Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Three Days Late "Live" Blog: Lions at Cardinals

This will be my first time viewing the game via the TV feed, as I was regrettably at the game. So expect more shock and awe about the horrible announcing. If some things were already discussed to death on twitter or other social media, I apologize. I did not contribute in any of those things during the game because I lacked the capabilities at the time.

First Quarter:

14:55 - Cardinals connect deep on the first play of the game. Both teams sending a message early. Cardinals: we're not afraid of your banged-up secondary. Lions: we're not capable of stopping anyone.

14:23 - Stephen Tulloch blitzes on the next play and runs right past Beanie Wells, without getting a hand on him. He must at least slow him down.

12:20 - Lions bringing heat early, but lack the tight coverage to prevent the easy, quick throws.

10:51 - Jacob Lacey makes a nice play and promptly has a Cardinal lineman fall on the back of his leg, dislocating his knee cap. Wasn't intentionally dirty, but when a defender has the ball-carrier wrapped up, should another player really be allowed to try and separate him from the offender?

9:11 - Patrick Peterson is good.

8:51 - Wow. Great read by DeAndre Levy. He was pretty far away from that play when Ryan Lindley wound up to pass, but Levy made up a lot of ground and got there just in time to get the interception.

8:45 - Leshoure's hesitation costing him yards in the backfield.

7:48 - Without Broyles, Pettigrew, Burleson and Titus, this passing offense is officially neutered.

6:20 - Good recognition by Jonte Green to force that toss sweep back inside.

6:00 - One thing you may not have noticed via TV: their punter is crazy-good. Every punt went 50+ yards in the air and was a perfect spiral. Watching Nick Harris punt on the same field was embarrassing. Harris didn't kick a spiral all day.

4:44 - Cardinals putting coverage on Calvin Johnson that I've never seen before. Double coverage in the slot, and Stafford lays a nice ball to him. Unfortunately, the Cardinals secondary is very good, and they get a hand on the ball.

3:49 - Suh is essentially triple-teamed.

The running back was planning on blocking a blitzing linebacker, but none came. Suh is taken out of the play and Lindley is able to scramble for 9 yards in his absence.

2:08 - Good adjustment by Mike Thomas on the end-around. The defensive end read the play well, so Thomas cut it inside and picked up the first.

Second Quarter:

15:00 - We begin the second quarter with talk of the tragedy in Connecticut. Cue the random shot of a fan holding a sign saying, "We miss hockey." Um...okay.

14:54 - Absolutely brilliant play call on third and 9. With Calvin in the slot to the left, he runs a slant over the middle of the field, drawing nearly every defender that way (one defender also happened to be thankfully blitzing). Kevin Smith sneaks out of the backfield and runs to all the empty field left by Calvin's void.

13:43 - Calvin playing decoy again on this third down to perfection.

As Stafford cocks his arm back, the two defenders close in on Calvin, cutting over the middle. Meanwhile, Heller is headed in the opposite direction and has an easy first down.

12:51 - Excellent drive. Lions used Calvin perfectly as a decoy on third downs, while also getting him his touches on other downs. Perfect mixture.

10:21 - FOX cares so little about this game. There's almost no replays of anything, except for blown snaps, which we all saw perfectly the first time around.

9:29 - No words. Okay, maybe a few words. Firstly, I'm not sure how the ruling on the field can change AFTER the referee's huddle with each other, but BEFORE you go and review the play. Secondly, fuck our special teams. I don't like dropping f-bombs in my writing, but fuck our special teams.

9:18 - Once again, the refs can't get their shit together. One ref CLEARLY called the play a fumble and was giving the ball to the Lions (can't really see this on TV, but I absolutely saw it with my own eyes). Then the refs confer, change their mind for some reason, and replay isn't enough to change it either way. Pardon the cursing, but the anger is setting in already.

7:18 - Lions getting the running game going with a couple of big cutback lanes. Credit to Leshoure for finding and exploiting those holes.

7:06 - Oh, Gosder. He obviously holds a guy and immediately looks behind him, expecting to see the flag. Surprise! It's there!

6:35 - Stafford yapping at the ref after this play. Why? Well, don't expect any sort of replay from FOX to provide any clarity. Luckily, I'm here with the coaches film:

Heller's route gets impeded and any separation he has here is completely lost.

4:10 - If you're ever wondering why teams run the ball when backed up in their own zone, this is exactly why. You cannot afford to turn it over deep in your own zone. At this point, the Lions running game was working perfectly, and although the two false starts forced the Lions even further back, the Lions needed to run the ball here. Instead, Stafford forced a ball to Calvin and handed the Cardinals seven points. There was a clear miscommunication between Stafford and Calvin, as Stafford threw outside and Calvin cut inside (partially due to an obvious hold by Peterson). But it was a bad play call to begin with.

3:16 - It's sad to me how little faith the Lions have in their kick returners. They won't even let him run out a kick one-yard deep in the endzone. If that's the case, why bother sporting a guy back there?

1:50 - If I'm not mistaken (I'm not, I checked), this was the first catch by a wide receiver not named Calvin Johnson. AFTER the two-minute warning. Not. Good.


Here are the two plays right before Stafford's first pick-six of the day. Stafford with a perfect pass to Scheffler for a would-be first down on Arizona's side of the field. Dropped. False start by Cherilus to force a third-and-15. Teammates not helping him out.


0:41 - Granted third and 15 is a tough down to convert, there is no reason to throw the ball there (obviously). Don't know if Stafford just didn't see the safety waiting for him or if he thought he could barrel it in there before he broke on it, but either way, it was too close of a call to pull the trigger. Absolutely killer way to end the half.

Third Quarter:

13:40 - Why, Leshoure, why?

It's third and 1, and if Leshoure hits the hole with no hesitation, it's an easy first down. Instead, he hesitates and cuts it outside. The back-side defensive end easily catches him behind the line of scrimmage. This is becoming a weekly problem.

9:45 - Don Carey is PUMPED about letting the Cardinals into field goal position!

8:10 - Just an outstanding play by Calvin on third down.

7:48 - Leshoure almost breaks a huge run. Again he struggles to find the hole initially, but eventually makes the right read. But if he finds that hole immediately and hits finish that sentence.

3:12 - God awful pass interference call. Maybe the worst I've ever seen. I'm honestly a little surprised you can't hear me on the TV feed. One of the few times I've yelled in a profanity-laced fashion at a sporting event.

1:14 - Ha ha. Cardinals punting on the Lions' 36 yard line on a fourth and 2. Stupid, stupid decision, even with the Lions' inept special teams.

Fourth Quarter:

14:21 - One of the few times Suh isn't double teamed and he sacks Lindley immediately. Go figure.

13:07 - Andre Fluellen reads the screen, but is nearly dragged down with a hold. Still, he's able to disrupt the play enough to let someone else clean up the play.

12:29 - Scheffler wins my love and then tears my heart out. Can't blame Stafford for the throw, as he's under immense pressure. He put the ball where Scheffler should have caught it, and even though he had to turn himself around, it went right through his hands. I want to dig a hole and cry myself to sleep in it until someone fills the hole with cement.

11:30 - Stafford getting a concussion test on the sideline. Do we get to see what happened or maybe what play it may have occurred on? Of course not, this is FOX.

10:00 - That is the reason I have a Delmas jersey. Dude is a beast in run coverage. Huge defensive play.

9:29 - "Lions need a play out of their special teams or defense..." how about ONE from their offense?

6:50 - Third and 1 from the three-yard line. I don't want to watch the rest of this game.

6:09 - Delay of game completely unacceptable here. And as the referee says, that's on number nine.

5:24 - I've watched this play the maximum amount of times before I start ripping my own hair out, eating it, then trying to sell my hairy excrement on ebay for Rogaine money. And I still can't figure out what Stafford was doing here. He could've thrown a fade to Durham or he could've thrown the out to Scheffler. Instead he threw a hybrid of those passes right to a Cardinal. Scheffler would've scored if he hit him, and God knows what Durham would've done. Probably something in between bobbling it horribly only for it to get pick-sixed anyway and making a one-handed between the legs catch while doing a backflip.

That's your ballgame. Since I'm with my family and the anger is rising, I'm going to stop things there. Have a good week folks.


Monday, December 17, 2012

When It Stops, Nobody Knows

My posse and I at the Cardinals game. I'm the handsome one.

This week I return to Ford Field for the first time in four years. The last time I took that stroll down Adams street, the Lions lost their 12th straight game to the Vikings. I remember the cold walk to the car. Ass-to-elbow with my fellow fans. Everyone yelling obscenities and calling for anybody's head. There was chaos, there was anarchy, it was Armageddon and we were walking down the steps of hell to our eventual damnation.

Those were the easy days.

If you're a frequent reader, you know that I'm not the banner-waving type. Rarely do I raise my voice during games. I deal with my frustrations by growing intensely silent and blocking out everything around me. So when walls of Ford Field were crumbling in 2008, I kept my head down, kept walking and let the city devour itself as I attempted to comprehend what was going on in the depths of my inner madness.

It's been awhile since I've felt that way. Even though this season has been wildly turbulent, including heart-devouring losses on a near-weekly basis, I never felt the sort of empty, hopelessness of 2008.

But as I walked away from University of Phoenix Stadium, bathed in gold from the setting sun, all those familiar feelings bowled over me like towering waves. After losing to a team on a nine-game skid, the Lions were once again the joke of the league, and I was wearing the jester's uniform.
After all the tough calls, bad breaks, and unlikely plays, I figured we had taken all the punishment we could physically withstand. The Lions season, after all, was by all means "over." There were no real stakes, and no rewards to be won. The winner of this game gets to be 5-9 with no chance of any real accomplishments. But this team still finds ways to have the ground fall out from beneath us. With the seat under Jim Schwartz warming at an exponential rate, I needed the Lions to not only beat the Cardinals (whose lack of talent is alarmingly obvious) I needed them to destroy them. I needed faith to be restored in the hearts of Lions fans. But I also needed it to restore my OWN faith, my own sanity, which has been despite the mounting losses had remained impressively intact. Instead, I got a first row seat* to...whatever the hell that was.

Surviving an 0-16 season is easy. Aside from the occasional assholes, you get all the sympathy from outsiders. The fan-base isn't broken and cannibalistic. Everyone bonds together knowing that we've collectively hit rock bottom and that change and brighter days were ahead.

But when you have the added weight of expectations, the highs are higher and the lows are lower. Each win feels huge and meaningful, while each defeat feels like a season-ender. Small successes bring delusions of grandeur and invincibility, while losses send strong-willed men into the depths of insanity. And when your expectations are inevitably unfulfilled, no one bats an eye of sympathy. You're just one of tens of casualties to the tumultuous NFL.

But the most maddening aspect of a team with expectations is the unknown. When you're the worst team in the league, that's an easy thing to grasp. It's an absolute. it's irrefutable, undeniable. It's something terrible, but its something real, and true. It's something we can grasp and physically claim as ours.

But when you're 4-10, fresh off a 10-6 season, you know nothing. What is the teams' true talent level? What record SHOULD they be? Who is to blame? How are we going to be next year? I thought I knew most of these answers four months ago, but now I am lost, quietly walking another fiery road of defeat as the world screams in panic and agony. Does the path lead to another pit of despair? Is it just a detour of our journey to peace, love and glory? I have no answers, and that feels so much worse than anything.

As Matthew Stafford hopelessly tried to lead the Lions to one last, meaningless score, my posse stood in stunned silence. As waves of red and blue passed us, almost assuredly looking for some sort of reaction, we kept our gaze forward. Wanting to scream, but being unable to break through the overwhelming sense of defeat and depression, we just looked ahead, hoping we had finally seen the bottom of the pit. 

We may have finally reached the final ring of hell, but who's to say the floor we currently stand on won't give out next week or even next year? But maybe this is just what being a Lions fan is: surviving the falls, pulling ourselves back to our feet only to plunge further and deeper. I just don't know anymore.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Barry Sanders: A Life.

I'm not going to do a Monday wrap-up this week. I've tried to think of a new angle to take, or a fresh way to look at things, but it's the same thing every week (or at least the past four weeks). Start with a decent-looking football team, seemingly able to hang with the best of them, mix in one improbable-but-somehow-expected horrific play, sprinkle in a late defensive breakdown, add in some offensive miscommunications, bake at 400 degrees in the fourth quarter, and garnish with horrible special teams. BOOM, you've got yourself a Lions loss. The Lions aren't HORRIBLE. They don't need things blown up. They've been in every game they've played and pretty much proven they should be on the same field with their opponents. But they are far from great. When the inconsistencies become consistent, you have a problem. You have players who can't put together an entire game without making a back-breaking mistake, or you have players who can't even make the field. It's the perfect combination of bad luck and guys who are extremely susceptible to the bad luck. The Lions may be the best 4-9 team, but they are still 4-9. And no one is to blame but themselves.

With that out of the way, I'd like to talk about Barry Sanders. I'm sure many of you watched NFL Network's documentary "Barry Sanders: A Football Life" last week. It was fantastic. It brought back all the wondrous memories of my favorite athlete growing up, and my favorite athlete to this day. He's the reason I fell in love with football. He was the reason I played sports as a child, despite my size and lack of stature. He's the reason I still wear the #20 for my roller hockey team. 

The documentary did a great job of detailing all the amazing runs Sanders had during his career. But that wasn't what drew me to the film. I know about youtube. I probably spend way too much time reliving his decleating of John Lynch or gazing in awe at the way he turned around that Cowboys lineman, whose name I haven't bothered learning out of respect for his family.

No, what really endeared me to Sanders and this documentary was what he represented to a young child like myself. He wasn't just an incredible athlete who dazzled with his agility, vision and balance. He was humble. He was quiet. He was reserved. He was everything I was and wanted to be.

Growing up on the far left of the height bell curve was tough for me. I always had an affinity for sports, and I still have a competitive nature that's hard to match. And while I would consider myself an above-average athlete, during youth, when physical stature is at its most variable, my measurables created a ceiling too low. I can still remember my only basket in my third-grade basketball rec league. Just inside of the three-point arc, I drew the ball next to my right ear (I was still too weak to get it to the basket from there with a standard shot) and heaved it in desperation. SWISH. 

So I drifted to the sports where my physical liabilities would be limited. Soccer became my new favorite sport to play, where agility, creativity and speed reigned supreme. But for as much as I loved soccer, it could never match my love for football. And while I couldn't compete in any Pop Warner leagues and my two-year stint as a middle school safety never progressed beyond a couple fifth and sixth quarter snaps (yes, that's a real thing), I excelled in back yard football. During recess, I can still remember reversing field, shoulder-shaking and contorting my body just out of reach from my opponent's two hands.

And while my visions of taking these backyard skills to the NFL never came close to being a reality. Barry made that dream real for me. And it wasn't just his ability to overcome his size that drew me to him. It was his entire personality, and watching that documentary really highlighted that aspect of his life.

Barry was soft-spoken and never fully comfortable in the spotlight. He was terse in post-game interviews, his off-field life was a mystery, and he never seemed interested in voicing his opinion on just about anything. Just watch him struggle through his Hall of Fame speech. While I'm sure the moment meant a lot to him, he would've much preferred to just receive his statue in the mail. He wanted to show everyone how talented he was, but didn't need to talk about it afterwards. He wanted his play to do the talking.

As an introvert myself, finding athlete role models I could identify with was nearly impossible, especially in the extravagant NFL. People too often confuse competitiveness with arrogance. What follows is an athletic culture that is so obsessive over itself, it can be hard to relate to. But Sanders had all of the former and none of the latter. He fought through being underestimated and undervalued with hard work, determination, and a tough-but-motivating father. It was never about being the absolute best, but trying the best. And while that sounds like cheesy, grade-school coach-speak, it was extremely refreshing to see on the professional level.

The documentary did an excellent job driving this point home with Sanders' juxtoposition with Emmitt Smith. Smith represents everything I hated (and hate) about athlete culture. The obsession with self, the trash-talk, the constant strive for stats. Smith, who apparently still can't appear publicly without an underlying sense of smugness, had everything a running back could ask for: a Pro Bowl offensive line, a national stage in Dallas, and a Hall of Fame quarterback. Smith eventually accumulated three Super Bowl victories, four season rushing titles and the career rushing leader title. And while he certainly had an immense amount of talent and endured an incredible amount of work, next to Sanders, he was the entitled, rich kid who felt the need to shove it in your face to validate himself. Even in the waning moments of the documentary, Smith felt it necessary to take one parting shot at Sanders saying, "No matter what you do, it's never enough [...] Bottom line is, what I've done, I've done." Of course, the subtext there is "I'M the one with the records and trophies, so I'M the best."

But Barry doesn't care about any of that nonsense. He doesn't care if he's the best running back or the fifth best running back. He just cares that he gave it his all on every down, every carry, every game.

Which brings us to his retirement: the most polarizing topic you can bring up for Lions fans. I have never had a problem with Barry's retirement, and Sanders made it clear why no one should. He says clearly and confidently, "The reason I am retiring is simple: My desire to enter the game is greater than my desire to remain in it." And while that may be hard for us to comprehend or understand, it is something that was true for him. And the minute Barry Sanders does not have the desire the play football is the minute that he is no longer Barry on the field. Sanders without the passion is nobody. His greatest athletic quality was his determination and desire on every single play and without it, he would be a player unrecognizable and inefficient.

The one issue I do have with his retirement was the way in which it happened. Leaving the organization out to dry by retiring the day before training camp via fax was a cold way to leave the franchise. I understand that Barry did not want to incur the media storm that was to follow, but this is one of those situations where Barry should have left his comfort zone, albeit for one day, to give the Lions organization and fanbase one final, fair goodbye.

But that minor blunder sullies nothing for me. If anything, it's a reminder that people like Barry -- like me -- don't necessarily owe the Emmitt Smith's of the world anything. You can have all the talent in the world, but you are still free to make unpopular choices and you don't have to rationalize or apologize to anyone for being yourself. Because even on one of the biggest stages in the world, the National Football league, a quiet, withdrawn man like Barry Sanders can still exist and thrive.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Just Because...

 These two GIFs need to be on the same page:

Via SBNation
and SBNation

They seem to disagree on something.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Three Days Late "Live" Blog: Lions vs. Colts

These aren't getting any easier to do...

First Quarter

15:00 - For those still complaining about the Lions taking the ball instead of deferring, I've got one question for you: do you really think the defense is better than the offense?

13:44 - I think we all know by now that Mikel Leshoure doesn't have great hands, but maybe put a little touch on it, Stafford?

13:32 - Nick Harris with a 50-yard punt with enough hang time to draw a fair catch. This will be his best punt of the rest of his career.

13:00 - Andrew Luck staring down his favorite target, Reggie Wayne, he's covered tightly by Chris Houston. Luck panics, and finds himself covered in Suh.

8:57 - On the Lions' third down play, if Stafford wasn't feeling the pressure (after Gosder Cherilus got beat terribly) he could have waited as Mike Thomas was breaking open over the middle (with a little help from a Pettigrew pick). Instead, he forced a pass to Calvin Johnson, who wasn't ready for the pass.

8:49 - *grumblegrumblewhycouldn'tyoudothatlastweekgrumblegrumble*

8:14 - This incomplete pass by Luck could have very well been a fumble. It's a shame we never got a slow-mo replay to see if the ball was loose in Luck's hands when he started moving his arm forward. Good awareness by Levy to pick up the ball and run, just in case.

8:00 - Speedy receivers are this defense's kryptonite. The reason? They can take advantage of our terrible safeties and the terrible angles they take.

6:29 - Good defensive call on third-and-11, as Delmas blitzes untouched, but Drayton Florence gets beaten badly and Luck delivers a great ball off his back foot. Disappointing defensive drive, as they were successful on four of six plays. But those two plays were killer.

5:34 - Great patience and elusiveness by Joique Bell on the screen. Also, Peterman as a lead blocker on a screen is hilarious. He runs frantically looking to his left and right, while choosing not to block anyone.

4:47 - Jesus, Tony Scheffler. Unbelievable.

4:40 - Side note, if I'm not mistaken, Ryan Broyles tore his ACL on his only catch of the day. After the catch, he got up immediately (with a slight limp) and played the next play. Love this guy.

4:00 - I love that the Lions hustled to the line to prevent a review of the Scheffler catch, but it'd be nice to run a play that isn't a complete waste.

1:48 - Yes, it was an excellent grab by Pettigrew. But that's what we were expecting of him when we drafted him in the first round. Do it consistently, now.

1:18 - Holy crap, look at the job the defensive line does on this run:

Party in the backfield, everyone's invited.
0:29 - Justin Durant with a beautiful read on the third down pass. Haven't seen a lot of linebackers make plays in the passing game this season. Gotta catch it though, man.

Second Quarter

13:36 - Third-and-1, Logan as the half back, Leshoure as the full back. Pretty obvious play call. It worked, though.

12:50 - OUTSTANDING play from Stafford. His initial read to Scheffler is not open and pressure is coming. He looks to Pettigrew, who doesn't appear to be open. But Stafford throws him open. Just look at how "covered" Pettigrew is when Stafford releases the ball:

Stafford's throw to the inside allows Pettigrew to break open and get the first down and more.

12:12 - Calvin. Johnson.

11:27 - Leshoure has been incredibly valuable in the red zone. It's nice to say that about anybody not named Calvin Johnson.

11:16 - This screen works because the linebackers are terribly confused by everything. First, the play action gets the linebackers close to the line of scrimmage. When they realize it's a pass, they turn their heads and run back at full speed.

Both Levy and Tulloch are wildly out of position and both have their heads turned away from the play, so they cannot recognize the screen. Yet Levy still has a chance at making the play. Instead, he takes a bad angle and it's a foot race.

9:47 - Really tough pass to defend, especially considering Levy is not much of a pass defender. He's in good position, but the pass is nearly perfect and the safety has no chance to get there in time.

8:55 - Mike Thomas. The only player in the world who can make me think -- even if it's for just a millisecond -- "I miss Titus Young."

8:25 - These offside penalties are like gnats. They're pesky, but easily ignorable. That is, until you finally swing at one of those gnats and accidentally smash your flat-screen TV. In this case, your flat-screen is an interception.

8:16 - Great interception by Florence, who had been having a terrible game up to this point. But perhaps one of the biggest bone-headed block in the backs I've ever seen. Jacob Lacey pushes Luck INTO Florence, allowing Andrew to force him out of bounds and picking up a 10-yard penalty in the process. Florence probably scores without the block.

8:08 - PD (Pettigrew Drop).

6:23 - Lions defensive tackles are just dominating the game. Suh and Fairley nearly force the three-and-out on their own. On second down, Suh evades his lineman and forces the run inside, where Fairley has pushed his guy back four yards. This allows Suh to catch up and make the tackle. On third down, both have a chance to sack Luck, but they miss. Still, their pursuit forced a bad throw.

5:06 - I'm not entirely sure that Stafford isn't trying to throw this ball away, but if he isn't, that is the greatest touch I've ever seen on a pass.

3:51 - PD

1:50 - Don't know what in the world Luck saw with that throw, but I'll take it.

1:06 - Stafford was throwing this ball to Pettigrew the entire way. Unfortunately, he didn't see Robert Mathis drop into coverage. Terrible mistake to make in Colts territory.

Third Quarter

12:05 - A rare missed tackle by Delmas allows Ballard to skip into the endzone. Delmas hesitated initially, giving himself a tougher angle to take him down. Rough way to start the half.

6:46 - Suh beating double teams, making a tackle for loss. No big deal.

5:45 - Mike Thomas drop #3. This does not bode well.

5:36 - I LOVE the middle screen. But the defensive tackle read this perfectly. Shame.

4:59 - Calvin Johnson's arm gets tugged hard, but no call. Megatron gets no respect.

3:56 - Logan is actually a pretty good punt returner...assuming he catches the ball.

0:02 - Third-and-12: Wait and wait in the pocket until Johnson breaks open. I like that play call.

Fourth Quarter

12:50 - Random question: is there a logical reason why horse-collar tackles are illegal but pulling a guy's hair from behind is legal? Seems to me both present the same injury threat.

11:34 - Avril with a HUGE strip sack. If Suh gets that ball, game over.

10:28 - This is why film review is so much fun. On Joique Bell's huge run, Rob Sims laid a HUGE block. Gosder almost blew it by barely getting enough of the other linebacker, but it did the trick:

If you look closely, you can actually see the linebacker's spirit leaving his body upon contact. Little known fact: all Colt players' spirits look like a 3rd grader's drawing of an angel.

9:36 - Stafford with a pass behind Johnson. If they connect there, game over.

6:49 - Great defensive series by the Lions here. After allowing the Colts a few passes underneath, burning a lot of clock, Florence breaks up a first-down pass, Vanden Bosch forces an incompletion, and Don Carey doesn't drop a pass thrown right to him. 99 times out of 100, the game is now over.

5:40 - Lions gain a first down off of two rushes. 999 out of 1000, the game is over now.

4:18 - I wrote about this clock management yesterday, but long story short: it was pretty stupid of the Lions to throw it twice here. If the Lions chose to run it three times instead, the ball game comes down to an onside kick, at worst.

4:14 - If Stafford doesn't throw it behind Calvin on third down, game over.

3:29 - Look at this screen grab for a second.

Study it. Look at the down-and-distance. Look at the field position. Look at the score and the time remaining. No professional team should lose the game at this point. None.

3:12 - If Florence doesn't drop that interception, game over.

2:39 - Ugh. If I watch this play one more time, I'm going to do something horribly regrettable. Nothing to break down, Florence just absolutely cannot lose track of the man behind him. Completely inexcusable. All the Lions had to do here was keep allowing Luck to complete passes over the middle and bleed clock. Instead, they allowed a big play which let the Colts score quickly without using a timeout.

2:29 - Very smart play to test the Colts pass defense on second down here. Running three times is the wrong call. Getting a first down is much more important than making the Colts use their final timeouts. And waiting until third down to throw the ball is a bit too predictable. The play call pays off and the Lions get a pass interference call. Now the Lions have a free down that cannot be stopped by a timeout nor the two minute warning.

1:14 - NOW, running the ball three times was the right call.

1:07 - If Nick Harris can pin the Colts inside their own 20 yard line FROM THE 50 YARD LINE, game over.

0:45 - I have no idea how, in the prevent defense, you allow a 26 yard pass downfield to the number one receiver. Delmas was late to react, Lacey didn't drop back far enough. Killer.

0:18 - If Lo-Jack makes that sack, game over.

0:14 - Hey, Don Carey made an excellent play in crunch-time. Maybe there is hope for us yet!

0:08 - If Jacob Lacey makes that pick, game over. (granted that would have been a pretty tough interception)

0:04 - Those sideline shots of Stafford break my heart. Seriously. He has stepped his game up in the past three weeks. He deserves better.

0:00 - In case you're wondering, no, it doesn't feel any better the second time around. Lacey was way out of position. Here's how the play design looked:

Lions are in zone coverage with Lacey's designation highlighted. Here's how the play progressed:

A man comes into Lacey's zone and Jacob correctly side-steps with him a few feet. Meanwhile, he does not notice the underneath route developing. Soon after, Lacey stops, still in the correct spot and allows the other receiver to release into another man's zone. HOWEVAAA...

As Luck scrambles, Lacey drifts to his right, leaving his zone. I have no idea why he does this. Obviously he does not see the inside route, but even if he didn't, he should have stayed in his zone to prevent Luck from running the ball in. Instead, there was a huge hole in the zone, and it was an easy score.

Fun stuff.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Third Down Call was Right, Calls on Previous Drive were Wrong

Normally, I would defend Jim Schwartz's decision to run the ball on third-and-4 with two minutes left in the game with percentages and probabilities. And I could certainly do that again, because I'm positive the numbers are on my side. But the argument against that quickly becomes: "Well, the game isn't all about percentages and sometimes you need to look at the specific situation and screw the numbers." While I think that's a poor, uninformed response, I accept it.

So, instead, I'll use specific examples to show why Schwartz wasn't being "too conservative' or "playing to lose the game. First let's list the most common complaints about Schwartz's play calling.

You play to the Lions' strengths. Pass the ball, that is the teams' identity.

I agree that the Lions offense is built from the passing game. But the risk here is too great. A first down conversion is no guarantee (and a rush is no guarantee that the Lions don't convert), and giving the Colts defense an extra 40 seconds is way too much. True the reward is an all-but-guaranteed win if successful, but I don't think the chance of success is that much higher with a pass than it is with a run on a third-and-4.

You have to put the ball in your playmaker's hands when the game is on the line. Throw it to Calvin Johnson.

Well, the Lions did exactly that on the previous drive. Facing a third and 10, the Lions could have run the ball and either ran 40 seconds off the clock or forced the Colts to take their second timeout. Instead, they took a risk and threw the ball to Johnson. A catch would've almost certainly won the game. But the pass was behind Calvin and he dropped it. The Lions punted, giving the Colts the ball with four minutes left and two timeouts left.

You play to win the game.

Uh, yeah. That's what the Lions were doing. People assume, for some reason, that being overly aggressive ("going for the jugular" is what they playfully call it) is giving your team the best chance to win the game. Well, let me take you way back to 2010 in Detroit. The Lions were in an almost identical situation. Up three, the Lions faced a third-and-6 against the New York Jets at the two-minute warning. The Lions, with Drew Stanton in as quarterback after Matthew Stafford went down with an injury, dialed up a play-action pass that fell incomplete. The Jets got the ball back with 1:40 left, rather than 60 seconds if the Lions had opted to run the ball. The Jets easily went 47 yards in that time and kicked the game-tying field goal. Later, they won in overtime.

Obviously, things are a little different with Stafford at the helm, but Stafford hasn't exactly been as solid as we all assumed last year.

The Lions could have run a similar play to the Stanton one and given him the option to run it if the route was covered (supposedly, that's what the play call was supposed to be against the Jets), but the Lions ran that kind of play on the previous drive. Stafford faked the run, and tried to roll out. But the Colts were expecting it and Stafford had no choice to throw it away or endure a huge hit. It may have worked if they tried it again, but the Colts' defensive ends were staying home and I doubt the play ends up any different than the run Linehan dialed up.

Why call a toss, of all running plays?

This is the easiest, cheapest argument to make. Should the Lions have called a sweep? Obviously not, it didn't work. Criticizing play calls is way too easy with hindsight. But I certainly don't blame Scott Linehan for dialing up that specific play. The Lions had not been able to run the ball up the middle all game. Outside of Joique Bell's big run, the Lions had run the ball up the middle 21 times for 48 yards (2.3/carry). From my counts, the Lions ran a toss four times this game prior to this play for 21 yards (5.25/carry). It didn't end up working, but there was certainly evidence that it might.

Here's my argument: The Lions were TOO AGGRESSIVE on the penultimate drive, and that was a big factor in their loss.

The Lions had the ball first-and-10 at the Colts' 45 yard line with 5:06 left when they ran their first play. It was a Leshoure run up the middle for no gain. The Lions then faced a second-and-10 with 4:24. They threw two incompletions and gave the ball back to the Colts with 4:02 left and two timeouts.

If you want to criticize the Lions' play-calling, this was the drive that deserves the most heat. If the Lions had run the ball on all three downs: one of three things would've happened.

1) The Colts would have used their timeouts, which would result in Indianapolis getting the ball with the same amount of time left (about four minutes), but zero timeouts. This means after the Colts scored their first touchdown (with 2:39 left), they would be forced to onside kick the ball, or kick the ball off and likely get the ball back with 0:30 left, needing a touchdown.

2) The Colts would not have used their timeouts and the Lions would've been able to burn at least 1:30 off the clock. The Colts would then have 2:30 and two timeouts left two score two touchdowns. Again, the game would likely come down to an onside kick.

3) The Colts use a timeout for one play, let the clock run for the other. In this scenario, the Colts would get the ball with around 3:10 left and a timeout. Again, it seems likely that the Colts would score their first touchdown at, or after the two minute warning. Thus another onside kick is likely.

In all three scenarios, the Lions win the game assuming they recover an onside kick. While that is no gimme, it's certainly puts the numbers highly in their favor. Not only would the Colts have to recover an onside kick, they would have to subsequently score a touchdown with almost no time on the clock. The runs would have been the correct play, but the Lions were too aggressive and it cost them. Yes, the Lions were too aggressive.

Of course, this is all moot if the Lions defense can manage to prevent two 70+ touchdown drives in four minutes, but that's a whole different article...

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Great Drought of 2012

Win or lose, I can't bring myself to write about the Lions on the day of a game. My emotional level is too high, and my mind too cluttered. Without a proper night's sleep, I tend to overreact to a few crucial plays, and overlook the big picture.

So standard procedure for me has been to remove myself from all things Lions once the clock hits 0:00. I turn off my computer, I put my phone away, and I let the game digest in my periphery while I watch the other NFL games. I avoid saying something stupid off-the-cuff, and I ignore the post-game mania on message boards. All the hate, anger and frustration, I internalize. No one else needs to hear the illogical things that run through my brain post-battle.

But this season has killed that part of me. The self-controlled, level-headed man that I used to be is probably in a dumpster somewhere, stabbed to death with his own makeshift shiv, made from the hopes and dreams of his wildest fantasies. That man withered away the moment the red flag left Jim Schwartz's fingertips on Thanksgiving. After three straight fourth quarter meltdowns, I've regrettably joined the panicked masses post-game and spewed my emotionally-charged hate towards anybody and everybody who saw things differently than I. I've been bitten by the mlive commenter and all that's left of me is an over-reactive, rage zombie.

Why is this season the one that has finally released the ugly Kraken inside? When things were worse -- way worse -- everyone was on the same page. We collectively gathered our ire and catapulted it at the House of Millen. When the castle had finally crumbled, we had all survived, together. We had endured tragedy together, and our bond had never been stronger. We all held hands and waited for the brighter days that would follow.

And last year, we finally feasted. For the first time that anyone could clearly remember, the decades of our labor finally bore fruit. It wasn't much, but we devoured the harvest with an insatiable appetite. Our eyes widened as we quickly filled our bellies and envisioned the fruitful feasts ahead. There was plenty of food right around the corner, so why not eat voraciously?

But then the Great Drought of 2012 happened. We looked puzzledly at each other as we waited and waited for our plates to be filled. "ME WANT FOOD!" we grunted at no one in particular as the Lions left Tennessee empty-handed. As the weeks rolled on, the masses grew impatient. On the "day of feasts", it seemed our appetites would finally be whetted, but then the evil Striped Tribe circled our wagons and stripped us bare.

That's when we started turning against ourselves. The hunger weakened our brains and exaggerated our emotions. A youthful warrior named Titus was driven crazy by the drought and his failed attempt at a coup had him banished from our land, likely forever.

But the masses are beginning to turn in his direction. The muddled whispered of discontent are now not only audible, but nearly deafening. There are those trying to fight back with an equal amount of passion behind their hearts. "Droughts happen to everyone!" they scream. "It's the nature of the world we live in."

But the days of the "patient" are clearly numbered.

My Hunger Madness has worn off for now, and I currently stand with the supporters. But I am beginning to suspect they may be suffering from a different strain of madness. The kind of madness that blinds one from the disaster that lay before him. The kind of madness that allows one to stand pat until everything around him is dead and gone.

I stand with the supporters, but my knees are weak and my spirit is cracked. I fear the drought will continue into Lambeau next week (where we haven't feasted in over two decades), and while the body is slowly beginning to adjust to the lack of food, the psyche is fearfully vulnerable.