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Monday, August 29, 2011

Inconceivable!


Tom "Killer" Kowalski

I, ah, have written and re-written this first line more times then I can count. Nothing adequately describes what I want to say. My cyber-buddy Tom "Killer" Kowalski has passed away at the ripe old age of 51 (a mere 3 years my senior). Killer was more then just a cyber-buddy however, I have in fact met him, multiple times. I have read him pretty much daily for nearly 13 years. I have emailed him, twittered to or about him, managed to get him to follow me on twitter, conversed in forums and in chats, even managed to interrupt his rush to get a story out a time or two while attending Lions practices. While I can't say we exchanged Christmas gifts or anything, I can say we knew each other "professionally" and to some extent, personally.

His favorite movie is the Princess Bride. I have found myself watching it multiple times because of that. I have a bookmark, just in case it's needed in a forum or a chat (or an email) ... http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093779/quotes

If you know twitter you know his @ sign. If you never have been to twitter, try this link http://twitter.com/#!/TomKowalski36 and just read a bit of what you can see on a persons twitter wall.

A new twitter account was created today, just to allow people to post up to 140 characters about the man (that's the maximum characters you can tweet in one tweet) http://twitter.com/#!/RIPTomKowalski

MLive has a large number of tributes and blogs listed with various obits and goodbyes... http://www.mlive.com/lions/

None of it seems to be quite enough, like my first line of this blog post I am utterly failing to come up with what is needed.

Perhaps this is why a moment of silence is often best... or perhaps I just need time... like Miracle Max says "You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles."

RIP Killer... and if you happen to get the ear of the big guy, well, first and foremost, don't tick him off and second, put in a good word for the Lions (hey, it can't hurt) and maybe skip the big women joke.

Well, in the immortal words of the man himself... Fellas, guess what time it is...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Preseason Game 3 Lions vs New England Patriots at Home

Dominated.

Once again the Detroit Lions and the New England Patriots meet. Once again one team dominates the other. This time in preseason. Except this time, it's the Lions doing the dominating. But it's not just any preseason game, it's the 3rd preseason game, when teams typically give it a trial run for the regular season. Having said that, it is still a preseason game.

The Lions get the ball first. They are playing on offense without Jahvid Best, Maurice Morris, and Mike Bell all at running back… just Aaron Brown, Jerome Harrison and Ian Johnson are suited up to play (need to include Stefan Logan now as well, since he's no longer being considered at wide receiver but rather at running back, which is where I put him 2 weeks ago when I worked up my estimated depth chart).

Now for some notes on the game itself:

The Lions run the No Huddle, drive down the field, with Aaron Brown utilized the most the same as they did Jahvid Best in game 2. Burleson taps his toes in-bounds on terrific catches, same as he did in game 2, but misses the TD catch and the Lions settle for a field goal. It should be noted that the Patriots were missing nearly half their defensive starters though.

The Lions defense makes short work of the Pats O… impressive. (It should be noted the Patriots were playing with most if not all their starting offense).

The Lions get the ball back and that was perhaps the best screen pass (with a fake reverse) that I have ever saw. Several plays later it's TD Burleson, on a rope from Stafford.

Next, the Pats constantly having to do miracle plays on 3rd down this drive to move at all, most teams couldn’t do what they are doing, needing to do, to get first downs, still ends in only a field goal. Lions are up 10-3.

Pats next series ends when Brady has to throw super fast for an incomplete short inaccurate pass… the Lions D is really forcing this team into errors. Again, impressive.

Except for Scheflers horrid EndZone dance, the next Lions drive was a thing of beauty. The team is really coming together and Brady of the Patriots looks HOT! I mean ticked off... real ticked off.

Tom Brady fails to convert on 3rd and 31… me thinks the Lions D is starting to get after Brady a wee bit more then what he’s used to.

Lions starters win 17-3, but as soon as Lions switch to 2nd string D, Brady gets a 44 yard TD making it 17-10. The Lions saw enough about 10 minutes into the second quarter to start sitting their starters (most teams take the starters into the 3rd quarter in this 3rd preseason game). The Patriots are still playing their starters.

Now for a couple of tweets I read...
Al Beaton
And that's it for Stafford. 12-14-200-2 TD-158.3 QB rating. And he very easily could have been 14-14.

@tomecurran: Patriots have no completions to outside receivers, Price, Ocho or Branch so far.

Back to the game notes....
Tom Brady is still in, 1 minute to go in 1st half, Lions have been playing 2nd string on both O and D for almost 4 minutes know… so Silva Intercepts Brady to end their 2 minute drill (full disclosure: I erased the LOL I had typed here in my notes).

Maurice Stovall will most certainly make the team.. great special teams and doing well in the Lions O. (Fairly sure I said it before, but I locked in my estimated Lions Depth Chart on August 15th, it's online, go to http://www.theNetRat.com/depthchart.html for the link to the spreadsheet, info on this is a few blog posts down).

The announcers are now trying to explain away the game, saying Pats D is missing half the starters… (but as I noted, their O is playing more or less intact and they scored 3 points against the Lions 1's).

Shaun Hill to Aaron Brown for a TD… in the Lions 2 minute offense. Great drive, nothing like Brady’s failed attempt.

Brady comes out first series 2nd half, fails to make a 1st down. Wow.

6 minutes into the 3rd quarter and Pats finally put in 2nd string QB. Lions still leading 31-10.

Another tweet...

Greg A. Bedard
The silver lining for Patriots fans is that they obviously didn't game plan for this one. Last week was their dry run.

It's amazing how many are trying to explain away the Patriots failure to look ready to play, but so be it. I stopped taking notes at this point (but have the game Tivo'd just in case for later). The Lions eventually win the game 34-10.

So what do we learn from this game?

First, that the players for the Patriots are going to be severely challenged by their coaching staff in the coming weeks. I wouldn't want to be them.

Second, the Lions are going to be playing with a lot of confidence, I hope they don't start to relax and coast. The Lions coaches have the bigger challenge of keeping the players focused, the Patriots will be very focused for the next couple weeks.

Third, unlike the week before, the Lions starters are looking pretty good... assuming they were indeed doing at least some game planning (and assuming the Patriots actually were as well)... the Lions will be very competitive this year, very very competitive.

Fourth, that 0-16 season (2008), where the Lions won all 4 preseason games still haunts me (and probably you).

If anything dominates my thoughts, it would be that. More so then the Lions dominating the Patriots in preseason.

Preseason Game 2 Lions at Cleveland Browns

Welcome to the Great Lakes Classic!

That's what they call the annual preseason game between the Lions and the Browns. With so many former Browns on the Lions team, I wonder how many players were confused from time to time about which team they were playing for. Not saying anything like that happened, it's just something that crossed my mind while watching the game.

For that matter, there were a lot of things that crossed my mind while finally watching the taped game just now. First was, why didn't I remember to spray my satellite dish with Rain-X before football season got here (so that heavy rains don't affect my signal, forcing me to not watch the taped delay game but catching the tivo'd replay of the game on the NFL network... Rain-X works great for that and snow, if you remember to actually climb up and spray everything down a couple times a year).

The second thing that crossed my mind was why do they tape delay (and/or black out) preseason games. IT's PRE-season for crying out loud.

Then my mind wandered off to why do I watch preseason games and then blog about it. I mean, it's all just base offense and defense. Okay, so it's the only time you can sack or tackle… and it helps get film on players in game conditions... but both sides are only showing things they want all teams to see… things they want other teams to prepare for but are never used… things to practice for yourself no matter who sees it. It's all a part of the big chess game that is football. I suppose if chess was a contact sport I'd be watching that too, be it practice or real games.

Then the game kicks off and my mind quits wandering, for a little while. Here's some of my quick notes... before I finally gave up on it.

1st series, Lions D-Line showing why they are a force… opposing O trying to be quick and making mistakes.. 3 and out.

Tried 3 Jahvid Best running plays in a row, 2 worked, last one was stripped. Nothing he could’ve done really. Bear hug from behind, knees not touching, plenty of time to strip the ball.

Cleveland Browns then march down the field after turnover, with quick plays and spreading the ball around. Appeared to be a lot of cover 2… did I ever mention how much I hate the Tampa 2 style D? But they need to work on it so I guess that is what they are doing (poorly).

Still not one throw, Aaron Brown runs for a 2 yard loss… then a throw (finally) but to Aaron Brown 1st down. End around to Burleson fooled camera and me, nice play and yardage. Run play by Aaron Brown… stuffed. Lot of run work going on. Stafford flushed from pocket, losing yards, throws ball away at last second. Impressive. But then does it again… holding call on Defense saves the punt team from going to work. Very nice catch by Pettigrew for 27 yards. Try to pound it in from 5 yards out… gain 1. Back of the endzone catch by Burleson that was amazing for the TD.

Next Cleveland Browns series wasn’t even aired on the replay I’m watching. Stafford is seeing the field very well. Another amazing catch by Nate Burleson on 3rd down for 30 yards. Run play by Brown goes 5 yards up the middle. Then Stafford miss throws a couple in a row and they have to go with a field goal.

Spievey Safety Blitz was perfect. Couple of defensive holding calls before and after though are helping the Browns. Must say, the tackling looks a lot better then years past. Lions pressure is back and effective. Not sure why they didn’t pressure (blitz) during the Browns first TD drive, but it sure ended this one.

Cleveland Browns come back with their own pressure and end Lions drive with a 3 and out. Delay of game pushes Harris to very back of end zone.. not sure why they allowed that, personnel problems (who needed to be on the field) appears like. After the punt return, the Browns only have to get 21 yards for a TD. One play and it’s a TD (nice job keeping his feet inbounds after review to GET the TD).

11 yards by Heller pass play by Hill. 4 yard run by Harrison. Heller for 7 yards, first down. Harrison doing better then last week, gains 7 on 1st down. Hill, press coverage, sacked after he tried twice to run it (first time for 1 yard). Oline can’t hold off the pressure.

What a sec... Hill is in already? Why am I doing more or less play by play notes when it's all backups all the time now. Back to letting my mind wander while I await the final score (and to see if there's anything worth actually mentioning before I close).

Nope, mind still wandering... looks like I may be correct in believing Stovall will make the final roster... that 81 yard run play by Smith of the Browns was like a bad horror film rerun of the 0-16 season, not sure what went wrong there but something sure went wrong... Lions down 2 scores when Stanton comes in but they don't act or look like a team defeated, playing hard... and finally, the Lions backups and soon-to-be-cut players outplayed the Browns backups and soon-to-be-cut players for the 30-28 win.

What does that tell us? Well, so far we know the Lions have more depth then the Bengals and the Browns. Good to know but not exactly earth shattering news. I suppose you can add that turnovers kill... even if it's backups versus backups.

So once again the Great Lakes Classic Trophy gets to be displayed at the Lions practice facility (they have one from that 0-16 season as well, so be careful celebrating that) and the team prepares for the Patriots next Saturday night (which is tonight as I type this, hate getting behind and being too busy to catch up).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Preseason Game 1 Lions vs Cincinnati Bengals at Home

After nearly five months of no interaction between players and coaches (due to the lockout) I was expecting a few things. More then the normal amount of injuries (which I got these last two weeks) and a ton of rust in the actual games... and that's exactly what I saw in preseason game 1... from the Bengals.

The Lions on the other hand didn't even show the rust you'd normally see in the first preseason game after 5 months of OTAs and organized workouts. Some of that was due to the fact that none of the 2011 draft picks were starting in the first half of the game but I am finding it hard to explain the rest. I'll have to go with good coaches and good players.

There are new kickoff rules in place that give teams like the Lions an advantage. Yes, I said an advantage. While other teams are kneeling it down in the endzone and starting on the 20 yard line, teams with a very good return man will still take it 30 plus yards instead. Just as Stefan Logan did on the opening kickoff. The other advantage goes to teams who have speed on special teams due to all the players having to remain within 5 yards of the kicking LOS (line of scrimmage). If you're a slow team you are going to take another crucial second or two to get up to speed to cover a kick, and that equates to better returns for the opponent. The Lions are very fast covering kicks to go along with their returns.

Sandwiched between Logans first kick return (appearing as if in regular season form) and the kick coverage teams forced fumble and recovery was the Lions offense marching it down the field for a beautiful TD throw by Stafford to CJ. While the Bengals showed plenty of rust, the Lions did not. Hopefully that mismatch continues on into the season and it wasn't just the Bengals making the Lions look good.

The Refs were also a bit rusty, pretty much giving Nate Burleson a TD. It doesn't make up for the one they took away last year against the Bears in regular season, but it was nice to see something go the Lions way just this once.

Once the Bengals spotted the Lions 14 points the Bengals new QB Andy Dalton threw his first NFL pass, completing it perfectly to Chris Houston. The interception by Houston got the defense all riled up, pretty much keeping it that way all game.

It was nice to see the Lions players defending each other, mess with one and boom, they get you back... penalties be damned... the penalty yards were bad, but the desire to play as a team no matter the cost is very very good.

When the backups took to the field they didn't show any rust either. Though I must say there is a lot of room for improvement in the run blocking department, and if Jerome Harrison wants to earn his roster spot he needs to quit dancing and start going north more. His role is not to get a TD on every play. He only has a couple more weeks to show he gets that.

If the Lions decide to keep a dancer/speedster instead of a power runner, then Aaron Brown may just win the job over Bell or Harrison (unless they keep 4 halfbacks).

Hopefully we won't be seeing the Lions quarterbacks somersaulting into the endzone again, though it certainly was entertaining and it got the team further fired up, even if the coaches were cringing.

One note on a specific defensive player; Amari Spievey might just do alright at safety.. wow. He keeps that up and he could make the probowl this year.

I was going to write that Brandon McDonald makes the team at CB... if someone gets injured. But he may end up taking a job away from someone even without injury. Maybe. It'll be interesting to see if he can improve over the next couple of weeks or if that was it.

WR Maurice Stovall could push WR Derrick Wiliams for a job too, but Stanton showed some vet-like moxy going to D-Will a third time after 2 drops in a row for a nice 1st down on the third try.

The field goal as time expires with the clock ticking down from 13 seconds was a big time play. No rust there, heck, most teams couldn't do that at the end of the season.

I'm going to keep my eye on Ian Johnson. He may actually push to make the roster. Not necessarily against the other RBs, but against 37 other guys for the 53rd roster spot. My estimated roster has a few names in italics, those being the players I foresee as competing against each other for the 52nd and 53rd roster spots. Guys like Randy Phillips, Ian Johnson, Cobrani Mixon, Doug Hogue, and others.

An NFL team needs a lot of solid players on the roster to remain in games, but it's the playmakers that can at any moment turn a game around. The Lions may just have enough playmakers on their team now to put games away when they need to. Scattered though the offense, defense, and special teams there are guys who can get the job done. None of them appeared "rusty" from their 5 month break, and that bodes well for the season. Now, are they consistent? Time to prove it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Lions Estimated Roster 2011

In only a few weeks the Lions, along with the rest of the NFL teams, will be required to cut their rosters of 90 players down to 53 (in two stages). So who makes the Lions team and why? By the way, I've been doing this for years, the best so far is 48 right and the worst was 43... I plan to hit a new record in accuracy this year.

First, some old business. A couple of posts down (http://thenetrat.blogspot.com/2011/07/free-agency-is-almost-here.html) I made my free agency predictions, before the final CBA (http://www.thenetrat.com/cba-2011-2020.pdf) was ever approved. I listed 6 cornerbacks and 4 linebackers with one of each group as my primary pick and one of each group as my long shot pick. So, how did I do? At cornerback I missed my primary pick when Josh Wilson signed with the Washington Redskins, but just below his name was one Eric Wright. At linebacker my primary pick was Justin Durant... NAILED IT... but not only that, my long shot pick was Stephen Tulloch, nailed THAT ONE too!!! What does this have to do with my estimated Lions roster for 2011? Well, when you look at my depth chart, you will see 3 new starters on it from Free Agency, and all 3 of them were those picks.

Barring injury, I think the Lions are all set with their starters, on offense, defense and special teams (Kicker, Punter and Long Snapper). Now if one of the other players happens to play lights out and takes a job away, so much the better for the team and for us fans. These guys definitely make the team:

Nate Burleson
Jeff Backus
Rob Sims
Dominic Raiola
Stephen Peterman
Gosder Cherilus
Brandon Pettigrew
Calvin Johnson
Matt Stafford
Jerome Felton
Jahvid Best
Cliff Avril
Corey Williams
Ndamukong Suh
Kyle Vanden Bosch
DeAndre Levy
Stephen Tulloch
Justin Durant
Chris Houston
Eric Wright
Amari Spievey
Louis Delmas
Jason Hanson
Nick Harris
Don Muhlbach


There are a number of backups that are near locks to make the roster (again barring injury or trade).

Rashied Davis
Jason Fox
Corey Hilliard
Tony Schefler
Shaun Hill
Lawrence Jackson
Nick Fairley
Sammie Lee Hill
Willie Young
Ashlee Palmer
Isaiah Ekejuba
Bobby Carpenter
John Wendling
Stefan Logan
Will Heller
Titus Young
Drew Stanton
Alphonso Smith

Then there are the few roster spots that are being highly contested, not by just players in their own player group, but by players in other groups as well. The proverbial bottom 10 of the roster.

Guys like Derrick Williams are not only fighting off the other WRs but also the RBs as the team looks at who to keep and who not to (or who to try and trade for more picks next year).

Others who are competing against their own position group as well as the rest of the team include Randy Phillips, Jerome Harrison, Michael Bell, Ian Johnson, Aaron Brown, Doug Hogue, Cobrani Mixon, Maurice Stovall, and Brandon McDonald.

There are also positions that will be filled regardless of other positions, such as backup guard and/or backup center. I've a hunch Niswanger and Thomas take those spots due to flexibility to play either Guard and Tackle or Guard and Center.

It's a lot easier to see all these names on a depth chart/spreadsheet with some color coding and a list of players fighting for roster spots. My sheet is online at http://www.theNetRat.com/depthchart.html... and you may enter changes to it then save it to your computer or print it if you wish (you are not allowed to post it online elsewhere, but you may link to it). I love to use it to play "what if" when it comes to making roster predictions. Just some pointers for you, keep the offense and the defense between 24 and 26 players each, along with the kicker, punter and long snapper to make 53 total. The Lions have never gone below 24 players on one side of the ball for more then 2 days (since I've been tracking it).

Oh, and one more piece of old news, KVB re-worked his contract freeing up $2.46 million in salary cap. The Lions are now at approximately $4.612 million under the cap based on the information I currently have.

Time to watch the first pre-season game... then make my final changes to my estimated depth chart before I lock it in to see how I do on final cut-down day. (The only changes I'll be making between Sunday and final cut-down day are for new pick-ups, injuries, and the like).

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lions Salary Cap Situation as of 8-6-2011

Computing the Detroit Lions Salary Cap situation is a combination exercise in accounting and detective work. The Lions themselves divulge absolutely nothing about contract terms so I have to rely on the press (many times the home paper of the player), the players' agent, tweets by the player or his friends, Rotoworld, the NFLPA, and any other source I can find (several of which I am purposely not divulging else risk losing the source). Needless to say, the results are approximate!

One missed roster bonus, one wrong signing bonus guess, heck, one wrong mathematical formula in my spreadsheet, and the numbers are all wrong. If I can get within a half million dollars of the real number, I feel I am being accurate. Also note, players come and go and it can take a week or more to get info... but tonight I think I am caught up as far as roster moves through today (the 6th of August).

Now for some facts. 2009 was the last time teams had a salary cap to contend with. With the new CBA (which I still have only seen a portion of) the 2011 salary cap is $120,375,000. Teams can "borrow" from future cap up to $3 million ($1 million per 5 year or older vet player three times) for a total cap available figure of $123,375,000. If you read much about the salary cap, you may read about a Performance Based Pay salary cap add-on (normally for guys on their first contract who outplay it and that was lost last year) of $3.5 million per team. That amount is already included in the $120,375,000 salary cap figure, without it, the salary cap would've been $116,875,000. There are some credits for signing veteran players, presumably to 1 year contracts and presumably for vet minimum wage (as in the old CBA) but since no one I know has seen that part of the new CBA we can only guess about that. One other note about the total cap available figure, there might be, as it is not verified and no one knows how much if it's true, but there might be credits from 2009 being carried forward into 2011 (Vikings, Lions, and other teams used to work the system to get LTBE bonuses, that is salary cap, moved into future years).

So, assuming the Lions took advantage of borrowing the $3 million cap from the future, assuming they had no LTBE bonuses carrying forward, and assuming that is all there is to know about the matter, then the Lions have a 2011 Salary Cap figure of $123,375,000 to work with.

Next fact, the rookies have a rookie pool, it is part of the overall salary cap (not separate) and the contracts for the rookies must remain under the amounts designated. A month ago I estimated the Lions would have a $4 million rookie pool. Turns out, the rookie pool (first year of all the draft pick contracts) for the Lions in 2011 is exactly $4,062,187. Not only that, but the total of all the contracts for all 4 years must be no more then $22,342,030. In the past there was no set amount for the total of all the rookie draft pick contracts. This explains why the draft picks were able to get signed so quickly this year, everyone already knows what can be spent in the first year and in total for the draft picks, all you can argue over is how much is guaranteed.

My numbers for the Lions draft picks equal exactly $4,062,187 for year 1 and $22,342,030 in total for all 4 years of their contracts. However, I may not have the correct roster bonuses for each player. I do have the correct salary for each player for each year of their contract, and I have all the correct numbers for Fairley's contract, and I have some of the correct information for Young, Hogue, and Culbreath, from which I calculated the numbers for LeShoure (after making a few guesses about roster/workout bonuses for Young, Hogue and Culbreath). In other words, those 5 contracts are correct in total even if a bit off individually.

I have the exact salary numbers for all 90 players on the roster. I do not have the exact signing bonus or roster bonuses for those that have such a thing. I have many, but not all. I guessed on a few. For example, Justin Durant has a 2011 salary of $1 million and a 2012 salary of $1,750,000. I therefor guessed he received a signing bonus of $750,000. Chris Houston has a 2011 salary of $1 million and a 2012 salary of $3 million, so I guess he got a $2 million signing bonus.

Obviously, these guesses could be way off, or real close, or right on.

Knowing this then, I have 90 Salary Cap contracts to work with. At this point in time, only the top 51 contracts count against the cap. If my guesses are close and my math correct, the Lions top 51 contracts add up to $121,597,883.

The way I see it then, the Lions are currently, as of today, $1,777,117 below the cap (okay, I'll say it again, or THEREABOUTS).

On opening day of regular season, all 53 players that make the roster will count, as well as everyone on IR, the practice squad, and any injury settlements from those injured/cut. To determine that though, we'd have to know which 37 players will be cut. I suppose that gives me my subject for my next blog post, my estimated roster.

Some other points for those of you who made it this far... the most expensive contract costing the Lions salary cap in 2011 is $20,310,000 belonging to none other then Matthew Stafford.

Remember, this is the roster and workout bonuses to be paid in 2011, the salary, a percentage of signing bonus (called signing bonus allocation) and any other bonuses likely to be earned (LTBE).

At number 51 we have Aaron Brown at a cap hit of $550,095. The other 49 are scattered inbetween.

The highest cap "hit" who is at risk of being cut? $1,500,000 for Tony Ugoh (I was going to say $2,225,000 for Maurice Morris but he probably already got paid his $100,000 roster bonus and his signing bonus allocation of $500,000 hits the cap whether he makes the team or not).

The player who's cap hit is less then Aaron Brown's yet still most likely to make the team? $375,833 for one Aaron Berry CB.

Remember, these are cap hits, not actual money being paid. What's the difference? I think I'll save that for another day.


note: I reserve the right to be totally wrong with my guesses, my calculation, and my numbers posted.