(DETROIT, MI) – Monday was supposed to give us all an idea of what Lions'
head coach Steve Mariucci intends to do about the starting quarterback job when
he addressed the media at his weekly press conference.
Mariucci, however, didn't name Joey Harrington or Mike McMahon as the starter for Sunday's road contest against the Chicago Bears, instead stating that a decision hadn't been made.
Mariucci could throw the competition wide open for this week of practice and
name a starter on Saturday, or make a decision as early as Wednesday.
But there are compelling reasons why he should go with McMahon as the starter and not Harrington.
It's become painfully clear that the Lions aren't able to move the football under Joey Harrington. When Harrington first stepped foot on the field as the Lions "next great thing" three games into Marty Mornhinweg's final season as the Lions head coach, he ignited the offense by throwing the deep ball. This caught opposing offenses off-guard early on but soon they adjusted. They took away the deep ball and made Harrington take the underneath stuff.
It worked. Harrington wasn't nearly effective as he had been previously. He struggled to find the open receiver, he tipped off where he was going with the ball by staring down his receivers and he threw into coverage.
Pretty soon, a book began to form on Harrington's tendencies and every team that has played the Lions since that point has read it.
Harrington's benching on Sunday by Mariucci was merciful and deserved. But to hear Harrington tell it, it was just a bad day at the office. "I can't put it all on one thing. Sometimes everyone goes into the office and has a bad day. Sometimes an architect can't come up with the right design and a painter can't paint what he wants to and it happens to everybody."
C'mon Joey, this isn't a bad day, it's been a bad season. Harrington finished with a 7.1 passer rating -- that's about as low as it can go.
On the other hand, McMahon hasn't shown anymore than Harrington has so far this year, he brings unpredictability to the offense. When under pressure, he has the ability to scramble out of the pocket and run with the football successfully. He also has the ability to throw the ball down the field on the run.
No, McMahon hasn't always shown himself to be the ‘sharpest knife in the drawer' when it comes to decision making on the field, but when you're 1-5 and going nowhere it's time to gamble a bit.
"I don't think it's being rusty. I just think I was trying to make too much happen at one time," said McMahon after the 38-7 loss to Dallas. "It's just taking what the defense gives us. A lot of things weren't open down the field. I should have just been checking them all down and stayed within the system."
Maybe, but that ‘trying to make something happen' makes a defense nervous.
Opposing defenses facing the Lions haven't been nervous in a long time.
But the real reason Detroit needs to make this move is more for Harrington's future than for McMahon's. Harrington is the future of this franchise. If he doesn't develop into the franchise quarterback the Lions envisioned, this could be another three-to-five year setback for this franchise.
Harrington doesn't know where to go with the ball or what to do with the offense at this point. It isn't about guts, determination or hard work; it's about understanding how the offense works and having a command of it. It only comes in time in the NFL.
Further, now that team's have dictated to Harrington that he can't go downfield and knowing full well that he is content to take the underneath stuff, teams are tightening down the noose on the even the shortest of routes run by Detroit's ‘receivers'.
They jam them off the line of scrimmage and throw off the timing then send the rushers off the edge to go get Harrington, not at all fearing a draw play.
Harrington mechanically either checks down to a back, who doesn't have the speed to get out of the backfield or throws out of desperation into coverage. The results have been disastrous.
‘Joey Ballgame' needs a chance to sit out a couple of weeks and just watch film and practice. He needs the intensive teaching and instruction that Mariucci can provide. He can throw all the picks he wants in practice, just so he gets it when he returns to the starting lineup as he inevitably will. There's no need to do so at this point, it simply exposes his flaws and puts him under the gun to learn on the fly.
Detroit can help Harrington and McMahon by reviving the deep ball to keep defenses honest. McMahon can buy time with his scramble to allow those routes to develop.
They also need to use misdirection runs and screens to keep defenses from reacting on their first step. They ought to use more crossing routes to prevent defenses from sitting in zones reading and reacting.
And most of all, right now, they need McMahon's unpredictability.