SHARP: With Lions’ roster, Caldwell set up to fail

LOSING STREAK: The Detroit Lions dropped their second straight game on Sunday to the Green Bay Packers. (Detroit Free Press photo)

LOSING STREAK: The Detroit Lions dropped their second straight game on Sunday to the Green Bay Packers. (Detroit Free Press photo)

The Detroit Lions personify the con job that is NFL mediocrity.

Never as bad as you look. But never as good as you should be.

It’s the former that mollifies the regularly tormented, fooling the apologists into thinking football Nirvana is a little closer than the skeptics believe. Keeping ticket sales and television ratings high. Just a couple positive plays away. If not for this, if not for that, the Lions could easily be 3-0.

But it’s the latter that must dictate Bob Quinn’s evaluative process in his first season as the Lions’ general manager.

Through three games, it’s increasingly apparent that coach Jim Caldwell is set up to fail. He’s not a difference maker. Never has been. Early injuries have thrust Caldwell into the position of cajoling whatever possible out of the limited depth available to him. And that has never been one of Caldwell’s coaching strengths. He’s acceptable with sufficient veteran talent. He’s good at demanding accountability from his players and projects an even emotional temperament that his team has adopted. That was beneficial in Caldwell’s first year in Detroit when the Lions made the playoffs.

But he also had stars like Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson attracting double teams whenever they were on the field.

The primary challenge for Caldwell moving forward? Can he find a tiny taste of chicken salad out of a mess of chicken you-know-what?

He’s currently left with table scraps when forced to start Thurston Armbrister at linebacker fresh from the waiver wire. Quinn gambled that the Lions could make it with smaller linebacker numbers on the roster and that has blown up in his face.

But it’s not Quinn who must prove himself in one season.

Caldwell sticks to the same old stonewall, declining any elaboration on national reports Sunday that the Lions think that Ameer Abdullah might not play again this season following foot surgery and that they suspect Ziggy Ansah will miss Sunday’s game in Chicago with a high ankle sprain. He somehow thought that one reporter was openly challenging his coaching ability Monday when asked if he’s contemplating specific adjustments to compensate for the team’s questionable talent depth.

It was simply a question. And when there isn’t a logical answer available, testiness becomes the only option.

The Lions didn’t show up Sunday at Lambeau Field. They looked ill-prepared against a Green Bay team without four important defensive starters. There remains a frightening lack of talent on the Lions’ roster and that’s only matched by the equally frightening realization that the Lions don’t have a coaching staff capable of finding whatever strengths exist within its seriously challenged roster.

It’s conveniently forgotten that the average margin for victory in NFL games remains a little more than a touchdown. That diminishes the valor of the “inspired” second-half comeback when the team leading drops more back into coverage, preventing the big play but creating the opportunity for quarterback statistical padding. In effect, making the loss a little more tolerable to those desperately seeking any positive takeaways.

Falling behind 31-3 in the second quarter against an even more depleted Packers’ defense is a more accurate assessment of the Lions’ current state than how they scored 24 of the game’s final 27 points. Why Caldwell didn’t game plan a more aggressive early downfield passing attack to better take advantage of the severely weakened Green Bay defensive secondary? Instead, he coached to the Packers’ lone defensive strength — the NFL’s top-rated rush defense.

The NFL masterfully spins mediocrity as a virtue. Injuries and a hard salary cap ultimately compromises every team’s depth at some point of the season. It’s those teams with a front office and coaching staff working in unison in identifying the right young talent and best accentuating that talent that persevere.

Green Bay overcame its massive injuries. The Lions couldn’t.

That’s an indictment against a coaching staff placed in a position where the new guy in charge probably already knows that they’ve failed.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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