Published Nov. 24, 2017
The general consensus, until proven otherwise, is that Bob Quinn is a smart man.
He’d better enjoy that presumption while he can.
Quinn is in his second full season as Lions GM and so far, he hasn’t done anything egregiously wrong that would cause the fan base to question his football IQ. But that can change in a heartbeat.
Right now, Quinn probably enjoys the highest approval rating of any of the four teams’ chief executives—a status mainly attained by his sheer newness to the job. In Detroit, when it comes to coaches and front office people, familiarity breeds contempt. Quinn hasn’t been in the Motor City long enough to breed much of anything.
Again, that can change presently.
Quinn, we presume, is smart. We presume that all those years spent in the ivory tower offices with the New England Patriots has taught him something. We presume that he hasn’t been with the Lions long enough to be inflicted with whatever has been wrong with the franchise for the past 60 years.
Ground chucked by the Vikings
Quinn was upstairs at Ford Field, in his suite, looking down at the action on Thanksgiving Day as his team, a work in progress (as it’s been since 1957), fumbled away a chance to get back into the NFC North race by dropping one to the Vikings, 30-23.
But it was the first four plays of the second half that served as both a referendum on the 2017 Lions and a cry for help.
Quinn, as stated above, must be a smart man. Therefore, what he saw unfold in the opening couple of minutes of the third quarter against the Vikes certainly must have resonated with him.
Quinn’s team had scored a touchdown just before halftime to draw within 20-10 in a game where the Lions had been mostly manhandled. A ten-point deficit, the way the Lions had played, could have been considered a mini-moral victory as they jogged off the field. The TD also briefly turned the boos into cheers.
But what happened in the first four snaps from scrimmage to start the second half was as sobering as being served with a subpoena.
The Vikings began the half with the ball at their own 25 and four running plays later, they were in the Lions end zone.
Pick whatever analogy you wish: a hot knife through butter; a bowling ball and pins; a rolling pin and pie dough. The Vikings rammed the football down the Lions’ throats on the ground, running with impunity. They turned the Lions’ defense into 11 matadors.
The carnage started with a 46-yard run by Latavius Murray, who turned himself into a human thread, passing through the eye of a needle at the line of scrimmage before emerging in a gallop. Next was Jerick McKinnon around right end for 16 yards. In about 60 seconds, the Vikings had moved to the Lions’ 13.
While many fans were still in the concession lines, the Vikings continued their boots-on-the-ground march.
McKinnon found right end to his liking again, for 11 more yards. First-and-goal at the Lions’ 2.
Murray finished the mind-boggling drive with a 2-yard run up the middle for a touchdown.
In 2:02, the Vikings ran four running plays that covered 75 yards. If it wasn’t for having to stop in the end zone, the Vikings would still be running.
Quinn wasn’t in any concession line. He watched from upstairs. Lions fans can only hope that the humiliation of the Lions’ run defense seared itself into the GM’s mind’s eye—a permanent imprint that will last until at least April, when the NFL holds its next draft.
The 75-yard tiptoe through the tulips that the Vikings put on display for the entire nation to see slapped any false bravado and even the most guarded optimism off Lions fans’ faces.
Lions’ not-so-Magnificent Seven
I don’t want to hear about Haloti Ngata, either, by the way.
Ngata, out for the season with a shoulder injury, is the Lions’ best run stopper, that’s true. And the Fox TV crew flashed a graphic that showed how different the splits are with the Lions’ run defense before and after Ngata went down with injury.
But Ngata will be 34 years old in January. He’s not the future.
Quinn has a front seven on defense that is woefully lacking in playmakers. Even first-round pick Jarrad Davis, after showing some promise in the exhibition season and early in the regular season at middle linebacker, has become mostly invisible. The on-field presence recently of outside LBs Tahir Whitehead and Paul Worrilow has been merely a rumor.
Just call them the Not-So-Magnificent Seven. Yul Brynner is turning in his grave.
The limitations of the linemen and linebackers aren’t confined to guarding against the run. The pass rush is laughable. For terribly long stretches too often, the Lions d-linemen don’t even breathe on the opposing quarterback, let alone sack him.
Tigers fans have been complaining for the better part of a decade about their team’s bullpen woes. The Lions have their own bullpen, which is the defensive front seven. Pro Bowl talent has been missing from that group for years. Now it’s fair to wonder if the Ziggy Ansah we saw in 2015 was an exception rather than the rule.
Quinn, being the smart man that we presume he is, knew that he couldn’t turn the Lions into Super Bowl contenders overnight. He’s had two drafts and the jury is out. Reviews have been mixed, but it’s still early enough in the process to give the GM the benefit of the doubt.
As he watched the 75-yard romp unfold—unless he somehow blinked and missed it—Quinn should have squirmed in his seat uncomfortably, wincing at how ineffective his front seven was at a key moment in a big game that cried for a defensive statement to be made. Instead, the only statement the Lions defense made could be boiled down to three letters: SOS.
Some fans may argue that SOL is more appropriate.
Quinn’s honeymoon running out
Regardless, Quinn has bullpen, er, front seven issues. The Lions cannot be considered as anything more than pretenders with the sieve they’re putting on the field. First the Browns, then the Bears—both awful teams—and now the Vikings (not awful) have galloped around, over and through the Lions with frivolity. If you look at the film, once the Lions’ front seven is blocked, they stay blocked, like electric football players, leaving the run-stopping to the small secondary guys.
The Lions can’t run the football on offense, nor stop it on defense. Bob Quinn knows this, being the smart man that he is.
Quinn has precious little time to fix this mess in the trenches on both sides of the ball and verify how smart he is. It won’t be long before the fans call for his head, as well—joining Kenny Holland, Al Avila and Stan Van Gundy as team executives who’ve incurred the wrath of their respective team’s fan bases.
NFL teams typically engage in roughly 1,000 plays from scrimmage every season. Yet in just 4/10 of one percent of those plays on Thursday, the Lions showed the football world how silly it was to consider them as anything more than a distant second place team in a division that now boasts Case Keenum, a journeyman, as the elite QB.
The 2017 Lions are losing the battle of the trenches weekly and meekly. The “winning” formula of hoping for some takeaways and some Matthew Stafford magic in the fourth quarter is akin to something that’s usually bottled and sold by medicine men from the back of a wagon at a carnival.
Bob Quinn doesn’t strike me as a medicine man. But he’d better start proving it soon. Speaking of Thanksgiving, no doubt there’s a platter somewhere that Lions fans have, reserved for his head.