(ALLEN PARK) - You can't bake a cake if you don't have the right ingredients.
So when the Detroit Lions went searching for free agent linebackers last season, there was an abundance of supply at relatively cheap prices. But what Matt Millen brought home turned out to be the baking soda instead of baking powder.
Millen could have had any number of young speedy free agents including the one he really had his eye on, Roosevelt Colvin, of the Chicago Bears who eventually ended up signing with the New England Patriots -- no shame in that.
But it seems that Detroit didn't have a plan "B" after Colvin went elsewhere. Instead the Lions settled for retread Earl Holmes to fill their middle linebacker spot, allowing 25-year old Chris Claiborne (6th in the NFC with 72 tackles) to walk away. Detroit felt that Holmes would be an upgrade to Claiborne and that Barrett Green would have a breakout year on the opposite side of Bailey.
Instead, the speedy Green still seems to be out of position after being converted from his collegiate position of strong safety. He doesn't seem to have a feel for the position and while he is fast and a pretty good tackler, he always seems to be in the wrong position. He and Holmes just aren't making enough plays in the Lions linebacking corps.
Even with a solid pair of defensive tackles keeping most opposing centers off them, Green and Holmes can't seem to stop an opposing running back until he's into the secondary.
Teams have licked their chops running against the Lions all season long. The one bright spot has been the play of rookie Boss Bailey, who almost from the time he stepped onto the field has proven to be the Lions best linebacker. Bailey sat out most of the Seattle game after aggravating his sore right shoulder in the 2nd quarter. He is day-to-day.
While both Holmes and Green may end up with 100 tackle seasons, they aren't making plays that 'win' for their defense. Sometimes stats can be misleading. If you tackle a runner four yards past the line of scrimmage instead of at the line of scrimmage, it still goes into the stats as a tackle, but it isn't a win for the defense.
The failure of the linebacking group has also been apparent in the passing game. In Detroit's "two-deep" scheme, the linebackers are responsible for covering the zones between the line of scrimmage and the secondary. Opponents have taken advantage of Detroit on short crossing routes and flares to backs out of the backfield.
Adding insult to injuries, Detroit's safeties aren't any good either. Brian Walker was
playing decent football but has had problems tackling. Corey Harris dropped a sure
interception that could have been six points.
You can only get out of a defense -- the sum of its individual players -- what you put into it. And after what we saw again on Sunday afternoon, "this don't taste like cake."