Thursday, December 29, 2011

Stafford Infection: Chargers

Accuracy
Grade: A+
Stafford was absoutely on fire with his accuracy on Saturday. Over at Pride Of Detroit, I focused on just how good he was with his touch, his velocity and throwing a tight spiral. For more on his accuracy, take a look at that breakdown.

Pocket Presence 
Grade: A
Perhaps just as impressive as his accuracy was Stafford's awareness in the backfield. Despite taking three sacks (two of which had completely unblocked rushers), Stafford did a great job locating the pressure (or lack thereof) and properly adjusting.

His most impressive display of pocket pressure came on a 3rd and 19 early in the game.
At this point, it looks like the pocket is collapsing quick. There is a pass-rusher free to Stafford's left, a defensive tackle who has penetrated deep in the middle, and maybe a little room to Stafford's right. However,  it looks like Stafford will need to make a decision and make one fast.

Stafford wisely sees it's time to get a move-on. He notices that Gosder Cherilus was unable to keep outside contain, so he finds a lane up the middle. But notice his eyes; they are always moving forward. And this is what makes Stafford so endearing. Many quarterbacks would be fine with a 3-5 yard scramble, putting their team in field-goal position. But Stafford wants a first down. He finds a wide open Nate Burleson, and makes an impressive toss on the run.
The Lions would punch it in from there on the very next play. The difference between 13-0 and 17-0 is pretty significant this early in the game.

But Stafford also showed poise when pressure wasn't coming. On another key third down (this time with only one to go) Stafford showed a great amount of patience and it eventually paid off for 16 yards and a first down.
The play begins with a pump-fake to Burleson and now Stafford is looking at his primary option. It isn't there and it looks like Stafford is about to panic.
Stafford begins to do his typical "skip backwards and throw off your backfoot" thing. In the past, this has resulted in an inaccurate throw or even the occasional interception. But Stafford uses his peripheral vision to see he has more time. (P.S. illegal hands to the face, anyone?)
Here, Stafford has his feet set, realizes he has time and just waits for someone to break open. He doesn't exactly step into the throw (though he could've and probably should've), but he isn't forced to throw off his back foot, either:

Stafford splits two defenders effortlessly, ho-hum. Another key first down play that would eventually lead to another touchdown and a 24-0 lead before the half. 

Decision Making/Vision
Grade A+
Stafford seemingly found the open receiver on every play of this game. I thought one of his most impressive displays of proper vision was on his short pass to Kevin Smith for his second touchdown of the game.
After the run fake, this is what Stafford sees. Anyone open? Maybe Titus Young at the top of the screen, but Young actually cuts his route over the middle short and tries to find open space elsewhere. Calvin is doubled a the bottom of the screen and Nate is bracketed by two defenders himself. So what does Stafford do?
He patiently waits for his check-down option: Kevin Smith. After the play-action, Smith stayed in the backfield to block any additional rushers. After seeing the line was doing an adequate job, Smith properly released down field into his route. From here, its an easy toss and catch for a touchdown.

This play was just a microcosm of the entire game. Stafford waiting patiently in the pocket and taking the underneath routes that the defense gave them. If you're interested in more examples of this, Sports Illustrated did an excellent job breaking down Stafford and how he used Calvin Johnson as a decoy for most of the day. I highly recommend it.

Overall, Stafford's day was magnificent. And given what was on the line, this game may have been Stafford's greatest day as a Detroit Lions (yes, better than the Cleveland game). He may not be a Pro Bowl quarterback this year, but he will get his first taste of the postseason, and from there, the honors get much more impressive than "Pro Bowler".

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Tuft Of Grass Through The Concrete

This was my sister's gift to me for Christmas:
A couple things about my sister. She and I are not too similar. To begin with, she has the skill, patience and creativeness to make something as awesome as this. If I were to try and make something like this, I'd likely quit after failing to thread the needle, smash the picture frame, and helplessly cry for an hour. But one of the biggest differences between my sister and I is that, despite being dragged to the Silverdome countless times, she managed to escape our family without Lions Blood coursing through her veins. So when she made this for me, I'm sure her thought was that this was a cool quote from my favorite comedian of all time (and she's absolutely correct). But, of course, upon opening this the morning after the Lions clinched their first playoff spot in over a decade, my mind immediately went to football.

The past ten years, we had all been trapped in concrete. The pain and suffering from the Mi**en era had left us immobile and in a dark, dark place. As a fanbase we came up with curses to ease the pain, and eventually we just embraced our fate. We were the Detroit Lions and we would always be stuck here. No beacon of light, no seedling ready to sprout., no chance. Regardless, we stuck around. What choice did we have? This was who we were and any effort to change that felt unnatural and dishonest. 

So we embraced the tar-like darkness. We hoped one day we would witness a fracture in the concrete, but at the same time, felt it would never come. We saw the franchise try to plant seeds. One by one, they all shriveled without even the hint of sprouting. Every time our optimism was met with disappointment, we seemed to sink deeper into the concrete.

But then we planted this seed. It was risky. Many (including myself) thought it was too early and the conditions weren't right for this seedling to grow into anything meaningful. "Let's make sure we have the perfect conditions before we go buying and planting a seed like this," they'd say. And for the first couple years, those people seemed correct. That seed went through Hell. It was bruised, battered and left for dead. We all felt that all-too-familiar feeling as we sank deeper into the smothering tar. 

But through the carnage we saw a resilient seed. We saw it hang around, despite being badly deformed in Cleveland. We saw it stick-it-through despite its fruitful season being cut short twice. We saw it survive one of the longest droughts we've ever witnessed. And throughout this seed's maturing process, we failed to notice that several other seeds had been planted and had started to crack the foundation of our blackened tomb. 

Then last year, we saw the first signs of vegetation. The Lions had won in four straight weeks and the tiniest of sprouts peeked through the crumbling concrete. Some doubted the potential of the sprout, thinking the sapling was still years away from becoming anything useful. But some noticed that this sprout had grown not from this risky Stafford seed, but from his supporting cast. If this Stafford seed could finally bloom into some vegetation, we may finally be freed from this prison.

And that's exactly what happened. A year later, there is no concrete, there is no smothering tar. The Stafford seed hasn't grown into a potential-filled blade of grass. He's a freakin' Redwood. He's a hero. 

And his heroism has freed us from the past. No longer is the future some inconceivable notion beyond the darkness. The path to glory is not only visible but attainable. The sky has always been the limit, but now we can finally see the sky through the evaporated darkness; now we're reaching for it. 

And as fans, we deserve a lot of credit. While seeds of the past have come and gone, we have had the displeasure of staying here, stuck in neutral. Some of the older seeds have survived seemingly endless droughts, but none compare to what we've endured. We have weathered the toughest storms known to man. We stuck through it when hope had endlessly been given and taken from us. And throughout the fruitless years, our devotion was tested, but it never wavered. It was that devotion that ultimately drove the seeds to finally bear fruit. And for that, we're all fuckin' heroic. Now let's keep growing towards the sky.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Playoff/10 win/drought-ending/record-breaking Champagne!



This time, I will be celebrating with actual champagne. Enjoy the holidays, everyone. See you in a strange, mystical world on Monday.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Site Update: No Stafford Infection This Week

I am on vacation in Florida right now with family, so there will be no Stafford Infection post this week. Good news, I broke down Stafford's play on the final drive over at Pride of Detroit, if you're itching for film review. Sorry for the inconvenience. I will be home next week and you can expect a full week of posts then.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Hitchhiker's Guide To Surviving The Black Hole

It started in April. For most football fans, the day of the schedule release is fun little mid-Spring day of football news. For displaced fans, it’s an event. A group of former Michigander friends and I have made a pledge to go to at least one NFL game per year (with a Lions game as a priority). In 2009, we made the trek to San Francisco. Last year, with no Lions games on the west coast, we traveled to San Diego to watch the Chargers take on the Patriots.  I was lucky enough to be in Florida during the Lions’ two road games in the Sunshine State last year and was able to watch the Lions break their road losing streak in Tampa Bay and then follow it up with a win in Miami.

This year, we already knew the Lions would be playing in Oakland, the question was when? Finally, the schedule was posted, and we saw the day of our planned game: December 18th, 2011: the week before Christmas. This was troubling, at first. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to take enough time off of work to go to the game and also visit my family. But it didn’t matter, we’d make it work.

It only took a couple days for my friend to secure tickets on the secondary market. It was eight months before the game would be played, and we already had our seats. In fact, we were in the midst of a lockout, so there was no guarantee that the tickets we owned were to a game that would even be played. My friends and I had joked about getting tickets in the infamous Black Hole section of the stadium, but I never took the conversation seriously. So when the tickets were procured, I curiously asked where we would be sitting.

“What do you mean, ‘where are we sitting’? The Black Hole, that’s what we agreed on.”

“Uh…seriously?”

“Of course.”

The next six months were filled with debate. Should we wear our jerseys? Are we going to resell these tickets for something safer? I asked Lions friends. I asked Oakland fans. I googled.  I twittered. Most advice was telling me to lock it down, it wasn’t worth it. But none of us wanted to do that. I kept searching. Kept waiting to for the answer that I really wanted to hear. I never got it. Didn’t matter, we had all decided we were headed to Oakland unabashedly sporting our Honolulu blue attire.

When the lockout finally ended, we were relieved that the trip was on. When the season was five weeks old, we were ecstatic. Not only were we in for a road-trip for the ages, but we had tickets to a matchup between two possibly elite teams. As the date crept closer, the two teams cooled off a bit, but it was apparent this would still be an important game for both teams. Before I knew it, it was Oakland week.

The sugar plum fairies visited me a week early. It was the night before the game and thoughts were break-dancing in my head. My excitement was always cut off by worst-case scenarios I morbidly created in my head. I had spent the entire week joking online of my impending death, but behind my sarcastic fa├žade was a real fear. I began to question this whole decision. Why would I risk my well-being, and even potentially my life, just to wear a piece of clothing? I fought off these fears by reminding myself that I am a decent human being, and a good away fan. I should be focusing on the game itself, which would be the most important game in nearly a decade for the Lions. I closed my eyes and drifted to sleep without ever settling the internal debate.
Six AM. Time to hit the road. My friends and I had a six-hour drive ahead of us from Los Angeles to Oakland, and the last thing we wanted to do was spend 12 hours in a car and miss any part of the game. I found comfort in the company of three other devoted fans. We were on our way to an unforgettable day, no matter what happened.

I'm the idiot not keeping his eyes on the road
We arrived in the city of Oakland around 11:45 local time; over an hour before kickoff. Suddenly, the fear crept up again. We had been stuck in traffic for nearly twenty minutes and I had yet to see a single Lions jersey. We weren’t just going to be the only people dumb enough to wear jerseys at the game, we were going to be in the most dangerous part of the stadium while doing it.

We eventually found our way into parking lot outside of the stadium. As my friends slowly exited the car, I urged my compatriots to hurry up, as I didn’t want anyone to spot my car and do anything to it while we were at the game. After looking at me like I was joking, they hurried up and we started towards the stadium. The lot we had parked in was well outside the venue and in order to get to the stadium, we would have to go through all of the tailgating parking lot.


It didn’t take long to garner attention. One Raider fan would spot us, either boo us or yell “RAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIDERSS” and everyone within a 50 yard radius would turn and join in the heckling. When we finally arrived at the tailgating section, we experienced something that one of my friends likened to walking through a haunted house. Scary masked men were jumping out in front of us in a fairly threatening manner, but never touched us. 

The setup forced us to walk a narrow strip of concrete with tailgaters surrounding us on both sides. We walked in 2X2 formation, cleverly thinking this would be the safest way to protect each other. Curses, boos and "RAAIIIIIDERSSSS" chants showered down upon us. It was like walking the red carpet in Hell. Fans got up in our face, verbally threatened us, and threw discarded poultry at us. As you can see in the video below (NSFW language), my friend took it with ease, welcoming it. I decided to pull out the phone in case any video evidence would be needed. You may notice that I rarely pan to the left or right. This is mostly due to paralyzing fear. But we made it to the gate, gathered ourselves and decided there was something enjoyable about what had just transpired. But it didn’t make me feel any better about our experience ahead.

video
Don't be fooled by my cheery commentary. I was scared.

As we went through security, I thought about slipping the guards a twenty, urging them to be extra thorough today. I decided against it, and we were off to our seats. When we arrived, about an hour before kickoff, the Black Hole was only about 10% full. The section itself was around 22 rows deep before an elevated part of the section began. We were row 19. Only the first four or five rows were occupied at this point; the die-hards. Fortunately, those fans focused completely on what was in front of them. The few people around our row were sure to give us deathly stares and occasionally comment on the girth of our testicles.

The Oscar the Grouch hat was clearly foreshadowing
For the next forty minutes or so, I buried my head in my phone, distracting myself from fears with twitter and facebook. My friend from San Francisco called me minutes before kickoff and pleaded for me to change my mind. It was too late, I said, we had already committed ourselves to the Lions Pride and there was no going back.

Before I knew it, the national anthem was going and our section had filled up. We had lucked out. The majority of people around us were middle-aged men and women who apparently had left their face-paint and pointy shoulder pads at home. I casually struck up conversation with a lady Raiders fan who shared my love in attending away game. A couple of fans went up to us and covertly displayed the Lions gear they were smuggling under their black sweatshirts. My fears were gone, it was game time.


In the weeks before the game, I questioned how audible I would be during the game. Do I try and represent Detroit hard or should I act subdued and stay silent to assure my own safety? When the game was underway, my instincts kicked in and I couldn’t stop myself. I couldn’t hold back my excitement if my entire entourage had physically restrained me. When I first let an outburst go, I’m sure the look on my face was pure horror at my own actions. But nothing happened. So I did it again. And again. Soon I felt as comfortable as if I was standing in Ford Field. Sure there were people staring, and the occasional profanity directed towards me (19 in total, in fact), but the fear of violence never crept up again.

Then the Lions started losing. Since we had all drawn plenty of attention with our jubilation, we got triple the attention when the Raiders did well. Sarcastic offers for high-fives, people seeing my displeasure and asking if I was going to cry, etc. For those of you who have been to an away game, you know this is all common practice. But when Stafford fumbled the ball away, the only thing I could do is stare ahead emotionless.

I have a psychological ritual after every Lions loss. I scour my brain for pivotal plays in the game and inevitably wonder what would’ve happened had they gone the other way. What if the Lions had picked up four-and-inches? What if Avril had sacked Palmer legally? What if Lions receivers had decided pregame that dropping the ball was a bad thing?

Then the Lions started their comeback. When the Lions were fourth and two deep in Raiders territory, the Raiders called a timeout. I watched the Lions sideline during the timeout to see what they were talking about. I noticed something strange. Stafford was just hanging out with the receivers, but the coaches and offensive line were gathered up and talking emphatically about something. I’m not sure why, but this felt like something…significant. I went to twitter to share this piece of information, but the internet tubes were clogged up. “They couldn’t think about running on this play, could they?” I thought to myself. When the Lions went empty backfield, I nearly said out loud “quarterback draw?” but thought better of it when I pondered how dumb that sounded. One quarterback draw later, the Lions were in position to score. Not sure why I mentioned this, but it was a cool at-game observation and I like to humble-brag. 

Next play, touchdown. Then the Lions catch a lucky break with the Palmer overthrow. Could this really be happening AGAIN this season? But doubt quickly set in again. The Raiders’ unbelievable special teams managed to pin the Lions on their own two. “This could be Stafford’s defining moment. You know…since the Cleveland game. 98 yards, two minutes.” I uttered with little, to no confidence. First play, drop. Second play, overthrow. I return to my ritual. “Why not quarterback sneak when you literally need ONE inch? When is Titus Young going to stop looking like a first-week rookie?” I blindly stared ahead of me, almost missing the next few plays. Then Stafford hit Calvin deep. I immediately had flashbacks to the game I had attended at Tampa nearly exactly a year ago. A game in which Calvin Johnson absolutely dominated the fourth quarter and overtime. It was at that moment, I knew we would take the lead. Giddy and frightened at the same time, I pleaded the Lions to milk the rest of the clock, but to no avail.

Who enjoyed the Megatron's first TD? My friend, Marvin, that's who.
If you look closely, you can also see me doing my best Stone Cold Steve Austin impression
The Lions scored, but gave the Raiders 40 seconds and two timeouts to kick a game-winning field goal. But it was at this moment that my mind started to drift away from the game. I started to realize that in about five minutes everyone around me was going to either be extremely pissed or unbelievably happy and wanting to rub it in my face. I debated which outcome was less horrible as Palmer drew the Raiders closer and closer to Sebastian Janikowski’s seemingly endless field goal range.
Seconds before Avril crushed Palmer and we exploded with joy.
As the Raiders lined up to try their potentially record (and heart) breaking field goal, I took solace in the fact that neither team had a timeout and I would no longer have to stress over my fate. The next ten seconds would decide everything.

No good. Not even close.

Our immediate reaction was: “Let’s get the hell out of here!” Actually. No. Scratch that. Our immediate reaction was “ohmygod ohmygod, hell yeah, winning season, winning season, playoffs! I love you guys! Now let’s get the hell out of here!” But then we remembered the parking lot incident and decided the safest place was in our seats with security all around. We made sure that our friend, who had the unfortunate luck of having the aisle seat (Sorry, Frank. You’re a trooper), had moved into the middle of the aisle, away from the livid fans. As the metal-suited hordes passed us, most did not even make eye-contact. They were (reasonably) too emotionally drained to make any heckling effort. A few told us we’d get our [butts] kicked in the playoffs, but we ignored them.

Gratuitous scoreboard picture? Gratuitous scoreboard picture.
Slowly, more Lions fans trickled down into the Black Hole. We high-fived, we hugged, we shared stories. One man had been treated to a Bud Light shower; another had been constantly scolded by a relentless fan next to him. We managed to escape with only a few churro crumbs and a dash of buffalo sauce on our jerseys. When we decided it was safe to go, we started heading for the exits. Before stepping out of the stadium a fellow fan offered some very helpful advice, “It’s okay to wear a smile, but make it subtle and sympathetic.”

As we walked towards our cars, we drew little ire from the down-and-tired fan base. One fan jokingly tried to run us over and another one expressed interest in courting my mother’s behind, but other than that, it was an uneventful trip back.

Post-game there was a huge line at the port-o-potties. Presumably for all of the vomiting. 
After traveling a safe distance away from Oakland, we decided to find a local sports bar to celebrate the win and our survival. A few Raiders fans were drowning their sorrows at the bar, and we did our best not to interfere. Another lady Raiders fan approached us, sat and chatted. She had shattered her cell phone during the game today, but was really cool about everything, and after we had downed our winning-season beers, she actually wanted a picture with us (much to the dismay of the other Raiders fans in attendance).

Yes, I got her number.
On the ride home, I had a friend take the wheel so I could catch up on sleep, knowing that I’d have to be awake again within five hours of getting home (I’m writing this on a plane right now). I never did end up falling asleep. Still trying to process the entire day, I decided to celebrate with all of my Lions e-friends. I checked in with Pride of Detroit, I caught up with my flooded twitter timeline, assured my family I was okay, and imagined how fun the Fireside Chat must have been that night. I snapped back to reality for a second to realize I hadn’t stopped smiling since the end of the game. As we pulled up to my driveway, my friend was aptly playing Ice Cube’s “It Was A Good Day.” Indeed, Cube. Today I didn’t even have to use my AK, I gotta say it was a good day.

More pictures:
Offense, pre-heroism.

Not a lot of blue around.

Except this guy, a luchador Lion fan. He also had awesome Lions gloves.
I had no idea Jeff Bridges' twin brother was a Lions fan.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I SURVIVED THE BLACK HOLE CHAMPAGNE

I'm alive. It's 1 AM. I just got home from spending 12 hours in a car today. I have to leave for LAX in four hours. Oh, I also just spent the afternoon watching the Lions mount a 13-point, fourth-quarter comeback from the middle of the Black Hole. Never too late for some champagne!


More tomorrow (actually, later today, I suppose).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

GIVEAWAY! REMOTES! FUN TIMES!

If you're familiar with most of the Detroit Lions Blogosphere, you've probably seen a couple sites give away a Detroit Lions themed DirecTV remote. I, myself, have tried to get my grubby little hands on one of those things. Well, fate has turned my way, and now I have a remote to give away!



The one winner will get everything shown above, including that antenna-looking thing. After the Oakland game, I will be going on a short vacation, so please allow a 2-3 weeks for the prize to arrive.

DirecTV has a special place in my heart. They are currently running their annual "Ultimate Displaced Fan" contest. The basic idea behind the contest is to reward die-hard fans that live away from their favorite team's city. The winner gets to go to the Super Bowl. The videos of these fans are entertaining and impressive.

As most of you probably know, I am a displaced fan myself. Three years ago, I moved from the suburbs of Detroit to Los Angeles and have been completely dependent on DirecTV to watch my Lions play every Sunday. On several occasions, I have considered entering myself into this contest, because I selfishly feel like I should be rewarded for not only being a Lions fan, but one away from all of my Detroit brethren. So I truly feel the plight of the displaced fan.

Unfortunately, the Lions representative for this contest has fallen out of the top 10, but I urge you to go to the website and check out some of these extraordinary fans. Head to http://www.ultimatedisplacedfan.com/ now!

Onto the contest. This week is a particularly apt week to hold this contest, as I will be experiencing one of the few perks of being a displaced fan: seeing the Lions at an away game. I will be traveling six hours north from Los Angeles to Oakland with a few of my Lions buddies to watch the Lions play. This is not the first time I have seen the Lions play away from home. Last year, the schedule was lined up perfectly to see the Lions play twice while I was visiting family in Florida. I was there when the Lions broke their road losing streak in Tampa, and I was there the following week when they dramatically came back against Miami. There's something awesome about seeing your team win on the road and celebrating it with strangers. It's kind of like being a part of a secret club that all of the natives could never fully understand.

But here's the kicker: this year, we decided to spare no expense on tickets. Our seats will be in section 104; endzone seats. But not just any ordinary endzone seats....Black Hole seats.
My final resting place.
If you're unfamiliar with the Black Hole, just check out a google image search of "raiders black hole". The superfans of Oakland have gained notoriety for their devotion, intimidation, and, unfortunately, the occasional violent outburst. I'm not entirely sure what prompted my friends and I to take on such an endeavor, but be assured, I will have quite a story to tell next week.

Now many contests will make you tweet something you don't want to, or advertise my site, but I've never been a fan of that, and its not really related to being a displaced fan. I want to do something fun.

Here's where you come in: to win the Detroit Lions DirecTV remote, I want you to guess how many times my group of four displaced Lions fans will get cursed at during the game. During the game, I will try to keep count - as accurately as possible - of the amount of times a Raiders fan curses AT us. (from kickoff to the very end of the game, pre and post game comments will not count. Halftime curses are fair game. Curses directed towards officiating or "The Lions" will not count). For clarification purposes, the swear words that will count are George Carlin's Seven Dirty Words plus a certain word for hiney or tuchus for all of my fellow Jewish readers (all deviations of the base swear words will count, ie: f, mother-f, f-face, etc.). It should be noted that upon much deliberation, my group of fans have decided that we WILL be sporting Lions gear at the stadium. If we decide that things are too dangerous or hot-headed, we may remove the clothing, in which case, the contest will be null and I will have a new contest next week. 

I will allow you to enter in three different ways, whichever is most convenient to you:
  1. Tweet your guess to me @DetroitOnLion
  2. Email your guess to DetroitOnLion[at]gmail.com
  3. Or simply post your guess as a comment. (if you choose this method, please provide your twitter handle or an email address so I can verify your identity if you win)
You can only use one method of entry and you can only enter once. In the rare case of a tie, the first person to place their guess will win. If you want to know how your guess is doing, I will be live tweeting my entire experience on Sunday, so if you're not already, follow me on twitter. Good luck! And I'll (hopefully) see you on Monday!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stafford Infection: Vikings Game

Previously: Saints Game


Sunday's game was a strange one. It never seemed like the Lions offense was struggling. Matthew Stafford completed 69% of his passes and had a QB rating of 115.2. Yet the Lions offense was only responsible for 20 points and some of those points were aided by a defensive turnover. The offense only managed 13 first downs to the Vikings' 29. Now part of this is due to the amount of plays each team had: the Vikings had 83 offensive snaps to the Lions' 55 (interestingly, the Lions still "won" time of possession). But with the Vikings' secondary banged up, it was disappointing to see Stafford only put up 227 yards (3rd least this season) and two touchdowns. Let's break it down:

Accuracy
Grade: A-


Stafford continued to improve on his accuracy again this game. Stafford did not go deep very often in this game, but in two instances he went deep to Titus Young, he was on the money:
This one wasn't complete, but still a gorgeous pass.
But his accuracy wasn't just on the long ball, he also converted a couple key third downs due to his accuracy. On this play, Stafford had to fire the ball in between to defenders and did so with perfection:
Bam. First down.

The only reason for the minus is because this third-down pass by Stafford early in the game rubbed me the wrong way:
For the record, there was another inaccurate pass or two, but this one irked me the most.

Pocket Presence
Grade: B+

Despite taking five sacks on the day, Stafford actually impressed me quite a bit in terms of pocket presence. Stafford saw almost every sack coming and therefore, only lost a few yards on each play. Four of the five sacks were for three yards or less. By seeing the pressure coming, Stafford limited the damage and gave the Lions a chance to keep drives alive despite the sack. 
Based on this screenshot alone, what do you think happens on this play? Strip sack? Sack of at least 3 yards? Wrong and wrong. Stafford senses the pressure from his blind side, finds a hole, and picks up a yard on the play:

The only other option he had on this play was a quick pass to Morris at the top of the screen, but it would've been hard to throw over Kevin Williams and would've likely resulted in Stafford taking a huge hit.

However, one issue I had with Stafford's pocket presence was what he did once the pocket broke down. Often times he would take his eyes off of his receivers and worry more about the pressure.
Stafford correctly senses pressure coming from his blind side. At this point, he has two decent options, dump it off to Morris in the middle of the field, or (and this is what he chose) scramble to his right and extend the play. But his is where he commits a fatal error. He takes his eyes off his receivers to see how close Jared Allen is to taking him down:
By turning his head backwards, he makes two mistakes. First, this slows him down and allows Allen to eventually take him down from behind. Secondly, he makes it harder to watch his receivers' routes develop. Pettigrew could have been a decent option if Stafford had bought himself just a half-a-second more. Instead, he was taken down for a two-yard loss. Now that Stafford is correctly sensing when the pocket is breaking down, he needs to improve his response to pressure. Obviously, Stafford is not going to get too much quicker or elusive, but he needs to keep his eyes down field and know when to throw the ball away.

Decision Making/Vision
Grade: C+

Part of the reason for his low grade is the exact thing I was just talking about. Stafford too often took his eyes off his receivers and, basically, gave up on a play. There's no doubt Stafford needs to improve his out-of-pocket play, especially against elite pass rushers like Jared Allen.

On this play, Stafford's first read isn't there and he's starting to panic. 
This is a rare instance in which we can see three different options Stafford has before he throws it. Okay, armchair quarterbacks, where should the ball go? Obviously, the answer is to the tight end at the bottom of the screen, Will Heller, who is as uncovered as he looks. Alright, Stafford, show me what you got....
GAH! Stafford complete's the pass for a couple yards to Maurice Morris for a couple yards, but Will Heller would have easily picked up a first down and more.

But, obviously, Stafford still had a decent day in terms of decision making. The Lions were good on third down (8 of 16) and Stafford had his fourth best game in terms of passer rating.

What's interesting to see, however, is how the game plan seems to be more conservative in the past two weeks. Perhaps it was because of Stafford's nine interception in the previous three games, but it seems Scott Linehan and Stafford have been satisfied with taking what the defense gives them: short routes underneath. Running backs and tight ends have been responsible for 53% of the receptions over the past two weeks. Over the entire season, they only caught 49% of the passes. I'm not convinced that the Lions are becoming a more conservative team. Their opponents may just be effectively taking away the long ball. But this is a trend to continue to look at and see if the Lions offense can gain their explosiveness back. Because 227 yards and 20 points isn't enough against a terrible pass defense. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Surviving A Knife Fight

The final drive of the game was painfully slow. Though only three minutes and 32 seconds on paper, as the Vikings drove the ball down the field, it felt like eons had passed. Ty at Lions and Winter described it as watching the season pass before his eyes. Neil at Armchair Linebacker likened it to surviving a car crash. To me, it was an agonizing 3:32 of repetitive stabbing.

I had the feeling we'd be in for a knife fight the minute the Lions settled for a field goal early in the fourth quarter to make the game 34-21. The very next play was a 47-yard kick return. Oh no. It only took four minutes for the Vikings to gain the remaining 60 yards and make it a one-score game. My flesh had been scratched.

The Lions took over with the potential of putting the game away, but it didn't take long before I feared the Vikings would land another vicious blow. Two plays into the drive the Lions were faced with a crucial third and five. But behind my cowering self, Matthew Stafford shot a cannon into the arms of Nate Burleson and through the hearts of Vikings fans. I could rest easy, at least for a few minutes. Until...

Two plays later, I was back in the fetal position, as the Lions faced another third down. This time, both Stafford and Titus Young made enormous efforts to land a finishing blow, but had miscalculated and missed it by a yard. Like a turn-based RPG, the Lions had selected their plays, attacked the opponent, but failed to end the game. Now it was the Vikings' turn.

The first couple moves by the Vikings are fairly harmless; an eight yard pass down the middle and a four yard scramble. Merely flesh wounds. The next two plays: "Joe Webb's Passing Attack Was Ineffective."
Visual Approximation of Joe Webb VS Lions Defense in My Head
Third down, Vikings completed a pass for what should have been six yards, but turned into nine yards. HEY, WATCH IT, VIKINGS! THAT ONE MIGHT NEED STITCHES! Fourth down, Gehart lands a body blow, easily picking up the first down, despite Sammie Lee Hill's best effort to block the attack in the backfield. Next four plays: pass for 0 yards, pass for 17 yards, incomplete pass, eight yard pass: block, body blow, block, body blow. 

A couple plays later, the Vikings are suddenly first and ten at the Lions 16 with 32 seconds left. I felt woozy. What seemed like a minor fist-a-cuffs with the Vikings was beginning to turn into a beatdown. I felt my innards bleeding, my cheeriness and energy meters were fading fast; I wasn't going to last much longer.

But, once again, the Lions had my cowardly back. In just three plays, the Lions had the Vikings on the ropes facing another fourth down. "Okay. Whatever you do, don't let Joe Webb..."

*Webb uses scramble attack. It is extremely effective.*

I collapsed to the floor. I felt liquid pour from my face. I wasn't sure if it's sweat, blood, tears, or some sad cocktail of the three. The Vikings slowly removed the sword from my abdomen, giving it the slightest twist on its way out. As I looked up in disbelief, I saw the deformed face of Jared Allen mocking my stupid existence.

It was over. I had accepted our fate. The Lions tried to out-maneuver the Vikings for as long as possible, but they were out of turns. As the Vikings cockily strutted to the line to stick the final dagger in my heart, I closed my eyes and planned my final words of the 2011 season. Should I curse out Allen? Who could be my scapegoat? Who really expected a full turnaround this season, anyway? Wait, I bet there's still a way we make the playoff, right? I let these terrible thoughts run through my head for awhile. I took a deep breath, and just decided to take it like a man: silently. I lifted my head, eyes still closed, ready to accept my fate. As I slowly opened my eyes, I awaited the final, painful stabbing. But the stabbing never came. It turns out DeAndre Levy had used a cheat-code and the Lions were left with one last attack: "Strip-Sack-Facemask-Twist, I choose you!" Levy shrieked. And that was it.

I blinked. Blinked to make the obvious hallucination I had just witnessed disappear. It didn't. I waited. Waited for the FOX graphic of death, known only as "FLAG" to appear on the screen and pierce my soul with it's burning-yellow tint. It didn't. I looked down at myself, expecting my entrails to be flowing out of me like an crimson, organ river. They weren't.

The Lions and I had just survived a knife fight. It was ugly, it was tormenting, and it probably took a couple years off of all of our lives, but we were the ones left standing. And now we (yes, "we") are 8-5 and closer to a playoff spot than we've been in a decade.

I think I'm going to be alright.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Week 14 Itinerary

Hello fellow interneter. Fancy to see you here. Let's talk Lions/Vikings. This is a must-win game by every definition of the term. The Lions will likely need to finish the season with three wins in four games, and this game appears to be the easiest of the four. Furthermore, a loss here would cost the Lions their tiebreaker over the Bears, as the Lions would fall to 2-3 in the division, while the Bears are 2-2. I want to feel completely confident about this game, but with the stakes so high, Jared Allen playing at the level he is, and the previous matchup between the two teams, I can't shake the worries. Hopefully the Lions come out quick and strong and coast to an easy win.

Anyway, like always, there was plenty of must-reads in the Lions blogosphere this week. Here's a taste:

My Stuff:

Stuff Better Than Mine
Moving Pictures Time!
From now on, whenever I hear Jared Allen talk, all I'll hear is "derp derp derp."
That won't really change the content of his words, anyway.

If you can make it through this entire video, you are a stronger man than I. Or you're a woman. 
I seriously almost threw up. 

DAMNIT PACKERS! STOP BEING SO LIKABLE!

Go Lions! (And Broncos! And Panthers! And...tie Cowboys and Giants?)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Stafford Infection: Saints Game

I've decided to change the format of this column for the rest of the season. Instead of breaking down a specific part of Matthew Stafford's game, I have decided to analyze and grade the three most important aspects of quarterbacking: Accuracy, Pocket Presence and Vision/Decision Making. This was a great week to start, as Stafford tossed for the most yards in his career since his unforgettable Browns game in 2009. His final stat-line was 31-44 for 408 yards 1 TD and 1 INT. But was his performance actually as good as his numbers?

Accuracy:
Grade: B+

It may seem a little cruel to mark Stafford below an A on a day where he completed 70.5% of his passes (well above his career completion percentage of 63.0). However, many of his completions were short, simple passes and many of his incompletions were big missed opportunities. Let me go to the tape:

I'm actually going to start with a Stafford completion, for 49 yards no less. It was Stafford's pass to Titus Young with seconds left to go in the first half. It was a great read, and a great play, but it should've gone for 76 yards and a touchdown. Just look at how open Young is when the ball is in the air:
There is nobody behind him. If that ball hits him in stride, its an easy six and the Lions go into halftime down only 10 with the ball coming their way. Instead, the ball is underthrown and directed towards Young's back shoulder. This forces Young to turn his body, slowing him down and allowing a Saints defender to catch him.

Stafford had a chance to redeem himself on the very next play, but again missed his target. The play was to Brandon Pettigrew and he was open. Before I openly criticize Stafford for this pass, it must be said that this completion has a high degree of difficulty. Stafford is most comfortable throwing the ball when he's slinging lasers. However, that pass would not have succeeded on this play.
Through all the blur its pretty easy to see that a line-drive throw would've been batted down by either the linebacker or the covering safety. This throw required impressive touch and accuracy. 
Stafford had the proper touch, but missed badly on the accuracy. In his defense, however, an overthrow is a better play than an underthrow. The Lions were in field goal range at the time and the last thing they could afford was a turnover. Stafford's mindset was likely to put the ball where there is zero chance of an interception. Unfortunately, there was also zero chance of a completion, and then the Lions had the field goal blocked. 

Pocket Presence
Grade: A-

The only reason this isn't a straight-up A is because Stafford took three sacks, two of which he had plenty of time to get rid of the ball. But Stafford really impressed me this week, improving upon what I believed to be his biggest weakness. Let's take a look at what I mean:

The situation: down 24-7 early in the third quarter, the Lions were 2nd and 5 at the Saints' 37 yard line. Quickly after the snap, things aren't looking good:
Both defensive ends are barreling down on Stafford. Earlier in the season, Stafford would have dropped even further back and likely would thrown an inaccurate pass off of his back foot. Not this time:
Stafford steps up, allowing the ends to overrun him. He steps into his pass, completing a 10 yard pass to Will Heller for a first down and into field goal range. It was a great display of awareness and a great checkdown to an open receiver. I want more of this.

Decision Making/Vision:
Grade: A

It always cracks me up when the announcer praises the opposing defense for stopping Calvin Johnson by double teaming him. In fact, while some ESPN analyst was praising the Saints for doing so, they showed the play where Johnson was double teamed on a goal-to-go situation. On that play, the Lions ran the ball.....for a touchdown. Johnson won that battle because his presence took a man out of the box and opened up space for Kevin Smith to run to. 

People will praise the Saints for shutting down Johnson again this week. Johnson only managed six catches for 69 yards and no touchdowns, a pedestrian day for the Pro Bowler. But the Saints defense doesn't deserve credit for this accomplishment. Sure, they were great in coverage against Johnson, but nine other receivers caught passes that day for over 300 yards combined. Stafford showed maturity. He didn't panic when his first few reads were covered and he didn't force a pass to Johnson in coverage when his other options were gone. A lot of credit goes to offensive coordinator Scott Linehan for his gameplan. Looking through the tape, Stafford did not have to go through his progressions very often, and his first option was typically where the ball went. 

Stafford's one interception was a fourth down play in which his options were limited. He threw the ball in a place where Nate Burleson had a chance to make a play, but had it ripped from him by the defender. Stafford was put in a tough situation and did everything he could to give his team a chance on that play.

If the Lions hadn't been struck with so many offensive penalties, Stafford might have thrown for 500 yards on Sunday night. He was absolutely on his A-game against the Saints and if he can repeat that performance in three of the next four games, we will be watching Lions post-season football for the first time in over a decade. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Howard Hughes, A Detroit Lions Inspiration

I watched The Aviator this weekend. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it (and you might want to skip the next few paragraphs, as there are small spoilers ahead). The film tells the story of movie producer and airline tycoon Howard Hughes. At the film's peak, Hughes (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) has just encountered a near-fatal plane crash during a test flight for a potential military plane. Upon failing to deliver the military plane he was contracted to create, the government deployed an investigation against Hughes, accusing him of war profiteering. The investigation included a very intrusive combing of his house and assets. This event triggered Hughes' already fragile mental state. His OCD got worse, he became increasingly paranoid, and eventually ended up locking himself in his own screening room for three months. At this time, a competing airline offered a proposition for Hughes: sell his airline and the investigation will go away. In other words, give up. Hughes proudly refused, but soon realized that he had been subpoenaed and will be forced to go in front of Congress despite his clearly psychological illness. If he failed to properly defend himself, he would lose everything: his company, his fortune and most-importantly to Hughes himself, his clean reputation. In fact, tabloids had already started to spread rumors that he was crazy, fatally ill or even dead. Everything was on the line for Hughes.

With a little help from his ex-girlfriend, Ava Gardner, Hughes composed himself. He left his recluse, he shaved his scraggly beard and fought off his debilitating compulsions. Hughes eventually showed in front of Congress, still slightly crippled from the plane crash. But, instead of acting like a victim, he countered by accusing a Senator of bribery and showed to the world that he is still a smart, cunning man. The investigation was dropped and Hughes' reputation was left unharmed. After the hearing, Hughes completed his greatest masterpiece: The enormous H-4 Hercules transport aircraft.

Hughes was able to overcome his severe mental illness and injuries sustained in a plane crash to save his company and his image. The Lions had a chance to do the same.

On Thanksgiving, the Lions plane crashed into the mountain, leaving them ailing, both mentally and physically. They lost the services of Chris Houston, Louis Delmas, and Kevin Smith. Ndamukong Suh lost his sanity, stomped a guy and left for Portland (where he proceeded to get into a more literal automobile accident). It didn't take long before the media started damaging the Lions' name.

But the Lions had the same opportunity to rebound and save their public image. For a second consecutive week, the Lions were forced to face the entire nation. They had the ideal opportunity to take down a powerful entity and change the discourse of the season, even if the public had already made up their mind. A Lions victory would put the Suh incident in the rear-view mirror and have the media start focusing their Lions' coverage on playoffs and not on reputation. The Lions could complete their own masterpiece: a three year journey from perfect imperfection to playoffs. Instead, they did the absolute opposite. They reinforced the negative public opinion, exposed their vulnerable psyche once again, and hurt their chances to ever recover.

What was amazing about last night's meltdown was that, despite the numerous errors in the first three quarters of the game, the Lions STILL had the opportunity to control their destiny. Down only seven and now getting the ball, Stefan Logan returned a punt to the Lions' 33-yard line. But, again, the Lions' mental illness reared its ugly head and Logan lost the team 15 yards with a flick of a ball. The Lions proceeded to drive down the field, only to stall and miss a 55-yard field goal. Probably could have used those 15 yards there. In the end, the Lions' handicap cost them over 100 yards in penalties and, likely, a win. Additionally, they laid out the blueprint for defeating the Lions: frustrate them, then sit back and watch the impending psychological meltdown.

In the final scene of The Aviator, Hughes is celebrating the flight of his amazing Hercules. In the midst of handshaking, toasting and planning for his future successes, his compulsions begin to seep through his core, proving he can never fully escape who he is. Hughes' assistants quickly escort him out of public view and salvage his image once again. The Lions, too, cannot (and should not) escape their true identity. They are a tough, angry team, and there's no escaping that. But Jim Schwartz needs to do his part in concealing the truth. He needs to follow through with his promise and escort mentally ill players to the bench, before it ruins Schwartz's reputation and organization.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Week 13 Itinerary

Before I get into it, I feel the need to address yesterday's Big Ten Championship Game. Sparty fans, I'm sorry. In what seemed like a season you were destined for greatness, you were brutally stripped from a title in one of the more horrific ways I've seen. I know MSU fans are going to be sick (and rightfully so) watching the final BCS rankings and finding themselves below Wisconsin and Michigan. But, if there's anything being a Lions fan has taught me, it's that you really must take joy in the ride and not necessarily the final destination. The Spartan season created some magical moments that I'll never forget, and if you didn't know already, I'm a University of Michigan alumni.

Alright, time to focus on the real league. The Lions face another tough test this week and will once again be on display for the nation, but this time on Sunday Night Football. While there was some optimism around the Packers game last week, it's hard to find one person who believes the Lions win tonight. The Lions will need to go, at the very least, 3-2 down the stretch, but given the schedule of the other wild card contenders, they may actually have to go 4-1 to clinch a playoff spot. A win in New Orleans would do a lot to instill confidence that 4-1 is more than possible. A loss would make every game left on the schedule "must-win". A high-stakes game in December: terrifyingly awesome. Here's what you got to read:

My Stuff:


My articles were a little limited as I lost power for a day due to LA winds, but I had time to do my usual Packers game recap, video review of the Lions' second string secondary, and, of course, my "On Paper" preview that suggest this game could be a lot closer than many think. Next week, you can expect a full dose of "Stafford Infection" (pun very much intended). Apologies for omitting it this week.

Stuff Better Than Mine (with as little "Suh" as possible)

Moving Pictures Time!
I don't know what pleases me more: the Redneckness of it all, 
or the fact that someone bet their flatscreen on the Redskins. 
(Skip to 1:45 in the video for some good ole' TV shootin! YEE HAR!)

I thought this was the coolest grandma ever until she said she liked Reggie Bush.

Indeed this is the number one Saints fan, as long as you measure fandom 
by number of beads and quality of  parody songs. 

Go Lions! (and Houston! and Kansas City!)