ALLEN PARK - A day after the Detroit Lions embarassing 27-7 debacle at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons, Lions president and general manager Matt Millen seemed to try to distance himself from the controversy with his public remarks.
"There's a lot of pieces in place," Millen said. I like our defense. Our defense has been solid all year. The pieces are there, we have to make them work."
Sure, Millen has done a good job at gathering the skilled positions and has had some success bringing in some defensive players, but the Lions are woefully lacking at the two most important areas of a football team, the trenches on both offense and defense.
Here are five areas that Millen or whoever becomes responsible must address before the Lions can become serious contenders.
5. Blow up the offensive line.
Millen tried a different approach to building an offensive line than his predecessor Bobby Ross. Ross used first round picks to stockpile huge bodies that he thought would run roughshod over the competition. He drafted Wisconsin's mammoth tackle Aaron Gibson, Arizona stars Juan Roque and Tony Ramirez and Oklahoma State star Stockar McDougle. Millen tried to lowball the position.
He let guard Jeff Hartings and tackle Stockar McDougle leave in free agency, replacing them with inexpensive guards Brenden Stai and Rick DeMulling, Kyle Kosier and late round picks Kelly Butler and Victor Rogers.
The results were predictable. Detroit cannot handle the blitz nor run the football. With Jeff Backus heading for free agency, Detroit should start from scratch.
Make a decision on Backus but then go out and rebuild the unit. Butler, who has been wildly inconsistent and Kosier will make good backups. Dominic Raiola and Damien Woody are solid pieces of the puzzle, but you need three more to make the offense work.
4. Fix the defensive line.
Detroit has a solid middle with second round pick Shaun Cody, tackle Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson, but they are inadequate on the ends. Kalimba Edwards is a pass rushing phenom, but should get a look at strong side linebacker in some formations. He's simply too light to play every down at the end. Cory Redding isn't productive enough and James Hall has struggled, partly due to injury but also due to skill limiations.
Detroit needs two solid every down pass rushing, run stuffing threats. BC's Mathias Kiwanuka should get a long hard look with that first pick Detroit will likely have in the top-ten yet again.
3. Linebacking corps need a boost.
Detroit linebacking corps is solid when everyone is healthy with one exception; like his predecessor Barrett Green, weakside linebacker James Davis isn't as productive as a weakside linebacker should be in a 4-3 defense. Davis should be putting up triple digits in tackles and making plays in the backfield. That isn't happening.
With solid veteran Earl Holmes injured and in his 30's, Detroit has to find a long term replacement. It could be Nate Wayne, the former Eagles and Packers castoff. Take a look at speedy Boss Bailey at the weakside and move Teddy Lehman (injured reserve) permanently to the strong side. Let Holmes and Wayne split time and find a young run stuffing tackler to be the heir apparent.
2. Hire Jerry Rice as wide receivers coach.
Whoever's coaching this team could immediately shake it up by hiring Jerry Rice as wide receivers coach. Who knows the West Coast Offense better than the greatest receiver to ever play in it? His work ethic is legendary and he would be immediately respected by the players. Rice's work ethic and training regimen is still legendary in Bay Area circles.
Detroit was right to reject Herman Moore's efforts to talk to the young receivers. There was a lingering feeling that he detrimentally affected Germane Crowell's desire to come back quickly from injury. Moore will have to work off that legacy somewhere else. No one would have the impact that Jerry Rice would have - and Rice would restore instant crediblity to a franchise in need of it badly.
1. Find a quarterback.
No coach - Steve Mariucci or anyone else can win without having a quarterback that they trust and believe in. Jeff Garcia has simply run his course, Joey Harrington can't run the offense. Whomever the coach is, find out who he wants of the available quarterbacks and go make a deal to get him. You can't fit a square peg into a round hole. Four years of the Joey Harrington experiment has proven that. Get the man his QB and get out of the way.
Matt Millen's kidding himself. As Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher basically said in the run up to Detroit first meeting - a 38-0 loss to Chicago - you can have all the first round picks in the world but if you can't get the ball to them, what good is it?
Without an offensive line, Detroit's Williams, Williams and Rogers along with running back Kevin Jones are going to be stuck in the garage. Fix these problems and then you might have a chance to win.
Ignore them at your own peril.