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.

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