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.

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