Friday, November 28, 2014

2014 Game 12 - Detroit Lions vs Chicago Bears @ Home


The Detroit Lions improved their record to 8-4 on Thanksgiving Day after defeating the 5-7 Chicago Bears 34-17 at Ford Field. The Lions new coaching staff have managed to not have a losing season their first year at bat and now have 4 more weeks (after a 10 day wait) to work their way into the playoffs. If nothing else Lions fans have that to be thankful for.

The game started out not so great as the Bears took the lead in the first quarter 14-3 but the Bears managed only one more field goal after that while the Lions scored 31. Matthew Stafford was 34/45 (an impressive 75.56%) for 390 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs. As I understand it, Stafford had more yards in the first half of this game then in any other first half of a game in his NFL career. Calvin Johnson had 11 receptions for 146 yards and both of Stafford's touchdowns making him the youngest wide receiver ever to get to 10,000 yards. Bell was the only running back with any stats netting 91 yards and 2 touchdowns on 23 attempts. Prater nailed both of his field goals and special teams covered all their aspects of the game fairly well. The defense managed two interceptions and three sacks... Jay Cutler probably needed an ice bath before he could attempt to chow on some Thanksgiving day turkey (if he kept his appetite). Forte was held to a grand total of 6 yards on 5 attempts.

While some fans have started to come to terms with the fact that the Lions defense is actually half way decent (especially if they play man coverage versus say, cover 2) most had started giving up on the offense. The blame has been spread around or at least between Matthew Stafford and the offensive coordinator Lombardi, with the offensive line occasionally mentioned. I've been blaming all 3 as well, but in a different order. Lombardi for calling plays that take time to develop when the OL can't give them that time and Stafford for his various errors and the coaching staff for not helping him correct those issues. Apparently someone figured it out as this game the ball was coming out much faster, something I've been begging for for a few weeks in the forum. The issue with drops by the receivers seems to have corrected it's self as well. The ball was spread around to 9 different players and everyone helped the team to win on national television making Lions fans thankful and the Bears fans dejected.

Now if the defense can continue to play more man coverage then other coverages, if special teams can continue to play disciplined, if the receivers can continue to use their hands correctly and if Stafford can continue to get the ball out quickly negating the patchwork offensive line issues this team can do some damage yet this year, and it all starts in 10 days against Tampa Bay... a team from the former NFC Central that the Lions used to circle as an automatic two wins back in the day (before they got good and made the Tampa 2 defense popular, a form of cover 2 that I also dislike immensely). This is the 2nd of 3 home games in a row for the Lions before they finish the year with 2 road games, one of which is in Green Bay just before Christmas... in other words, these next two home games are very important for the Lions chances to make the playoffs. Playoffs... a word we can be thankful we are using in week 14 of the season instead of "draft".

Happy Thanksgiving Lions fans.

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


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.