The Lions are the only team that has ever gone winless in a 16-game season. Their record breaks the old mark of the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who went 0-14. The difference between the two records is that the Buccaneers were an expansion team and had an excuse, whereas the Lions have been around since almost the beginning of the league.
So what went wrong this year?
Not All That Glitters is Gold
First of all, Matt Millen was a terrible personnel manager. His draft picks since 1991 have been atrocious. Players such as Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams, who were number one draft picks, are already out of the league. Lesser round draft picks have never emerged to be anything but third-string players for the Lions.
Apparently, Millen never had a plan. Instead, he fell in love with physical talent and not the ability to play football. Teams that are successful look for players that fit into a predetermined scheme. For instance, Bill Parcells, who took over Miami, was able to bring in draft picks like Jake Long. Long was a player who fit into Tony Sparano’s overall game plan, which was to build a strong front line that allowed for running of the football and a possession-passing game.
Of course, the sheer number of injuries that plagued the Lions this season was another factor. At one point, 15 of the Lions’ starting players were on the injury list. Losing John Kitna, who was the Lions only better-than-average quarterback, hurt a great deal.
The Lions also suffered from instability in 2008. Each of the four couches that took over the team since 2001 had their own, unique game and draft philosophy. The quick, successive changes in leadership led to an increasingly unstable team. Simply put, the Lions had no team philosophy or identity in 2008. They didn’t know if they were a power team or a finesse team. Even their quarterbacks changed from one style to another on the same team. For instance, the difference between Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton is as dramatic as any two quarterbacks in the league.
Ability to Make Hard Choices
Couple the team's instability with Rod Marinelli’s stubborn adherence to the same system on defense -- even though the Lions are in the bottom of the league in both running and passing defense – and you have a cover-to scheme that allowed the Lions to intercept a grand total of only four passes the whole season.
The Good News
There were a few shining stars on the Lions this year. One of them was Calvin Johnson. He is simply a phenomenal wide receiver. The Lions also have a very good kicking game; but, in a league where you have to score touchdowns rather than field goals, that is hardly a help. That being said, Jason Hanson should be in the Hall of Fame. He’s been the Lions best player year after year.
Everybody Loves a Comeback
While the Lions need a lot of changes, there are no fast answers. In the NFL, however, every year is another chance to become the Cinderella team. Look at Miami, a team then went from 1-15 one season to becoming a potential payoff team the next. It’s time to get to work and come up with a long-term game plan.