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.
Posted by NetRat's Lions Blog at 9:32 PM