January 2nd, 2019
New year, but same old worries
and problems for our sports teams
By KEITH GAVE
Now that we’ve turned the calendar to a new year, we can start counting the days until Tigers pitchers and catchers report for spring training in Lakeland, Florida. But before we get into whether they’ve tweaked their lineup enough to avoid a third straight 98-loss season, let’s review the dumpster fires around the other major sports teams we love. . . to hate.
After playing what appeared to be their most impressive game of the season – a 31-0 season-ending win at Green Bay – the 6-10 Lions declared progress in their rebuild of a team that went 9-7 the past two seasons. (They’ll have the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft this spring.)
Then, predictably, they fired offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who failed to make chicken salad from a chicken droppings lineup that included a beat-up quarterback who in the second half of the season had few playmakers to target in an injury riddled offense. But even at 100 percent, before they inexplicably traded receiver Golden Tate, the Lions were mediocre at best.
With Matthew Stafford on the wrong side of 30 and having to endure breaking in yet another offensive coordinator, would it be wise to draft an understudy quarterback in the early rounds of the draft. To be sure, they need to continue to build (rebuild?) and offensive line that has been under construction for three years running. And a safety to replace a gaping hole left by Glover Quin, who is likely to depart as a free agent.
University of Michigan football
The Wolverines finished 10-3, which feels like an abject failure considering that they were in the national playoff picture heading into their Big Ten finale at Ohio State. Then the best defense in the land, allegedly, gave up 103 points in their final two games. After its 62-39 shellacking from the Buckeyes, Michigan lost in the Peach Bowl, 41-15, to Florida.
And now it’s back to the drawing board for coach Jim Harbaugh, who exorcized some demons with wins over rival powers Michigan State and Penn State, but continued to have those monumental end-of-season fiascoes.
Sure, the Wolverines played Florida without four of their top players who pulled out to preserve their NFL draft status. But shouldn’t a team that perennially finishes in the top 10 among recruiting classes in the nation have the depth of talent to at least compete against a team like Florida, which finished 4-7 just a year ago?
One of these years, the Wolverines will actually live up to all that Harbaugh hype. Right? Maybe even in Year Five coming up, now that the bogy man is out in Columbus.
Michigan State Football
Mark Dantonio describes himself as a “stay-the-course” kind of coach, which should make this off-season a bit unnerving for a man facing a horrible truth that his offense just isn’t good enough to compete at the highest level.
The worst Spartans offense since the coach Bobby Williams fiasco in 2000 – 18.7 points per game and just 26 touchdowns in 13 games – are to blame for MSU’s 7-6 record. And that’s despite having perhaps the consistently best defense in the Big Ten, a group that held the high-flying Oregon offense to just a single touchdown in a 7-6 loss in the inaugural Red Box Bowl.
To be sure, injuries were to blame for a lack of production on the offensive side. But to have a month to heal – and both quarterback Brian Lewerke and running back L.J. Scott were healthy – and still manage just two field goals against a Ducks defense that gave up 27 points per game? Shameful.
Like it or not, and he won’t, Dantonio is going to have to make a change at the coordinator’s position. He’ll also need to find some playmakers, starting at quarterback. A great defense, and this was Dantonio’s best in his 12 seasons at MSU, can only take a team so far.
The Detroit Red Wings
A month or so ago, when they were at their healthiest, the Wing put a pretty good run together and sat at least momentarily 18th overall and just a point out of the post-season wildcard chase. Today, with serious injuries sidelining their top three defensemen, the Wings sit just three points from the 31st overall in a 31-team league.
“Lose for Hughes” indeed.
Finishing among the bottom-feeders for the third straight season and vying for the first overall pick and the privilege of selecting center Jack Hughes in this summer’s draft suddenly looks as undeniable as it was when the Wings started their season with one win in their first 10 games.
You just can’t win consistently in this league with rookie defensemen. Youngsters like Dennis Cholowski and Filip Hronek are getting a baptism under fire in the extended absences of Mike Green, Danny DeKeyser and now Trevor Daley. Green especially; the Wings are 13-8-2 in games that he’s played and just 2-11-5 without him.
Heading into tonight’s game against Calgary, which begins the second half of their season, the Wings have lost five straight and eight of their last night. With 37 points, they’re on a pace for 74 – which represents a one-point improvement over the previous season.
The Detroit Pistons
Hard to figure this enigmatic team – ad first-year coach Dwayne Casey is quickly learning.
With just three wins in their last 10 and their offense foundering, the Pistons are on the cusp of falling out of playoff contention with Brooklyn (Brooklyn!) and Orlando breathing down their necks.
Very much like the Lions, Red Wings and Michigan State football, the Pistons cannot score enough to win consistently. As a result, they rely far too heavily on Blake Griffin to run the offense and Andre Drummond to go get the ball.
Until they resolve the point guard position – and swapping out Reggie Jackson isn’t a reliable option because his trade value is limited – expect this team to continue to struggle.
Not even Casey, last season’s NBA Coach of the Year in Toronto, is enough of a magician to turn this into a playoff team if his players can’t live up to their paychecks.
The Detroit Tigers
In a word, no. They haven’t done enough to improve their roster and look more like a 100-loss team than one that might manage a few more than 64 wins, which they ended up with the past two seasons
Follow on twitter @KeithGave