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.

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