If a team loses in Detroit, does it make a sound?

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 19, 2008



In one 0-2 NFC North city, there's pathos and panic among the proud people of purple.
 
But in another Black & Blow Division town, there's barely a blip of discontent.
 
In wind-chilled Minnesota, Tarvaris Jackson has been thrown to the wolves, sacrificed to the football gods because it's time to win now. A bad move, the CHFFs are sure of that, but a decisive action nonetheless.
 
Meanwhule, in lovely pre-autumn Detroit, it's business as usual. Despite the 0-2 record, scrappy Jon Kitna is entrenched as the starting quarterback, Matt Millen is entrenched in management and the defense is entrenched at the bottom of virtually every statistical ranking. Yet fans at best are hopeful. At worth, they're apathetic.
 
How come?
 
The fact that Kitna hasn't been booed off the field is a sad statement about just how low the passion level is in Detroit. With the auto companies leaving town and the Lions the joke of the NFL, there's not much to smile about in the Motor City. Hell, even Eminem has stopped putting out CDs.
 
The Lions, as you surely know, have a pair of All-World receivers in Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson – top 10 picks who have actually produced in the NFL at a young age. Young, productive wideouts are rarities, as the Cold, Hard Football Facts have chronicled many times. Any QB in the league would kill to have two big, fast, sure-handed guys in their arsenal. Tom Brady was given one of those guys for the first time in 2007, and he threw 154 touchdown passes (OK, 50).
 
But Kitna of late has found targets he likes even more than Johnson and Williams – other teams' defensive backs.
 
Kitna's record over Detroit's last 10 games is worse than the one produced by Beyonce's dimwitted little sister — the Lions are 1-9 over that span.
 
One win in 10 games. It's worth noting here that, statistically, it's only one more win than you have, despite the fact that you're not even a pro football team. It's also worth noting that the lone win for the Lions came at home against Kansas City – a team that is in the midst of an 0-11 streak.
 
The Kitna Effect
NFL teams almost always lose when their quarterback plays poorly.
 
And Kitna, while not the only culprit, has been pretty poor over those 10 games. In addition to throwing 18 INTs, he's fumbled 10 times, and was fortunate to lose only three of them. That's 21 turnovers by one player in 10 games, too many by any standard: it equates to 37 turnovers over a full season.
 
(To put Kitna's 21 turnovers in 10 games into perspective, consider the quarterbacks in New England: during the team's record 21-game regular-season win streak, the signal callers have committed just 13 turnovers (9 INT, 4 lost fumbles)).
 
Kitna's overall passing numbers are in the below-average to OK range:
  • 230 for 352 (65.3%), 2,606 yards, 7.4 YPA, 12 TD 18 INT and a 77.44 rating. 
His raw 7.4 yards per attempt number is above average, but his TD percentage (3.4%) and his INT rate (5.1%) are well below average.
 
Looking deeper, in only three of the 10 games did he top an 80 passer rating, considered a "Quality Start" in our book. The won-loss record of 1-9 reflected that pretty clearly.
 
In addition, Kitna struggles to get his team into the end zone while producing yards. He's averaged 260.6 passing yards over the last 10 games. That's great. But over those 10 games the Lions scored 19 offensive TDs and kicked 17 field goals – a 1.12 to 1 ratio of TDs to FGs that is quite poor. (In 2007, NFL teams scored 1,106 touchdowns scored and kicked 795 field goals, a 1.39 to 1 ratio.)
 
Plenty of blame to go around
It's worth noting that the Lions' defense is terrible: it's surrendered a dreadful 34.1 PPG over the 10-game span. Plotted out over a 16-game season, it would stand as one of the very worst defenses ever to step on an NFL field.
 
So Kitna was fighting from behind frequently and forced to take more risks. Of course, he helped put the team behind with his average of more than 2 turnovers per game ... so perhaps those extenuating circumstances aren't so extenuating after all.
 
Still, on merit, there are probably 10 other Lions who should lose their jobs before Kitna should, most of whom play for head coach Rod Marinelli's defense. Marinelli was supposed to bring Tampa Bay's toughness with him, and instead he's brought nothing but memories. The Lions were 32nd in scoring D last year and they're 32nd again this year.
 
Add Marinelli's name to the list of people who should be benched before Kitna.
 
After all, in Kitna's defense, the Lions are 11th in scoring this year and were 16th last year. That's not bad at all, considering a so-so run game and offensive line.
 
The scrappy loser
However, quarterbacks in the NFL are judged by one thing, winning. It's a team game, but it's the QBs job to see to it that the bottom line is victory. Kitna has been a starter with three different teams (Seattle, Cincinnati and Detroit) and he's never won anywhere.
 
He's a hard-working, slightly flaky, undersized tough guy. Everyone loves those underdog QBs.
 
But Kitna's had one winning season as a starter (1999, with Seattle). His lifetime starting record, including postseason, is 46-69 (.400). His career passer rating is 76.8. He's lost nine of his last 10, for a franchise in complete failure. Oh, and he's going to be 36 next week (Happy Birthday, bro, sorry for the negativity).
 
He's not a bad QB, but he's the QB of a spiraling team that has an identity centered around the passing game. In most cities, that equates to a lost job. Maybe in all of them.
 
Backup Drew Stanton is an unknown quantity – and the Lions undoubtedly need to see what he can do. He was a second-round pick in 2007 who got hurt in August and missed the season – meaning he's had time to be patient and learn the game. He's worth a shot, at least when you're 0-2.
 
At 0-2 in Minnesota, the organization made a bold and risky move this week in an effort to salvage the season.
 
But in Detroit, a wonderful, magical land where Matt Millen has a job and there hasn't been a title celebration in 51 years? 
 
Well, for the Lions, trying to turn things around doesn't even seem like it's worth trying.
 
And that's a sad state of affairs, with chaos at quarterback, on defense, in coaching and in management. It's a sad state of affairs that the Cold, Hard Football Facts show needs to be rectified ASAP ... but probably won't.

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