Steve Mariucci deserves credit for the Detroit Lions' fast start in 2004, but he does not deserve as much credit as we initially gave him.
Whatever credit the coach gets for Detroit's 3-2 record doesn't offset the blame he deserves for the Lions' dreadful performance against Green Bay.
Mariucci is committed to his ground attack. Painfully so. Playing from behind all afternoon, Mariucci insisted on emphasizing the run even when the game had approached blowout territory.
Detroit trailed by as many as four touchdowns, yet quarterback Joey Harrington had his number called only 23 times.
Most frustrating to Lions fans was Mariucci's refusal to challenge a wounded Green Bay defense that yielded 48 points the previous week and featured a rookie cornerback (Ahmad Carroll) making his first NFL start.
Somehow, Harrington's number was called sparingly, almost reluctantly. He completed 12 passes for 101 yards and a TD.
Playing from behind, the sensible response from Mariucci should have been to air it out after repeated failures to run it.
Instead, he determined he wasn't going to allow Harrington to lose a game that the Lions' best chance of winning would have meant taking some offensive risks.
Based on Mariucci's decision, we have to assume that, despite management's financial investment in the franchise quarterback, Harrington still hasn't earned Mariucci's trust.
He would rather bet everything on his non-existent ground game than give Harrington the green light to attack a soft Green Bay secondary.
Does Mariucci need to examine his own strategy? Is he sending mixed signals to his players?
While telling Harrington one thing by starting him against the Packers, Mariucci displayed a lack of faith in Harrington by sticking to the run when he should have taken the wraps off the passing game.
Mariucci wasn't aggressive in his play-calling against Green Bay because he didn't believe Harrington could make big plays in the passing game.
But the passing game only works when a coach is committed to it. Mariucci is committed to the pass, but he isn't committed to the pass the way he is to the run.
"I will never abandon it, as a philosophy," Mariucci said during his weekly press conference on Monday. "We've got to develop the running game. It's imperative that we do."
Granted, Harrington was off-target with some of his throws. He threw behind and out of the reach of open receivers.
But you can't give up on the passing game because of a few incompletions. Especially when the running game against Green Bay (33 yards) was a joke.
Had Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio given up on his second-year quarterback, Byron Leftwich, the way Mariucci gave up on Harrington on Sunday, Leftwich wouldn't have had the confidence to lead the Jaguars over Kansas City in the closing moments on Sunday.
Like Harrington, Leftwich has struggled with his throwing accuracy at times, but Del Rio keeps calling Leftwich's number. Del Rio believes in Leftwich.
It's going to be difficult for Harrington to earn Mariucci's trust if Mariccui refuses to put his quarterback in a position to make big plays.
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