After Sunday's 38-6 drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Bears, the finger pointing was easy.
Especially when the guy wearing No. 3 had just tossed five interceptions -- one of which outscored what the entire Lions offense was able to produce.
But, in spite of quarterback Joey Harrington's awful day at the office, the blame cannot be completely placed on his shoulders. A portion of it? Of course. But suggesting that the play behind center was directly responsible for each of Chicago's 38 points -- and Detroit's paltry 6 -- is just silly.
JUST PLAIN OFFENSIVE
A integral part of any successful offense, and any team that has plans to win more games than they lose, is an offensive line that isn't just competent, but bulletproof. The Lions offensive line didn't even reach mediocre levels against an aggressive Chicago Bears' defense.
While Harrington was sacked just twice, it was a collapsing pocket that didn't give the fourth-year quarterback any time to operate. On each of his five interceptions, Harrington was barely able to complete his three step drop, on most he wasn't able to at all. While that doesn't excuse Harrington's poor throws, is certainly gives him a handful of accomplices.
The lack of a running game, meanwhile, demonstrated the futility of the Lions' blocking unit and pressured an already burdened passing game.
Second-year running back Kevin Jones carried just eight times for 22 yards; an average of just 2.8 yards per carry. Part of that is inadequate coaching, but we'll touch on that later. Jones simply had no room to operate. The heart of the Lions' offensive line, controlled by Damien Woody, Dominic Raiola and Rick DeMulling, were thoroughly dominated and overwhelmed by a motivated Bears team that exploited what they felt was a weakness entering the game: Detroit's interior.
Bears' linebacker Brian Urlacher, the most vocal critic of the Lions' offensive line last week, carried out his indirect strategy with each of Chicago's two sacks, seven tackles (four on Jones) and several more hurries on Harrington.
As Lions' head coach Steve Mariucci stated after the game, it "snowballed" for the Lions. With no threat of the run, and a struggling passing attack, a very talented Chicago defense took control and never looked back.
RECEIVING INVOLVES MORE THAN CATCHING
If anyone needed an example that Harrington isn't quite on the same page as his receiving core, look no further than his second-quarter interception to the Bears' Nathan Vasher. The play was actually an audible by Harrington, giving wide receiver Roy Williams the option to cut in if he didn't feel he had an outside position. Williams cut in, but the ball was already in the air. While the mistake was very honest, Williams complicated it by looking disinterested in playing defense on the pass attempt. This drew the ire from Kevin Jones and Kevin Johnson on the sideline, confronting Williams as he walked toward the bench.
Each player said afterwards that there was no hard feelings, and the heated exchange of words was merely the result of frustration.
But Williams wasn't the only Lions' receiver who struggled. While Williams had a touchdown and hauled in five catches for a team high 96 yards, fellow flanker Charles Rogers had just three catches but never made an impact. Granted, Harrington didn't have many opportunities, but that wasn't assisted by Rogers, who had difficulty throughout the contest beating the jam of Vasher. Rogers ran into the same problems last week against Green Bay, and struggled against the jam during the exhibition season. It has now become a point of concern for the Lions.
Steve Mariucci came to Detroit three years ago with two things: a pedigree for winning, and running a very unimaginative offense. So far, he's 1 for 2. The 49ers rarely threw down field under Mariucci. While much of that was because current Lions' backup Jeff Garcia didn't have the arm strength, it is also because 'Mooch' simply doesn't like to take chances. In Detroit, Mariucci has taken it to a completely different (and more stagnant) level.
With offensive coordinator Ted Tollner supposedly the play caller (Mariucci still has deciding input), the Lions offense continues to sputter. The team seemed to be running in slow motion on Sunday and the conservative scheme was as aggravating as it was unproductive. The issues with Detroit's offensive line, indeed a team pratfall, is the coaches responsibility to correct. And after an unproductive preseason, it was never addressed; only given occasional political acknowledgement by Mariucci. That just won't get it done.
While Mariucci hasn't yet publically endorsed Harrington, it doesn't matter who quarterbacks this offense. As tight end Marcus Pollard stated following the game, any quarterback would struggle with no protection.
Defensively, the Lions were just as dormant on Sunday. The team rarely threatened Bears' quarterback Kyle Orton, and the rookie completed 14 of his 21 passes for 150 yards and one touchdown. But the most telling statistic was the one that didn't occur: turnovers. Last week, the team forced the legendary Brett Favre into three interceptions. On Sunday, Orton supplied a veteran presence and was given a comfortable pocket to work from within. Meanwhile, reserve Chicago tailback Thomas Jones poured on 139 yards on 20 carries, including two touchdowns.
Maligned defensive coordinator Dick Jauron needs to shoulder the blame here.
Jauron decided to continue his "bend-but-don't-break" style, and a rookie quarterback snapped it in half. When most defensive coordinators across the NFL would consider it an afterthought to pressure a rookie quarterback, Jauron's defense -- frequently playing zone -- allowed Orton to find the soft spots and place the ball there.
Conservatively pathetic. At least they're on the same page with the offense.
NOT ENOUGH FINGERS TO POINT WITH...
Joey Harrington isn't responsible for the offensive line's shortcomings, the defensive ineptitude, or a coaching staff with a shallow and colorless playbook. Many deserve the blame for imploding on Sunday. And while it isn't fair to name Harrington the scapegoat, he also is not sheltered from criticism.
A starting quarterback in the National Football League is the most difficult position in all of sports. The rewards are wonderful, look no further than the Patriots' Tom Brady for an example. But the package includes the criticism, and taking responsibility when the team fails.
Harrington has many things to work on, and he is in his last year to prove himself worthy of a place in the league, let alone as a starting signal caller. This young Lions team needs to rally behind someone and respond to a disastrous loss. Harrington has no choice but to become that leader.
Blame Game: Fault Isn't All On Harrington
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