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Blog: Could This Be The Solution For The Lions?

By: Brian Chapman

It started a week and a half ago on a Sunday when I was watching football. A score came across the bottom line that caught my attention. Falcons 48, Texans 21. That dropped the Texans record to 1-3 on the season. At that moment the question popped into my head, but I didn't say anything. Not yet. Not even with Pat Caputo and Dan Leach continually mentioning part of this thought to me every time they saw me in the middle of the night for radio cross talk.


Then it popped into my head again last Thursday. I didn't watch much of Thursday Night Football, but I did see that the final score. Colts 27, Texans 20. That dropped the Texans record to an abysmal 1-4. At that point I wanted to tell the world what was rattling around inside of my skull, but the time just didn't feel right.


Then Saturday rolled around and my Penn State Nittany Lions improved to 5-1 with a 29-7 victory over Indiana. It was their best win of the season, especially considering their top two running backs, Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch, missed the game due to injury. More importantly the question emerged once more because QB Christian Hackenberg had his best game of the season. He threw for 262yds, passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more touchdowns.


Finally, Sunday came and I was at Ford Field. The Lions looked awful and that included QB Matt Stafford. He threw three interceptions and after his third he was benched by Coach Jim Caldwell in favor of Dan Orlovsky. This Dan Orlovsky: . The Lions finished the game with just 17 points which was the fourth consecutive game that the woeful offense had scored 17 points or less. That meant that for the fifth straight week Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi was under fire for ineffective play calling.


After Sunday, with Lombardi continuing to feel the heat and Stafford watching the end of the game from the sidelines, I knew I had to let the world know what question had been bouncing around inside of my brain.


Could a Penn State 1-2 punch fix the Lions offense?


Part one is obvious. Drafting Christian Hackenberg in the first or second round of the 2016 NFL draft to replace Stafford. Part two is less obvious, but just as important. After a terrible second year in Houston, the Texans fire head coach Bill O'Brien and he becomes the offensive coordinator of the 2016 Detroit Lions (whether Jim Caldwell is the coach or not.) That would reunite Hackenberg with his coach from his freshman year at Penn State who led him to become the 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and really got his hype train moving.


Would Detroit Lions fans be interested in this Penn State 1-2 punch to fix the Lions offense?


Here's why it could work:


  1. Despite his struggles in 2014 and 2015, scouts and experts still LOVE Christian Hackenberg. Just two weeks ago Trent Dilfer compared Hackenberg to Troy Aikman.
  2. While Bill O'Brien may not be a good NFL head coach, he was a very good offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots before he took the Penn State job. He only held that role for one year and it's always easier when Tom Brady is the quarterback, but look at where the Patriots offense ranked in 2011: No. 2 in total yards. No. 2 in rushing yards. No. 3 in points per game. And look at what Tom Brady did under O'Brien: No. 2 in passing yards. No. 4 in completion percentage. No. 2 in yards per attempt. No. 4 in touchdowns. No. 3 in passer rating. This year Brady's passer rating is 121.5 through four games. The last time it was over 100 for the season was in 2011 with O'Brien… Oh, and one other thing. They went to the Super Bowl that year.
  3. In their one year together at Penn State, O'Brien and Hackenberg worked well as a tandem. O'Brien recruited Hackenberg from Virginia, fine-tuned his skills in the month of August helped Hackenberg to put up these numbers as a true freshman: 2,955 yards, 58.9% completion percentage, 20 TD, 10 INT, 134 rating. They also went 7-5 as a team despite significant scholarship restrictions. The Nittany Lions finished the season with a shocking 31-24 upset of No. 15 Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium.


It looked like the sky was the limit for Hackenberg and O'Brien until O'Brien fled Penn State for Houston. Perhaps reuniting in Detroit could revive both of their carrers.


Here's why it might not work:


  1. Hackenberg may be damaged goods. 2013 was a long time ago and he hasn't looked that good in 2014 or 2015. In 2014 his completion percentage dropped down to 55.8%, he only threw 12 touchdowns and threw 15 interceptions. In 2015 his TD:INT ratio has improved to 7:2, but his completion percentage has fallen even further to 53%. The accuracy issues are even more alarming considering the insane amount of short screen passes he has thrown in the past two years under James Franklin.
  2. Maybe O'Brien was only successful in the NFL because Tom Brady made him look successful. After all, by 2011, Brady had already established himself as a future Hall of Fame quarterback. Meanwhile, O'Brien had never been an offensive coordinator before that season.
  3. It's the Lions.


If I had to make the decision, I would not go with the Penn State 1-2 punch. First of all, I wouldn't touch Hackenberg in the first two rounds of the NFL draft in 2016 unless he shows major improvements over his final six games and into bowl season. Right now there is just too much hype around him based on what he did in 2013 and not nearly as much skepticism about him based on his 2014 season and the first half of 2015. He needs to return for his senior season. Second of all, I selfishly don't want the Detroit Lions to draft anymore Penn State Nittany Lions. The last time they did they selected WR/PR Derrick Williams. He was a sure-handed weapon in college, but after entering the NFL his hands resembled those of Eric Erbon. He was a bust. The Lions ruined him and I don't want to see the Lions ruin another Penn State player ever again.

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