Sunday, December 1, 2013

How the Detroit Lions Saved the World

Heroes (via FOX's broadcast)

At halftime of the Detroit Lions' Thanksgiving game against the Green Bay Packers, their doomsday clock was at 11:59 and 30 seconds, and I was the man with the trembly finger over the big red button. Though they led 17-10 at the break, their execution left a lot to be desired. Three turnovers, a missed 31-yard field goal, and just a seven point lead despite complete dominance in every non-turnover aspect of the game.

The Lions were just as we left them against Tampa, a wildly superior team that couldn't get out of their own way. It started to take a toll on me. As the second quarter continued the game's unbelievably frustrating momentum of blunders and gaffes, I started to lose it. My eyes may have been directed towards the television, but all I saw was what this team was doing to me. I saw myself 10 years in the future, corrupted by the years of wasted opportunities and myriad of hilariously awful moments. I was a sad, pathetic man. Watching Lions games only to smugly denounce the team at every opportunity I got. I watched each game shirtlessly by myself -- my friends having abandoned me after several failed attempts to get me help. The words "Same Ole' Lions" tattooed over my rotund abdomen.

As the hallucination briefly wore off and I, through my glassy eyes, witnessed Stafford's first interception of the game (and the Lions third turnover), I time-traveled 20 years ahead. I was a monster. My eyes were now forcibly sewn shut. My ears were mere nubs with drums resembling spoiled deli meats. My gruesome face was lit only by two objects: a monitor displaying a Lions game and a glass vial of some glowing, radioactive substance. My face wore a sadistic smile, but I said nothing, my tongue having been cut out years ago. My mangled fingers furiously scribbled down my final manifesto on cracked floorboards; mostly nonsensical ramblings about an obese dolt only identified as "M***en."

Just as I was lowering the vial into some sort of warhead, I snapped out of it as Ndamukong Suh was laying Matt Flynn to sleep in the endzone in a way that was frighteningly similar to Wayne Brady setting down a slain cop in the middle of the street. From there, the Lions dominated the Packers with no turnover or penalty caveats. In all three phases of the game, Detroit forced their will and beat Green Bay into submission...then beat them some more. No asterisks, no "almost blew its." They won in a manner so decisive that, in a moment of complete disgust, Aaron Rodgers disposed of his contract with the Packers.

With Chicago losing to Minnesota on Sunday, the Lions have now taken a commanding lead of the division. They are in prime position, and anything less than a division title at this point would be a huge letdown. But most importantly, they saved a soul like me. The last two weeks of countless foot-shooting and face palming would be enough to break a normal NFL franchise's fan. But we Detroiters have developed an amazingly high tolerance for incompetence. Still, another half of that against Green Bay, with division hopes on the line, in front of a national audience, with Joe Buck reading the Lions' obituary, would have likely been the end of me -- and all of you. And that's how the Detroit Lions saved the world.


I'll have more on this game later in the week.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Six Days Late "Live" Blog: Lions vs. Buccaneers

I apologize for the further lateness of this, but holidays and a short week pushed this down the priority list. Because I'm already a game behind, this will be briefer than usual, which is probably a good thing.

First quarter:

14:13 - Lions quickly go 3-and-out. The offensive line is struggling early, specifically LaAndrian Waddle, who was responsible for a TFL and a pressure on the first three plays.

13:14  - Lions respond with a three-and-out on defense. Likewise, it was the defensive line that forced the punt. Ndamukong Suh with great penetration on the first down rush, and Nick Fairley with the pressure on third down...and what was that thing Jeremy Ross did after catching the punt? You're allowed to run downfield after catching a punt? Why didn't anyone tell the Lions this sooner?

11:24 - I don't know the play call on Matthew Stafford's interception, but it looks like at least some of the blame should be on Nate Burleson. At the moment Stafford throws the ball:

...he is leading Burleson where there's room in the Bucs' zone. However, Burleson sits at the end of his route, allowing the safety to get to the ball first and tip it. Burleson needs to find the hole in the zone and get there.

9:24 - Brutal roughing the passer penalty.

Fairley is clearly getting pushed into the quarterback, and as he stumbles that way, he has no choice but to come into contact just below Mike Glennon's waist. Nothing else he could've done.

7:05 - Unbelievable read from DeAndre Levy on the end around.

5:30 - Tampa picks up a couple of third down conversions. Coverages on both were decent, not great. Good throws by Glennon.

5:21 - Ziggy Ansah does a great job shoving the left tackle to the side and picking up a big sack on first down. Nice to see some strength to go with that speed.

2:05 - Ballsy play by Stafford. Does a great job escaping pressure. He had Reggie Bush on his side of the field with a step on his defender. But Stafford opts to throw against the grain and finds an open Burleson for a first down.

0:00 - Beautiful set-up and execution of the screen to Burleson. The Lions get a little lucky, as the play-side safety sprints backwards at the snap to play deep middle.

But the play is made by Riley Reiff, who disposes of the defensive end, throwing him aside immediately, then takes out a cornerback in textbook fashion. But, hey, Nate. No fumbling.

Second quarter:

14:50 - I call this piece: Calvin Johnson: Epic Distraction.

14:15 - Weak call on Waddle, but he probably should have been for a personal foul after the play, anyway.

11:52 - Nate does a great job selling the run-block on his touchdown. The safety completely bites, and Burleson is way too quick for the hesitant cornerback.

11:50 - Rashean Mathis gets victimized by a double move, takes a smart illegal contact penalty, then allows Vincent Jackson to make the catch anyway. Harumph.

11:21 - Suh beats the wham play with his speed. Remember when this use to be his fatal flaw?

9:59 - Not enough pressure from the front four allows Glennon to improvise and pick up a third and long. That one is on the line, not the secondary.

7:56 - THE NATE BURLESON END AROUND!!! How I haven't missed you.

7:14 - To remain impartial, this was also a terrible roughing the passer call. In fact, there's very few roughing the passer calls that I agree with any longer.

4:38 - I am still not convinced Joseph Fauria got two feet down after having possession of the ball here, but it was too close to overturn.

4:21 - Great blitz (!!!!) by Glover Quin. Got a round the blocking running back, and finished the play.

3:33 - Tampa continues to run on second and long against the Lions. I don't think they read the scouting report correctly.

2:07 - You may think I was mad about the Lions not using a timeout here, but you'd be incorrect. The Lions were still getting the ball back with two minutes and three timeouts. That's plenty of time to go downfield and score. Calling a timeout in this instance opens the opportunity of giving the ball back with too much time.

Also, not sure how the Lions escaped without a roughing or running-into-the-kicker penalty. Lately the refs have cut down on roughing the kicker penalties with the same amount of vigor that they have enforced roughing the passer. It's weird.

1:01 - A stunt confuses Larry Warford and especially Waddle, leaving Gerald McCoy free to pressure Stafford. Still, that was a poor throw regardless of the pressure. Brandon Pettigrew was too late to look back for the ball and his instincts caused him to flinch when he turned only to see a missile flying towards his head. Blame: 40% Waddle; 50% Stafford; 10% Pettigrew.

Third quarter:

14:27 - Another second-and-long rush from TB. Strange coaching.

11:45 - I have no idea what's better: the pass or the catch.

I love these two guys.

10:22 - The Lions' Almost-Touchdown of the Game:

The Lions' Almost-Touchdown of the Game is brought to you by Bacon-Flavored Foods. Bacon-Flavored Foods: "All of the potential, rarely executed well."

9:41 - What a great catch by Pettigrew. This has got to be his greatest stretch of football in his professional career.

8:34 - Great job by Rob Sims clearing out McCoy to open a huge lane for Bush. 39 yards later. The Lions are rolling with the lead.

7:10 - Lions get double lucky on this play. McCoy splits Sims and Dominic Raiola and probably should have drew a holding flag. Instead, the Bucs get called for a pass interference penalty on a route that was a good six yards short of the first down.

5:43 -

At this point, Calvin looks wide open. However, the safety makes a very quick play on the ball, and Johnson's route is too horizontal and not enough vertical. If he runs more of a seam route, and Stafford throws it away from the safety, it may be a touchdown. But the post route was run directly towards the safety and it was picked.

This is the second time the Lions had a great opportunity to go up two possessions and take control of the game. Both drives ended in interceptions, and this one frustratingly happened on first down.

3:45 - 2nd-and-22 for the Bucs. Anyone want to guess the play call? It rhymes with "run."

2:29 -

Reggie Bush only picks up 4 yards on this play. I don't know how that's possible.

1:44 - Burleson with a solid effort to get the first down, but comes up half-a-yard short. For the record, I would not have been against going for it here, though I don't feel strongly either way.

Fourth quarter:

14:17 - This long touchdown has to be on Louis Delmas.

The Lions are very clearly in man coverage, with Quin playing deep coverage on half of the field. This means with almost certainty that Delmas had deep coverage on the other side of the field. However, he tries to read Glennon and jump the tight end's route. Houston gets burned overtop without help from Louis, and then flubs the tackle.

10:38 - Stafford takes a sack on third down after Joique Bell fails to hold his block on the blitz. Stafford was looking for Calvin on the post route, who likely would've broken open.

9:58 - So if people are blaming Akers for blocked field goals, can I blame Sam Martin for this blocked punt?*

9:11 - Ansah with another sack. First, he used his speed to get the edge on the left tackle, then used his strength to fight through the tackle's last ditch effort to keep him at bay.

7:48 - Nice to see the opponent miss a field goal. I was beginning to think it was impossible to miss field goals in Ford Field.

7:35 - What an effort by Kris Durham to fight for the extra yard and a half. I thought he picked up the first down, but he got close enough for Stafford to sneak it on fourth down for the conversion. Love this Durham kid. I don't think he could do anything wrong to change my opinion of him in the next four plays or so.


4:41 - No idea why Glennon took that sack on a play he could have easily thrown the ball away on. I'm sure those extra yards lost will have no impact on the gaOH MAN, HE MISSED IT AGAIN!

2:00 - Really don't like Stafford forcing this ball to Calvin on 2nd and 7 with the Lions on the edge of field goal range.

1:06- Really don't like Stafford forcing this ball to Calvin on 2nd and 12 with the Lions on the edge of field goal range.


This last one is a little more forgivable because Stafford was pressured, but Bell and Fauria were both breaking open and were much safer options. Of course, this ignores the fact that Calvin probably should have held onto it, and the Lions would have won the game if he had. But, still, this is insanely frustrated.


*I realize this snark carries less weight after Akers missed a 31-yarder on Thanksgiving, but I don't like punters nor do I like people blindly hating Akers because they wanted a youtube star on their team.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


When we last left the Detroit Lions....(via Fansided)

Oh God, no....

But then... (via Fansided)

And then... (via GIFD Sports)

And then.... (via GIFD Sports)

I did this a lot... (via SBNation)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And I finally mean it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

One Minute to Midnight

Thanks to for the original image
With Sunday's disastrous loss against the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Detroit Lions edged their doomsday clock forward, and now sit on the brink of losing their season, and squandering their best opportunity at the division title in well over a decade.

After defeating the Chicago Bears for a second time, the Lions had seemingly made a statement as legitimate contenders for the NFC North crown. As the Bears and Green Bay Packers slowly began to concede and put down their arms, all the Lions needed to do was avoid shooting themselves in the foot and hegemony would finally be theirs.

But shoot themselves in the foot they did. To the point of 8 turnovers in two weeks, while forcing none of their own. And now, though the Lions' reign atop the division continues, the forces in Chicago and Green Bay are slowly regaining their footing. Their warriors' wounds are quickly healing. And if the Lions don't come together soon and deliver the death blow in the next week or two, they will soon find themselves in an apocalyptic world with no kingdom to rule and peons calling for their heads.


I don't know how much more frustrating this team can get. This game was exactly the Dallas Cowboys game, just without the goal line leap. The Lions once again dominated their opponent all over the stat sheet. The Lions gained nearly 70% more yards than Tampa (390 to 229). They gained more yards per play (5.4 to 4.7) and had over 20 more offensive plays than the Bucs. They were better on third down (8/15 to 4/14), they had more sacks (4 to 2), and even were penalized less often.

Every moment in which the Lions felt like they were going to get over the hump and just win this game, they absolutely killed themselves with mind-blowing ineptitude.

The defense played perhaps their best game all season. They got off the field on third down, they held a good Tampa running team to just 22 rushing yards on 24 carries. They finally got to the quarterback and tallied a season-high 4 sacks. But just as they were given a great opportunity to keep the Bucs deep in their own zone potentially giving the Lions good field position, they broke down for one play: 85 yards and a touchdown. In just two pass plays in the game, the Buccaneers gained 57% of their total offense for the day.

People will clamor that the defense was horrible because the rookie Mike Glennon threw all over them. That is not the case at all. Sure, if you look at his final statline of 14-21, 247 and 2 TDs and a 138.4 passer rating, you can easily come to that conclusion. But if you watched that game, Glennon was hardly efficient in those yards. Take away those two big plays, and he's left with 12-19, 115 yards and a TD. And 23 of those yards came on third-and-long situations that did not pick up first downs.

Of course, you can't take away those big plays, because they happened, and they continue to happen. The Lions have forfeited 12 passing plays of 40+ yards this season, which is only topped by the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens.

And the offense...what can I say? There is no reason a team with this much talent should be struggling like it is. Five turnovers. That's the only relevant stat in this game. The offense had every chance to win that game on Sunday, and squandered every single opportunity. Of the five interceptions, three happened within the Bucs' 20-yard line, while the other two happened just as the Lions were crossing into Bucaneers' territory. By conservative estimates, the Lions gave away at least 12 points, while handing the Bucs 7 of their own.

Sure, Tampa deserves some credit on defense for pressuring Stafford all day and forcing him into some of his mistakes, but some of these turnovers were just plain, stupidity on the Lions' behalf. Calvin Johnson should have held onto that final ball, and he would've played hero again. If anyone could offer an explanation on Kris Durham throwing the ball away or Brandon Pettigrew ducking out of the way on a poorly thrown ball, I'd love to hear it.

All of this is terribly embarrassing, extremely frustrating, but mostly self-inflicted. And that's what gives me a glimmer of hope in the face of impeding doom. It's the handful of plays every week that sink this otherwise extremely talented team. At the beginning of the year, it seemed they had these breakdowns under control. They only had 8 turnovers through their first seven games, and Stafford was a calm, calculated killer. But in the last four games, they've turned it over 12 times, while Stafford's accuracy and composure have plummeted. Through five weeks, Stafford completed 63.8% of his passes. In the last six, that number has fallen to a mere 55.4%.

There's no rhyme or reason for this drastic change. The Lions are playing the same game they did in the first half of the season, and for the most part, their opponents aren't playing them any differently either. The Lions proved they can play fairly clean ballgames earlier in the season, and I want to believe they can return to form for the last stretch of the season. But staring down the barrel of another season gone awry, it's hard to have true confidence in this team any longer. Judgement day comes early this week, so they'll have little time to eliminate the mistakes. If they don't right the ship by Thursday, you can find me in a bunker for the rest of the year.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Three Days Late "Live" Blog: Lions at Steelers

First quarter:
13:53 - Great third-down play to Reggie Bush, but that's an awfully ominous sign seeing him fumble it away. The Lions were probably lucky to have him called down by contact here.

13:05 - Here's another brilliantly designed screen pass that failed to pick up the yardage it should have.

It's an end around fake to Bush that gets more than half of the defense going in the wrong direction. Joique Bell has all sorts of room to take it down field.

But Bell is weary of Larry Warford's block and tries to cut it back inside. That cut allows the defender catch him from behind. With his back turned to the play initially, it's hard to fully blame Bell here, but it's pretty clear he could have beaten everyone to the outside and taken the play for at least 20+ yards.

11:10 - Man, they've been saying that Joseph Fauria has been a liability in terms of blocking. They're right:

Fauria should be taking care of the safety in the second level. Instead, he....well, I don't know what the hell he's doing.

10:25 - That third down overthrow to Reggie wasn't going to be a touchdown, but it certainly should have been an easy pickup.

10:22 - Then a drop by Calvin Johnson to end the drive. Wonderful.

Thing I learned from this drive: the Lions had plenty of chances to make big plays on this drive, but failed to execute.

8:46 - Poor awareness by Stephen Tulloch, dropping three yards beyond the first down line on a 3rd and 8.

7:05 - Two big mistakes on this 3rd and 11 converstion by the Steelers. First, Don Carey evades a block on the wrong side of the blocker, taking himself completely out of the play. Meanwhile, Tulloch does a good job evading his block, but then misses the speedy Antonio Brown completely.

6:28 - Glover Quin quickly identifies this pass to Brown, but completely whiffs on the tackle. Chris Houston, enamored by the play of Quin, quickly follows suit and it's 7-0 Pittsburgh.

By my rudimentary counting skills, all but one of the passes on that drive were thrown within two seconds of the snap. Good luck, defensive line.

5:28 - And the Lions respond with a quick three-and-out, after Matthew Stafford overthrows an open Kevin Ogletree for a likely touchdown. frustrating.

4:08 - Oh, Delmas. My sweet, sweet Delmas. He lines up trying to disguise coverage by lining up directly over the inside receiver. In reality, he is covering Brown, the outside receiver. At the snap, he strangely tries to jam them both. But ends up whiffing on the two.

Already in desperation mode, Delmas (bottom of the screen) tries to hold onto Brown and give himself a chance to recover, but he's lost all of his leverage and Brown blows by him.

The defensive line did what they could and forced Ben Roethlisberger out of the pocket, but he had an easy read from there.

1:59 - Bell showing some speed there, outrunning Troy Polamalu to the outside.

Second quarter:



oh, hamburgers.

That's all on Stafford. The defense didn't force a high throw. In fact, Stafford could have thrown this ball anywhere and it likely would have been caught. But a fully-extended Brandon Pettigrew could only get his fingertips on it.

14:05 - It's absolutely unreal how fast DeAndre Levy sniffed out this end-around, blowing it up for an 8 yard loss. This dude's instincts are off the charts.

12:41 - I'll just go ahead and quote myself after this Bush fumble on first down (with good field position):
"For someone as valuable to the team as Reggie Bush, he sure does a lot of things that annoy me."
12:31 - Pressure finally gets to Roethlisberger, and of course he pulls a play out of nowhere and shovels the ball for a first down.

10:34 - Good pressure by Israel Idonije to force the incompletion on third down. Nice to finally say that guy's name, too.

10:27 - Another excellent play design from Scott Linehan:

After the play-action to the left, Stafford bootlegs to the top of the screen. This gets the defense, whose original momentum was taking them in the direction of the run, to scramble back to the top of the screen, where all of the routes are being run....except one. Johnson appears to be running a fly, but then cuts his route against the grain of the defense. The safety does not see this and tries to undercut a crossing route. And Calvin does the rest.

9:07 - Levy just got Reggie Bush'd by Le'Veon Bell.

Again, pressure was ALMOST there from Willie Young, but Ben got rid of the ball quickly.


5:27 - Bush showing his value on a play he isn't targeted on. His crossing route swallows up a few defenders leaving Pettigrew wide open for a big 31 yard gain.

3:58 - And Stafford finishes the drive with ease, hitting two wide open receivers for 25 and 19 yard gains.  Football is easy again!

3:22 - OoooOOOooo. A defended pass. That's new.

2:31 - Stafford's near interception is forgiven because Calvin was getting held pretty bad on the play. Uncalled.

2:00 - A strangely-conventional screen pass from the Lions, and Joique takes it for 37 yards. That's just great downfield blocking. Finally, some good execution!


1:11 - I don't even have to say it anymore:
0:52 - That is a rough timeout to take. I sure hope it doesn't come back to bite them.............

0:21 - OH LOOK, it came back to bite them. First and goal from the Steelers' 4 yard line with no timeouts. That pretty much means you can't afford to run it once. A run means you likely don't get three plays off, and puts even a field goal at risk. The Steelers know this and it severely limits the Lions' options here. Three plays later, the Lions are forced into a field goal.

Third quarter:

13:41 - Consider this my obligation to point out that Delmas made a good play here.

12:23 - That's a bunk roughing the passer call on C.J Mosely. Also, the word bunk isn't used enough.

12:18 - THAT'S WHY LEVY PLAYS DEFENSE, HARHARHARHARDAMNIT. Seriously, bud, you have to catch that.

10:31 - Dropped pass, Bush slip, sack. Looks like the offense's third quarter slumber is in effect.

9:13 - Houston has his hands full with Brown. Houston got turned around several times on this play, allowing Brown to pick up 21 easy yards.

6:07 - Strange play on this should-have-been-touchdown from the Steelers.

Ashlee Palmer and Delmas are in coverage. First, Palmer jabs his man, but then releases him and chases down Heath Miller, who Delmas also rushes to cover. This leaves the other tight end wide open. I don't know whose responsibility that man was, but Delmas and Palmer were chirping at each other after the play.

4:39 - That is just an unreal throw from Stafford on the run.

The ball actually gets tipped slightly, but still hits Jeremy Ross in stride.

Fourth quarter:
(leave while you still can)

15:00 - This was not a designed quarterback draw. The receivers are clearly running routes, though there may have been a draw option. Rob Sims makes a huge block down field and Stafford picks up the first.

13:44 - It's really tough not to have Bell in this situation. He had been rushing the ball extremely well on this drive before going down with an injury. Bush does an okay job replacing him, but this slip on 2nd and 4 was killer.

12:56 - I'm not going to say anything more about the decision to fake the field goal, but here's where the play broke down. It was Don Muhlbach and Riley Reiff who messed up the play.

Their job was to seal their guys from the inside to prevent any defenders from the backside of the play to get involved. At this moment, they are in good position...

Unfortunately both failed to keep this containment. Credit to both Steelers defenders, who sniffed out the fake pretty quickly, but if Reiff and Muhlbach hold those blocks, it's an easy first down.

11:25 - The Lions with a big opportunity to get off the field with the Steelers deep in their own zone on 3rd and 9. But Houston whiffs on another jab, then DeJon Gomes is way late in recognizing the play and Brown picks up an easy 16.

9:44 - Mosely with a great swim move to pressure Roethlisberger, but he got no help from Don Carey, who was extremely soft and hesitant in coverage.

7:30 - Hesistation by Rocky McIntosh on the play-action allowed the Steelers to pick up the fourth-down conversion with relative ease.

6:16 - Carey does a good job of avoiding the natural pick play from the Steelers...but then he overruns his man and misses the tackle, resulting in a near touchdown.

4:50 - I think the Lions can expect a lot of goal line passes on defense from now on. To their credit, Detroit is stellar in run defending on goal-to-go situations. But that leaves them woefully unprepared to defend the pass. It burned them twice here. Once, resulting in a holding penalty. The other, resulting in a touchdown...and we aren't done yet.

4:36 - Killer drops by Theo Riddick and Ross to start the drive. Ross' drop was inexcusable.

4:28 - I'm not sure I like the design on this play that resulted in an interception. It looks similar to the roll-out that resulted in a touchdown earlier, but there are some key differences.

First, there is no play-action on the play (it was 3rd and 10, so that makes sense). As you can see, the defense is not scrambling to recover from anything. Everyone on defense is right where they want to be.

The second issue is Kris Durham's route. Rather than crossing over the middle of the field, he runs a post-route designed to draw the safety over to his side. Here's the problem: with Stafford rolling way to his right, that makes the post route on the opposite side an impossible ball to throw. Therefore, the safety doesn't go with Durham, but rather reads Stafford and stays back.

Even though Calvin burns the safety on his side, the backside safety easily makes the play. If the play was designed to have Calvin's route a little more vertical, Stafford may have been able to slip the ball in before the backside safety could have recovered, but the route basically went exactly to where the safety was waiting.

2:35 - And Don Carey drives the stake through the heart by trying to jump the bubble screen that never was. Hurry back, Bill Bentley.

Quick thoughts:

- Even though that fourth quarter was brutal, this game wasn't as bad as I thought. There were some early, silly mistakes, but the Lions really controlled a lot of the game from the second to third quarter.

- Mistakes from backups really killed the Lions at the end of the game. See: Riddick, Ross, Carey, McIntosh and Gomes.

- Aside from the strange 3rd down call that resulted in an interception, I had no qualms with the coaching. The plays were there; the players didn't make them.

- I stand firm on my belief that the Lions defensive line played a good game. They can't control how quickly Ben is getting the ball out. And they actually pressured him a good amount given how little time he held onto the ball.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Narratives aplenty!

There are a billion narratives I could choose from to recap the Steelers game. I could go on about the coaching decisions, especially the fake field goal, that could easily be described as the "turning point" in the game.  I could rant and rave about the offense's appearing and disappearing act that resulted in 27 second quarter points and nothing more. Or I could talk about the defense, or the lack thereof it. But I don't want to boil the game down to just one narrative, because that would be the most dishonest way to recap that game. So...let's just talk about them all.

Let's start with the fake field goal just to get it out of the way, because it sounds like that's all anyone wants to talk about. My opinion at the time of the fake was this:
Now that I've had a night to think it over, here's what I think: I don't know how to feel. I do think the benefit of potentially going up 10 instead of 7 outweighs the cost of being up 4 instead of 7. However, I'm not sure it was the right time and place to pull that maneuver. Actually, it's obvious it wasn't. But I only know that information in hindsight. Overall, it was a gutsy call that didn't work out. The head coach is always going to take the heat for that. But, personally, I won't lose any sleep over it.

The fake field goal doesn't concern me much, because my personal mission as a fan/blogger isn't to find out who's to blame. The loss happened. That's the reality we live in. No amount of second-guessing and scapegoating will bring back that win. YOU NEED TO FORGET ABOUT PITTSBURGH, CHERYL, AND LIVE YOUR LIFE! The fake field goal will not lose this team the division. They are still in first place and still control their own destiny. So let's start a more meaningful discussion and focus on what may affect that destiny going forward.

The secondary. Oh boy, the secondary. Going into this game, I thought Ben Roethlisberger would be Ben Roethlisberger and hold on to the ball forever and get eaten alive by the front four. But Big Ben came out slinging that ball as quickly as he could, and no one in the back seven could stop him. The defensive line did all they could, but the secondary never gave them enough time to get to the quarterback.

No one in the secondary is playing consistently good football. Not one soul. The closest thing that unit has to a good defender is Glover Quin. And of course, he went out with an injury late in the game, at which point the Steelers drove down the field with no resistance. Louis Delmas is playing the worst football of his career right now. Chris Houston has been much more Mr. Hyde than Dr. Jekyll lately. Rashean Mathis has been just about as good as you can expect a mid-preseason acquisition to be. But the nickle corner position is a mess with Bill Bentley out. Darius Slay is obviously not ready, while Don Carey is clearly not the man for the job.

The Lions are getting worse at defending the pass as the season rolls on. Through the first four weeks, quarterbacks were averaging just a 69.1 passer rating. Since then, they are averaging a rating of 103.6. Opponents are learning that the best way to neutralize the pass rush is to get rid of the ball quickly. It worked for Cincinnati, it worked for the the Cowboys (in the second half), and it certainly worked for Big Ben, who put up season high numbers in touchdowns, passer rating, and QBR against the Lions.

But secondary aside, another huge problem with the Lions is their inconsistent offense, and it all boils down to execution: the dropped passes, the fumbles, the overthrows. The Lions had every opportunity to march down the field but opted to trip over their own feet instead. The most disappointing -- and simultaneously frustrating -- part of it is the people that are shooting themselves in the foot are often the same people that carry this team on their back. Reggie Bush has given the offense a much-needed extra dimension, but his fumbles and drops always seem to come at the exact wrong time. Matthew Stafford is a hero and our Lord and Savior...until he throws a ball needlessly off his back foot and airmails it directly into the arms of a safety. Even the untouchable Calvin Johnson managed to drop a fourth down pass in this game.

But these inconsistencies are nothing new. They were there last year, culminating in a 4-12 season. They were even there in 2011, when the Lions went to the playoffs (remember the first halves of nearly every game?). The Lions have proven that they can both win in spite of these problems and lose because of them.

The difference this year is that the Lions have more weapons than they have ever had. Last year, they collapsed after losing receiver after receiver. The offense remains relatively healthy at this point in the year (yeah, yeah, knock on wood), and they should be getting Nate Burleson back very soon. Hopefully with him comes some stability and consistency.

The defensive problems are much tougher to fix. We can hope that Bentley's imminent return will help turn things around, and we can cross our fingers that Quin is okay. But if we're being honest with ourselves, it is clear this will be the Lions' Kryptonite. That doesn't mean they won't win any more games; they've proven they can do so with defensive breakdowns (see: Cowboys game). That does mean, however, that there will be no cakewalks for the rest of the year, despite the easy schedule. As long as the opponent has that speedy receiver that can make defenders miss or a quarterback who can bait the secondary into a mistake, the Lions will struggle. They may still win, but they'll struggle.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Three Days Late "Live" Blog: Lions at Bears

Film note: The coaches film at Soldier Field is notoriously horrible. Unfortunately, that makes analysis a bit tougher than normal. So if I'm lighter on observations this week, that's why.

First quarter:

14:16 - Not terrible coverage by Rashean Mathis on Chicago's first third-down conversion of the day. It's a bit of a mismatch between him and Brandon Marshall, but give a lot of credit to Jay Cutler for putting that ball in a perfect spot where Mathis has no chance of batting it down.

12:45 - On the touchdown, Chicago designed a very nice fake that opened up a lot of field for Marshall.

The play looks very much like a quick wide receiver screen. Marshall fakes blocking down field, while Cutler looks immediately for the quick pass. This brings Louis Delmas way down the field.

The result is Marshall in one-on-one coverage with Darius Slay and a whole lot of empty field ahead. Marshall gets inside leverage on Slay, and makes an athletic catch. I don't blame Slay, as he was actually in very good coverage, but he couldn't knock the ball away from Marshall.

Still, a very poor way to start the game.

11:59 - In case you blinked and missed him, here's visual evidence that Montell Owens played a down for the Detroit Lions once.

9:29 - Excellent blitz pickup by Joique Bell on third down. Two Bears linebackers threaten to blitz up the A-gap before the snap. Only one comes blitzing, and Bell immediately notices and clears out a big path for Matthew Stafford to step up into. Good to see Stafford not panic immediately with an A-gap blitz, like he has in the past.

8:49 - Dominica Raiola is having a rough first drive, especially in run blocking.

6:48 - You guys think Reggie would have scored here?

6:01 - Kris Durham with a dirty move for the touchdown. He faked a quick slant, than swam over-top of his defender and ran an uncontested post-route.

Good to see the Lions answer quickly and not let the lead ever grow any bigger.

5:11 - Weird wrinkle that may only interest me, the Bears lined up with 6 offensive lineman on this play. The sixth man, who is listed as a guard on Chicago's official website, was lined up outside the left tackle and actually ran a route. The ball wasn't thrown to him, but I enjoyed watching a 300+ pound man run a seam-route up the middle of the defense.

5:07 - Bad luck for Ndamunkong Suh with the facemask. Willie Young was about to sack Cutler anyway.

4:42 - DeAndre Levy: Screen Killer. Just look how quickly Levy notices the play.

Cutler hasn't even cocked his arm back to throw the ball, and Levy is already booking it to the intended receiver. His quick recognition allows him to get to the receiver before a lineman can block him, and although he doesn't ultimately make the tackle, he blows up the play enough to let his teammates catch up.

4:00 - And Levy follows up that play by forcing an end around to go extremely wide and eventually out of bounds. The guy is playing out of his mind.

2:19 - 3 things:
1) I don't know how this ball was not intercepted after deflecting off of Calvin Johnson's hands.
2) This was a pretty awful throw by Stafford.
3) Although a pass to Calvin is never a bad idea AND he was open, a pass to Reggie would have been easier, and probably would have picked up more. The linebacker that was on him, bit on the play-action, and Calvin cleared that side of the field.

1:26 - I know the offensive line got a lot of credit for this game, but they were not good in the first quarter. The Lions only averaged 3.0 a carry on six rushes in the first stanza.

Second quarter:

11:51 - That is an absolutely huge tackle by Chris Houston. He gets around the offensive lineman and gets just enough of Matt Forte, who is not easy to bring down, to tackle him before the sticks.

...why are they bringing in Rocky freaking McIntosh?


Also, congratulation to the referee crew for the worst measurement ever. They said it couldn't be done.

10:24 - That was an awfully generous first down given to the Lions on a Bell run that looked at least a yard short of the sticks.

8:23 - Alright, let's talk about the fourth down decision. The Lions basically had three choices: Attempt a 49-yard field goal, go for it, or punt. If you think punting was the best option here, click the "x" at the top of your browser and never come back. I think a field goal here is probably a 50/50 proposition. Not to take anything away from David Akers, it's just not an easy thing for kickers to do. According to the New York Times, from 2000-2005, kickers at Soldier Field had the worst kicking percentage of any venue and a 49-yarder is no gimme.

Going for it on 4th and short has the highest probability of success. I've seen estimates as high as 62%. I think going for it here was a no-brainer. If you want to argue with the play call, that's a bit more understandable, but remember that the Lions had nothing going on the ground at this point, and Calvin was open:

6:42 - The Bears have now converted a 3rd-and-6, 3rd-and-10 (via penalty), third-and-8, and another 3rd-and-8. That's insanely frustrating as a fan, and I don't think it's too fun for Gunther Cunningham. The issue is a mixture of the pass rush getting there a moment too late, and the secondary not playing tight enough. On this conversion, it was Delmas as the culprit again:

As Alshon Jeffery made the cut in his post route, Delmas turned his back to run with him, thinking he was running a fly route. Delmas is forced to turn around, giving Jeffery a huge cushion and an easy first down.

5:13 - GRRRRRR. Add another 3rd-and-8 conversion to the list. This is just a huge mismatch of Slay on Jeffery.

2:00 - Ok. This is enough. Someone really needs to tell Jim Schwartz he can use his timeouts on defense in the first half. It's the two minute warning and the Bears have the ball 2nd and 5 at the Lions 14 yard line. The Lions have three timeouts. The Bears can only run, at the max, five more offensive plays (2nd down, 3rd down, 1st down, 2nd down, 3rd down), assuming there are no penalties. Chances are the Bears are going to try and throw it at least a few times trying to get a touchdown. So it makes sense to start using some timeouts when the Bears are running the ball to stop the clock and give yourself time to respond before the end of the half. Here's how it should have played out:

2nd and 5. Bears run for 7 yards. Lions call timeout at 1:54.
1st and goal. Bears run for 3 yards. Lions call timeout at 1:48.
2nd and goal. Bears throw interception. Lions get the ball with 1:41 left and a timeout.

Instead, the Lions failed to call a timeout in BOTH situations, letting NEARLY 80 SECONDS run off the clock unnecessarily.

Thankfully, it seems like I'm no longer screaming to myself about this overlooked issue. Grantland crucified Schwartz for this, too. Thanks to Sean Yuile at Pride of Detroit for giving me the heads up about that. 

Side note: on this drive Suh had two hurries, one tackle for loss, and a batted pass that resulted in an interception. Beast.

Third quarter:

15:00 - True story, I missed the opening kickoff to the second half due to some poor remote time management from my friend. Therefore, I didn't actually believe the Lions had a 34-yard kick return until this moment right now.

13:35 - Huge blocks from Ladrian Waddle, Rob Sims and Larry Warford on the long Bush run:

13:02 - I can't believe they took so long to review this touchdown. Wait, did I say "I can't believe...?" I meant to say, how awfully predictable.

11:25 - Offensive touchdown then a defensive three-and-out. Not a bad way to start the second half.

9:52 - It's nice to see Devin Taylor create some pressure from the outside. Young man's got talent.

9:48 - I can't know this for sure, but it looks to me that, again, Delmas tried to jump a short route, leaving his assignment. This left Marshall one-on-one deep, which is trouble for Mathis.

This was not a very good game for Delmas.

Side note: Austin Lane was tackled on this play in the backfield.

8:56 - Highly ineffective blitz: DRINK!

8:11 - I really like this third-down play by the Bears. The shovel pass completely fools Suh in the backfield, but once again, it's Levy who saves the day.

Levy has such a jump on the play, that he draws two linemen. This frees up Stephen Tulloch (who also had a monster game) to make the tackle before allowing a first down.

4:43 - What an outstanding play from Don Carey. He shows his speed and elusiveness quickly closing in on Matt Forte, while avoiding a block from the pulling guard. Impressive athleticism overall.

 Fourth quarter:

15:00 - Interesting third-down call from Scott Linehan. The Lions have Bell and Bush in the backfield. One of them is getting the ball:

Both players immediate release into the same routes on opposite sides.

The wide receivers basically run dummy routes away from the sidelines, hoping to create space for the two backs. Stafford looks to Bush and overthrows him. I think this is the wrong read. At the bottom of the screen, Calvin is clearing all sorts of room for Bell, who could have easily picked up the first down here.

14:11 - Here's where things start to get chippy. Nick Fairley may have crossed the line with bringing Cutler down late, but he was also being pushed towards him, and did not slam Cutler down nor come down with all of his weight. Then Kyle Long comes in and throws a forearm at Fairley and somehow avoids a penalty. The FOX announcer then proceeds to praise Long for the obvious personal foul.

14:07 - Good coverage by Carey, but a better pass and catch by the Bears.

11:59 - Stafford passes on an open Joseph Fauria to try and thread a needle to Calvin. It does not work.

11:08 - Stafford's interception was nothing more than a bad pass. It was a tougher throw than it looked, but Matt airmailed it to a point where a fully-extended Megatron couldn't get it. That's no good.

10:57 - Once again, it's Levy who makes a great play, forcing the Bears into a holding penalty:

Levy comes on a well-timed blitz.

He happens to be attacking the exact position of the running lane, and the Bears lineman has no choice but to hook him and hope the ref doesn't see. Luckily for the Lions, he does see.

9:30 - To me, this doesn't seem like the same rule that screwed Calvin out of a touchdown three years ago. As Jeffery went to the ground, contact with the defender and the ground caused possession to be temporarily lost. That makes sense to me as an incomplete pass.

Calvin's non-TD was different. Calvin corralled the ball, hit the turf, maintained possession, and AS HE WAS GETTING UP, he put the ball on the ground. This is where the rule makes no sense. There is nothing clear about when "the process of the catch" is completed. Is it when you hit the ground? Is it when you stand back up? There is no clear rule.

7:53 - The facemask giveth...

7:23 - ...and taketh away.

6:33 - Greedy Stafford. As the play breaks down, Bell is wide open underneath. He is almost guaranteed 5-10 yards, which wouldn't be enough for a first down, but it would be valuable yardage to shorten Akers' field goal attempt.

Instead, Stafford opts to throw a low-percentage, across-the-body, jump ball to Calvin. Not only is this a tough play to make, but it is also a big risk in throwing an interception, which would obviously take a field goal attempt completely off the board. This is where Stafford's over-reliance on Johnson can hurt the team.

6:25 - Akers haters. Come out and playyyyeyyayyyyyy.

5:28 - I love seeing the Lions come out on this drive with play-action. The Bears bit hard, leaving plenty of space for Jeremy Ross to get open.

4:05 - Excellent protection gave Stafford the time to check down to his third read on this crucial third down play.

2:28 - As hard as I've been on the coaching staff for their mangling of time management at the end of halves, I have to give them credit here. They could have ran the ball three times to end the drive, but they came out throwing. They knew the Bears could stop the clock anyway, so why not try and get into the endzone. And what a gorgeous pass that was from Stafford.

2:18 - Never have I ever feared the words "Josh McCown" as much as I did in this moment.

2:13 - Stupid Nick Fairley.

2:07 - Good Nick Fairley. This is the world we live in, I'm afraid.

1:50 - Fourth-and-1 and the Lions decide to call another ineffective blitz. Credit goes to Long for picking up Levy, but the Lions' inability to get a free pass-rusher on the blitz is absolutely frustrating.

0:52 - Good pressure by Andre Fluellen and Willie Young to force a throw-away.

0:47 - Blerg. McCown smartly steps up in the collapsing pocket and Mathis can't keep up with Marshall for that long. This is why I was afraid of McCown.

0:40 - There is no good, definitive replay of the helmet-to-helmet contact from Young here, so I have no opinion on it. I will say that there was no way Young could have stopped himself from hitting McCown, but if he did go high, that's on him.

0:40 - Stupid Nick Fairley: 1. Good Nick Fairley: 2.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Cool Guys Don't Look at Explosions

I woke up this morning and the Detroit Lions were still in first place. It wasn't a dream. The Lions weren't disqualified in the middle of the night by some technicality. Yesterday actually happened.

Yet my damn subconscious cannot seem to come to terms with this fantastic reality. Literally my first thought when I opened my eyes this morning was that Matthew Stafford had somehow broken his collarbone, too. I don't know why this thought popped into my head, but I just knew that if I opened up twitter, my timeline would be filled with villagers screaming and gouging their own eyes out as the town burnt to the ground. This team has done a number on me.

But screw that. I'm done with that. The last time the Lions were in first place this late in the season, I was enjoying awkwardly experiencing my first year as a teenager. The horrors and monstrosities that followed for the next decade happened to a different team. They were witnessed by a different me. This is different. This is now.

I know the Murphy's Law part of my brain will always be there, spreading panic and lies at every opportunity it gets. But, today, I am performing a symbolic lobotomy. No more worrying. No more doubt. No more irrational fear. This is a team that should, and will, win the NFC North this year.

I'm not just baptizing myself in the Honolulu Blue River this week, I'm doing a cannonball in that mother-effer. I'm swallowing gulps by the mouthful in a way that would make Augustus Gloop look at me shamefully. I'm all in on this team. I'm buying playoff stock. I'm doing whatever metaphor it takes to let you know: I believe in this team, and I'm not looking back.

A fun thing for fans to do when their team wins, especially against a rival like Chicago, is to go to their fans' website and partake in a little schadenfreude. But, today, I get no pleasure watching the Bears fans devour themselves. That is beneath me, beneath us. They are the explosion we are walking away from without turning to watch. Everyone else in the league will be shocked and horrified by the carnage we left in our path. They will speak of broken collarbones and groins torn to pieces. They will criticize our savagery, and try to take our earnings. But we will continue to walk forward. Because we're walking towards something greater, and we've got another building to blow up.


Game notes:

- This wasn't a particularly satisfying game in any way. There were no big plays on either side of the ball for either team. The Lions did not win in a convincing fashion by any means, and it was disappointing to see their inability to put away the Bears when they had several chances.

- None of that really matters though. It was a division win on the road against an above-average team. That's big.

- I was pretty disappointed to see Stafford fall into some bad habits in this game. Specifically, his over-reliance on Calvin Johnson. Calvin saw almost exactly half of Stafford's targets in this game (17 of 35). Matthew went 6-17 for 83 yards, 2 TDs and an INT when throwing to Megatron. That's a passer rating of 66.5. I know Calvin pretty much won the game, and I know he's the best receiver in football, but the Lions offense is unstoppable when Stafford is spreading the ball.

- Expanding on that point, in the Lions' three scoring drives, Calvin had just five catches for 64 yards.

- After a disappointing start, the Lions really got things going on the ground in the second half. Their final scoring drive was perfectly balanced: 4 rushes for 29 yards, 5 passes for 45 yards.

- The Lions were clearly the benefactor of an ailing Jay Cutler in the second half. Cutler completely stopped throwing anything further than 10 yards down the field late in the game. But a lot of credit goes to the Lions defense for rendering the Bears' running game completely moot and turning the Bears' offense into a zero-dimension threat.

- DeAndre Levy continues to have a Pro Bowl-worthy year. Not only was his interception huge, but he also drew a holding in the fourth quarter, negating at touchdown. This guy has made huge strides this year, and is on his way to becoming a household name.

- Coaching notes: I'm going to get more into this in my "Live" blog, but coaching decisions this week were again a mixed bag. I was for the Lions going for it early in the game, but for the second straight week, the Lions failed to use timeouts on defense at the end of the first half. Again, it was clear they were geting the ball back, and they could have saved at least 40-60 seconds with timeouts. Instead, they got the ball back with less than 30 seconds and sat on it.

- However, I was absolutely delighted with the offensive play-calling for the Lions' final drive. At the end of the drive, the Lions could have ran the ball three times, forcing the Bears to use all of their timeouts, but the Lions made their priority six points rather than bleeding the clock. As it turned out, those points were much more valuable than bleeding clock, as the would have had plenty of time to score even without those timeouts.

- Nick Fairley's stop on the two-point conversion attempt was both the biggest play and the entire story of the game.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lions Victory GIF Dump: Bears Edition...AGAIN

It was a pretty ugly game. Not a lot happen. So let's just watch Nick Fairley stop his way to FIRST PLACE until the end of eternity. (via SBNation)

And it's time to bust out the Solo-First-Place-In-The-Second-Half-of-the-Season champagne....