Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Very Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

That's not dog food.
We tried to convince everyone their patience with the Lions on Thanksgiving would pay off this year. We persuaded NFL fans that the high-flying Detroit offense could hang with the likes of Aaron Rodgers and the #1 offense in the league. We assured our friends and enemies that Ndamukong Suh was intense and incredibly strong, but always clean and just a victim of poor press. We truly believed the Lions could be the team to take down the undefeated Packers and take a big step towards respectability and a playoff berth.

Then that happened.

The offense teased us by moving the ball throughout the entire game, but failed to score a point until they were down by 24. The defense teased us by holding the Packers to only 86 yards in the first half and seven points that were scored because of an offensive turnover. Then the secondary was struck with dysentery, and the floodgates opened. But, hey, the special teams coverage unit didn't give up a touchdown this week! Argh, good grief.

The Lions are not in free fall, despite what the perception seems to be. The Lions did hang with the Packers for a half, and probably should have held a lead by the time Nickelback took the field. The Lions have lost two of three games since becoming 6-2 and people are starting to bring up 2007 comparisons (when the Lions started 6-2 and finished 1-7). But this team is nothing like 2007. This talent level of the two teams in incomparable. However, this team is starting to feel like the Lions of the '90s: filled with talent and weapons, yet never fulling reaching their true potential.

The most frustrating aspect of this team is undoubtedly the offense. A mess of talent, a great offensive coordinator and an up-and-coming quarterback have turned into the biggest liability of the team. In the past three games alone, they've had six scoreless quarters and 12(!) turnovers. The most frustrating part of this, is that the Lions offense has been mostly successful. In those same three games, they've netted 393, 495 and 409 total yards, which was more than their opponent in all three games. Red zone struggles, turnovers and untimely penalties have killed the Lions' offensive prowess.

These problems seem absolutely solvable and almost exclusively caused by the Lions themselves. But, at this point, the offense is so consistently inconsistent that it's reasonable to conclude that they just aren't as good as we were all expecting. As tired as the excuse is, the team is still very young and vulnerable to mistakes. That was the reason I predicted the Lions would go 9-7 and would just miss out on the playoffs.

But the Lions don't have to accept that reality yet. There is still plenty of time for the Lions to prove that they should be among the elite. Three of the five remaining games are against teams in a playoff spot, all of which will be played on the road. As of right now, their record against playoff teams stands at 2-4. If they can turn that record into 4-5 or even 5-4, they will have proven that they are, indeed, a step above people's expectation and they'll find themselves playing well into January. But if they continue their self-imposed struggles, they'll find themselves flat on their back looking up at the rest of the league again.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mandatory Suh Post

I'd rather talk about actual football or the Lions' playoff chances at this point, but at this point, I am somewhat forced to address the Suh incident. I'll only give my brief opinion on what happened, as I'm sure you've already read 200 opinions on the situation and I'd like to provide something different. So here it goes: (I posted this in a comment section somewhere in the internets, and I don't feel like thinking about it any more, so I'm just copying and pasting)

This story is getting this sort of press for two reason. The first, as [the author] acknowledged, is Suh's reputation, deserved or not. When someone who has been the center of a "Dirty or Not?" debate all season does something dirty-looking on a national stage, everyone is going to offer their two cents. 
The second reason, however, is intent of an action like this. A play like this is much different from a helmet-to-helmet hit or facemask twisting. Hits and facemask grabs are almost always accidental and are done so in the goal to make a play for your team. 
The stomp happened after the play, away from the play. There is no moral nor practical explanation for Suh's actions. It was done in the heat of the moment as an expression of anger, frustration and violence. This was not a case of bad defensive mechanics or bad luck. This was a conscious choice made by Suh, and regardless of his mental state at the time, it was inexcusable.
The only way this wasn't a terrible act and dirty play by Suh is if you believe Suh's story. Which I don't. 
I posted this before Suh's "apology". His apology was basically meaningless and too late. The biggest blunder he's made so far is that he has still failed to apologize to Evan Dietrich-Smith, the player he stomped. I'm sure Suh still feels as though Dietrich-Smith, in some manner, deserved what happened, but regardless of what the Packers lineman did to piss off Suh, his reaction was irresponsible, dangerous, and deserving of a personal apology. I expect a 1-2 game suspension, but wouldn't be surprised with 3-4. Five seems excessive, but arguing over a game or two given the circumstances seems petty and dumb.

Moving on, I think the most interesting part of this incident is the story broken by Jay Glazer's Blackberry:

This news is guaranteed to spark conversation that Suh is losing respect in the locker room. In fact, the story is currently less than 30 minutes old and I'm already seeing tweets suggesting this. News is coming out that his Nebraska teammates didn't really like him and though he should get anger management classes. So Suh must be a terrible teammate and will probably tear apart the locker room, right?

Um, no. Not by a long shot. Even if this Glazer story is true, which I fully believe that it is (even though I'm sure the Lions will deny it), it does not speak to the Lions players' respect for Suh. These men are intense. When they're angry, things will get heated, words will be shouted and occasionally punches will be thrown. So when the Lions players are barking at Suh, they're just being their intense selves. But since they are also men, this will soon be water under the bridge. The players undoubtedly know how important and valuable Suh is to the defensive line and the team. They have no problem with his demeanor nor the way he plays the game. Hell, even former Lions Zack Follett was praising Suh's humbleness on twitter. They're just pissed that he made this one, bad mistake.

The Lions players don't hate Suh. They hate the decision he made on Thursday. They hate that it cost Detroit four points and that they will be without his services for at least a game or two. They hate that it was a completely avoidable mistake. And as a fan, I'm with them. I don't hate Suh nor do I want him off the team. But like the players, I was mad as hell at what he did and cursed his name Thursday night. Now, I'm over it and ready to move on. I'm sure the players feel the same. Now let's go make some playoffs. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Week Itinerary

I hate the NFL schedule makers. Last year, it was the 8-2 Patriots, the year before it was the 6-4 Packers, the year before that it was the 10-1 Titans. The Lions seemingly always have to face a feared foe on Thanksgiving in front of the entire nation....But this year, they got it right. The Lions face the 10-0 Packers. But the Lions have the beautiful opportunity to be the first team to knock the Packers off their undefeated pedestal. If the Lions were to do so, it would not only be a great, positive message to send the rest of the league, but it would be huge in terms of keeping their playoff hopes alive.

As always, there has been a plethora of great articles out there in anticipation of this heated matchup:

My Stuff:

Stuff Better Than Mine:
Moving Pictures Time:
Rule #1: Send me a link to a video with "Barry Sanders" somewhere in the title and I'll post it.

Not rooting for a concussion or anything, but I would like a lot of Rodgers on the ground.

Damnit, Packers. You make it so hard to hate you guys ever since Favre left.

Go Lions! Mashed Potatoes!

Monday, November 21, 2011

I Don't Know What's Going On

I don't know what's going on. The Lions are 7-3. They're currently the fifth seed in the playoffs. Their quarterback has six games with a passer rating over 100. They just replaced their injured running back with a failed experiment from 2009. He only gained 200 yards from scrimmage and hit paydirt three times against the Panthers. The defense is second in the league in interceptions and yards per passing attempt allowed.

But this is also the team that has fallen behind by 17 points or more in four of ten games. They lost a crucial game to the Falcons and layed the biggest of eggs in Chicago. Their quarterback has thrown six interceptions in two games and has yet to turn in a good performance against a great defense. The offense ranks in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards and yards per carry. Their defense ranks 28th in run defense and ranks 30th in yards per carry allowed. The Lions have yet to turn in a full, four-quarter, quality performance.

And the Carolina game just made everything more confusing.

For the first 20 minutes, it felt like I was back in Vegas watching the Bears game all over again, except the colors in my TV were all off and fans in the stands were a lot more angry. Matthew Stafford was continuing his run of unexcellence. The special teams unit continued to be haunted by the ghost of Stan Kwan. Everything was horrible.

But then something happened. The second half started, and the sepia-hued, horrorland that we were all living in dissolved into the brightly colored world where the offense was as elite as we all thought they could be and the defense was a turnover factory. The Lions came out in the second half and put an absolutely undeniable beatdown on the Panthers, outscoring them 35-8.

Here's how the offense started:
Drive 1: INT
Drive 2: INT
Drive 3: Fumble
Drive 4: TD
Drive 5: 3 and out

And here's how they finished:
Drive 6: TD
Drive 7: TD
Drive 8: TD
Drive 9: Punt
Drive 10: TD
DRive 11: TD
Drive 12: TD
Drive 13: Ballgame.

And here's how the defense started:
Drive 1: INT
Drive 2: FG
Drive 3: TD
Drive 4: TD
Drive 5: FG

And their finish...
Drive 6: Punt
Drive 7 : Punt
Drive 8: INT
Drive 9: Punt
Drive 10: TD
Drive 11: INT
Drive 12: INT

It's all incredibly frustrating, terrifying, awful, awesome, excruciating, exhausting and a lot, lot of fun. This team has made me feel feelings again. And not just excitement and joy, but every feeling possible. I have no idea where it's all leading to, but it is so much more enjoyable than the alternative that was the past ten years. Playoffs are in the discussion but nowhere close to guaranteed at this point. If the Lions manage to squeak their way into the postseason this year, I cannot even imagine what new emotions will come to life. Horruberence? Jubippointment? Who knows.

But this ride is too much fun to not take a step back and realize what a crazy, magical season it has already been. I think Ty, writer at The Lions In Winter and blog-crush of mine, said it best:
Me too, man. Me too.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Week 11 Itinerary

Alright, we're getting into the intense portion of the schedule for the Lions, but they need to take care of business this week versus Carolina before looking ahead to Green Bay on Thanksgiving. Last week was terribly painful, but it's in the rear-view mirror now and we have to live with the reality that the Lions are going to have to work their ass off to make the playoffs this year.

Amid all of the panic this week, there were some great reads in the Lions blogosphere. Here's a taste:

My Stuff:
I went kind of crazy this week, especially on this site.

Stuff Better Than Mine:
Moving Pictures Time!
You know when the description of a video is written in ALL CAPS that you're in for something special.
They must have used this video effect to hide their face from this atrocity.

Uh.........Do with this what you will. 
The bench-press in the room is a nice touch.

I'll take this kid over Terry Bradshaw any day. 
NFL pregame shows need more analysis interrupted by an unsuspecting tackler. 

Go Lions! (and Titans! and Chargers!)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stafford Infection: Pocket Presence

There are a million things I could talk about when breaking down Matthew Stafford's performance against the Bears on Sunday. I could go on about his broken finger, his gloves, his tendency to force throws (specifically to Calvin Johnson). I could ramble on about how his accuracy is continuing to decline, despite weather conditions. But this week, instead, I've decided to focus on his pocket presence, which is also a big problem facing Stafford's development.

I've mentioned this before, and even displayed an instance in which Stafford had improved this issue against the Broncos. However, against the Bears this problem, once again, appeared and it cost the Lions some great opportunities. Take a look.

The situation: Lions, down 20-3, 3rd and goal from the Bears' six yard line. About one second into the play, Stafford rolls to his right, where his primary target is. Here's the moment before he rolls to the right.
Stafford's inclination is to roll to the right, in order to make a shorter, easier throw, as Pettigrew (currently on the four yard line) is about to break open to the right. However, Stafford does not see that Julius Peppers is getting pushed to that side and about to break free. He also doesn't see that there will be a large gap in the center of the field for him to step into when Dominic Raiola helps out with Peppers. Rob Sims and Jeff Backus are both doing incredible jobs on their blocks and Stafford would've had plenty of time and space to hit Pettigrew or wait for another option. Instead he does this:
Sack, field goal. 20-6.

Scenario #2. The Lions are, once again, in the red zone, this time down 37-6, with the game out of hand. The play is basically a jump ball to Calvin. Here's what the play looks like at the point where Stafford is releasing the ball.
Stafford is backing and backing out of the pocket when there is plenty of room in front of him. I have several problems with this. First, if the wind was as really bad as everyone claimed it was, a jump ball to Calvin is not a good play, especially when double (or triple) covered like he was in this play. Secondly, by continually backing up, Stafford has eliminated any possibility of a backup plan. If he stepped into the pocket, Stafford would have afforded himself more time, and the possibility of a second read. Finally, instead of stepping into the pocket, Stafford throws off his back foot, causing an inaccurate throw. Now, a jump-ball doesn't necessarily require strong footwork, but on a day where you need all the accuracy you can get, throwing with your momentum going back is typically going to result in disaster.
Yep. Pass not even close to Calvin. No shot. Fourth pick of the day.

However, on this day, Stafford was actually okay with his pocket presence. For the most part, he stood in the pocket and only took two sacks on the day. The biggest issue was his accuracy. We can't be certain what the cause of that was. Lions claim it was the wind. Stafford's broken finger certainly seems like it caused some problems. Deny it all you want, but Stafford's accuracy has always been criticized and some of it could just be a talent issue. Whatever the problem is/was, Stafford's pocket presence isn't helping. Though for most of the game Stafford showed poise in the pocket, in two red zone opportunities, Stafford lacked composure and it cost the Lions, at least, seven points.  

Monday, November 14, 2011

Bears Afterthoughts

I've had plenty of time to digest yesterday's blowout loss to the Bears. In fact, I had a full four-hour drive home to mull over what went wrong, who's to blame and what it means for the rest of the season. I did not, however, come up with a way to cohesively write all my thoughts. So here they are in random order.

Block in the freakin' back. Most people saw Devin Hester get two long returns and directed their anger towards the punter and special teams coach for kicking to Hester. I have two problems with this: 1) it's incredibly hard to directionally kick. 2) Hester's touchdown return should never have happened. Not only was there a blatant block in back on the play, but that illegal block also sprung the touchdown. Let's play find the illegal block (it's not hard):
If you found the Bears player on the 35 yard line, congratulations! You are now eligible to be an NFL referee. Maybe you're not convinced, so here's a second view:

Pretty clear here, with the Bears player's arms fully extended in a pushing motion. This causes the Lions player's momentum to go much faster than he wanted, and allowed Hester to get to the outside:
The Lions player cannot slow himself enough to get more than a hand on Hester. The rest is easy for Hester.

The Offense. Well, there's the obvious: Turnovers. And the equally obvious: Matthew Stafford. But the problems run deeper than both. The Lions have score seven or less points in seven of 16 halves this season. This is no longer the offense not playing up to their potential. They're playing consistently inconsistent. Which, to me, means that they just aren't as good as we all believed they were. The turnovers are killer, but the Lions offense failed to rebound when given the opportunities. In their first four possessions of the second quarter, they totalled 13 plays (three three-and-outs) and 18 yards. This includes a drive that started in the red-zone. We've seen the offense stall this badly in the past and it won't be the last time we see it stall this season.

The Defense. Well, the defense didn't play bad, but they failed to make many plays to help the team win. They failed to hold the Bears to a field goal after the Lions' first fumble. They allowed a 3rd and 13 conversion that led the Bears to another field goal and an early 13-0 lead. They did recover a fumble, but that was pretty much handed to them. Everything that happened in the second half was pretty much meaningless as the Bears had pretty much packed it in. They defense played well enough to give the Lions a chance to win if the Lions offense was clicking, but didn't offer the game-changing plays like they did against Dallas.

The Wind. I don't buy it.

The Future. Well, if the playoffs started today, the Lions would still be in the playoffs. The race for the wild-card is basically a four team race: Lions (6-3), Bears (6-3), Cowboys (5-4) and Falcons (5-4). The Lions hold the tie-breaker against the Cowboys, the Falcons have it over the Lions, and the tie-breaker between the Bears and Lions is yet to be determined. The biggest hurdle for the Lions the rest of the way is the schedule. Take a look:

Record of Remaining Opponents
Lions: 36-26
Bears: 30-31
Falcons: 30-34
Cowboys: 27-36

The Lions are the only team in the hunt who has to play opponent's with an overall winning record. In order to clinch a playoff spot, the Lions are going to have to do something that they haven't really done all season: beat good teams.

Vegas, Football, and Family

I spent the weekend in Vegas with the family. It was an excellent trip. We ate well, we saw a fabulous show (side note: if you're a fan of The Beatles, stop what you're doing now, and go see Cirque de Soleil's "Love"  immediately) and spent valuable time with loved ones. 

It was this family that instilled this Lions fandom in me. Dating back to the Silverdome days, I spent my Sundays in Pontiac screaming and yelling with my parents at my side. Since then, I have moved to California and they migrated south to the Sunshine State. Our Lions experiences together has been limited to them reading this blog and occasional Skype conversations about the team. 

Until last year.

My parents generously came out to visit me for the opening weekend of the 2010 season. Together once again, we watched the Lions take on the Bears in Chicago. We watched, we yelled, we screamed. Then "The Process" happened and I melted down. I stormed out of my friends' house, leaving my parents alone with people they had met three hours ago. Eventually I came back, tail between legs, and drove my parents to the airport, mostly silent except for the occasional apology. I made an ass of myself and felt terrible about it for months.

Sunday, we watched our first game together since that day, looking to erase the memories of last year. This was the perfect opportunity: again, it was against the Bears, in Chicago. But this time, we had a secret weapon: we were in the city of eternal luck, in a very impressive watching room at the Stratosphere, and we were sporting a 6-2 team who had already beaten the Bears once this season. We were all riding the intoxicating high of Vegas and even placed money on the Lions to make the experience complete. When the Saints/Falcons game went long and the television operators scrambled to find the Lions game, I sensed an impending Doom. When the game finally appeared on the screen in front of us, just in time to watch Nate Burleson commit the Lions' second turnover of the quarter, the Doom was confirmed. 

But we stuck through it. We had been through this before with the Cowboys and Vikings. By the end of the first half, we had the feeling that a comeback was more than possible. After the Bears started the second half with a three-and-out, I foolishly turned to my father and uttered, "Couldn't have been a better start to the second half." 

The universe responded two plays later with the first of two Matthew Stafford pick-sixes. After the second, I stormed out of the room in an all-too-familiar fashion, leaving my jacket, obsolete bets and dignity at the table where my dad now sat alone. The next 10-20 minutes were spent pacing the casino floor like a mad-man. I wouldn't be surprised if I drew the attention of security, as it must have looked like I was planning to commit awful crimes to the dealer wearing a Matt Forte jersey. After contemplating throwing all my money away on a single blackjack hand, I collected myself, sat at the bar and ordered an eight dollar rum and coke.

Minutes later, my father joined my side. We silently shared a drink as our Lions were mauled on a distant television. Slowly, the rest of my family joined my side and we chatted solemnly about anything other than football. In the distance, the world was burning to the ground, but we wouldn't let the moment ruin another cross-country trip. And while we may have lost some money and pride that afternoon, that moment we shared at the bar was eternally priceless.

Actual analysis coming later today...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sports Movies Are Terrible

It should be quite apparent that I'm a pretty huge sports fan. My fall weekends are filled with football first and life second. My homepage is Yahoo! Sports. I use the majority of my coat hangers on jerseys. It would seem to follow naturally that my favorite genre of film would be sports movies. Nothing could be further from the truth. I hate almost all sports movies and don't understand why any real sports fans waste their times with them.

Before I get into it, there are a couple of exceptions to my sports movie ire. First, kids sports movies are awesome. The Sandlot and The Might Ducks movies are classics and should be seen by every sports fan ever. As a kid, these movies help develop our interest in sports. They're inspiring, funny, and entertaining. They have many of the same faults I will be listing later on, but they are given a pass because as a child, our passion for real sports is not as developed as it is as an adult. When you're seven years old, your emotional attachment to a fictional sports team can be stronger than your attachment to your hometown team. This is because the fake team is filled with kids your age and with awesome characters like Benny Rodriguez and Charlie Conway. As a kid, professional sports and theatrical sports are both a distant reality. The use of children in movies allows the movie to be more accessible as youngsters and make enjoyment of these movies perfectly acceptable.

Also, there are sports documentaries. These rule. I have a lot of gripes with ESPN, but their "ESPN Films" series is second to none. Documentaries are supplements to professional sports, not an alternate means of entertainment. They provide additional, behind-the-scenes looks rather than try to falsely imitate sports. TV and movie theaters need more of that. What they don't need more of, however, is all other types of sports movies. They are a waste of time and an insult to the actual sports themselves.

A major reason sports movies almost always fail to live up to their real counterparts is their inability to make me truly care about the "good" team. Hollywood typically tries to get you on the side of the home team by using the underdog narrative. Maybe it's a set of underachieving athletes who were never given a fair chance (The Replacements) or an aging competitor who is looking to prove to the youngsters that he still has it (Rocky Balboa). Typically the only reason I'm given not to cheer for the opposite team is their players look mean, are from a scary far-away place (Iceland, Russia, etc.), and are dressed in dark jerseys. This is not all of Hollywood's fault. They only have 60 minutes to convince you which team is worth rooting for. Reality gives you a lifetime.*

Just consider the storyline of the Detroit Lions. The first act is the 1950s: the successful years. Championships were had, quarterbacks were making Pro Bowls, life was good. However, the second act was filled with terrible, terrible tragedy. For fifty years, the Lions were down on their luck, stuck in a seemingly endless spiral downwards, finally hitting rock bottom in 2008. And there are a multitude of stories like this around the sports universe. You've got the Chicago Cubs, Buffalo Bills, and the entire city of Cleveland. But, unlike movies, you're never quite sure when that third act will kick in; when your team will turn the corner and triumph against all odds. Hell, you're actually never guaranteed to reach that point. But when it happens, it's impossible not to get sucked in by the moment. Even if they weren't your team, it was hard not to root for the New Orleans Saints when they won the Super Bowl in 2009 or when the Florida Marlins took down the Yankees in 2003. Heck, even when the women's US soccer team loss to the Japanese national team months after the tsunami, I couldn't help but be a little happy for Japan.

But sports can just as effectively create villains as well; whether it is the superhero who turned his back on a city or an evil empire led by a hooded monster. Perhaps the best part about sports' ability to create storylines is that it's all subjective. You aren't forced to root for one team. Reality is much less black and white and much more gray. One person, one team, can be the most heinous villain or most honorable hero. Exhibit A:

Reality does a great job creating storylines and their resolutions can happen spontaneously, which brings me to my next point...

Suspense in sports movies doesn't even come close to the real thrill of sports. Chuck Klosterman wrote a very interesting article over at Grantland explaining why he thinks DVRing a sporting event pretty much ruins the viewing experience. One of his better points is that watching after the actual event takes place removes the user from the actual experience. Klosterman explains:
The same thing happens with sports. If you watch a game in person, you're forced to connect with it emotionally (even if you don't want to be there). If you watch it live on television, the network airing the game tries to compensate for your physical distance by maximizing the pertinent details — they shoot the game from the best possible vantage point, they show replays from different perspectives, and they hire announcers to contextualize what you're already seeing. But here's what the networks can't do: They can't make you forget what time it is. They can't trick you into believing that this game is still happening. They can't make you forget that the outcome of the game has been established and that what you're now seeing has been scripted by the rotation of the earth. You know this, and you can't unlearn it.
Obviously, this point goes double for a sports movie. Not only is the game you are watching in a movie already "over", but its entire creation was scripted by a screenwriter. No matter how hard you try, this is an unavoidable truth and has a devastating affect on a movie's ability to create "real" drama. I may not exactly know the outcome of a sports movie, but I'm fairly certain there will be some sort of resolution at the end. And while that doesn't always mean the good team will prevail, it usually means that the good team will succeed in something. Watching a live sporting event, you are not guaranteed that comfort, and that experience alone is exhilarating. Every single game is an adventure where the conclusion is not foregone. This creates an event that is compelling at every turn, knowing that any outcome is a possibility, but also makes a win more satisfying, knowing that success is never guaranteed and always fleeting.

However, there is a genre of sports movies that doesn't really focus on the thrill of the game but rather the moments they exemplify. These are highly regarded as the "best" sports movies. These are your Remember the Titans, The Blind Side, and Bull Durham type of movies. I'm not going to argue that these movies are terrible, rather that they aren't really sports movies.** Sports are just a backdrop to a larger story. Remember the Titans is about racial equality, The Wrestler is about a man trying to find his way in life after the world he knows has been taken from him. These movies are as much about sports as Citizen Kane is about sledding or Taxi Driver is about driving an actual taxi.

This isn't to say you shouldn't enjoy any of these movies, they just aren't for me. Many of these movies aren't even targeted to the devoted sports fan, but rather a more general, broader audience who are likely casual sports fans or not even sports fans at all (see: The Blind Side). Still, every now and then I hear the die-hards debating their favorite silver screen adaptation of the athletic arts. I can never see myself jumping into that argument. I'll take any given Sunday over Any Given Sunday.

*This goes back to my point about children. They have yet to experience the entire history of an organization. They've yet to feel the sting of a terrible loss or the indescribable euphoria of an amazing comeback. They've yet to develop a true emotional attachment to their team. As you get older, you go through more of these emotional events, creating a tighter and tighter bond with the team. 

**This point can also be used for comedic sports movies. Again, sports act as only the background to what makes these movies great. Caddyshack isn't great because it makes golf exciting, it's because Rodney Dangerfield is a genius. One of my favorite comedies of all time, Slap Shot, is great because of it's edginess. In fact, much of the comedy comes from how dull the actual sports action is. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bears Game Has HUGE Playoff Implications

It's always a big game when the Lions travel to Chicago: playing a divisional rival on the road is never an easy game, but the implications are typically large. However, this year is special. The Lions find themselves in the middle of the playoff race and this game can give them a fairly large lead in the wild card race, or can drop them all the way out of a spot. Check out the scenarios:

If the Lions lose: 
With a Lions loss, they drop to 6-3, while the Bears jump up to the same record. The first tie-breaker is head-to-head, which is null as both teams would have won a game against each other. The next tie-breaker is conference record [note: actually, upon review, Divisional record is the next tie-breaker. If the Bears win, the teams' divisional records would be Lions: 2-1, Bears 2-2 (but the Bears have already faced the Packers once), the next tie-breaker would be record between common games]. The Lions would be 4-3 in the NFC, while the Bears would be 6-3. The Bears remaining NFC games are against the Packers, Seahawks and Vikings. Which means, they're likely to finish with an 8-4 record against the NFC. That would mean the Lions could only afford to lose one game against their remaining NFC opponents (Packers twice, Panthers, Saints, Vikings) to earn the tiebreaker over the Bears. The easiest scenario to get into the playoffs would be to simply overtake the Falcons or Bears in overall record.

Here's what the wild card race would look like (remember, the top two teams make the playoffs):

1. Bears (6-3)
2. Lions (6-3)
3. Falcons (6-3 or 5-4)  - vs. Saints next week
4. Cowboys (5-4 or 4-5) - vs. Bills
5. Buccaneers (5-4 or 4-5) - vs. Texans

If the Falcons win against the Saints, they would jump the Lions as they have the head-to-head tiebreaker, and the Lions would no longer control their own destiny. The Cowboys and Bucs could inch closer, but the Lions have the tie-breaker on both of those teams, so they'd still be a couple games back. Playoffs would still certainly be in reach, but they'd have to pull out some big games to keep either the Bears or Falcons at bay.

If the Lions win:
Oh man, the possibilities if we win. With the Eagles losing on Monday night, there isn't a clear threat in the NFC East to catch the Lions. The NFC West is terrible so the 49ers will win the division and aren't a wild card threat. The only real remaining threat would be the Falcons and Bucs in the NFC South and the Bears. It may be tough to stay above the Falcons, since they have the tie-breaker, but the Lions have the tie-breaker against the Bucs. Since there are two wild card spots, things would be looking awfully good.

1. Lions (7-2)
2. Falcons (6-3 or 5-4)
3. Bears (5-4)
4. Cowboys (5-4 or 4-5)
5. Bucs (5-4 or 4-5)
6. Eagles/Redskins (4-5 or 3-6)

So if you look closely, the Lions would have a three-game cushion over every wild card contender outside of the Falcons. They would hold the tie-breaker over the Bears, Cowboys and Bucs, so even if all three teams are 5-4 (only two games back), the Lions would actually be three games ahead with the tie-breaker. The remaining threats (Eagles and Redskins) will still be three games back, even if they win next week. There is no head-to-head tie-breaker decided between them and the Lions as they do not play each other this season.

So there's a huge difference here. Either the Lions are potentially on the outside looking in, or sitting pretty with a three-game lead for a playoff spot with seven games left in the season. The Lions must come out on Sunday with a sense of urgency, because this game will have a huge affect on the remainder of the season.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Week 9 Itinerary: Bye Week

The Lions are on a bye this week, sitting pretty with a 6-2 record. There were some great reads this week as many sports writers took the opportunity to look back at what the Lions have accomplished so far and look forward to see what we can expect in the second half of the season. Here's the best of the week:

My Stuff:

I did a double-dose of film breakdown this week. First, here at Detroit OnLion I broke down Matthew Stafford's footwork*. And over at Pride of Detroit, I dove into the mind of Gunther Cunningham and saw that he called a game that showed no respect towards Tim Tebow, and it worked brilliantly.

Stuff Better Than Mine:

Ty did a great breakdown of Pro Football Focus' data on the Lions at the halfway point, and makes some bold statements about what we can expect from the second half of the season.

SideLion Report breaks down the remaining games of the schedule and sees a possibility of 12 wins?

Over at The Wayne Fontes Experience, Al breaks down everything that is wrong with sports talk radio. Honestly, I still listen, but only because it makes me feel smarter.

The great NFC North blogger for ESPN, Kevin Seifert, breaks down the Lions accomplishments thus far and looks ahead to the last eight weeks of the season. Great stats and analysis.

Moving Pictures Time!
This week's theme: "bye":

Honestly, I wouldn't click that if I were you.

I want a freakin' husky soooo bad. Seriously. It's like owning a talking wolf.

This one is for my mother, who just celebrated a birthday. I won't reveal her age, but it's a big one in between 59 and 61. May your taste in music always be that of a 16 year old.

Every week, I think I find the best youtube video out there. This week is no exception.

Go Colts, Bucs, Patriots, Chargers, and Eagles.

*Side note: I'd really like to thank Ty at The Lions in Winter for making that post one of MLive's best of the day. I strongly value his endorsement as he churns out the best Lions stuff on the web.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Stafford Infection: Footwork

I've decided to create a new weekly feature surrounding my obsession with Matthew Stafford. In the past three months I've gone from believing he was the new messiah to thinking his accuracy issues may be for real to convinced that his struggles were merely a bump in the road for an emerging elite quarterback.

This week, I want to focus on what I belieive is the problem with Stafford's "accuracy issues": his footwork. In the past couple weeks, Stafford's accuracy has been down and he's been taking more sacks. I hypothesized that the two were obviously related and the pressure was causing Stafford to throw off his back foot more often, causing more inaccuracies. This week, I went over tape from the Broncos game to see if these problems emerged.

It only took the first offensive play of the game for me to get worried. Take a look (click to big-ify):
Clearly Stafford's posture is putting the pressure on his back foot, even though he has room to step into this throw. Now Stafford has a talented enough arm for this pass to still have heat behind it and he actually completes it for nine yards, but he is relying on skills he shouldn't have to on throws like this.

Another example came on a quick throw to Burleson:
In Stafford's defense, plays designed to throw this quickly often don't allow time for the quarterback to get completely set, but Stafford is still lazy with his footwork on this play and, this time, the pass suffers:

Instead, Stafford needs to, at the very least, throw this flat-footed, rather than falling backwards. This play is all about timing and the throw needs to be on the money for it to be a success. Therefore, it's inexcusable for Stafford to be lazy with his footwork.

However, it wasn't all bad news for Stafford's feet on this day. Obviously, something went right: the man had the highest QBR of all week eight quarterbacks, the highest passer rating of the week and ranked third in Football Outsider's DYAR this week. He had an excellent game. And there were some moments where his feet helped him on plays.

Many will point to Stafford's 21 yard run, but I was actually more impressed with a "sack" he took on third down. Yes, you read that correctly. I was happy with Stafford's footwork on a third-down sack. Let me set up the scenario for you: the Lions are 3rd and 9, up 7-3 at midfield. The Broncos are only rushing three and dropping eight into coverage. But only seconds into the play, Stafford (rightfully) sees trouble:
As you can see, none of the receivers have had the time for their routes to develop, but take a look at Gosder Cherilus and the defensive lineman on the near side of the line. The defensive end has cut inwards and is barreling in on Stafford. At this moment, Stafford correctly escapes the pocket towards us and extends the play. His eyes never leave the his receivers and he waits and waits for something to develop. Upon replay, I was not happy...


There are two problems with my initial thoughts on the play. First, Stafford, at this point, is already scrambling to his right, which means this pass would be against his body, which is a terrible decision 99% of the time. Secondly, you can't tell from this angle, but there is a pesky Bronco linebacker just off-screen. I've used unbelievably expensive technology to digitally input the linebacker in the following screenshot:
Now, astute viewers may look at Nate Burleson standing at the 44 wide open, but astuter-er viewers notice the Broncos coming down on him hard. Stafford correctly escaped the pocket and correctly held onto the ball as long as possible waiting for something to emerge. When nothing did, he correctly ran out-of-bounds taking a harmless two yard loss. The failure on this play was completely on Cherilus and Stafford did a great job making sure that the damage was minimal. 

Finally, I wanted to give Stafford props for correcting something I was critical of in the past: his impatience in the pocket. In the past two games, Stafford had been leaving the pocket before it was necessary and he was running himself into sacks and breaking down a play before necessary. On the Lions biggest play* against Denver, Stafford displayed his ability to be as patient as any quarterback.

The play I speak of, of course, is the 41-yard bomb to Titus Young. Take a look:
First, notice his posture. Despite two Broncos in his face, Stafford is shifting his momentum to his front foot and is not falling backwards. This is one of the toughest things for a quarterback to do in the face of pressure. When two 300 pound men are heading towards you, the natural tendency of the body is to do whatever you can to get the hell away from that situation. Stafford ignores that inclination, sets his feet, and drops an accurate throw to a wide-open Young.

Also impressive on this play was Stafford's progression on reads, something I have also been critical of in the past. Stafford looks for, at least, two other receivers before his progression leads him to Young on the play. Many quarterbacks would have panicked once their first two reads were covered, but Stafford stayed strong in the pocket (give credit to the offensive line for keeping Stafford clean for as long as he did) and delivered a great ball to Young for an easy touchdown.

So what do I take from the game? Well, not a whole lot. Every single quarterback that has faced the Broncos this year has put up a passer rating better than their season averages. Though Stafford made some easy throws tougher than he needed to, he mostly ended up making the throws. And while that's great, I'd still like to see him improve on his footwork for when he's facing much better defenses than the Broncos.

*technically second biggest to Calvin's TD, but this play was "bigger" in the sense that it was more important at the time.