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The Impact of the Ex-Head Coach: 2007 Lions Edition

Yesterday we examined the 2000 St. Louis Rams, led by Mike Martz as he tried to improve a team that had finished 13-3 with a Super Bowl championship. Today we're going to look at the 2007 Detroit Lions, a team that finished 2006 on the opposite end of the spectrum at 3-13. Coached by the Bears' own aforementioned Martz and defensive-line guru Rod Marinelli, let's examine how the Lions improved to 7-9 in 2007.

First, of course, let's recap the Lions 2006 season. It wasn't exactly pretty, but at least one of the myriad of wide-receiver first round picks was vindicated when Roy E. Williams was given his first and only Pro-Bowl nod. He and Mike Furrey combined for 180 receptions for 2,396 yards and 13 TDs. The Martz offense helped Jon Kitna have the best season of his lengthy career to date, as he didn't miss a game and threw for 4,208 yards, 21 TDs and 22 INTs, although he was sacked a career high 63 times. Jay, you pansy... I kid, I kid.

Here are the season numbers...

Offense: 305 points (21st), 4,949 yards (22nd), 3820 passing yards (7th), 21 TDs with 22 INTs (13th, 27th), 1129 rushing yards (32nd), 9 rushing TDs (23rd), 63 sacks (too many), 290 first downs (208 passing, 53 rushing)

Defense: 398 points allowed (30th), 5530 yards allowed (28th), 3520 passing yards (25th), 22 TDs allowed with 12 INTs (20th, 25th), 2,010 rushing yards (21st), 18 rushing TDs allowed (27th). 319 first downs (183 passing, 111 rushing).

No one is confusing what the Lions had with a great season, but that's not why we called; we're here to see how the team improved. First off, Kitna is what he is; a veteran stopgap, and his backup was Josh McCown, who isn't a quarterback of the future. The receiver corps consisted of two first round picks (Roy and Mike Williams, no relation), second round pick Mike Furrey, Rams holdover Az-Zahir Hakim, and Eddie Drummond, to go with former first-round running back Kevin Jones. And on defense, the Lions had just invested a first-round pick in the linebacking corps with Ernie Sims, several second-and-third round picks on the defensive line, and had former 5th round pick Terrence Holt heading up the safety corps. To me, most of the help the Lions required was on the defensive side of the ball. So in the 2007 draft, the Lions took...

Rnd 1, Pick 2: WR Calvin Johnson (Megatron, Any questions?)

Rnd 2, Pick 43: QB Drew Stanton (Relegated to backup and third stringer, but has played well in his limited time)

Rnd 2, Pick 58: DE Ikaika Alama-Francis (Played in 19 games with 2 starts with the Lions, notched one sack; played in 11 games with Miami in 2010)

Rnd 2, Pick 61: DB Gerald Alexander (Started all 16 games at free safety his rookie year with 2 sacks, 2 INTs and 59 tackles; played in five more games in 2008, starting 1, and was with Jacksonville in 2009, splitting time with Jacksonville and Carolina in 2010.) 

Rnd 4, Pick 105: DB A.J. Davis (Nothing.)

Rnd 4, Pick 117: OG Manuel Ramirez (Only played in 18 games in 3 years, started 15. Thirteen of those games, and twelve starts, were in 2009.)

Rnd 5, Pick 158: LB Johnny Baldwin (Played in three games with Kansas City, was never heard from again.)

Rnd 7, Pick 255: DB Ramzee Robinson (Played two years, 19 games with Detroit, then 3 games with Philadelphia and 4 with Cleveland in 2009.)

This time, with a defensive head coach and Martz on the offensive coordinator job, the team went offense first, adding a player who would be one of the best receivers in the game today and a quarterback who was first stashed on the practice squad, and little else - one good year out of Alexander.

So when we look at 2007's season, we shouldn't be too surprised to see the defense, like in 2000 with the Rams, took another step backwards, though with the addition of a new first round receiver, the offense took another small step forward as the Lions started 6-2 before falling to 7-9 in the Kitna Guarantee year.

Offense: 5166 yards (19th), 346 points (16th), 3878 passing yards (9th), 19 TDs to 22 INTs (17th, 30th), 1288 rush yards (31st), 13 TDs (13th), 54 sacks, 303 first downs (203 passing, 73 rushing)

Defense: 6042 yards allowed (32), 444 points allowed (32), 4131 passing yards (31st), 32 TDs to 17 INTs (31st, 14th), 1911 rush yards (23rd), 19 TDs (23rd), 363 first downs (221 passing, 116 rushing)

Again, we notice Martz's offense picking up another step while the defense steps back. The Lions picked up another 41 points and 200 yards while giving up another 46 points and 500 yards. It's important to note no receiver had over 1000 yards in this year. 

The point over these last two articles shows that Martz typically focuses on building the offense. While that's not surprising, and is in fact what I said in the prior article, this time his picks took precedence over Marinelli, a defensive-minded coach. Maybe having the extra voices in the room will bring balance to more than his playcalling. Of course, when Martz left after the 2007 season, we all know what happened in 2008.

Next week we'll look at Mike Tice's building of the 2002 Vikings, his first head coaching gig when he took over a 5-11 team. Then, we'll attempt to tie it all together to build a projection for the 2011 Chicago Bears.