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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.

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).