Five Reasons to Believe Louis Delmas’ Eight-Win Prediction

June 14, 2010 by

It wouldn’t be a complete offseason without a Detroit Lions player making some kind of outlandish prediction about the coming season.

Well fear not, for this year, Louis Delmas has satisfied our requirements.

This string started with Jon Kitna boldly predicting 10 wins for the Lions in 2007.

After the Lions finished the 2007 season at 7-9, he quietly renewed that prediction for 2008, while then-rookie running back Kevin Smith predicted 20 touchdowns for himself and a playoff win for the Lions.

As if the results of that particular prediction weren’t embarrassing enough, Smith then renewed his prediction of “playoffs” for the 2009 season, claiming that the 0-16 team of 2008 was “not that far off.”

As a wise man once said, it was good for Smith to have confidence and aim for the playoffs, but there was obviously no way it would happen.

Delmas’ prediction is more modest than those in years past, but only slightly. He also seems to misunderstand the NFL playoff structure.

See, Delmas has also predicted “playoffs” for the Detroit Lions, but he has predicted a somewhat unorthodox method of getting there. Delmas is calling for the team to win eight games and finish with a .500 record.

And, in his own words, if the Lions win eight games and miss the playoffs, he will be “pissed.”

I can’t help but wonder if he watched any football in 2008, when the New England Patriots finished the season with an 11-5 record… and missed the playoffs (to be fair, the was the same year the San Diego Chargers won the AFC West at 8-8, so maybe he was).

At any rate, I’m not going to decry Delmas for his prediction… or half of it, anyway. Eight wins is certainly optimistic, and the city of Detroit would surely build a solid gold statue of Jim Schwartz for an 8-8 season. But “optimistic” is not the same as “insane” or “impossible.”

In fact, there are a number of reasons to believe that eight wins is reasonable. The first five are on me.

The Lions Are Actually Adding Quality Players

Allowing for the fact that anything can happen at any time in the NFL (and therefore, even though the Lions are vastly improved on paper, they could still theoretically get worse in reality), the Detroit Lions are almost assuredly a better football team now than they were a year ago.

Last year’s focus was one of transition. The focus of the new regime was to eliminate as much of the old regime as humanly possible, without fielding another winless team.

As proof, by the end of last season, the Lions had won two games and replaced roughly two-thirds of its 2008 roster.  And now there is a notable difference in how the Lions are going about filling spots.

Last year, they were signing guys off the street, taking looks at every practice squad scrub and third-string cut, and basically piecing together a ragtag squad to fill out the roster. Philip Buchanon might have been the highest-profile signing, and he was cut after a single season.

This year, the Lions are going after guys they want, not just guys they can get.

Though several weaknesses remain, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Nate Burleson, Corey Williams, Rob Sims, and Tony Scheffler have come in to shore up their respective positions, and none of the above are any worse than average starting-quality players.

And that’s not even including draft pickups.

Coaching Continuity

Let me paint you a scenario.

Let’s say you go to work every day for about a year, with the same job, same boss, same organization, same co-workers, same procedures, etc. There’s a lot to learn. Really, it takes several months to absorb everything, much less master it.

Now imagine that about 10-12 months later, just as you might be hitting a stride, a bunch of your bosses get canned (as well as some of your co-workers). You still have your job, but it’s different. Sure, you still have your desk and your job title. You still work for the same company.

In fact, your job is basically the same.

Except that now you have a crew of guys you just met two weeks ago telling you to do everything differently, and by the way, they have a whole new operations guide for you to memorize.

Your responsibilities are completely different, and now you’re being asked to take on tasks you’re not familiar with, and change the way you perform existing ones.

You’re reluctant, but you do it. And maybe it works better than before. Maybe it doesn’t. Either way, you start getting used to the new way of doing things. After several months, you’re really getting the hang of it. Again.

And after roughly another year of that, your bosses get another round of pink slips, and the cycle begins anew.

Getting a feel for what the Detroit Lions players have gone through over the last decade? In addition to having seven head coaches since 2000, the Lions have had even less continuity with offensive and defensive coordinators.

In fact, the Lions fired at least one assistant coach per year throughout the entire Rod Marinelli era.

In year one,  defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson was fired in favor of Joe Barry. Year two, offensive coordinator Mike Martz was fired for Jim Coletto.

In year three, of course, the Lions cleaned house entirely, hiring the current trio or Schwartz, Cunningham, and Linehan.

Maintaining these coaches, all of whom are high-quality coaches, should allow many of the Lions players—particularly the young ones—to establish a comfort zone and develop properly with a consistent system.

Stan Kwan (or the Lack Thereof)

Yeah, I know I was just talking about coaching continuity, but this is addition by subtraction.

Last year’s special teams were directly responsible for more losses than maybe any special teams in history. You can blame lack of personnel if you want, but I’m not just talking about the weak return game.

The kick and punt coverage teams were, in most cases, weak enough to change the outcome of entire games. Never was this more apparent than Week Four against the Bears. After playing to a 21-21 tie in the first half, this happened to open the second.

Notice how no Lion is ever within five yards of Johnny Knox. Are any of these guys being taught to stay in their lanes?

And before you try to explain that away as “just one play,” let me remind you that Knox returned three kicks in that game, and tallied an average of 49 yards per return. Danieal Manning also chipped in with a 43-yard return of his own.

Never did the Lions’ special teams look much worse than in that game, but never, under Kwan, did they look very good, either.

With Anybody-But-Kwan (just kidding, it’s former Carolina Panthers coordinator Danny Crossman) heading up special teams, the emergence of Zach Follett in the coverage team, and a number of specialists arriving in the offseason (Johnathan Wade, for one), the Lions may not win any games on their special teams, but they could stop losing them.

Improved Depth

This more or less ties in with adding quality players, and yet it’s distinctly different.

See, the Lions have a tendency to lose games late.

Yes, I know, they also lose them early and in the middle, too. Just stay with me, here.

The Lions have, for years, turned potential wins into losses, and close losses into blowouts late in games. Most of the time, we point to the fact that the Lions “don’t know how to win games” when that happens, suggesting that the organization’s losing mentality affects their on-field performance in clutch time.

That, to an extent, is true. But part of it is something that isn’t nearly so abstract. Late in games, starting players get worn down, and occasionally need to get spelled for a few plays by second-stringers. With the drop in talent comes a rise in energy, which tends to balance out.

Unless your first string is barely hanging in there, and your second string is much, much worse. And the opposition knows it. Then all that energy boost gets you is a player running to the wrong spot on the field with a lot of gusto as the ball flies over his head.

Now, there are a lot of areas on the team that lack starting quality, much less quality depth.

But consider the defensive line. With new Lions Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams joining young space-eater Sammie Hill in the middle, Jim Schwartz will be able to implement his system of rotating fresh linemen throughout the game, without a significant drop in production.

In addition, the Lions currently employ three tight ends that would be starters on most teams, and a stable of average-at-worst young running backs.

Perhaps most importantly, the Lions dealt for Shaun Hill, a new backup to Matthew Stafford who had a better year in half a season with the 49ers than most Lions starters over the past decade. Given the fact that Stafford was injured on two separate occasions last year, this is a better thing than it first seems.

Sure, the linebackers are still roughly one-deep at each position, and the secondary is comprised of Louis Delmas and a bunch of hopefuls, but the Lions are showing initial signs of becoming a talented team throughout the 53-man roster.

Louis Delmas Says So

I didn’t believe Kitna, even after the 6-2 start. And I didn’t believe Smith, ever.

But there’s a nagging feeling I get when Delmas says “eight wins.” Like I should listen.

Maybe it’s because I can see him in the Lions’ future plans like I never could Kitna or Smith. Or maybe it’s because he plays defense, and we haven’t gotten a lot of confidence out of our defense lately.

More likely is that eight wins is a reasonable goal for a team that has only seen nine wins combined in the last three seasons. A goal that I have been aching for the Lions to achieve for the last decade.

Whatever the reason is, it goes beyond just the Missile running his mouth while he waits for training camp. If he really believes what he says, it indicates that he may be not-so-quietly assuming something of a leadership role on the defense.

Yes, I know Louis Delmas is a 23-year-old second-year safety on a bad football team. I also know that he will be among the team’s best players this year (on either side of the ball), and that he became the only player in NFL history to return a fumble and interception for a touchdown and notch a safety in his rookie campaign.

Consider. For the last decade, who has been the Lions’ defensive leader on the field?

Exactly. The Lions have had no defensive identity for an excruciatingly long time.

So maybe I’m a little excited about the prospect of Louis Delmas bringing some. If he brings a few guys with him, maybe eight wins isn’t insane.

Very optimistic. But not insane.

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    Comments

    2 Responses to “Five Reasons to Believe Louis Delmas’ Eight-Win Prediction”
    • Michale Harty says:

      I believe the Lions can win eight games….but it’s going to take them three yeas to do it.

    • James Williamson says:

      I think it is possible. I know this is extremely early, but just something in my neck (my neck talks to me instead of my gut) tells me that Stafford is going to turn it all around. That game against Cleveland is the birth of a legend I think.

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