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.

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