Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Game 16 - Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings


The Lions finish the season with a 7-9 record after losing to the Minnesota Vikings 13-14. If I read a tweet correctly the Lions held the lead in 13 of 16 games this year in the 4th quarter only to finish below .500 for the 4th time in 5 years with the current coaching staff. I believe it's safe to say some changes will be forthcoming in that regard.

The Owners of the Lions are not changing, and it's a matter of some debate as to how much input the owners have in the hiring and firing at the top of the organization. Yes they have all the big decisions run by them, but the hires and fires should be pretty much decided upon prior to that meeting. I will base my following comments on that assumption.

The President of the Lions should be in charge of making sure the front office does it's job, that Ford Field is run properly, that Allen Park is stocked and utilized correctly, and that all matters promotional, legal and otherwise are done to the owners satisfaction. I am not certain if Lewand has failed in any of these matters, but if the team is organized properly then he should have made the decision on whether to keep Mayhew and others in the front office some time ago. If that decision meets or met with the owners' approval then we should know relatively soon what the outcome was if we don't already know.

The GM (Martin Mayhew) as I previously stated is being criticized by some for the talent on the Lions team. Others applaud him for the same talent. It's difficult to judge him since the 2013 draft may just prove to be his best draft ever. Was it a fluke? Is he learning to do it right finally? Can he do it again and again? If your plan is to build the team through the draft you need to draft very very well. With the Lions cap situation being what it is, the need to build through the draft is pretty much the only avenue open to the team now, so once again I assume things are going as planned (finally). Will Mayhew be replaced? I am uncertain if that change will occur. I am also uncertain if I have a problem with that or not... for I did like the 2013 draft quite a bit and think another like it would certainly help the team greatly. Does Lewand still have confidence in Mayhew? Is he even the one making the decisions at this point in time (he should be, so that he is accountable for the results).

The Head Coach (Jim Schwartz) is on the hot seat, and rightly so. There are some matters that perhaps those below him are not handling correctly but he has the job of correcting those before they become an issue, and that oversight has not occurred. The GM above him should be acquiring the talent, he and his staff should be developing the talent and finding ways to win on game day... putting his roster of players into the best situations to win. There are several trains of thought here too, the lesser is that he IS developing the talent and IS putting the team in the best situation to win but due to lack of talent the players are not getting the job done. The next is that the first time head coach is not developing talent correctly or is actually allowing matters to be such that he is in the way of the talent winning games. Yet another is that the talent is there, is being properly developed, is put in the best situation to win, but is not executing for whatever reason. I find the last to be highly unlikely, nearly as much as the first. To keep his job it would seem to me that the 3rd reason is the only one that works... but there is one more possibility, it's actually in excess of 12 million reasons... that is the amount of his salary that the Lions will reportedly have to pay him to fire him... and that doesn't even count all the other coaches under contract who the new coach may not retain... so the actual cost to the Lions (as in to the Ford's) is many millions of dollars more then $12 million. If Jim Schwartz remains the head coach of the Lions I think you can pretty much count the reasons in dollar bills, if you have a lot of time to do the counting.

The Special Teams coordinator I feel did a pretty good job this year. I hope that no matter what happens he is retained.

Gunther Cunningham, the defensive coordinator, hasn't produced a stellar defense and many question the strict use of the wide 9 defensive scheme... I myself like to see the blitzes and when he does blitz it does seem to work better for the team... but I don't know who is preventing the use of blitzes, or who is forcing them to use blitzes, or why the talent level of the defense hasn't been adequately addressed, or if it has, why it is not producing. Oh, I have many suspicions but nothing definite... and truth to tell, neither does anyone else. Just because we don't know for sure who is forcing what issues and why does not mean we can't have our own likes and dislikes, and I like to attack, I hate cover 2, I hate prevent, and I hate not playing man coverage (allowing for more blitzing). If Gunny is retained I surely hope to see some more permanent changes to the defensive scheme.

The Offensive coordinator (Scott Linehan) appears to be the biggest problem with the team. Many question his play calling, others his scheme, some the lack of his usage of rookies unless forced to, then there are the lack of results. I have issues with all of that and more. Since Linehan is also the QB coach, and since the QB is failing to use correct footwork (more on this in a moment) I have no problem at all saying he has failed as a QB coach. I also hate a scheme (or playbook, or whatever you want to call it) that prevents the WRs from stopping in their routes and heading back towards the QB when he is in trouble. The Lions WRs never ever do this, other teams do it all the time. I can only assume the OC does not allow for this fire drill type of route(s). I also do not approve of running 80% in the shotgun (or more). I have issue with clock management when the team has the lead, and I have issue with the scheme being totally ineffective unless both CJ and Bush (or similar weapons) are healthy and playing. Lastly, I have issue with the Lions never attacking a found weakness during a game, adjusting during the game to players injured or to opposing defenses adjustments. In fact, I have so many issues with Linehan as the OC I truly hope he is unemployed within the next 24 to 48 hours.

The quarterback (Matthew Stafford) is wildly inaccurate. I do not care about his sidearm throws. I do not care about his gunslinger attitude. What irks me to no end is his complete and total irregard for proper footwork. When he steps into his throws, and his feet are more or less pointing towards the WR, he is as accurate as any QB in the NFL. When he overthrows by many feet if you replay in slo-mo and concentrate on his feet you will usually find he is backing up, moving sideways, or has his front foot pointing ANYWHERE but at the intended target. He will never be accurate enough to be an elite QB while doing this. It is his QB coach's responsibility to work with him on this issue, and I'm not talking about one time, but ALL the time, every day, every week, every month, every season. No elite QB ever stops working on his footwork and thus his throwing accuracy. Ball placement is responsible for the loss of many a Lions game in 2012 and 2013, even if not the reason for the loss its'self then surely for the inability of the team to overcome whatever the reason for the loss turned out to be.

The WR corp has issues with drops, and fumbles. I attribute this to frustrated players trying to do too much. I don't know who they are frustrated with though, the QB, the coaching, both, themselves? Whatever the real reason(s) the coaching staff has proven not to be able to fix it (other then benching said problem makers, well, benching most of them but not all of them, another coaching issue I have).

I can go on and on, and I probably will, but until I see what decisions are made as far as retaining coaches and front office personnel in the next few days I won't know if I am wasting my time. I could easily write a very long blog about each brief paragraph from above, so I think I shall save all that for future weeks of blog material.

I'll wrap up this entry with this quick summary, the one change I am most keenly awaiting is the removal of Linehan from the Lions organization. If for any reason Schwartz doesn't do that then he should go forthwith, but after seeing his behavior after regulation time in game 15 I think his time as head coach is likely over with anyway. I assume a new coaching staff will interview all the other existing coaches before dismissing anyone to see who they wish to retain saving the Lions a lot of money and keeping some continuity perhaps speeding up the hoped for turnaround of the team. I can live with the front office for another year but if their 2014 draft isn't as good as or better then 2013 then I feel changes will need to be made there too... if those changes are about to happen now, I pray the new front office is at least as capable as the old one, going backwards now is just too much to take.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013 Game 15 - New York Giants @ Home (no longer in playoff contention)

It's over.

The Detroit Lions lost in overtime to the New York Giants 20-23 ending any chance the Lions had at making the playoffs this year. Just a month and a half ago they were sitting at 6-3 with a 75% chance of going into the post season in what appeared to be an easy walk into the playoffs... the words Super Bowl were even mentioned here and there from various people. Those murmurs were quieted, then drowned out, then forgotten completely over the past few weeks. The 7-8 Lions have lost 5 games out of the past 6, 3 of them home games. They do have a few players playing hurt and a couple who missed a game here or there, but for the most part, the Lions are the healthy team in the north, and still they couldn't win their way into the playoffs. There is still one more away game in Minnesota to go, but this season is over.

The offense was playing so bad that coach Jim Schwartz let the clock run out at the end of regulations despite there being 23 seconds on the clock and having 2 timeouts. Plenty of time for up to 4 plays (or more) and to get into field goal range to win the game, instead the Lions ran out the clock to get into overtime. While the crowd reacted (properly I might add) with a chorus of boos, Schwartz appeared to yell back angrily at the fans. An perfect image of a head coach at the end of his ability.

Matt Stafford was a putrid 25 of 42 for 222 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. He continually throws off his back foot with his front foot pointing in any which direction and maintains there is nothing wrong with his mechanics. I'm sorry, but when you continually miss receivers who are in excess of 6' 4" tall, sometimes missing them by many feet, when you are sailing your throws, and you are doing it with fair regularity, it's because your mechanics suck.

When your coach fails to take corrective action, or perhaps even fails to note such issues, then it's time for change. The Lions can not trade Matthew Stafford nor can they cut him until sometime after 2015 (probably 2017 at the earliest) due to his extended contract (and corresponding cap hit)... therefor it is mandatory that help be brought in. Coaching help. In addition to the QB play, the offense fails to execute many of the basics on a regular basis... once again pointing to the need for a coaching change. It's possible the Lions won't want to lose out on the millions of dollars (reportedly to exceed $12 million) to fire Schwartz, but if he is kept on then a new offensive coordinator is the very minimum that must occur... but to be honest, after watching this game, I am pretty sure it's over for Schwartz as well.

Assuming the Lions do replace the head coach, every person associated with the team will be evaluated by the new coaching staff as it is built and a great deal of change should be forthcoming. Nothing in the past 50+ years of the franchise suggests the results from this change will be positive, correct, or in any way helpful... but to not make the attempt is just not really an option. I will have to go more into that later, for now, there is still a lame duck game remaining against the Vikings in Minnesota next week. The results of which don't matter, for this season is over, but since the game will be played regardless, I shall predict the Lions lose by 3 scores. I believe a fairly large number of starters will not be playing in the game (due to injury). There is no reason for the guys nursing bad knees to play, the season is over, so be prepared to watch the backups play, and for many, it will be their last game as a Detroit Lion (this goes for players and coaches alike).

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2013 Game 14 - Baltimore Ravens @ Home (losing the division lead)

All the above.

The Lions lose the Ravens game at home 16-18 and lose control of winning the division by going to 7-7, behind the Bears and Packers. Before this game all they needed to do was win 3 games in a row to finish and no one could take the playoffs away from them, even giving them a home game the first week. Now they need both the Bears and the Packers to lose one game out of the next two and also the Lions need to win their last 2 games to win the division. If they do not win the division they do not make the playoffs. Lions have now lost 4 of their last 5 games.

Stafford was a putrid 18 of 34 for 235 yards 1 TD and 3 INTs. He was highly inaccurate throughout the game, and indeed, throughout the season. When he does throw correctly no one is more accurate, but just about as often he is off, by a few feet in most cases, often with disastrous results. Yes, it's true, his WRs drop passes, more then they should, but even the passes they catch are often bailing Stafford out instead of being on target... so that evens out. (Whether you like to hear that or not). But Stafford was not at fault for losing this game.

The Officiating earns second spot in tonight's blog. Phantom calls before the half allowed the Ravens to get one of their field goals, and another probably cost the Lions 4 points in the 2nd half. There were a couple of none calls that might have helped the Lions late in the game, but the right side line judge was for most of the game very one sided, and he apparently is a Raven's fan (or at least should be, still, if not, the Ravens are now a fan of his). But the officiating was not at fault for losing this game.

The Lions defense allowed 222 yards through the air and another 90 yards on the ground. They gave up 6 field goals (the last one being nearly 61 yards for the lead and eventual win). They did not give up a touchdown though. They in fact held Flacco to fewer yards then Stafford had. However, they created zero turnovers. But the Lions defense was not at fault for losing this game.

The Lions coaching staff had timeouts remaining when the Ravens were held to a 4th down and facing a 61 yard field goal attempt or possibly going for it on 4th down. The Lions did not call a timeout to give them more time in case the field goal was made and allowed time to drain off the clock. I have no issue with that as who's to say the Ravens weren't going to go for it and calling a time out would've allowed them time to think over the play. What I do have a small issue with is some of the plays called prior to the Lions retaking the lead. Scoring from roughly the 24 yard line when they could've gone for a 1st down and drained more clock... I get that it's harder to score the needed TD as you get closer to the goal line but time was as much the enemy as not scoring. Anyway, it wasn't the coaching staff's fault this game was lost.

Various other players messed up here and there throughout the game solidly putting them in the "not helpful" category. Penalties that were legit could've been avoided... tackles missed could've been made... blocks missed shouldn't have been. And so the story goes, but these small additions to the awkward playing style of the Lions was not the reason the game was lost.

No, no the reason the game was lost, the blame can be solidly placed, on ALL THE ABOVE. From coaching to QB play, from offense to defense to special teams to officiating, you can blame all of the above and call it a night.

One could even say (and SHOULD say) that if the Lions don't make the playoffs (and the odds are very bad as of now) that this game wasn't the reason, but any of the close losses during the season that should've been wins putting the Lions out of reach in these last few weeks was the problem. The lack of focus. The penalties. The lack of making the QB better throughout the season (read as no QB coach). Losing the momentum that was there prior to the bye week. On and on and on I could go. The Lions lost this game but more importantly, they lost the probability of making the playoffs not tonight, but over the past 5 weeks, multiple times. You can say it's a team that doesn't know how to be successful, or afraid of success, or lacking discipline, and someone somewhere will say "all the above" and probably not be wrong.

The Lions have 2 games left, they must win both and the Bears and the Packers must each lose one game. The odds are long. I have to believe that the odds of the Lions coaching staff retaining their jobs should they not make the playoffs are equally poor, at least for some of them. After watching this game, after watching this season, and despite how much I despise the hiring process of a new coaching staff along with new schemes, new playbooks, and the general rebuilding that goes on when staff turnover happens... well, I have to join those calling for the coaching staff to be fired. I'm not sure it will happen as Schwartz received an extension not that long ago and firing him might be very expensive, too much for Ford to agree to... but that won't stop me from siding with those that believe this team can not win in (or get to) the playoffs because the coaching staff is having a negative impact on the talent that is on the team. To put it simply, they are not getting the job done!

Someone somewhere is going to tell me that maybe the coaching staff is doing a great job (or they will insist the Lions coaches are definitely doing a great job) and that the record would be much worse if these coaches weren't in place. If that's truly the case (and I do not believe it for a minute) then the talent isn't what we all think it is and therefor the GM should be fired along with others in the front office. Of course, if that happens, the new front office will replace the coaching staff anyway (because that's what new front offices do) and the blame means nothing then anyway.

So whether you think it's bad drafting and/or free agency, or coaching, or the players (which reflects back on the front office), or in most cases, all of the above, you are probably already asking for heads to roll, even though the Lions still have a long shot of making the playoffs (despite the coaching, or the talent, or the front office). I'm there with you, quietly for now, but will get louder in the coming weeks if what happens happens as I suspect it will.

My prediction for next week, a Lions win. A loss takes them out of the playoff picture pretty much completely (if not mathematically) so to drag this out to the last minute of the last quarter of the last game of the season, it is necessary for the Lions to win next week... and that is obviously what will happen, right? Of course it is.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

2013 Game 13 - Detroit Lions @ Philadelphia Eagles (in the snow)


The Detroit Lions go to 7-6 after losing to the Philadelphia Eagles 20-34 today. The weather conditions were very poor, by half time there was around 8 inches of snow on the ground and most of the first half was played in white-out conditions. The Lions were up by a score of 8 to 0 at half time and appeared to have control of the game only to see it all go the opposite way in the second half. In fact, the Eagles scored 28 point in the 4th quarter alone. The only bright spot in the whole game was Ross's punt and kick returns for touchdowns, something a Lion hasn't done since the 70's.

Mathew Stafford was 10 of 25 for a 148 yards with no TD's and no INT's. He had 5 fumbles however to go along with 2 from Joique Bell. While Stafford's were bad, Bells probably cost the Lions 2 scores. It was a very poor showing just the same regardless of the weather.

The Lions defense held the Eagles to only 11 completions of their own... which was good. Unfortunately they also allowed 299 yards rushing... which was horrible. How they played so bad as the weather improved is something I don't think I will ever understand. It was simply a very poor showing.

I could spend a great deal of time complaining about the poor coaching, poor officiating, poor ball handling, poor run defense, poor luck, and anything else that was poor, but it just gets so tiring. Tiring to write, tiring to read. So instead, I think I'll just put this game behind and look towards the next one.

The next one being on Monday night football against the Baltimore Ravens. If the good Lions team shows up it could be a very good game and a win for Detroit, but the poor Lions team shows up it's going to be a massacre. So far this year it's been a 50/50 deal as to which team will show up, I'm hopeful the fact it's a national game will keep their collective heads in the game and limit the number of totally stupid issues that keep happening. Going with that line of thinking I shall predict the Lions win this next game by the same score they just lost by, 34-20.