Here's a typical Lions game from last year. Defense starts tough. Fans get excited. Linebackers and defensive backs trade high fives on the sideline. Then the Detroit offense goes three downs and out: two runs, an incomplete pass and a punt or, for variety, an incompletion, a run, a sack and a punt. The defense's high fives get lower. Chests heave. Tongues hang out. At last the D collapses, betrayed by an offense that ran fewer plays than anyone else in the NFL last season.
Now the Lions have brought in Mouse Davis (page 66) and his run-and-shoot offense. It'll be called the Silver Stretch: four wideouts, no tight end and an S-back—or single back—on every down. The quarterback will roll out and zip the ball to a bunch of darty little guys running breakoff patterns.
The concept is great; the personnel, well, we'll see. Barry Sanders, the best runner in college last year, was penciled in as the S-back, but he wants more money than the Lions are willing to pay. The receivers? The top one, wideout Pete Mandley, finished 49th in the league in catches last year. Detroit needed new ones. How about second-round pick John Ford? Or Richard Johnson, a free-agent signee who caught 115 passes for Davis's Houston Gamblers of the USFL?
How about the quarterback, who must be nimble of foot? Rodney Peete, Detroit's sixth-round choice, looks destined for the spot, with Bob Gagliano behind him. Given some time to breathe, the defense—with stalwarts like nosetackle Jerry Ball, linebackers Mike Cofer and Chris Spielman, and strong safety Bennie Blades—could be formidable. Look for lots of excitement in the Silverdome this season, but the Lions, Stretch or no Stretch, are a year away.
Good secondary, good linebackers and one of football's most underrated defensive players, rightside linebacker Tim Harris. That combination gave the GREEN BAY PACKERS the fifth-best pass defense and seventh-best overall D in the NFL last year—unusual achievements for a 4-12 team. Now we've covered almost everything good there is to say about the Pack.
Except for one thing: They've signed all their veterans. Which leads to something else: Their No. 1 draft pick, Tony Mandarich, who can get down in a three-point stance and drive-block an 18-wheeler off the highway. But Mandarich expressed deep regret about the seven digits the Pack was offering and spent the summer preparing to challenge Hercules to two out of three falls.
Last year Green Bay finished with its lowest-ever rushing average per game, and we're talking about the dawn of history here, back some 60 years to when NFL statistics were first kept. Yeah, I know, Brent Fullwood is running better, but the Packers need Mandarich to make the attack come together. Let's say that Mandarich eventually starts at a tackle. The other tackle would be Ken Ruettgers, and he's good. Keith Uecker, who will miss the first three games because he tested positive for steroids, would move from tackle to run-blocking guard, for which he's better suited. Left guard Rich Moran is good. These are the makings of a real offensive line, one that could keep Don Majkowski or Randy Wright or Anthony Dilweg from having to face so many third-and-eights.
From 1979 through '82 the TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS went to the playoffs three times. In the six subsequent years they have been the worst team in the NFL, with 21 wins and 74 defeats. The Bucs' closest competitor, Atlanta, has gone 30-64-1 since 1983. In August, Tampa Bay owner Hugh Culverhouse said the '79 team—the best of the three playoff teams—was tainted by drugs, which undermined the franchise for years thereafter.
That, folks, is what's known as a cop-out. No team has been more poorly managed in the '80s than the Bucs have been. Employees were fired at all levels, and the best quarterback Tampa Bay ever had, Doug Williams, was allowed to slip away because he wanted a decent wage. Culverhouse is a beauty, all right. In June he announced he might move three home games to Orlando to broaden the fan base. Attendance had gone down, and Culverhouse said he wasn't sure that winning would reverse the trend. Fans were incensed. A billboard on one Tampa highway reads HUGH CULVERHOUSE, and it has a giant screw through it. Culverhouse backed down from his plan to play in Orlando.
Amid this madness, two dedicated people are trying to survive. Ray Perkins, the coach, hopes to get Vinny Testaverde, the quarterback, to cut his league-high 35 interceptions in half. That's a start. The Bucs play sound football. A few of the players, like wideout Bruce Hill and tackle Paul Gruber, are among the league's best at their positions. But you can't expect to move out of the division cellar when eight of your first 11 games are against teams that had 10 or more wins last year.