Cald­well king of say­ing noth­ing

Lions coach quick to fall back on empty cliches with me­dia

The Detroit News - - Front Page - Jdrogers@de­troit­ twit­

TAllen Park here was a mo­ment dur­ing Jim Cald­well’s Thurs­day news con­fer­ence where he re­ceived a con­vo­luted, poorly stated ques­tion and he asked the re­porter to re­phrase.

“It’s OK if you ask a di­rect ques­tion,” Cald­well said.

Un­for­tu­nately, Cald­well doesn’t hold him­self to the same stan­dard when an­swer­ing ques­tions. If he doesn’t have a good re­sponse, or doesn’t want to an­swer, he’s quick to fall back on empty clichés.

For ex­am­ple, peo­ple around foot­ball love to talk about the im­por­tance of get­ting bet­ter ev­ery day. With that in mind, Cald­well was asked, “How is your of­fen­sive line bet­ter to­day than it was in Week 1?”

“We’ll see what hap­pens on Sun­day,” Cald­well said. “That’s go­ing to be our thing. I just think that we’re slowly im­prov­ing, not quickly enough, but I think ev­ery week it’s a — you’ve got to prove it again, over, and over, and over again.

“We haven’t ar­rived,” Cald­well said. “We’re a long way from

where we need to be, and our job is to just keep get­ting bet­ter. We got to be bet­ter than we were at any point in time pre­vi­ously, and we’re not quite there yet, but that’s what prac­tice is for, that’s what meet­ings are for in terms of get­ting th­ese guys pre­pared, so we’re on that mis­sion right now.”

That was a lot of words that didn’t re­ally say any­thing. Cald­well ac­knowl­edged im­prove­ment, but didn’t come close to of­fer­ing specifics. Re­mov­ing po­ten­tial fu­ture per­for­mance from the equa­tion, he was asked again, where has the line im­proved from the first game to its last, a 27-24 loss to the Pan­thers.

“I’m not cer­tain,” Cald­well said. “For me, it’s a marathon and not a sprint, and all I can do is as­sess what we did in the quar­ters; we go by quar­ters. I think we were OK in that quar­ter, re­gard­less of how it looks from a num­bers stand­point. Wins are the most im­por­tant thing, all in all, so we just got to find a way to get bet­ter. We’re in an­other quar­ter now, we’re 0-1 in this quar­ter, we got to go to work.” Again, noth­ing. No one will dis­pute wins and losses are more im­por­tant than any statis­tic, but to sug­gest in­di­vid­ual stats don’t add up to wins is equally fool­ish. If Cald­well doesn’t like a statis­tic, he’ll say it doesn’t mat­ter. If a statis­tic re­flects fa­vor­ably for his team, like how well his de­fense stopped the run against the Pan­thers, he’ll gladly ref­er­ence it, of­ten mul­ti­ple times.

And the real rea­son Cald­well isn’t ea­ger to de­fend the play of his of­fen­sive line is that it’s been in­de­fen­si­ble. We’ll con­cede a com­mon Cald­well ar­gu­ment that not all block­ing problems fall on the five-man unit, but the ma­jor­ity do. And those that don’t, well, that’s of­ten coach­ing. If you are count­ing on an un­der­sized re­ceiver to hold an out­side block on an edge run, that’s prob­a­bly not the best use of tal­ent.

Here are some ugly num­bers: Through five games, 31 per­cent of the Lions’ runs are be­ing stopped for a loss or no gain. That stuff rate is tied with the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers for worst in the league. And the Lions are al­low­ing sacks on 10 per­cent of their drop­backs, good for 29th in the NFL. Both fig­ures are worse than last year, when the Lions’ block­ing was al­ready con­sid­ered be­low av­er­age.

In ad­di­tion to 18 sacks, quar­ter­back Matthew Stafford has been hur­ried 42 times and knocked down an­other 28. Detroit’s line­men have also been flagged for an NFL-worst 12 hold­ing penal­ties.

And this comes af­ter ex­ten­sive in­vest­ment in the unit. The Lions paid good money to T.J. Lang and Rick Wag­ner to help solve some of the block­ing woes that have been a pri­mary fac­tor in the team’s less-than-stel­lar of­fen­sive pro­duc­tion.

To be fair, Lang and Wag­ner have largely lived up to their billing. Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus grades Lang as the NFL’s thirdbest guard and Wag­ner the 11th-ranked tackle. It’s the other pieces, from the re­turn­ing Travis Swan­son and Gra­ham Glas­gow to the stop­gap Tay­lor Decker re­place­ment Greg Robin­son, who aren’t car­ry­ing their weight to start the sea­son.

Decker’s even­tual re­turn to the lineup should help. Ev­ery­thing from our eyes to the num­bers tells us Robin­son is the weak­est link up front. But it’s dif­fi­cult to sug­gest Decker alone will be the magic elixir to cure all the unit’s ails.

So here we are, five weeks into the sea­son, and we’re look­ing at a Lions team that’s a re­spectable 3-2, but held back from be­ing a true con­tender largely be­cause of this unit. Is there any hope the group will find its foot­ing in time to sal­vage a run at the NFC North, to clinch an elu­sive home play­off game?

When we get a di­rect an­swer, we’ll let you know.

Daniel Mears/Detroit News

Guard T.J. Lang has helped some of the Lions’ woes on the of­fen­sive line.

JUSTIN ROGERS Up next: Lions seek an­other W over Saints,

Paul Sancya/As­so­ci­ated Pres

Lions of­fen­sive tackle Greg Robin­son, left, has been one of the weak links on the line so far this sea­son.

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