Monday, October 31, 2011

I Needed That

Seriously. I needed that. I'll be the first to admit that, after the past two losses, my attitude started to slip into a negative place. As a man who has witnessed a 6-2 team finish 1-7, and a winless season, I don't feel a need to rationalize my actions in the past two weeks. I never lost faith in the team, but I was extremely frustrated with how average the Lions played in their two losses. The fact that I was frustrated with mediocrity shows how far this team has come in just three years, and it's important not to lose sight of this.

But I wasn't the only one who needed this win. The entire Lions fanbase needed this win. "The Pride" needed a reminder of just what it looks like to be on the other side of a beat-down. They needed a look into where this team can go when running on all cylinders. They needed to see what a team with no hope looks like and see that the Lions bear absolutely no resemblance to it.

And Matthew Stafford needed that. Though I'm sure he didn't have any doubts, he needed to remind everyone else how dangerous he can be. He needed to prove to all the stats geeks (me) that sometimes you need to just trust your eyes. He needed to convince questioners (again, me) that the past few weeks were the exceptions and not the rules. 130.8 passer rating, three touchdowns, no interceptions. Critics, answered.

And the offensive line needed that. For a unit that has taken heat all season (and pretty much every season in the past 20 years), the front five needed to prove that they have the talent to keep Stafford's jersey clean. They needed to prove that the running game can be serviceable and even dangerous at times. Check and check.

Titus Young needed that. After looking like a fool (whether it was his fault or not) last week, Young needed to prove he has a role in the offense. He needed to catch his first career touchdown and put it behind him. And Tony Scheffler, boy did he need (and want) that. He needed to prove to Denver that trading him was one of many mistakes made by Broncos management. Three catches (including THIS), 38 yards, and a touchdown later: mission accomplished.

The Lions defense really needed that. After being called dirty and undisciplined, the defensive line needed to prove their dominance was a result of talent and hunger, not immorality and immaturity. They committed only four penalties (two on defense), picked up seven sacks*, and outscored the Broncos by themselves. Evil? Maybe. Talented? Undoubtedly.

And, finally, the national media needed that. Seemingly everyone got caught up in a week filled with endless, obnoxious Tim Tebow coverage and internet memes, and some needed a wake-up call (including Vegas's ridiculous line on the game, which I called out early in the week). Pundits needed to see that, against a real NFL team, five minutes of above-average play from a quarterback is not enough to overcome 55 minutes of terrible play. The Lions exposed this truth as they held Tebow to 46.2 completion percentage, 172 yards and a 56.8 passer rating. This won't be the end of the Tebow debate, but it is a devastating blow to the "Tebow is a franchise quarterback" crowd.

The Broncos are not a good team. They're not even an okay team. They're a bad, bordering-on-terrible team. And while this game doesn't tell us much about how the Lions will fare against the likes of the Packers, Chargers, Raiders and Saints in the second half of the season, it does tell us one very important thing: the Lions are not a bad or even mediocre team. They're a good football team who will embarrass the basement of the league when given the opportunity. And that's just what I needed to see.

*would have had eight sacks, if Tebow hadn't been...saved.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tired of Waiting

"Just wait 'til we start playing"

That's what head coach Jim Schwartz told his team after they completed at 24-point comeback against the Cowboys on their way to 4-0 record. Three weeks later, the Lions sit at 5-2 and we're all still waiting to see the Lions "play".

Sunday's loss to Atlanta is likely to send hundreds of fans into a crazed frenzy, and I'm truly not trying to feed into that, but it's hard to ignore how frustrating it is to watch this team play lately. We've all seen the potential of this team. We've seen Stafford dazzle and dominate. We've seen the defensive line rack up sack after sack. We've seen this team lead the league in point differential. We've seen this team blow out a team, and comeback from an unbelievable deficit on the road.

So when the Lions start regressing (at least, offensively) and drop two key games against NFC foes, fans are likely to start getting upset.

Last week, I called out Matthew Stafford for his weak first half performances and all-around stinker against San Francisco. Admittedly, Stafford's performance against the 49ers was excusable, as San Francisco has one of the best defenses in the league (in fact, in my Atlanta preview, I found that Stafford had one of the best performances of all the quarterbacks that have faced the 49ers to date). But the offense's performance against the Falcons was terrible and without justification. Here's what the damage looked like compared to Stafford's past performances this year:

Visual learners? I got your back:

If it weren't for Stafford's modest*, but solid, performance against the Bears, there would be a pretty steady decline in all of those graphs.

Okay, I'm sure you get my point by now, but the question remains: why? Well, pass protection certainly has something to do with it (but not all of it). Sacks surrendered by week went as follows: 0,0,5,0,1,5,3. But then the question becomes, why are they suddenly giving up more sacks? That answer can't really be found on any spreadsheet or box score, but I contest it is due to a lack of a running game. Defenses are adjusting. They are no longer threatened by Detroit's backfield (especially without Jahvid Best now) and are committing more defenders to stop the pass**.

As fans, we love to finger point so we can ball up all of our anger and frustration into one mass and hurl it at one player. But this is a failure at all levels of the offense: play-calling, pass protection, quarterback accuracy, receiver drops, run blocking, running back vision, everything. No one unit is playing to their full potential. I'm not saying that everyone on offense sucks, but each unit is making their fare share of mistakes. The good news is that we've seen all of those players, at times (but never the same time, unless you count preseason, which I do not), play great games. There's still reason to be optimistic. There's still reason to believe playoffs are a possibility (see: defense). But the Lions are going to have start playing as a complete unit again before things turn around. Until then, we wait.

*I call Stafford's performance against the Bears modest because he only threw the ball five times in the last 25 minutes of the game. 

** For what it's worth, Stafford claimed defenses aren't doing anything different in the past few weeks

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Week 7 Itinerary

This week, the Falcons come to town looking to get on the better side of .500. Though the Falcons' record has been disappointing (3-3 this year, 13-3 last year), their team remains a great threat to hand the Lions their second straight loss. Here's what you need to read to get yourself educated before today's big game.

On Paper: My previews at Pride of Detroit have correctly predicted every Lions game this season. Want to know what's going to happen today? You better read it. 

Breaking Down the 49ers Game Winning Touchdown: If you have the stomach to revisit Alex Smith's game-winning touchdown pass, I broke down the play and what the Lions could've done to win the game at that moment. Check it out.

Run Defense Woes: Philip Zaroo at Mlive does a great job breaking down what is going wrong with the Lions' run defense. Some great statistics about how the explosion plays are making this unit look worse than it is. Read now.

Falcons Point of View: Over at Blogging Dirty (great name, BTW), they break down what the Falcons game plan should be to win the game. Consume.

Three is No Longer the Magic Number: According to The Falcoholic (another great name), the magic number is 30, as in the Falcons need 30 points to beat the Lions. *Another verb for read*

Moving Picture Time!

Matthew Stafford's first NFL action was against the Falcons. It seems like decades ago I was huddling around my computer watching a crappy internet feed, giddy watching Stafford make some brilliant throws (and one terrible one).

Move over John Edwards, we have a new Biggest Douche in the Universe.

Sometimes I think I have pretty much seen everything that the internet has to offer, then youtube steps up to the plate and proves me wrong once again. Sign-language smack talk, FTW. 
Any translators out there?

Go Lions.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

No Excuses: Matthew Stafford Needs to Play Better

First off, apologies for my sketchiness in the past week. I went through some personal stuff that I won't get into, and I've been traveling, spending time with family and haven't had much time to write nor think about the Lions. I luckily did get a chance to watch the game on Sunday, which I will talk

Flashback to three weeks ago. The Lions were 3-0, with two decisive wins and an epic comeback win against a division rival. Matthew Stafford was lighting up the scoreboard with nine touchdowns and an impressive 110.7 passer rating. Not only was I believing that Stafford was a top five quarterback in the league, but I was claiming that it was sacreligious for a Lions fan not to be sporting a Stafford jersey (which I still do not possess). Stafford was poised, confident and decisive in his actions.

Now before I get into this, I feel I have to preface my opinion by saying that I think Stafford either is, or will shortly be, a top ten quarterback in the league. I feel I need to say this, because most Lions fans are protecting Stafford from any sort of criticism with the devotion of parents defending their children. I love Stafford. From the moment against Cleveland when he ignored the fact that his shoulder was fragmented pieces of flesh and that the Lions were 1-8.  All be damned, he would lead the Lions to their most unbelievable win in decades. And since then, he's only led the Lions to two other 20+ point comeback wins. He's got an incredible arm and he's capable of making throws I thought only the FOX robot could make.

But he needs to step his game up.

In the past three weeks, all of the things that made him look elite in the first few weeks have made him look awfully mortal. He's indecisive, he's untrusting of his offensive line, he's failing to see defenders who dropped into coverage, and he's made our offense look....stoppable. You want some stats? I got your stats, right here.*

Now, obviously, the statistics in the past three weeks are not exactly terrible. In fact, they may even be considered slightly above average. But these aren't the kind of numbers we've come to expect from Stafford. We didn't all fall in love with Stafford because he was "above average".

Of course, it's important to put these statistics in their proper context. The first three games were against Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Minnesota.  By passer rating allowed, those teams are ranked 26th, 28th and 16th respectively. In comparison, the Lions week 4-6 opponents (Dallas, Chicago and San Francisco) rank 12th, 27th and 6th. Clearly better, but not by a lot.

While some credit goes to the opponents' defenses, Stafford will need to start playing to his competition. The Lions have one of the most brutal schedules left in the NFL (6th hardest according to Football Outsiders). It will be difficult to win the division with Green Bay well on their way to at least 12 wins, so the Lions will likely have to win at least 10 games to reach the playoffs. Only being five wins away from that goal, it may not seem like a difficult task, but if Stafford doesn't improve against the likes of Green Bay (X2) , New Orleans, Atlanta, Oakland, San Diego, etc, he may be on the outside looking in come January.

*I grabbed my crotch while typing that. Yeah, I've got that kind of typing skills. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Week 6 Itinerary

The Lions face the Niners this week, in what promises to be one of the best games of the week. Lions fans are riding high after an emotional Monday Night Football win. The 49ers, come in with a record of 4-1, but could very well be 5-0 as well, was it not for a spirited comeback from Tony Romo a couple weeks back. Here's what you've got to read to prep yourself for this week's matchup.

On Paper Preview: As always, I preview the matchup by looking at statistics and strength of opponents. My prediction really sparked a crazy discussion in the comment section. Check it out.

ESPN/Accu-Score Video: In this video, ESPN runs a bunch of simulations to see what the outcome of the game will be if A or B or C happens. It's all very confusing, speculative and pretty much meaningless, but it's kind of interesting I guess. Click it.

"Wide Nine" Defense: Ty from The Lions in Winter breaks down the Lions' "Wide Nine" defensive scheme and our perceived running defense "problem". It's quite interesting and sheds light on why such a dominant defensive line is giving up 4.8 a carry.

Key Matchups: Michael Olsen at SideLion Report investigates the key matchups for victory in this weeks game. It's got some neat stats and is more in-depth than the usual "matchups" article. Read.

Moving Pictures Time:

This just in: Youtube is awesome. Old football videos, too, are awesome. Again, any historic Lions video is likely going to end badly (unless its over 50 years old) but I can't get enough of this stuff.

I am terrified of this man, yet I understand this more than any other video on youtube.

Two years ago, I had the pleasure of watching the Lions play in Candlestick Park. 
I also had the displeasure of running into these fans. Like fog itself, these fans weren't intimidating, but were a minor annoyance.

Man, I hope there are at least 8 more of these clips by the end of the season.

Go Lions.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Feeling Good

We’ve spent the last three years huddled in the corner of our musty shelter, too fearful to peak out at the carnage that lay beyond the fastened doors. The atrocities caused by the apocalyptical events of 2008 still scarred our collective souls. Late last year, we heard rumors that the chaos had finally ended and it was safe to re-immerse ourselves in society once again. Still, the weight of the past still bore heavy on the psyche of us all. But Monday night the hearsay gave way to an unmistakable beacon of light shimmering upon us through the heavy doors separating ourselves from humanity.

Monday night, the people of Detroit burst through the doors and into the streets like caged animals being freed into the wild. It was a terrific sight, but an even more extraordinary feeling. Sure there’s still lingering feelings that the future that lies ahead could eventually slip into a dystopia more cruel than anything we've experienced, and given what we’ve all been through, we’d be insane not to have those preoccupations. But as the weeks roll on, we’re slowly accepting the unfamiliar, but awe-striking reality that stands before us: the Lions are 5-0 and well on their way to being a playoff team and beyond.

Many national pundits seems surprised at the incredible enthusiasm emanating from Ford Field on Monday, which seemed reminiscent of a post-Katrina Saints game. But those familiar with the suppressed, but eager Lions fan base knew that the city of Detroit was just waiting for a spark that would ignite the city. And while many will be written off as “band-wagoners” or not "true" fans, we must welcome them all alike. Although some may have cowardly fled during the past five years, it’s hard to blame them for doing so. The unrelenting punishment that this fanbase has been subjected to is too much for any sane person to endure. If it truly bothers you that people bailed on this team during the tough years only to crawl back during the good times, take pride in knowing that you are one of the few who took the beatings for the franchise and will reap benefits that others don't even realize exist.

But we will need these band-wagoners to succeed. Without them, though our voices are emphatic, they barely amount to a whisper. Without them, the Bears do not commit nine false start penalties. Without them, we are merely a cult and not a community, not a team. And together we will take on this new frontier. It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life. And I'm feeling good.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Week 5 Itinerary: Monday Night Special

Finally we can answer the question "Is it Monday yet?" with a resounding "YES".  While Detroit sports (Tigers, Red Wings, Wolverines) have offered plenty to keep me entertained throughout the week, I couldn't hide my enthusiasm for specifically tonight throughout the entire week. Clearly, the universe had sensed my giddiness as I was not scheduled to come into work today. And now the Tigers are playing today, too? Icing on the cake, cherry on top, whatever idiom you'd like.

If the circumstances alone aren't enough to get you pumped for this game, here are some articles that will make you want to bust through a wall, Kool-Aide Man-style.

My "On Paper" preview. The charts are getting bigger and more interesting. Many Bears apologists are pointing to the schedule of both teams, claiming the records would be reversed if the schedules were. The charts take into effect strength of opponent, so check out what my conclusion is here.

Read Armchair Linebacker, damnit. Neil addresses the paranoia that all Lions fans are currently feeling, whether they admit it or not. But then makes you want to murder a Bears fan and eat him in front of his family.  This is what he is capable of doing as a writer. READ IT.

The Watchtower at Lions In Winter: No brainer here, you should be reading everything over at Lions In Winter, but especially his unique previews.

Holy $#^%, "Holy Schwartz" is good. Seriously. This blog is only a couple weeks old, but it's already a must-read for avid fans. He brings the knowledge with a break-down of the Bears defense and brings the entertainment with his Tony Scheffler Celebration Watch.

Moving-Pictures Time:

RIP, Hank Williams Jr's Relevancy

I'm not a religious person, but I like to believe that Heaven is real, and it consists of me watching the move Barry makes at the 1:03 mark of this video over and over until the end of time.

I want this to happen again, except I'd prefer Cutler's head on the ground, not the ball. 
If that happens, I don't care if they throw ten flags on the play.

I can't seem to embed this video, but watch Nate Burleson's pre-game speech and try not to powerbomb the nearest person through your coffee table. 

"Just wait til we start playing."
I'm ready, Jim. We're ready. 
Go Lions. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I'm Going to Throw Up

Last year, I attended the Tampa game, where the Lions ended their road game losing streak. The celebration and jubilation that followed was something I thought I wouldn't witness for at least a couple years. Total strangers were high-fiving and hugging each other. That win got the Lions to 3-10 on the season. It was ridiculous to get so hyped for that win. I was celebrating the Halloween-equivalent to a fun-sized Mounds bar. Today, I'm suffering from the hangover of consuming king-sized Snickers for two weeks straight. The Lions are 4-0 and after feasting on these two delicious wins, I sit back, look at what has just happened and feel sick.

Rob Ryan made a huuuuuge mistake
I'm not feeling ill because there's some glaring weakness in the LIons. I'm not queasy because the Lions were off to another shaky start. No, I'm on the verge of vomiting, hours removed from the Lions biggest comeback in over 50 years because my emotions have been drained, my quota for Lions-related screams of ecstasy has been met and surpassed for the entire season, and the pounds and energy I've lost in the last 12 hours is staggering. I have feasted on two of the most satisfying wins in my history of being a Lions fan and my stomach is slowing eating my innards from all the damn excitement. To add cherries on the top, the Tigers beat the Yankees, Arrested Development is coming back to TV (!!!!!!!!), and as I currently type this, Mark Sanchez is getting brutally raped by the Ravens. I keep looking around, but I can't seem to find the Pearly Gates.

This team is flawed, and, hell, they may not even be a top five team in the league. But right now they're one of two undefeated teams, they've taken down two teams that may be in the wild-card race at the end of the regular season, and they have been an extremely entertaining watch this year. I don't care that the Lions toughest games are ahead of them or that they are likely in the best division in football. This has already been my favorite season of Lions football, and we haven't even gotten to the MNF game vs. the Bears, or what promises to be a classic Thanksgiving game against the Packers. Hell, the last three games on the schedule should be incredibly entertaining: @Oakland, vs. San Diego, @Green Bay.

Just thinking about those games makes me want to throw up. And I freakin' love it.

24-Point Comeback Champagne

I'm a little late with this, as I've spent the last three hours in a daze, but LET'S DRINK!

Let's bring it back to Detroit for Monday night!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Week 4 Itinerary: Lions at Cowboys

So this week the Lions are playing in what many consider the premiere game in the first batch of contests on Sunday. Though a loss wouldn't exactly be devastating, this game is pretty big for several reasons. The Lions are going to be on a national stage for the first non-Thankgiving week in awhile. The Cowboys are also a great test to this team, being a high-octane offense the likes of which the Lions have yet to face this year. Finally, the Cowboys are potentially a wild-card contender and gaining the tie-breaker this early in the season could be huge come early January.

With all that in mind, here's what you need to read to get ready for this huge matchup:

My Stuff
  • I broke down Jared Allen's three sacks against the Lions to figure out who is to blame and what can be corrected this week for facing the dynamic DeMarcus Ware.
  • My statistical preview of the Cowboys game, which had another solid prediction last week (my prediction: 24-20, final score 26-23), finds some interesting results about how well the Lions have played against the pass so far.
Stuff Better Than Mine
Moving Pictures Time!

Okay, so the Lions lose this game 37-3, but look at that awesome 90s style production.
This video is worth a look at for this picture alone:
I want that jacket.

I expect this to happen at least three times this week, except replace the ball with Ndamukong Suh's body.

This video is made infinitely better if you imagine the baby trying to actually fart before raspberry-ing.

Side note, if "Cowboys Suck" videos were honey-glazed hams, we could cure world-hunger with youtube.

Enough nonsense, Go Lions.