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Sunday, December 14, 2014

2014 Game 14 - Detroit Lions vs Minnesota Vikings
@ Home


Kickers!

The now division leading 10-4 Detroit Lions narrowly beat the 6-8 Minnesota Vikings effectively taking the Vikings out of their playoff hopes by a score of 16-14. It has been a very long time since the Lions were sitting at the top of the NFC North after 15 weeks of play, but before we crown them the second coming of all thinks football let us realize they won because the free agent kicker they picked up (Prater) made all 3 field goals and the established kicker for the Vikings (Walsh) missed all 3 (very very long) field goals.

Matthew Stafford was only 17 of 28 (60.714%) for 1 TD and 0 INTs while the defense allowed Bridgewater to be 31 of 41 (75.6%) for 1 TD but 2 INTs. The Lions managed to eek out 90 yards of rushing while the Vikings only managed 76 yards. Despite these lopsided figures the true difference in the game was field position and the kickers.

Okay, the Lions safety's also contributed mightily with their 2 interceptions, without which the Lions would not be 10-4. So kudos to the Lions safeties and Matt Prater... game balls all around for them please.

I was actually worried about this game not due it being a supposed trap game, but due to the fact that N. Suh had had the flu (along with others) starting a few days ago, and back then I realized the timing was such that they could've infected many on the team earlier in the week and they would only begin to be symptomatic on Sunday (today). Not saying that is what happened, but boy the offense and defense sure looked like they were running in mud for a good part of the first quarter and a half. Then suddenly the Lions offensive coordinator held an on field meeting with all the offensive players and the next thing we know the penalties stop (on O) and things start to slowly get better (and faster). I would give the next game ball to the OC after Quinn and IH and Prater.

The Lions get to set their sites on the Bears who they play next week and who have been struggling mightily this year. The Lions need to continue to win to control their own destiny and to keep the players and fans into the game, for if I were to look ahead (and I am trying not to) the Lions could have a home playoff game (or more then one even) and it's critical that every aspect of the game fall in their favor for the wins to keep happening, after all, you don't want the kicker to be winning or losing (as happened earlier in the year) your games for you if you can help it.

One other note, if the Lions beat the Bears and the Packers lose next week... the final game of the year in Lambeau against the Packers may still be critical in that losing that game still ties the Packers and the Lions and since they would have split in head to head the additional tie breaker rules would apply... possibly (probably) making the Packers the division champs (and giving them the bye week). True the Lions would likely still make the playoffs at 11-5 as a wildcard team, and also true I am not particularly keen on having a team take a week off as the playoffs start (this isn't FFL after all, the guys need to keep up with game speed) ... I still would like to see the Lions make it deep into the playoffs no matter the consequences or obstacles... even if it means winning all the games from here on out by their street pickup (and former Lion and Bronco) kicker.

Monday, December 8, 2014

2014 Game 13 - Detroit Lions vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Home


Dominating.

The 9-4 Detroit Lions took the lead in the first quarter against the 2-11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and never relinquished it, winning the 2nd to the last home game by a score of 34-17. Matthew Stafford was 26 of 34 (76.47%) for 311 yards 3 TDs and 0 INTs. A franchise QB like performance. The defense also did their part with 6 sacks, 2 interceptions, a large number of hurries and holding the Buccaneers to 26 yards rushing, 2 TDs, and only 250 passing yards. McCown barely broke 50% completions and if it weren't for Vincent Jackson the entire team would've looked like a high school team against the Lions super competitive defense. Dominating.

I could spout numbers, or play outcomes, or any number of things and it would all come down one word... dominating. The Detroit Lions dominated the Buccaneers and that's all there is to it. I'm finding it difficult to even write up a blog about this particular game... and as a Lions fan... that is a good thing.

Oh sure, there was a few things that in film the coaches will see and address, there are a number of plays that certain players would like to have back, there are even a few flags that either weren't thrown that should have been or were thrown and should not have been... but in the end, in THIS game, there can be no other outcome then for the Lions to have won the game. If one was inclined to nickname a team from this one game it could be that the Detroit Lions could now be called the Detroit Dominators. Catchy isn't it?

Next week is the final home game against the Minnesota Vikings, to be followed by 2 road games against the Bears and Packers. Three all important divisional games in what has become a very talented conference and division. There can be no room for error, the Lions need to dominate every week if they have hopes of making the post season... and with a performance like today there is no reason to not obtain that goal. Can the Detroit Dominators make a playoff run from their current 9-4 position? Sure. Will they? Well, that remains to be seen. I for one will be watching for just that.

Friday, November 28, 2014

2014 Game 12 - Detroit Lions vs Chicago Bears @ Home


Thankful.

The Detroit Lions improved their record to 8-4 on Thanksgiving Day after defeating the 5-7 Chicago Bears 34-17 at Ford Field. The Lions new coaching staff have managed to not have a losing season their first year at bat and now have 4 more weeks (after a 10 day wait) to work their way into the playoffs. If nothing else Lions fans have that to be thankful for.

The game started out not so great as the Bears took the lead in the first quarter 14-3 but the Bears managed only one more field goal after that while the Lions scored 31. Matthew Stafford was 34/45 (an impressive 75.56%) for 390 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs. As I understand it, Stafford had more yards in the first half of this game then in any other first half of a game in his NFL career. Calvin Johnson had 11 receptions for 146 yards and both of Stafford's touchdowns making him the youngest wide receiver ever to get to 10,000 yards. Bell was the only running back with any stats netting 91 yards and 2 touchdowns on 23 attempts. Prater nailed both of his field goals and special teams covered all their aspects of the game fairly well. The defense managed two interceptions and three sacks... Jay Cutler probably needed an ice bath before he could attempt to chow on some Thanksgiving day turkey (if he kept his appetite). Forte was held to a grand total of 6 yards on 5 attempts.

While some fans have started to come to terms with the fact that the Lions defense is actually half way decent (especially if they play man coverage versus say, cover 2) most had started giving up on the offense. The blame has been spread around or at least between Matthew Stafford and the offensive coordinator Lombardi, with the offensive line occasionally mentioned. I've been blaming all 3 as well, but in a different order. Lombardi for calling plays that take time to develop when the OL can't give them that time and Stafford for his various errors and the coaching staff for not helping him correct those issues. Apparently someone figured it out as this game the ball was coming out much faster, something I've been begging for for a few weeks in the forum. The issue with drops by the receivers seems to have corrected it's self as well. The ball was spread around to 9 different players and everyone helped the team to win on national television making Lions fans thankful and the Bears fans dejected.

Now if the defense can continue to play more man coverage then other coverages, if special teams can continue to play disciplined, if the receivers can continue to use their hands correctly and if Stafford can continue to get the ball out quickly negating the patchwork offensive line issues this team can do some damage yet this year, and it all starts in 10 days against Tampa Bay... a team from the former NFC Central that the Lions used to circle as an automatic two wins back in the day (before they got good and made the Tampa 2 defense popular, a form of cover 2 that I also dislike immensely). This is the 2nd of 3 home games in a row for the Lions before they finish the year with 2 road games, one of which is in Green Bay just before Christmas... in other words, these next two home games are very important for the Lions chances to make the playoffs. Playoffs... a word we can be thankful we are using in week 14 of the season instead of "draft".

Happy Thanksgiving Lions fans.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

2014 Game 11 - Lions @ New England Patriots


We Can Only Hope

The Lions are now 7-3 after losing their second game in a row to the 9-2 New England Patriots by a score of 9-34. Matthew Stafford was a dismal 18/46 (39.13%) for 264 yards, no touchdowns and 1 interception. Meanwhile Tom Brady was 38/53 (71.7%) for 349 yards 2 TDs and 1 INT. We can only hope that the Lions will be better prepared for their next game which is in 4 days on Thanksgiving Day against the Chicago Bears.

The Lions had 91 yards rushing if you count the 3 times Stafford ran for his life, and the Lions defense allowed the Patriots to run for 90 yards (and 2 TDs). They sure didn't look like the NFL's number 1 defense this game, at least, not after the first couple of series. In the beginning of the game Suh and Ansah were stopping the Patriots, making huge play after play, then they nearly disappeared for much of the rest of the game. The players on defense seemed to have forgotten how to tackle, and to cover, and to disrupt, or to blitz, or even how to wait for the ball to be snapped. We can only hope this was some kind of hiccup in the season and not a prelude of things to come.

The offense dropped so many passes that I think it outnumbered the completions, pretty sure of it in fact. The offensive line continues to not block. The run game continues to not really scare anyone. Stafford still does stupid things (though he was doing better for much of the game this week). Did I mention the drops? Yeah, there were LOTS of those. Ebron looks like he's not interested in blocking, or running a route if he's not going to get the ball, or to be the least bit physical, and that probably worries me more then the rest of the things I saw go wrong. We can only hope the coaching staff can get this straightened out somehow. They supposedly cut out 1/5 of the plays to make it easier for the players to implement the plays and they responded by doing even worse then in previous games. Meanwhile, the Lions went from 1st in the division to 2nd and play again in 4 days against another divisional team. Stop me if you've seen this scenario before.

Not to be outdone, the special teams continues to miss field goals (did make 3 though) and fail to hit deep punts consistently or to stop long returns by the opposing team. Ross spent more time heading towards the sidelines then he did going towards the end zone. It was really frustrating to watch.

The only thing I saw that was positive from this game was that the officiating was much more fair and generally correct all game long.

As I type this the Lions only scored more points this week then the Jacksonville Jaguars (3) and the Arizona Cardinals (3). Yeah, those Cardinals. Hard to believe really.

I thought about going into a great multi-page rant about various individual players, and coaches, and that spot on the wall over there that is really bothering me... but what good would it do? Other then wiping off the spot on the wall (which I already did) I can not affect the outcome of these games in any way, so I, like everyone else, has to simply sit (or stand or lay down or even pace) and hope the team somehow, someway, improves and starts to win games again.

Will I find myself on Thursday giving thanks for a Lions win? We can only hope.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

2014 Game 10 - Lions @ Arizona Cardinals


Inadequate.

The 7-3 Detroit Lions lost to the 9-1 Arizona Cardinals by a score of 6-14. For the first time this season the Detroit Lions did not score a touchdown in the game. Some seem to think the Cardinals would be an easy win, but in truth, if the Indianapolis Colts beat the New England Patriots tonight then the Cardinals will have a two game lead... on the entire NFL. The Cardinals team is for real. So are the Lions. Both have their flaws, both can be exploited, and in this contest it was the Detroit Lions who were exploited more. In fact, by exploiting just one weakness the entire offense sputtered. That being the offensive line. Part of the issue was injuries. The RT Waddle got injured about half way through the game and the RG Warford didn't play at all, though the backup center Swanson filled in fairly well. Still, Matthew Stafford faced tons of pressure all game long and the offensive line was inadequate when it came to protecting the QB, or creating run lanes, or pretty much anything else pertaining to their job.

This phenomena happens with all teams and their quarterbacks from time to time; including Tom Brady earlier in the season, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees in today's contests, and most other quarterbacks both in the game now and who have played in the past. Without a semblance of a run game and without at least a little time to read the field then to set and throw, any quarterback, neigh, any team, will have trouble producing points. Luckily, not every team has the assets in place on defense to produce this type of exploitation of the offense. At least, not without corrective measures being taken. Today however, those corrective measures were also... inadequate.

One corrective measure that can be taken is the deep ball. If a defense has to defend the deep ball it can't crowd the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately you have to give the quarterback time, or the quarterback has to scamper to make time, for the receivers to get deep enough for it to work. Matthew Stafford is the fastest QB to 20,000 passing yards, taking only 71 games to do it (surpassing Dan Marino who took 74 games to do the same), but that has happened despite his long ball inaccuracies and his lack of production throwing on the run, not because of it. In fact, since Stafford appears to not actually trust his OL for more then a couple of seconds (and for good reason) he rarely has time for the long ball and when he does scamper he tends to run right into the incoming defense. Let's just say his pocket awareness is till a work in progress. So this method of fighting the rush the Lions faced is inadequate to the task.

Some other things you can do include using TEs to give you extra blocking on the OL and screen passes. However, the Lions TEs in this game aren't quite up to blocking just yet, their entire combined NFL careers can be measured in hours, if not minutes, of play. The screen passes that can help slow down the pass rush require your OL to sell the chip block as a failed block (that part is easy) and then set up to run in front of the RB... the Arizona defense is so fast that they could sniff out and destroy the screen rather quickly. In fact, just about every move that could be made to slow down the Arizona Cardinals was made, except for the quick inside timing routes that a small speedy WR can get some yards after the catch with. Unfortunately that was not tried, or failed if it was tried, I am not sure if it was because Broyles was inactive (a coaching decision and issue in it's own right) or if Broyles has lost his speed, or if Stafford can't actually produce in timing plays, or ... well, I don't know why the Lions can not do it but they don't.

Matthew Stafford was 18 of 30 (an even 60%) for only 183 yards no TDs and 1 INT. The Lions rushed for 98 yards. The defense was unable to score. All 6 of the Lions points were in the first half. These numbers were quite inadequate to win the game.

But wait! The Lions have the #1 defense in the league, so what did they do? Well, they held Drew Stanton to 21 of 32 (65.625%) for 306 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs. The Lions also held the Cardinals to only 46 yards rushing. So while the Lions defense was twice as good at run defense they allowed 3 more catches (amazing what 3 catches can do) and 123 more passing yards (amazing how the long ball can help out the OL with the pass rush) giving up two touchdowns in the first half, and then not a single point more throughout the second half. Normally, what the Lions defense did would be sufficient to win a game, but this time it was inadequate because the Cardinals defense was better against the pass... unless you believe that Stanton was better then Stafford... I suppose that would depend on if you are pro or anti Stafford. I personally think that blaming Stafford for all of it, or blaming the defense for all of it, or even blaming the offensive line for all of it would be incorrect... as it was some of each.

Then, no matter what side you are on, you can put a bit of blame onto the hands that throw the yellow flags during the game. The officiating in this game was some of the worst, most lopsided, officiating that I've seen in a while. There is no knowing if the Lions ever would have scored a touchdown without the refs help, but there is no doubt the officiating was wholly inadequate for NFL standards. Unfortunately, we will never know what the NFL will do about it, if anything.

To summarize: I state without hesitation that the officiating was poor at best; that the Lions coaching may have handicapped themselves to an extent, that Stafford had yet another poor game, that the Cardinals pass defense outplayed the Lions pass defense but that the Lions run defense was better then the Cardinals run defense; and most of all, the Lions offensive line was exploited by a very talented Cardinal team.

The Lions have another road game next weekend when they play the New England Patriots. I'm fairly sure nearly everyone will give the Lions no chance in this game, but I say it all depends on the matchup, and who can exploit who better. The Patriots are very good at this sort of thing... so it isn't going to be easy... but it is far from automatic as well. If the Lions haven't lost all their confidence, if they are mad they lost in Arizona and are going to put forth the effort in their next game, then perhaps it will be the Patriots who find they are inadequate when it comes to matching up with the Lions.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

2014 Game 9 - Detroit Lions vs Miami Dolphins @ Home


I have a feeling.

The 7-2 Detroit Lions narrowly beat out the 5-4 Miami Dolphins at home today 20-16 after trailing them for much of the 2nd half. In fact, the Lions didn't regain the lead until there was 29 seconds left on the clock when Stafford threw a TD to the 3rd string running back Riddick. Stafford ended up 25 of 40 (62.5%) for 280 yards 2 TDs and 1 INT. It was definitely not one of his better games (like I haven't said THAT before) but he started out okay and finished in great come back fashion. The problem is, he didn't need to have to come back from behind if he simply wouldn't take so many risks throwing to CJ when it wasn't warranted or necessary, and if he could but throw more accurately more often. I have a feeling I will be saying that an awful lot over the forthcoming games and probably years.

Meanwhile the Lions defense held Miami to just 207 passing yards, just 50 rushing yards, got an interception and caused three fumbles recovering one of them along with 3 sacks. Those are astoundingly great numbers for any NFL defense. No, they weren't perfect every single snap, and no, they gave up some yardage here and there (especially in the 3rd quarter when they were gassed) but overall, in the grand scheme of things, the Lions defense proved they are for real. I have a feeling I will be saying that more often as well.

I hate it when I have to bring up the officiating but man, there were some calls and non-calls this game that were so offendingly one sided that it's hard to ignore. Had the Lions actually lost this game I do believe there would have been a rather large outcry about the officiating, but I could be wrong. Of course, as we have learned in the past, any kind of outcry about the officiating is met with pretty much no response at all, officially or even publicly. I only hope that in their weekly report to the NFL that the Lions coaches do politely broach the subject. I also hope that in the end it does some good somehow. I have a feeling it probably won't though.

Okay, so, the Lions are now 7-2. The last time that happened the babies that were born that year are this year having their first legal drinks in their local bars (that's right people, the last 7-2 start was in 1993, the Barry Sander's years). Anyone remember those? I do. Barry Sanders got me hooked on the NFL in general and the Lions in particular. After almost making the superbowl in 1991 and the letdown of 1992 many of us Lions fans were feeling pretty good about 1993 until the wheels fell off. Here's hoping I never have to say that kind of thing ever again.

So here we are, the Lions have a great defense, they have a quarterback who appears to need great quantities of adrenaline to play well enough to pull off a last minute win (3 times in the last 3 games, winning the 3 games by a accumulated total of 6 points, all come from behind victories), and remain in sole possession of 1st place in the division with the Green Bay Packers still nipping at their heals. I have a feeling I will be saying that again too in the weeks to come.

Next week the Lions have a road game, in Arizona, against the Cardinals, who are 8 and 1. Plus, to top it off, the recently re-signed Palmer may have hurt his ACL and might miss the rest of the year to injury leaving Drew Stanton as their QB for this upcoming and all future 2014 games. I can't even begin to describe my feelings about that. This is an all important conference game, possibly with a team vying for home field advantage in the playoffs. A team the Lions may actually have to face in the playoffs (yes I said the "p" word). And at QB for them is none other then the former Lion Drew Stanton. With the NFL's number 1 defense (hard to get used to saying that too) the Lions stand a reasonable chance at a win in the desert... I have a feeling... ah, no, can't say it, can't jinx it, won't predict it, just let's get to next week already so we can all view another Lions game, and thank you for joining me in knocking on wood.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

2014 Game 8 - Detroit Lions vs Atlanta Falcons @ England (across the pond)


Lucky!

Here is something that I have never typed... the "Lucky" 6-2 Detroit Lions beat the unlucky 2-6 Atlanta Falcons 22-21 on a beautiful day in England. In throwing 2 TDs Matthew Stafford is now at a NFL career 120 TDs and breaks the long standing Lions record of 118 TDs held by Bobby Layne (Stafford went to the same High School as the great Bobby Layne too... nearly 50 years apart). In fact Matthew Stafford was 24 of 47 (for an ugly 51.06%) for 325 yards to go along with his 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. Just for comparison, Matt Ryan was 20 of 27 (for an impressive 74.07%) and 228 yards along with the same 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. Yet the Lions were the winning team, and many would say, very lucky.

In order for the Lions to win the game they needed a full 60 minutes plus 4 more seconds of playing time. Normally that means time expires before the game could be won... but the refs called a delay of game penalty with 4 seconds remaining on the game clock as the ball was hiked... which Prater kicked... and missed. The full 60 minutes were up. But the play never happened so the Lions were backed up 5 yards, 4 seconds were put back on the play clock, and Prater got another chance... this time from 48 yards out... and this time there were no flags and the Lions (well, Prater) made the field goal to bring the score from 19-21 to win it 22-21. In super duper slo-mo it kind of looks like the delay of game penalty was called with perhaps a half a second on the clock and just as the ball was hiked... more or less simultaneously. Typically that never gets called. Or typically, even if called, the kick would've been good the first time and the Lions would've gotten that penalty only to miss it on the 2nd try. But not this time, this time, it was good for the win. Yep, lucky. Guess this is not the "Same ole Lions".

The Falcons scored all 21 points in the first half. The Lions scored all 22 points in the second half. That's some major half time adjustments right there. Did I ever mention I like this new coaching staff? Well, I do. Anyway, it seemed like the NFL's #1 defense was blowing it all game long... and it seemed like Stafford was also blowing it all game long, and indeed there were many errors during the 60 minutes of game time... but the defense only actually allowed 78 yards rushing and 228 yards passing... so they did their part (despite missing a major part of the their run defense in C.J. Mosley who was suspended 2 games by the Lions and sent home to the USA alone yesterday; and despite Fairley getting hurt early in the 2nd half and going to the locker room)... plus Stafford had the same TDs to INT ratio as Ryan with 97 more passing yards... I'm rambling... ah, anyway, the bad plays and the lopsided score made it seem like the Lions had regressed and were going to lose... well, actually, they were losing for 60 minutes... but did I mention the Lions won? You see, the refs have, in the past, made it so hard for the Lions to win a game and in fact many times were a major factor in the loss that I am simply at a loss as how to write about the refs helping the Lions to win a game... even if they didn't... more or less (there was that questionable non-call on the 2 point conversion earlier, along with some other if'y calls here and there)... okay, I guess I'll just have to get over how lucky the Lions were and accept they won the game fair and square despite all the obstacles they had to overcome.

The Lions now head into their bye week, plenty of time to get over their jet lag, plenty of time to heal up Reggie Bush, and Calvin Johnson, and Eric Ebron, and Fauria and Pettigrew and perhaps Fairley, and all the others on the team that are hurting... or at least plenty of time for most of them to heal up... and perhaps plenty of time for me to get used to the new Lions, or not, as the case may be. The next game will be November 9th in Detroit versus the Miami Dolphins, and I do believe it'll be a great contest. I would even predict a Lions win if I were still in the prediction business. But I gave that up a few weeks back so instead I'll just say I'm looking forward to the matchup, and if need be, I will even try to get used to the Detroit Lions being, ah, lucky.