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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.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

2014 Game 7 - Detroit Lions vs New Orleans Saints @ Home


Getting there.

The 5-2 Detroit Lions barely beat the New Orleans Saints by a score of 24-23 at home today. It was never a sure thing (unless you were sure the Lions were going to lose) and the Saints aren't always all that great on the road, but in the end the Lions did just enough to pull off a win. If you missed the final 4 or so minutes of the game you missed the Lions scoring 14 points to make up for the 2 scores they were behind to seal the deal with their defense. That's right, Brees had time to drive to within field goal range but the Lions (currently #1 ranked) defense (yes, I said DEFENSE) held... eventually getting the ball back to the Lions Offense on downs.

This minor miracle (the win) was performed without the help of Calvin Johnson, or Eric Ebron, or Joseph Fauria, or with tons of yardage. In fact, there was only 59 yards rushing for the Lions in the entire game... and Stafford only threw for 299 yards, completing 27 of 40 (67.5%) with 2 TDs and 2 INTs (1 of which was definitely not his fault). As a group, I would say this team is getting there.

No, they are not a well oiled machine. No, Stafford isn't garnering the attention that a Peyton Manning would. Some would even call the offense boring and semi-predictable for the majority of each game... but you have to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run. Golden Tate had 10 receptions for 154 yards and a TD. The next best player on offense was RB Joique Bell with his 18 rushing attempts for 48 yards and a TD along with 2 catches for 19 yards. Then WR Corey Fuller with 3 catches for 44 yards and a TD. Multiple players are contributing to the win, it's not just Calvin Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Calvin Johnson any more.

The defense is definitely using the right combination of speed, youth, intelligence and coaching to excel. I was wondering if their #1 rank was earned or a disguise due to them playing poor offenses to date. After watching this game, and despite a few hiccups here and there, I no longer have as many of those kind of doubts. I too am getting there.

The offense still has a ways to go, but if the defense can continue to keep them in the games while the offense grows into their own skin, this team has a chance, no matter how slim, to make some noise in January... as in, the "p" word. It won't be easy, or automatic, and there is still many obstacles to overcome (not the least of which is the upcoming game played in England), but more then one team recently has made noise in the post season with the recipe that begins with a great defense. Before I jinx it I shall say no more on the matter... this week.

Those reading this may have noticed I missed the past couple of weeks of blog entries. My father (Terry Nielsen) passed away during the game two weeks ago and his funeral (up by Mackinaw City) was last Saturday, so needless to say I was unavailable and rather unwilling to write anything. My father taught me a great many things about life, more then I could possibly re-iterate, so I won't get into that in any great detail, but one thing he stressed more then anything else was about planning ahead. Being prepared. These hard fought football games, teammates helping other teammates to win despite whatever comes up, even the next game in England instead of in Atlanta, will go a long way to prepare the Lions for a possible playoff run. They need to take nothing for granted and continue the hard work day after day, game after game, and work together to overcome the next obstacle, because there will always be a "next obstacle". Learning just how to do that and trusting your fellow teammates to help with that is a critical ingredient to having success. In that regard, I think the Lions are indeed getting there.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

2014 Game 4 - Lions @ New York Jets


How about that.

The 3-1 Detroit Lions beat the 1-3 New York Jets 24-17... outside... in an away game... had led them all game long... making the Lions 1st in the NFC North division.

TDs were caught by Jeremy Ross and Eric Ebron, with another TD ran in by Matthew Stafford himself. Matthew Stafford was 24 of 34 (70.588%) for 293 yards and 2 TDs with 0 INTs. Calvin Johnson had 2 receptions for 12 yards. Let me repeat the important parts here... this was an away game, played outdoors, CJ had only 2 receptions for 12 yards, Stafford completed over 70% of his passes and there were no turnovers by anyone on the Lions team. How about that, huh?

The new kicker missed a field goal, there were mistakes made by various players that they can work on this week, but by and large, this team was ready to play, played well, and won a game they deserved to win. In the end, you can't really ask for more then that. Now that other teams are starting to "get it" and are beginning to show up (such as the Packers) this small head start could come in quite handy in the future... should the Lions make any post season like noise in December. But let's not count the champagne bottles before their opened (such as the Detroit Tigers were doing, only finally winning the division on the last regular season game of the year, today in fact, and thank you Tigers)... there are still 12 long grueling football games to go yet. The next being at home against the Buffalo Bills (and former head coach Jim Schwartz as the DC).

A few players need to get healthy, such as Joique Bell (concussion), CJ (knee), Waddle (or any RT please), and Stafford (who had a bad turf burn on the back of his throwing hand along with a limp before half time that carried over into the ride home). I don't want to see the Lions just beat the Buffalo Bills next week, I want to see the Lions offense annihilate them. I'm not predicting that, don't want to jinx them, just hoping I get to see it. In fact, when I predicted the Lions would win against the Panthers (read below) they lost, and when I predicted the Lions would lose to the Jets they won. So either I keep predicting the Lions to lose to avoid jinxing them or I stop making predictions altogether. I'll go with the latter.

Here are a few things I would like to see during the game next week though. At least 2 sacks made by Lions Defensive Ends. More TDs then turnovers lost, again. And, another good game that makes me want to say "How about that!" after it's over... and not because something bad happened either.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

2014 Game 3 - Detroit Lions vs Green Bay Packers @ Home


Speechless.

The Detroit Lions beat the Green Bay Packers at home with a score of 19-7. This marks the first time the Lions have EVER beaten the Packers whilst Rodgers was the QB for the entire game. AND, the game was won because of the Lions DEFENSE! I am speechless!

I mean, Nate Freese missed yet another field goal which now gives him a rockier start then the Lions last rookie kicker, Jason Hanson (who was 3 for 6 his first 3 games). The Lions Offense gave up 3 turnovers. Matthew Stafford had completed less then half his passes by half time. But the defense had kept the Lions in the game with a pick-6 early on in the first quarter and a safety in the second, then after half time a completely different team took the field with Stafford completing something like all but 2 of his passes and thankfully no more interceptions (he had 2). It was quite a game, to say the least.

In the end, Matthew Stafford was 22 of 34 for 246 yards, no TDs and 2 INTs. That's a 64.7% completion rate (and as I said, it was under 50% around half time). In comparison, the mighty Rodgers was only 16 of 27 for 162 yards and 1 TD. If I was giving the game ball to just one person though it would be going to the weak side linebacker; DeAndre Levy, who put on a pro-bowl worthy performance yet again. It was a fun game to watch, a great game for Lions fans, and I want to say more about it but as I said, I'm speechless.

Congratulations to all the players on playing for all they were worth. Congrats to the coaches on proving you do have what it takes. And, good job fans for making it loud. I will also add that I am oh so glad my prediction of a Lions loss did not come true. Makes me want to predict a loss for every game from now on, but I try not to get too superstitious, so I will simply go with this... the Jets will have one less day to practice (they play Monday night against the Bears, go Jets!) and though they are tough... oh wait, it's an away game, hmmm... okay, I can't predict a tie, so I'll go with the Lions losing by 1 point... something like 24-23. (Okay, perhaps I do believe in jinxes).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

2014 Game 2 - Lions @ Carolina Panthers


Never mind.

The Detroit Lions lost this one to the Carolina Panthers by a score of 7-24. While it's true the Panther's have a great defense, it's also true the Lions needed to be tested by a great defense and also by a road game. They failed the test. Utterly. Never mind that at one point in the 3rd they were ahead 7-6. Once they had the lead they could not build on it nor hang tough and keep the Panthers from scoring.

Part of that failure to build on the lead was due to their rookie kicker, Nate Freese. Prior to taking the lead he failed to convert both field goal attempts. It was quite possibly a career ending day for him, depending on how the coaches handle it. Myself, I might try to see if a way can be found to calm down the ole nerves and get him to do what he is quite capable of doing, that is hitting field goals at pretty much any NFL range. Not sure if it was because he was outside (probably not) or away (probably not) or just nerves (probably so) but missing two field goals under 50 yards in the same game is usually frowned upon so look for the Lions to at least bring in some kickers to evaluate.

That said, Matthew Stafford was only 27 of 48 for 291 yards 1 TD and 1 INT. That's 56.25% which is just as bad as the kicker in NFL terms. Especially since the INT was near the end zone as they were driving, in the lead, and the receiver was well covered. Basically, the play should've never ever been attempted. What makes it even worse, the running game was an anemic 18 attempts for 70 yards, one of which was Stafford for 8 yards. If you want to worry about something, never mind the kicker and special teams, look at the offense as an equal part of the problem.

I'm not saying the game was lost by special teams and the offense, oh no. The defense gets to have their share assigned to them as well. Allowing a partially healed Cam Newton to complete over 64% of his passes for 281 yards and a TD plus allowing another rushing TD despite keeping them to less rushing yards then the Lions had was also disheartening. The Lions also failed to create a single turnover.

Speaking of turnovers, the Lions had a couple, but the reason I'm not harping on anyone about them is because the one was recovered by the Lions and the other two were created by absolutely great defensive plays... where the defenders (as in more then one) would keep the ball carrier from advancing while another defender would have time to wind up and punch the ball, hard, right out of the ball carriers grip. That is nearly impossible to prevent if you are going to try for those extra yards instead of hitting the deck. I suppose if you want to split hairs the ball carrier needs to hold on better, but doing that takes away some speed and power and balance (holding with both arms like that) to the point I'm not sure I would be all that crazy about it happening all the time. I give cudo's to the Panthers on their turnover prowess... and glare at the Lions for failing to do the same.

Another issue with the game is the Lions lost yet another nickel cornerback, possibly for the season, when their 4th round draft pick left the game injured. I think the Lions are fresh out of nickelbacks (not talking the music group here) and since they play in the nickel almost all of the time they are going to have to go shopping for someone on Tuesday. I hope the front office has a good short list.

Finally there's our new coaching staff. They weren't quite a prepared for this game as they were for the Giants. The Panthers were able to turn things around before the 4th quarter got here and stay ahead of the moves the Lions made. That includes the horrible decision to play in cover 2/cover 3 late in the game... the Lions really got gashed then. They couldn't get the kicker to settle down and just play, nor could they keep their star highly paid DTs in the game when they were needed most, in the final quarter. I'm sure there are all kinds of reasons and such, injuries and game plan, never mind the apparent lack of stamina or conditioning or whatever you call it... but if a certain DT wants to make near star QB money he needs to be playing pretty much every snap and creating havoc in my opinion, a lot of havoc, not just a couple times a game.

Okay, I'll try to calm down here enough to make my prediction for next week. After signing a new cornerback and quite possibly a new kicker (but not necessarily) they will have to prepare for the Packers at home. The same Packers who very nearly lost to the Jets today. If some of this mess can be worked on and fixed I think the Lions can give a good game but I'm concerned they will fall short... so I will predict a loss of 24-17.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Game 1 - Detroit Lions vs New York Giants @ Home


Something's missing.

Yeah, I know, about 6 weeks worth of blog entries are missing for one thing. Sometimes life just takes too much time and something has to give, in this case it was writing blog entries. Yet that's not what I'm talking about.

Since it's brought up though, let's do a little catching up. As my previous 4 blog entries indicate, I went to the Lions training camp practices for a couple of days and used that information to update my estimated depth chart as I do every year... prior to game 3 of the preseason. Managed to do the best yet, 49 right.

They kept

QB Moore over G Rodney Austin
WR Ogletree over WR Durham
FB Montell Owens over HB George Winn
CB Lawson over CB Mohammed Seisay

Nailed the rest of it. Not bad for locking it in prior to game 3 in preseason.

Just to steal my thunder though, 2 others in my forum got 50 right (LionHawk and TimT). I'll use that as incentive to do better next year. Then again, I think perhaps they didn't lock in prior to game 3 in preseason, ah heck with it, still need to do better.

The next thing missing is my prediction for the Lions season. I entered it into my contest as 10-6, with that being good enough for 2nd in the division, but not quite enough to make the playoffs... thus ending up drafting 19th overall in the 2015 draft. Since only game 1 is over with there is still plenty of time to beat me out of this prediction as well, which would be fine by me.

Enough catching up, the Lions stomped on the Giants in week 1 with a score of 35-14. Matthew Stafford was 22 of 32 for 346 yards and 2 TDs with no INTs. He even ran in a TD himself. The defense didn't embarrass themselves, nor did special teams. On top of all that the coaching appeared to be top notch. Are they ready for the playoffs after just one week? No. There is still a lot of things they can work on to get better, but they were definitely ready to play week 1, and with new systems on both sides of the ball that's a pretty good feat in and of itself.

No, there was something missing though... I just can't... hmmm... it wasn't Stafford's mechanics, they weren't perfect but they were definitely much improved. It wasn't the game plan, that seemed solid. It wasn't a lack of adjustments in game, that did occur and worked out superbly. It wasn't bad clock management, that too was solid. It wasn't any one thing... ah... that's it... what was missing was the previous coaching staff who couldn't do any of these things correctly. I admit the lack of experience at both OC and DC had me worried. I'm sure that there will be a hiccup here and there still, but as of right now it just plain feels good to have competent leadership running the Lions for a change.

Now, hopefully, they don't do anything to make me eat my words, it took me too long to get around to writing them for that to happen! Still, now the real tests begin. The Panthers now have some film to work with (as do the Lions) and the Panthers have the talent and the coaching to make this road game a tough one. That said, I feel another prediction is in order, so here we go... the Lions win in Carolina beating the Panthers by less then one score (between 1 and 7 points) in a hard fought contest.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Lions Training Camp 2014 - Part IV


Allen Park, Thursday afternoon August 7, 2014

This will be my final installation of my training camp articles relaying the things I saw, some play-by-play, and other tidbits. After the first preseason game (which starts in about an hour) I will go over that and then start on my roster articles. I shall start off with the Quarterbacks.

The QB Coach and all 4 quarterbacks were working on the mechanics of being an NFL QB near the VIP tent which was 50 feet or so to the right of where I was in the stands (5th row, 50 yard line, field closest to their indoor facility). I'm afraid to admit this, but I watched the entire practice at Ford Field last night and never once caught on to the fact that #17 Kellen Moore is a left handed QB. What does this have to do with anything? Well, a lefty throws the ball from a different angle then WRs are used to, and the spiral is exactly the opposite, in other words, the ball is spinning backwards. That makes it harder to catch, for some. Anyway, since at this practice the QBs are much closer to where I am seated I am able to notice how the drill they are working on is stressing good QB mechanics. I also note that #14 Franklin is taller then Moore, as tall and stocky as #9 Stafford, shorter then #8 Orlovsky who has a very thin body frame, and rarely gets in on the team drills, but plays every snap in his positional group drills. I suspect that will make him practice squad material.

I see #62 has on an arm brace, probably for an elbow, #62 is a guard named Darren Keyton. The Centers working with the 4 QBs are #51 Raiola, #64 Swanson (this year's draft pick), #74 Rodney Austin, and #60 Alex Bullard (shows as a guard in the program they just gave me as I entered camp). For some drills they use all 4 centers and all 4 QBs at the same time. This is a new drill I never saw before in the 16 or so years I've been going to camps.

After I noted the QB drills to my right, and the injured players out a ways, the Safeties group move to directly in front of me to work on some drills.
The cameras are 100 yards away in front of me and 100 yards away to my right... so directly in front of me isn't exactly being recorded for later perusal by the coaches, giving some players the opportunity to slack off a bit if they were inclined to do so. I noted that #30 Gomes was just such a player. The drills that stressed coverage or interceptions he was all over, but the tackling drills he merely went through the motions, or so it appeared to me. I shall be curious to see how he does in the games (at tackling). There were very few other players doing this "evasive maneuver" and certainly not as many as I have seen at almost every camp I have ever been to, but if I had to pick one example in the 2014 Lions camp it would be Gomes.

While the DBs were working in front of me 60 or 70 yards away were the QBs, Centers, and WRs. All 4 centers would hike the ball to all 4 QBs at the same time as all 4 WRs would take off and one by one each WR would become a target by one of the QBs. This was a new drill for me, I wish they were closer so I could talk more about it. As it was, I could barely make out what was going on let alone who did well or who did not. I did catch one negative and two flashes of the positive kind... the negative was seeing Durham drop one of the multi-passes, the positives were a great deep route and catch by Ogletree and another excellent catch by Fuller.

Next was the O and D working not on routes or anything but what appeared to be they were working on pre-snap recognition. After that session, I noted Orlo throw a pass and #18 Durham making a great catch, one of those flash types I have mentioned before. I saw Durham make another flash play in the next series too. That would make him pretty even in bad plays and flash plays over the two days I saw. In one of those two series I noted a flash play by TE Fauria who caught another nice pass by Orlo. Orlovsky had a much better practice Thursday then he did Wednesday. Much much better. Though there was one play that was replay worthy, a pass to a WR that got tipped instead of caught, then the defender popped it into the air only to allow #49 Maxwell the TE to make the catch. Nice concentration on his part.

There was a lot of drills going on all over Allen Park Thursday, unfortunately due to the size of the area it was excessively difficult, nye on impossible, to make a lot of it. A few more pics to see just how much area there is to cover there.




Following the practice the fans once again flocked to the fences to get autographs while I prepared for the long drive home. Here you can see just how close the fans get to the players at these practices, just in case you haven't made it to one of them yet.


So there you have it, time to see how these guys do under live bullets, so to speak. For the first time ever (for some of these guys) the Lions will be tackling, getting tackled, sacking and getting sacked... as they take the field and take on the Cleveland Browns. I predict a winning score by the Lions by half time. I have no idea if Moore can maintain that lead until the end of the game or not, but considering the quality of the skilled players on O to help him out, I think they can. I shall predict a meaningless preseason game 1 score of Lions 27 and Browns 20.

Here's to no injuries! Go Lions!!!