Monday, September 28, 2015

2015 - Week #3 Detroit Lions vs Denver Broncos @ Home


The 0-3 Detroit Lions lose their home opener to the 3-0 Denver Broncos 12-24. The Lions were actually in the game until about the middle of the 4th quarter when several errors by Lions' players and a few great plays by the Bronco players tilted the results heavily in the Bronco's favor. With very few errors of their own, and almost no great plays by any Lion, the game was slowly, methodically, and inevitably lost. It was practically conceded.

Matthew Stafford was 31 of 45 (68.89%) for 282 yards 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Peyton Manning was 31 of 42 (73.8%) for 324 yards 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. The Lions wanted to limit the Bronco's run game and did hold them to 41 yards, meanwhile the Bronco's held the Lions to 28 yards. So if both sides were so similar in QB play and limited in their run games how did the Lions lose? Well, I could go into other turnovers, or penalties, or the minor other differences in the two teams, but in my opinion the Lions lost this game for 2 reasons.

1. The Bronco's did what they wanted and the Lions were hard pressed to stop them. For example, if they tried to blitz Manning, he would make them pay. Not every time, but enough times. Or if the Lions double teamed a pass rusher another would get through.

2. The Lion's took what the Bronco's gave them. Rarely imposing their will on them. Trying to minimize mistakes. This also worked fairly well, for example, Stafford had a really good completion percentage. But this also took away any risk taking that might have broken the game open (in their favor). Intentionally trying to keep the game close so to speak.

The OL did a much better job this game, the OC was still over his head, the HC still says all the right things but none of those things ever seem to result in a change, or a win. I read on twitter several interesting tweets, one being the Bronco's pretty much knew what the Lions would do (in any circumstance) and the Lions then did exactly that. Also, that Lombardi thinks he came to the Lions to install his system and not to adapt a system that fits the Lions abilities (this an observation by the author, not a direct quote or anything of the sort). The last being the opposite of what was said would happen, and unfortunately, not what needed to happen. In other words, as long as Lombardi is the offensive coordinator calling the plays the Lions will continue to concede every game they play until someone (looking at you Caldwell) fixes the underlying problem with the team... that in fact the coaches are NOT putting the players into a position to win games.

Would the Lions have won with a few more calls going their way? With a couple freak turnovers not happening? With better QB play? A better OL, or a better DL? With better health? Or any one of a hundred other variable changes? Sure, by maybe 2 points, maybe, or maybe not. Certainly not by 12 points like the Broncos did, that would require a killer instinct that simply does not exist with the Lions. They are not using their resources correctly, they do not confuse their opponents, they are not being aggressive or inflicting their will on anyone. In fact, most of the time, you can't even recognize they have a will to inflict. Playing careful, playing scared. Conceding the game before it even starts.

Sooner or later the Lions may accidentally win a game or two or three. That is not exactly the way I would prefer to go through a season, no matter what sport it is. It's one thing to protect the ball, it's another to never try for fear of messing up, and it's a very fine line between the two. A line that the current coaching staff seems to be having a very serious problem identifying. Quit conceding every game to the opponent, know what your players can do and allow them to do it, allow them to take calculated risks that produce results. Allow them to win.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

2015 Week #2 - Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings


The 0-2 Detroit Lions lost to the 1-1 Minnesota Vikings 16-26 in a dismal display of football prowess today. So many things went wrong or were wrong that it's hard to know where to begin. In fact, that is actually the problem... everything does in fact affect everything else... like a giant knot. One that needs to be unraveled in order to sort out what is wrong, what can be fixed, and what can not.

Matthew Stafford was 32 of 53 (60.38%) for 286 yards 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. He was also knocked down, knocked around, and generally in trouble way too much in the game.

Meanwhile Teddy Bridgewater was 14 of 18 (77.78%) for only 153 yards 1 touchdown and no interceptions. Sounds great until you see that the Vikings had 199 yards rushing (134 just by Adrian Peterson) compared to the Lions 38 (and 20 of those were by Stafford, today's leading rusher).

I read someone say that the Lions are going to need a mobile QB to start winning games. I'm there thinking they are nuts, QB is not the issue. It is A issue, but not the THE issue. Yes Stafford is a pocket passer, which means he actually needs a pocket to work from, and that isn't happening. Sure you could fix that by having a mobile QB (one who can throw on the run) but would it not be smarter to fix the offensive line, especially since they aren't run blocking either? It's actually more complicated then that though. The coaches don't like to play rookies because they can't trust them to do all the little things right. Well, news flash, neither are the guys you have starting instead. Pettigrew is a key part of the blocking scheme on many plays, but he was injured and not playing this game, and despite all those who hate Pettigrew, his missing the game had a large impact on things going bad. The lack of pass blocking had a very sore Stafford not trusting them which causes him to rush things (and why wouldn't he?) even when they do an occasional good job of blocking. The lack of pass blocking means you can't run the deep routes, so CJ is running short routes and they're sending Fuller deep, otherwise you end up with last week and no targets for CJ. What defense is afraid of Fuller deep? On top of this, Stafford is more accurate in his mid to deep throws, it's a stat fact, but the routes for that aren't being called, and since the run game isn't happening, defenses can crowd the line of scrimmage and cover both the pass and the run without worry about a deep ball. Oh, and the run game is attempting to be run by Joique Bell who has nothing (probably not healed all the way yet), two promising rookies who the coaches don't trust (not the players, just rookies in general), and Riddick. I don't think defenses are extremely concerned about Riddick running them over. The whole offense is tied up in a knot, and it's partly due to injury (Warford, Waddle, Bell, Pettigrew, and now Stafford), partly due to the OL as a whole, and partly due to the coaching. Okay, mostly due to injury and coaching. So we should all keep blaming Stafford? Not.

Despite all of those strands of things that are wrong with the offense Stafford was still above 60% completions for the 2nd week in a row. The opposing QB however was once again sitting with a completion percentage at least 16% better... and I'm continually hearing how it's all the fault of losing Suh to the dolphins. Once again, it's more complicated then that. Much more. The first problem on D is that Levy isn't playing. His range, coverage skills, tackling, and instincts make him a CRITICAL part of the defense. Tulloch hasn't played in almost a year and it shows. Ngata didn't play all pre-season, not one snap, and it shows. Walker isn't exactly getting the job done, and most of the time Jones isn't either. Reid is out, and that hurts the rotation and keeping them fresh, and on and on it goes. It's not all injury though, coverages aren't being disguised (partly because they are always running the same coverage it seems) and there is no blitzing (even when there is, no one is getting to the QB). There is no attack, there is no drive, there is no imposing of will, there isn't really anything to stop opposing offenses from doing whatever they want.

I wasn't a fan of the team being the last one to start camp this summer. I wasn't a fan of sitting many of the key starters in most of the pre-season games. Sure it may have kept some fresh, but now they are rusty instead. You can't even say it prevented injury since so many got injured anyway, or are playing injured now without having taken the time to heal completely, partly because the coaches would rather make healthy players inactive then to trust them to play. The coaching staff has got to get over this fear thing and start imposing the will of the team upon their opponents, on both sides of the ball. Being too careful in preseason has led to being too careful in the regular season. The team is a gigantic knot, with too many things affecting too many other things, and it's time to get this unraveled, and righted, now.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

2015 Week #1 - Detroit Lions at San Diego Chargers

Who's to Blame?

The Detroit Lions lose their first game of the season to the San Diego Chargers 28-33. Considering they were up 21-3 at one point half way through the 2nd quarter it was an exceptionally disappointing loss. My forum, twitter, and just about every Lions fan is talking about the game and asking questions that pretty much are all inquiries into who is to blame... that is if a particular favorite hasn't already been designated by said fan. Let's see if I can't help those who are as of yet undecided find out who was (or may have been) to blame.

Matthew Stafford was 19 of 30 (63.33%) for 246 yards 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. The interceptions looked horrid BUT to me it appeared as though Stafford and the wide receiver weren't on the same page, the route did not go to where the QB thought it was going to go to, and the WR was not where he was supposed to be. Those two turnovers certainly did not help the situation, but determining if it was the fault of the WR or the fault of the QB is not going to be possible without knowing the play and the keys involved along with what was called. We'll have to come back to this after some more thought.

Phillip Rivers was 35 of 42 (83.33%) for 404 yards 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. The two interceptions sound good but a defense that allows 83.33% completion rates and over 400 passing yards just might make winning a game slightly difficult. There was only 87 yards rushing but then San Diego was behind for a lot of the game so that part makes sense. Did I mention the Lions had 69 yards rushing? No? Most teams with a lead for the majority of the game might utilize their very talented running backs in a more proficient manner to drain the clock, keep the ball out of the other teams' hands, and perhaps keep the opponents defense on the field in the 105 degree temperature that they were playing in. So was it the weather (temperature) that is to blame? The lack of a run game? Too many minutes in an hour?

Calvin Johnson, arguably the most talented WR in the NFL, had 2 receptions for 39 yards. No, he wasn't injured. CJ said after the game that the coverage dictated the ball not be thrown to him. Since the coverage was one over and one under (double covered) and since CJ is likely to be double covered pretty much on every single play for the year, apparently we will need to get used to this kind of thing.

Speaking of injury, the Lions were without their starting RG, their starting RT, their pro-bowl LB, and a number of other players that could have helped the team win but alas they were too injured to play in this game. Levy, the pro-bowl linebacker was definitely missed, without his presence it seemed the entire middle area of the field was open for easy completions, many taking less then 1.5 seconds to complete. When an opponent can work their way down the field at will simply by completing short quick passes you really need your linebackers to step up, that did not happen, so perhaps injury should be blamed? or the Linebackers?

Of course the reason a QB goes to the short quick passes is to negate the pass rush, including the blitzes, so one would think the Lions who were allowing a ton of pressure would also go to that type of play perhaps more often then not... but they did not, instead continuing to blindly follow their playbook for the game seemingly without any adjustments at all (though I'm sure there were, they were just expertly countered).

As I mentioned earlier, the Lions jumped out to a 21-3 point lead... could it be those plays were scripted and well practiced then when that was over and when production all but stopped the play calling was to blame for the lack of offensive production? Why was the run game practically abandoned? Why weren't screens, quick short passes, and draws used to slow down the attacking defense? How come the Lions appeared to go into an ultra conservative approach once a lead was established instead of nailing shut the coffin? If it was Stafford (who has been accused of this in the past) why didn't a coach take those options away? If it was the OC why didn't the HC offer his sage advice on the matter?

I can understand how the temperatures played a role in the game but that affects both teams, the team who's defense was stuck on the field the longest was going to lose production as the heat zapped their strength. The Chargers O was on the field for 38 minutes and 12 seconds. They won time of possession, and the game.

Hopefully I've painted the picture for those who have stuck with me to this point. Yes the defense played poorly. BUT Levy wasn't in the game and he is a huge part of the reason the Lions defense is (or was) good. Other players never played one snap together due to injuries earlier (pre-season). The heat was going to gun for the defense who lost the time of possession battle and the Lions lost that battle. The Lions could not stop the short quick passing attack, which in turn is why they lost the time of possession battle. No amount of coaching on defense was going to stop the energy drain and no amount of blitzing can happen in 1.5 seconds. No amount of coverage is going to stop an offense that will actually go to their best players regardless of the coverage like the Chargers did (and the Lions did not). In fact, I saw a bumper sticker once that might sum up the problem perfectly... "You Can't Fix Stupid". For me, the coaching of the offense was just that, stupid. For me, that's who I choose to blame... I blame stupidity. It's name in this case appears to be Lombardi. For this game, that is who I blame.

If it continues to happen in the future, then I shall shift the blame to his boss, the head coach. Not sure why he allows his coordinator to fall into this trap or what can be done about it in game, but if there are things he could do and did not do then perhaps I assigned the blame to the wrong person. For now though, I'll stick with the OC is to blame. For now.

The WRs should know their keys and routes by now. So too should the QB. The run game with an 18 point lead should not be abandoned, especially when time of possession is critical to wear out their defense in the 105 degree heat instead of your own. Short quick throws (as proven by the opponent) are a great way to stop the pass rush and blitzing. Using your best WR is the primary way (also as proven by the opponent) to help your team score points. Using your better RB, regardless of how recently he joined the team, might also prove beneficial. Being able to call plays after the scripted ones are done is a necessary talent for an OC (assuming any were scripted to begin with). When 2/5 of your OL is injured and not playing you might want to call fewer 5 and 7 step drops, and all long developing routes should be used sparingly. If you have the lead you need to pad that lead, not sit on it, unless you are in the final 4 or 5 minutes of the game... going ultra conservative too early will only serve to allow your opponent back into the game. When your opponent makes adjustments you have to be able to counter them. And finally, if you insist on not throwing the ball to a WR who is covered both above and below then you had better be able to move the ball using the other 10 guys against their other 9, failure to do so is very nearly a crime. Given some more time I might be able to come up with a few more tidbits, hints, clues, and sage advice. I may even be able to find others to blame, or to share the blame. However, for now at least, I'll stick with the impossible, that is, hope they actually fix stupid.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Detroit Lions final 53 for 2015

So we now have the Detroit Lions final 53 for the 2015 season... or do we? I mean, one day after the final cut down day the 3rd round draft pick CB Alex Carter was placed on Injured Reserve with the option to return (in 8 weeks) and then Jermelle Cudjo was re-signed. So what happens next?

First it should be noted that Cudjo knew he would be re-signed the next day but kept it quiet, and the Lions had to wait the one day to put Carter on "IR to return" as you can't do that before the day after final cut down day. It was planned, from start to finish. Tuesday the Lions finished creating their 10 man practice squad, signing the following players:

Braxston Cave C
Kerry Hyder DT
Isaiah Johnson S
Andrew Peacock WR
Casey Pierce TE
Larry Webster DE
George Winn RB
Ricky Stanzi QB
Jean-Baptiste CB
Saalim Abdul Hakim WR/KR/PR

But it was not easy for the Lions to choose who would stay and who would go, some players who may not have stayed did so due to others on the team being injured, and once those guys are healed up and playing the players kept for depth may suddenly find themselves out of work. The practice squad is also going to turn over, a lot, between now and the end of the season. Every player who is not the starter in week 1 needs to keep working, hard, and not give up impressing the coaches as they are all still on the never ending job interview that is the NFL roster.

For today though, we can take a snap shot of the team, of the roster, and see how it compares to what was expected. Me, I create a very public estimated depth chart (see link to the right) and lock it in just prior to the 3rd pre-season game, every year. My best year was last year with 49 right. This year I once again got 48 right, I believe that makes it 4 out of the last 5 years of being at 48 right. Locking it in prior to week 3 gives me a disadvantage though, I didn't get to see Philip Hunt's great games, nor did I know about the severity of Warford's and Reid's injuries. The trade for Tim Wright had just happened but I didn't trust that Tim Wright would show anything in the time given to warrant he make the roster. There are quite a few things that may have made me change my way of thinking had I waited, but to do so makes me the same as everyone else who does an estimated depth chart, and I want to base it on more then the last two pre-season games. I want to base it somewhat on what I see in practices, on special teams, on how the coaches behave towards certain players (like I knew that Broyle's was toast) and how the front office brings in players (showing me the lack of interest in KR Jeremy Ross) and so forth.

So where did I go wrong? Well, I'll just copy and paste a couple paragraphs from my forum:

They kept WR Lance Moore over WR Greg Salas (Salas went to IR on cut down day, no way to account for that)
They kept Tim Wright over Joseph Fauria (late trade, and Brindza made the Bucs roster over the former Bronco's kicker they had signed)
They kept LT Corey Robinson over FB Emil Igwenagu (and Robinson did nothing until a bit in game 3 and a lot in game 4, late bloomer)
They kept Phillip Hunt over Cudjo (I had assumed after game 3 they'd keep Hunt over Tapp, they kept both Tapp and Hunt)
They kept Van Noy over QB Kellen Moore (I assumed before game 3 they'd put Van Noy on IR, instead he started practicing right after it).

I think they made an error in keeping Tapp over Cudjo, other then that I can understand and appreciate all their moves they made. One extra note; OT Mike Williams made the Patriots final 53 roster, already said Brindza made his roster over a vet, and Seisay went to IR with an injury for his new team.

I wasn't too far off, considering I didn't wait for kick off of week 3 pre-season.

What's next? The Lions need to decide who will do kick offs and punt returns, and as guys get healed up while others get injured you can expect some more roster moves. Guys like Hunt, Cudjo, and Tapp are still competing for their jobs. So is Tim Wright, Lance Moore, and a few others. There is no time to slack off, no time to relax, no point in which any of these guys can say with certainty they won't be the next guy cut. It would be like working in a job where your fellow employees get pink slips each week and you would never know if this week was your week to get yours. Hard to concentrate... huh? Especially when it all might not have anything to do with your ability but who else on the team gets injured. So here's to health, for a healthy team tends to be a successful team.

Since we don't know who will heal up, who will get hurt, or what new plans the Lions will make as it concerns the roster, we need to look towards the next thing on the agenda. No, not game 1 of the regular season. Next up is the day when all NFL teams have to be under the salary cap not with the current top 51 player rule, but with the full 53 plus injured reserve plus practice squad. At the moment the Lions have 6 on IR costing the cap $3.54 million... and those 10 guys on the practice squad are costing the cap at least $897,600... and some of those guys cut created dead cap space that also has to be accounted for, to the tune of $556,630. So what's the issue? The Lions didn't have $5 million in cap space to spare to cover all of these things. It'll be what happens next, addressing this cap issue, via injury settlements (and losing the players rights) or contract re-structures, or other cuts. Stay tuned.