about fans before. It’s like he feels above them on some level. I have the same issue with Matt Millen, too. It’s as if these salt-of-the-Earth Lions fans are beneath him.

Random Thoughts

- The reason I asked Rod Marinelli about whether he has any time table for winning Sunday is because I felt like it was the question most everybody watching that game was thinking. I mean, if not now, when? This is his third year. His team looks no better prepared than during his first year.

- Before the Pac 10 starts talking too much smack about USC’s rout of Ohio State and Oregon’s road victory at Purdue, it should be considered Washington State was pounded by Baylor, Washington crushed by Oklahoma, California beaten by Maryland, Arizona State upset by UNLV, Stanford manhandled at TCU, Arizona beaten by New Mexico and UCLA beaten 59-0 by Brigham Young.
The Big Ten may not be too good, but the Pac 10 isn’t any better top-to-bottom.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ah, Believe It Or Not, I Think The Lions Will Win Sunday

I think the Lions are going to beat the Packers Sunday. Before you laugh me off the stage, consider my logic behind this thinking:
- The Lions were 5-3 at home last season.
- Their worst blowout losses, the ones that were eerily similar to last Sunday’s opener in Atlanta, took place on the road.
- The Lions were only routed in one home game last season. They played the Giants and the Cowboys close. Only the Packers beat them by a decided margin on Thanksgiving Day.
- The Packers no longer have Brett Favre. Aaron Rodgers played well in the Packers’ opener Monday night, but everything went his way. The Packers got the lead. It was at home. The true test of a QB comes on the road when his team falls behind.
- The Packers have one less day to prepare for this game because they played on Monday night.
- The Lions should have a sense of urgency. If they win this game, the season is still on. If they lose, it will be over before it really starts. Rod Marinelli and his coaches are, in a sense, coaching for their jobs. Many of these players, including QB Jon Kitna, are playing for their jobs.

Random Thoughts

- Michigan at Notre Dame Saturday will clearly serve as the junior varsity game for Ohio State and USC at night. Notre Dame has lost its last six games to USC - and has a loss to Ohio State thrown into the mix during that time period. That’s 0-7. Michigan is 1-6 against OSU since Jim Tressel has been its coach. It’s also 0-2 against USC in that period. That’s 1-8. You combine Notre Dame and Michigan’s record in that regard against Ohio State and USC, it’s 1-15.

- Just a hunch, but I believe Pavel Datsyuk will lead the NHL in scoring this season.

- I just bought my first my first preseason basketball magazines, the Athlon college and NBA books. They have Michigan State ranked No. 14 nationally and the Pistons winning their division.
I think they might underestimating the Spartans overrating the Pistons.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Leyland Outburst Not Helping His Cause

Tiger manager Jim Leyland’s blow up following their loss to Oakland Tuesday night was odd.
He was angry at the bullpen, more specifically at Fernando Rodney. He displayed this anger into all the microphones, so his words are being spread around town in sound bytes.
Where was this early in the season when the Tigers were lethargic and a fire needed to be lit under the players?
If you live by Fernando Rodney, you’re going to die by Fernando Rodney. Don’t blame him. Blame yourself for putting him out there - or your general manager, Dave Dombrowski, for not piecing together a better bullpen.
Pitching was the least of the Tigers problems in that game, anyway. They scored just two runs against a struggling team and let Oakland’s bullpen wiggle out of jams. Also, his team had won its previous three games.
Leyland needs to calm down. Pitching reporters out of his office and blowing up publicly at his players at this late date doesn’t help. It only hurts, making it seem like there isn’t a calm hand at the wheel.
Not exactly the image Leyland should be projecting if he wants a contract extension.

Random Thoughts

- OK, this is going to sound crazy, but I do believe the Lions will win Sunday. Last season, all their worst games were on the road. They were 5-3 at home last season, and two of the losses were close ones to excellent teams - the New York Giants and Dallas. Green Bay was the only team to blow the Lions out at home in 2007, and it was in large degree because of Brett Favre.

- Even without Tom Brady, I see the Patriots winning the AFC East easily. That division just isn’t that good.

- Fears about the Lions not selling out their first two home games are unfounded. They will sell those games out. Packer fans will buy up tickets for Sunday’s game, and the second home game is against the Bears. Fans will drive in from Chicago in droves for that game because the Bears looked really good in their opener at Indy. Of course, that will lead to an bizarre atmosphere at Ford Field, with the road team being cheered as loudly as the home team.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Bypassing Harris And Ware Killing Lions

The Lions' poor drafting under Matt Millen is legendary, but two draft picks came back to haunt them more than any others Sunday in their dismal season-opening loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Time will tell if quarterback Drew Stanton is the savior of the franchise many were making him out to be before he was injured during the preseason, but the Lions sure could have used the middle linebacker from Michigan, David Harris, they passed on, to select Stanton with the 43rd overall pick during the second round of the 2007 draft. Harris was selected four picks later by the New York Jets, and is a potential All-Pro.
Detroit linebackers Paris Lenon and Alex Lewis combined for just four tackles Sunday, an amazing lack of production considering how much the Falcons ran the ball. Harris, who had 127 tackles and five sacks last season, had five tackles during the Jets victory over Miami Sunday.
Worse than that was passing on linebacker DeMarcus Ware with the 10th overall selection in the 2005 draft. The Lions took receiver Mike Williams - one of the biggest draft busts in their history (considering their history, that's saying a lot). Ware, taken the next pick by Dallas, had 14 sacks last season. He had five tackles and a sack Sunday during the Cowboys victory at Cleveland.
Under Millen, the Lions have taken one defensive player, linebacker Ernie Sims, in the first round. That's in eight drafts. It's no coincidence the Lions' defense struggles mightily.

Random Thoughts

- Even though he wasn't that productive Sunday, I think Kevin Smith is a pretty good football player. The run blocking by the Lions' offensive line remains a major concern.

- I must admit I was wrong. The Lions miss Shaun Rogers in the middle of their defensive line more than I could have imagined. Then again, Rogers didn't do much to help the Browns Sunday, did he? Leigh Bodden's play Sunday was disappointing for the Lions.

- When all is said and done, I believe Michael Shaw will have a better career at Michigan than Sam McGuffie. Both are potentially excellent players, though.

- Can I take back my projection the Lions will win eight games this season? How about my pick that Michigan will win nine? What was I thinking?

- Can't wait for the start of hockey. Are the Red Wings really hosting the Maple Leafs to open the season? It's like some sort of dream come true after all those years of Gary Bettman's brutal scheduling.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Hall Bid For Davidson Deserved

William Davidson will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and it is long overdue.
Davidson has been a terrific owner for the Pistons. Not only has he brought three NBA championships, but he also produced The Palace of Auburn Hills with his own money. The only public money he received was about $5 million for improvements in the road structure around the venue. The rest came from his pocket.
Obviously, it was a great business decision. The Palace has paid for itself several times over, I’m sure, but it was considered a huge gamble at the time. It’s also a great building. The Palace is 20 years old, but is as viable today as when it was constructed. That’s a testament to the foresight of Davidson, who is also one of those no-nonsense types we admire so much in this area.
He also build an organization that is second to none I know of in professional sports. The Pistons just do things right - including win. It wasn’t a coincidence the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup when Davidson was owner, nor the Shock multiple WNBA titles, either.
Good to see Davidson’s accomplishments are moving out from under the radar on a national level.
Now, if he could just give William Clay Ford some advice...

Random Thoughts

- Last weekend’s losses to Utah for Michigan and to California for Michigan State were disappointing, but in a way, we’ll find out more about both teams this weekend.
If Michigan struggles to move the ball against Miami (Ohio), and the Spartans don’t have their way with Eastern Michigan, it will be a sign the problems were worse than displayed last Saturday against strong opponents.
I don’t anticipate that happening, by the way.
If the Utah game had continued for another quarter, I think Michigan would have won. I also believe if the two teams met again, at least in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines would win. Michigan was a much better team in the second half. I expect a continuation of that Saturday.
Miami allowed 269 yards rushing to Vanderbilt in its opener. Michigan should be able to get its ground attack untracked.
The Spartans hung in tough against Cal in a way, but were outrushed by a nearly 3-to-1 margin. That can’t happen if the Spartans are going to succeed this season with an I-formation offense and touting toughness defensively. Eastern pounded Indiana State and may be making some progress, but there is still a wide gap between the talent levels of these two programs. If MSU doesn’t win in a rout, it will be a bad omen for the Spartans.

Neither Michigan nor Michigan State can afford any unpleasant surprises this weekend.
- Prediction time: Michigan 35, Miami (Ohio) 10; Michigan State 52, Eastern Michigan 21; Lions 24, Falcons 13
Oh, and the Tigers losing two out of three to the Twins at the Metrodome.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Rudi Johnson Signing Could Payoff For Lions

If Rudi Johnson is a reasonable facsimile of what he was just a couple years ago with the Cincinnati Bengals, he is going to help the Lions immensely, and will represent a huge upgrade from Tatum Bell.
What nobody really knows, including Johnson himself, is whether he is the same caliber of player.
When he is right, Johnson’s rugged inside running style is just what the Lions need as they attempt to set up what should be a prolific passing attack with the run.
It’s about Johnson’s health - more specifically his hamstrings. He wasn’t nearly the same back after he injured them.
That makes it a risk for the Lions. They will be playing him essentially sight unseen in live NFL regular season action.
Given that Bell was going to provide virtually nothing, it is a risk well taken. Johnson is only 28. He does have youth on his side. Kevin Smith, however, remains the key to the Lions’ running game.
Even if Johnson is healthy, their running styles compliment each other’s well.

Random Thoughts

- Don’t get me wrong. I think Miguel Cabrera is a special talent. I think it’s fascinating he puts up such sterling numbers. I just think he could be so much better, especially when the Tigers were still in the race. Every homer he hits right now kind of has an empty feeling to it. You know, sort of like, "Where was that when the Tigers really needed it." Cabrera could be like Albert Pujols. He is that talented, but doesn’t seem to apply himself like Pujols.
And remember this about stats: Kirk Gibson won the NL MVP award with the Dodgers in 1988 with just 76 RBI. It’s not necessarily how many runs you knock in, but when.

- Speaking of the MVP award, has the American League ever been so void of candidates? Josh Hamilton’s numbers have been based in Texas. Could Carlos Quentin be the AL MVP, Kevin Youkilis.or Justin Morneau. I’d probably go with Morneau. Or perhaps K-Rod. Isn’t he having a better season than Willie Hernandez had in 1984.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Close But No Cigar Tale Getting Stale For MSU

Close, but no cigar victories should be of little solace to Michigan State.
Their opening game loss at California was similar to many of their losses last season.
They were prepared well enough to be in the game against a tough opponent on the road. They were not, however, prepared to win it.
And it isn’t just quarterback Brian Hoyer, who committed a key turnover at the end of the first half, and then threw four straight incomplete passes at the end. It was allowing a touchdown on a blocked punt, and getting out-gained by a more than two-to-one margin on the ground when you’re supposed an "I" formation, run-it-first team, aiming to win with a stout defense.
The best part for the Spartans: Mark Dell. The sophomore wide receiver from Farmington Harrison emerged as the playmaker the Spartans need to replace Devin Thomas.

Random Thoughts

- I can believe Rod Marinelli is keeping 11 defensive lineman while leaving his team so thin at other areas. It just doesn’t look good. It’s like Marinelli, a former defensive line coach, favors the position over all others. What about the rest of the team?

- Ned Yost is goofy. The Brewer manager’s tirade about being "denied "C.C. Sabathia’s no-hitter was over-the-top, phony rhetoric. I have never seen that particular play not called a hit. If it had been his hitter, not his pitcher, his take on the thing would have been completely different. I do, however, find the debate about the play interesting. Andy LaRoche might not have beaten it out.
I do know this: major league baseball needs to back its official scorers better. It’s a thankless job.