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Thursday, November 28, 2013

2013 Game 12 - Green Bay Packers @ home on Thanksgiving Day


What a difference.

The (now) 7-5 Detroit Lions tromped on the (now) 5-6-1 Green Bay Packers with a score of 40-10. After repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot for a quarter and and half the Lions got their collective heads out of their collective backsides and played like everyone knew they could. The Lions went on a rampage scoring 37 unanswered points after getting behind 3-10, what a difference a short week makes.

Matthew Stafford went 22 of 35 for 330 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs. The defense held Flynn to 10 of 20 for only 139 yards 0 TDs and 1 INT. Not only that, the defense also held the Packers to 24 yards rushing. The Packers only TD was a fumble recovery for 6 in the 2nd quarter just before Stafford and company woke up and started focusing on playing the game correctly.

The Lions defense even managed to get their first safety of the year. Did I mention the Lions forced two fumbles and recovered them both? No, I probably didn't. I would mention how the Lions blitzed more then I've seen them do all season but I don't want to get anyone's hopes up that that will continue into the future (though I truly hope it does). What a difference it makes.

Lions had 2 fumbles and 2 interceptions before they finally (FINALLY) stopped the bleeding and truly focused in on the game. I have no idea what switch got flipped or by who, but I'm terribly glad it happened. Hopefully whoever responsible can remember how to flip that switch in the future in case it's needed again.

There were many things that made a difference this game, I shall simply list some of them:

1. The Fans didn't sleep through the game, they actually made some noise and tried to be a proper 12th man.
2. The coaching staff actually called more run plays then pass plays, over 40 run plays to 35 passes.
3. The coaching staff actually blitzed the opponent, and the blitz actually got to the QB.
4. Matt Stafford actually completed more then 60% of his passes. Most of them were on target as well.
5. Most passes that could be caught were caught, the number of drops was severally reduced.
6. The officiating was fairly accurate, fair, and didn't interfere with the games outcome.
7. Every member of the team played as if they were totally focused on the game sometime soon AFTER the fumble for a TD in the second quarter.

What a difference every one of the 7 listed items made. The Lions are now alone in 1st place in the division, own the tie breaker with the Bears, and by splitting with the Packers this year no one owns the head-to-head tie breaker there (where as the Packers owned it before this game). When it comes time to determine the division winner at the end of the season these facts could make quite a difference.

The Lions now have 10 long days until they go take on the Philadelphia Eagles, hopefully the momentum from the 2nd half of the Packers game carries over into the Eagles game. Hopefully the Lions do not lose the focus they displayed today, or if they do lose focus I truly hope they are able to find it before it's too late and eek out another road win. Every road game is challenging, and the Lions haven't shown they are consistent yet this year, but it's just possible they can win this game to maintain their lead in the division. My prediction is once again hard to make, but I'll go with a 24-23 score and cross my fingers and toes. Hmmm... I appear to have some kind of optimism again, what a difference a win makes.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

2013 Game 11 - Tamba Bay Buccaneers @ Home


Pressure

The (now) 6-5 Detroit Lions lost to the (now) 3-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers by a score of 21-24. The Detroit Lions simply refuse to take ownership of the NFC North by winning their way to division champs. However, the Chicago Bears lost today to the Rams and the Green Bay Packers finished in a tie with the Minnesota Vikings which means the Detroit Lions remain in 1st place anyway. In 4 days the Lions play the Packers on Thanksgiving day, it should be an interesting match-up to say the least. Just about ever fan on the planet now expects the Lions to lose. I am curious to see how they handle the pressure of a nationally televised game.

Matthew Stafford had yet another horrible game, completing 26 of 46 for 297 yards, 3 TDs and 4 INTs. Many of his teammates contributed to the loss, but in my mind, Stafford crumpled under pressure and contributed the most to the loss.

Some fans want to throw the loss onto the feet of the defense, but that same defense held the Bucs to 39 rushing yards (less the negative 17 yards for the QB) and that same QB was held to only 14 completions. The problem is those 14 completions netted 247 yards and 2 TDs... and the Lions defense created zero turnovers once again.

Some fans want to put the blame on the Lions coaching staff, but the only part that I blame them for is failing to help the players handle the pressure of winning.

The momentum from the wins before the bye week is all gone now. The two losses since actually has the fans and the players going in the wrong direction. Many fans have actually given up on the season already, even though the Lions still are 1st in the division. The problem now seems to be that the team (and the fans) don't know how to handle success. The pressure to win, to make the playoffs, is causing the players to bumble and fumble their way through the game, and causing the fans to turn on a dime with every bad play. There was no home field advantage this week. May not be next week either unless the team has some big time plays early in the game and then keeps doing them throughout the day. The players and the coaching staff needs to handle this pressure, otherwise there really is no reason to get to post season as the team won't handle the pressure of the playoffs any better. I haven't exactly got the formula for success at this point, but the players have forgotten how to have fun and just play... they are putting so much pressure on themselves that it's an impossible situation. Hopefully someone of note in that organization figures out that they are putting too much pressure on themselves and gets them to stop, coaching staff and players alike.

Maybe the upcoming nationally televised game will get their collective minds off the playoffs and on to the game itself. It is also possible the added pressure will make them fold like a broken chair. That is why I am anxious to see the next game. It could easily be a turning point in the season, or it could signal the end.

There is a hierarchy in the Lions that has to handle this pressure to win, it starts with Schwartz, goes to Linehan and Cunningham, then quickly goes to Matthew Stafford, followed by Reggie Bush, Calvin Johnson and the rest of the team (and let's not forget special teams). Everyone on the team needs to keep their focus under the pressure to win, and enjoying the game again is a large part of that. The same goes for the 12th man, that is to say, the fans who go to the game. Everyone needs to first relax, have fun, and then focus on winning the game helping in any way they can.

I desperately want to predict a win on turkey day, I know the Lions have the talent to win, I'm just not sure that all those who go to Ford Field on Thursday will handle the pressure well enough to win the game. Here's hoping.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

2013 Game 10 - Detroit Lions @ Pittsburgh Steelers


Excuses

The now 6-4 Detroit Lions lost to the now 4-6 Pittsburgh Steelers by a score of 27-37. The Green Bay Packers lost today but the Chicago Bears won, getting them to 6-4 as well. Lions remain at the top of the division by virtue of the head-to-head tie breaker. The cushion the Lions could have enjoyed is now gone after only 1 week.

There were many factors in the game, not the least of which was that it was raining. It was played outside on a grass field. CJ and Bush are playing hurt (and so was Bell by the end of the game). On and on the excuses go. Fact of the matter is, if the Detroit Lions want to win the division and get deep into the playoffs they simply can NOT play like they did today.

Matthew Stafford was only 19 of 46 good for 362 yards 2 TDs and 1 INT. He completed only 3 of his 16 passes in the second half of the game. None of those 3 were to Calvin Johnson. 19 of 46 is a 41% completion percentage, there really is no excuse for that, not even due to the couple of drops that his wide receivers had (which were bad).

The Lions gave the ball away 2 times by fumbling and 1 time by interception. They created no turnovers of their own. This is inexcusable as well. Some are blaming the coaching staff going for a 1st down instead of a field goal as one of the reasons for the loss, but in fact the play worked, it was a first down, the problem was the punter fumbled the ball away instead of simply allowing himself to be tackled. I loved the play myself, just not the execution of it.

Ben Roethlisberger passed for 367 yards and 4 touchdowns including two touchdowns in the final 5 minutes. The Steelers scored 37 points. No amount of excuses can make that any better. The Lions defense failed, there was rarely any pressure by the front 4 and there were no blitzes all game long if I recall correctly. You are not going to win jack if you create zero turnovers AND give up 367 yards through the air every game.

Matthew Stafford broke a 55 year old record to become the Lions' all-time leading passer. Yet his accuracy was pretty much horrible during the game (even some of the passes that were completed were really bad throws). As one of the top paid players on the team he needs to help overcome the shortcomings on the rest of the team, not become a part of the problem. No excuses, he failed to do that this game.

It was a team wide loss, you can not possibly assign blame to any one person or group. The running backs were ineffective, the passing game stunk, the receiving was terrible, the tackling was atrocious, there really wasn't anything to be proud of this game by anyone. No excuses, the Lions lost this game and can not allow it to happen like this again or they simply wasted the season. Time for the coaching staff to earn their keep. Time for the team captains to step up and lead. Everyone needs to work harder and do better, inside or outside, rain or shine, on O or on D. It doesn't matter who could be blamed for the loss, it only matters that it doesn't happen again.

Lions have a couple of home games coming up. Against the improving Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then 4 days later on Thanksgiving Day. Mathematically they may not be "must win" games, but in reality, they are. Put in the work now, put in the effort during the games, and keep yourselves under control and focused... win the dang games. No excuses.

My prediction? I'm afraid I can't give one. I have no idea why the team lost focus this game nor do I know what they might do in the next two. I can only hope the home crowd can keep the collective Lions' heads in the game. If the crowd does, if the Lions do [remain focused] then two wins is easy to predict. If not, if the Lions fall to 6-6, we'll be spending the last half of December talking about the upcoming 2014 draft, and probably about who the next set of coaches might be.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

2013 Game 9 - Detroit Lions @ Chicago Bears


Wasn't Very Pretty

The 6-3 Detroit Lions won their 2nd game of the season against the 5-4 Chicago Bears 21-19. Since the Packers also lost today that puts the Lions in first place in the division all by themselves, a game ahead of the Packers and two games ahead of the Bears (due to tie-breaker rules). The Lions have never had a solo lead in the division this late in the year since they won the division in 1993. If I wanted to describe the game in 3 words or less, I'd have to simply say "it wasn't pretty".

Calvin Johnson broke Herman Moore's Lions TD record in the game after scoring two touchdowns to bring his total to 63 in 100 games, a full 2 years sooner then it took Herman Moore to get to 62. Matt Stafford was 18 of 35 for 219 yards, 3 TDs and 1 INT. Like I said, it wasn't pretty.

The Lions defense held the Bears to 38 yards rushing, proving once again that they are a run defense to be reckoned with (no team is running wild on them this year, so far). They did allow 312 yards passing between the two Bears' quarterbacks though, there is still work to be done on the pass defense but they did tighten up when the team needed them to the most, and even if it isn't very pretty, at least it got the job done.

Once again my main complaint of the game would be Stafford's ball placement. The Lions nearly lost this one and if they had a lot of people would've come down much harder on Matt for his errant throws. However, at some point near the end of the 3rd quarter (as I was saying in chat once again) you could see the Lions quarterback get into a kind of groove (as they say). You could see his focus improving. Some call it clutch (big talks about that a couple weeks ago in my forum). That ability to focus despite the added pressure of needing to win the game as time runs down. Now the Lions weren't actually behind in the 4th quarter it just felt like they needed more points to win the game, but I could tell that the Lions were going to win at that point in time regardless of the past 3 quarters and regardless of the lead, simply because Stafford suddenly was placing the ball much better. He was focused. He was clutch. It wasn't a pretty game, but it was effective.

The defense was also clutch, as I said. They tightened up just when the team needed them to the most. Despite some mental errors earlier, which were made up for a little later on, the team put in that extra soul searching effort right at the end of the game to prevent a 2 point conversion and an on-sides kick to seal the deal. No, it shouldn't have had to come to that, the Bears were dealing with their own issues (some of which the Lions created)... so what can you say, it wasn't a pretty win, but it was a win, and it propels the Lions into first place in the division holding a crucial tie-breaker and momentum as they continue the 2nd half of the 2013 season.

The next game will be in Pittsburgh against the Steelers, a team who struggled earlier this year but have since starting playing a little better. I predict another close game until the 4th quarter then once again finding the Lions the winner with a score of 26-20. Fair warning, it's not likely to be very pretty either.