I hate calling for heads to roll and for coaches to be fired, but unlike my feelings on Rex Ryan’s job security, I’m not a vehement defender of Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz. A couple of weeks ago, my belief was, “Even if the Lions don’t make the playoffs, he should still get one more year,” solely because I’m the guy who likes continuity and tries to avoid knee-jerk reactions.
But firing Jim Schwartz isn’t a knee-jerk reaction, and it’s honestly a necessity. Because right now, there is absolutely no reason to keep him aboard in Detroit, because he blew his chance at leading this team to the playoffs and simultaneously keeping his job. Some people always make fun of the Dallas Cowboys for their epic collapses, but this seasons’s Lions collapse would have made every narrative-filled Cowboys collapse envious. Knowing that they needed a win yesterday against the struggling New York Giants, the Lions played down to their opponent’s level and lost a heart-breaker in overtime. They were unprepared, poorly coached, and were beat in just about every phase of the game.
One thing that was extremely upsetting about the 23-20 overtime loss was Schwartz’s actions at the end of the game. Instead of trying to take some shots to win the game with the strong-armed Matthew Stafford and two timeouts in tote, Schwartz elected to waste that possession and send the game into overtime. I disagree with that line of thinking, but that’s at least defensible. What’s not defensible is turning to the fans who are booing you for that awfully conservative decision and cursing at them.
Reggie Bush may have been trying to defend Schwartz with his comments about a lack of discipline from the players, but that was just a damning and fateful Freudian slip from the top free-agent signing, who was benched after fumbling the ball yesterday. Schwartz, of course, tried to sell to reporters that Bush wasn’t benched, but it’s clear that that’ a load of crock. We always talk about Bill Belichick misleading reporters etc., but he doesn’t mislead anyone; he just wisely withholds information from the press, since he knows he’s not obligated to say anything. Meanwhile, Schwartz makes misleading comments and injury designations, and that example of denying that Bush was benched is just one such example.
Jason Garrett is squarely on the hot seat in Dallas and will reportedly be fired if the team doesn’t make the postseason. So why should Jim Schwartz get to keep his job with the Lions eliminated? I mean, the Lions haven’t been hit hard by injuries this season, and they have a lot more talent on offense and, especially, defense than the Cowboys. Heck, he can’t really blame the coordinators either, and the Cowboys are also a more disciplined team than the Lions.
There’s simply no excuse for the Lions collapse this year, especially when you look at the other teams in the division. Both the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears have been hit very hard by injuries this season, as both of their star quarterbacks have missed chunks of time, and they’ve also dealt with some tough injuries to key players (Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Randall Cobb, and Clay Matthews come to mind). The Lions? They have one of the deepest rosters in the league and should have had the NFC North on lockdown. It shouldn’t have come to this, and the Lions shouldn’t have been in a position where a game against the Giants was a must-win. All they had to do was beat the Giants and Minnesota Vikings and they would be “in”, and they couldn’t even do that.
Let’s take a look at some stats from yesterday’s game. The Lions averaged more yards per play, had more first downs, and they also converted more third downs than the Giants. Heck, they even had more drives and time of possession. But they also had more turnovers and botched play-calling and that’s what did them in.
What does Schwartz bring to the table for this team? Not much. He hasn’t really turned the offense around through any sort of creative genius, and it’s obvious that he doesn’t help Matthew Stafford progress as a passer. The Lions handed him an impeccable offseason (Martin Mayhew‘s job should be a lock) with the shrewd signings of Reggie Bush and Glover Quin headlining the list, and they also added impact rookies like Larry Warford and LaAdrian Waddle on the offensive line. The Lions added some top-notch depth and a big playmaker, and yet they still weren’t able to make the playoffs.
Schwartz isn’t to blame for everything, though. Stafford’s collapse has been as pronounced as the team’s, and the secondary hasn’t held up its end of the bargain again despite improvements. But with one of the most talent offensive and defensive lines in the game, an incredible running back duo, a very good group of LBs, a franchise QB, and an elite WR, the fact that the Lions still were unable to make the playoffs over the Bears and Packers hurts. It hurts that the Lions expected win-loss record from Pro Football Reference’s Pythagorean projection is 8-7, and the difference of a full win indicates that Schwartz isn’t doing his job. And he isn’t. He isn’t making the most of the talent around him, he isn’t doing his best to prepare the team for big games, and his boorish behavior is both off-putting and conducive to a lack of discipline.
He’s done a decent job of making the Lions respectable again, though I would argue that most of that has been due to Mayhew’s excellent moves at GM (definitely a few steps above Matt Millen) . It’s clear that Schwartz isn’t good enough to get the Lions over the hump and into a consistent winner, and I think that’s going to be the job of a Marc Trestman or Mike McCoy-like coach who can work well with QBs, is innovative, produce a more disciplined and prepared squad, and can take this team to the next level. Jim Schwartz? He’s not that guy.