Those living in the metro-Detroit area consider Joey Harrington to be many things. He’s a proven winner, a charismatic leader and eternal optimist. He’s got a cannon for an arm, throws a nice deep ball and can play the video game Pac-Man like no other.

Paul Wong
Joe Smith

He’s the future of the Lions’ franchise, there’s no question about it.

But behind the Superman shield of unfazed confidence and unlimited talent, he’s still human. And that’s why Marty Mornhinweg’s decision to yank Mike McMahon and start the rookie now after two painful losses may serve as a smoke screen for fans, but it won’t solve the miserable problem called the Lions.

Throwing Harrington into the fire may make the Lions a little better, but the quarterback switch should prove just as effective as plugging a dam with a pinkie finger.

The Lions are a disaster. Outscored 80-28 in their first two games – including a 31-7 drubbing by the woeful Carolina Panthers – the Lions nearly have as many penalties (17) as points.

They’re undisciplined. They can’t stop the run. They can’t stop the pass. They can’t stop an old lady from crossing the street. And nearly their entire starting secondary – full of Pro Bowlers from less than 10 years ago – is closer to collecting social security than collecting interceptions.

And the Lions’ offense isn’t that much better. That’s why no matter how good Harrington is, the move could do more harm to the quarterback than good.

Harrington has said he knows full well the track record of rookie quarterbacks starting in the NFL, and how they get punished. Obviously there’s a few exceptions, but most of those signal callers had Pro Bowl, or even Hall of Fame players around them.

Harrington just doesn’t have the tools around him, not yet.

He inherits an offense, supposedly the West Coast Offense, that has an old, beat-up offensive line. Ray Brown, 39, had his best years as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals football team nearly two decades ago. Jeff Backus is solid, but struggling at the ever important position of left tackle. Kerlin Blaise, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Is Lomas Brown still playing?

And if Harrington actually gets a millisecond to throw the ball and survives this season without injury, what then?

Free-agent pickups Az-Zahir Hakim and Bill Schroeder haven’t quite evolved into the playmakers Mornhinweg envisioned. Hakim has yet to unleash the speedy, game-changing plays he had in St. Louis, and Schroeder has pulled more groins than he’s caught touchdown passes.

But it’s not Harrington’s fault he’s running a West Coast Offense that has a makeshift offensive line, inconsistent wide receivers and a tailback in James Stewart who is so good that the Lions shopped him in the offseason.

It’s the M&M team of Mornhinweg and team president Matt Millen. They’re the one’s that gave up on loyal, Pro Bowl-type players like Johnnie Morton, Herman Moore and offensive lineman Jeff Hartings and still say each week they’re “looking for improvement” at those same positions.

But the M&Ms’ track record speaks for itself. At 2-16 in their short tenure, they can’t afford to make any more mistakes. They notice what happened across the street at Comerica Park – the shine of a new stadium rubs off when the team stinks up the place.

And the sad thing is, the Lions sold out the 80,000-seat capacity SilverDome for most of the past decade despite the hometown team winning just one playoff game since the late ’80s.

Starting Harrington will wake Lions’ fans up from hibernation. It may help the Lions win a few more games.

But that just adds up to 2-14. Haven’t we already seen that show before?

Joe Smith can be reached at josephms@umich.edu.

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