Monday, November 24, 2014

Detroit Lions. What's the deal?

The hype has certainly been there. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown for over 5000 yards in a season and is in his sixth year. The prime of his career.

Calvin "Megatron" Johnson has been touted as being the best wide receiver since Jerry Rice. He's fast, he's tall, he's physical, and he makes seemingly impossible catches.

The Lions added former Super Bowl champ and free agent Golden Tate to their receiver corps.

Reggie Bush was supposed to be a dynamic runner and a threat out of the backfield to catch passes as well.

The Lions had two pretty good tight ends and spent their first round draft choice last year on another one.

After some uncertainty, their offensive line has finally jelled.

So just one question.....

With all this firepower on offense, how is it they can't seem to score a single touchdown lately?

A closer look. Consider the tight ends. Veteran Brendon Pettigrew was probably a big fan of former boxer Roberto Duran. How else to explain his hands of stone? There's a reason, actually 224 of them, why all 32 NFL teams passed on Joe Fauria during the seven round draft in 2013. But the Lions signed him. Last year's first round pick, Eric Ephron, can't seem to catch and whiffs on blocks. Can you spell B-U-S-T? And that's when any of them can even stay healthy -- which isn't very often.

Like any other team, the Lions' wide receivers likely catch over 100 balls a day in practice. NFL receivers are supposed to be the best in the world at catching a football. But what good are they if they choke up and drop passes on game day? To his credit, on many occasions QB Matthew Stafford has hit them right in the hands or between the numbers with passes -- only to see the ball fall to the ground. This would not be tolerated by elite teams. If a receiver can't catch a well-thrown ball in a clutch situation, chances are good he'll be looking for a new job pretty quick, because he will have been cut. If the ball is catchable -- catch it. Isn't that the prime directive for receivers?

Yet Stafford himself pulled a big-time bonehead against the Patriots. While his team was trailing, in desperation Stafford scrambled on a fourth down. It appeared he had it easily. The first down marker was directly in front of him as he approached the sideline. All he had to do was finish the play and perhaps take a hit while going out of bounds. But the Georgia Peach went into a slide -- a yard short of the first down. Oops. The Lions turn the ball over on downs. While watching the replay on the Jumbotron, the Patriots likely chuckled. Even though they knew they were a vastly superior team, how could an opposing QB be so oblivious of the situation to pull such a brain-lock stunt? For his foible, Matthew Stafford was high on the panel's ridicule list of the weekly "C'mon man" segment. All he had to do was take one more step for a first down, with the bright red sideline marker staring him in the face, but he slid a yard shy? C'mon man indeed.

The Lions supposedly have the best defensive front in the league. A regular gang of brutes. But they never came close to sacking Tom Brady for the entire game. This, even though the Patriots had recently reconfigured their offensive line. Brady would go 38 for 53 and 349 yards. Those are impresive stats by any measure.

Lions's fans can lament the injury factor -- on both sides of the ball. But that doesn't hold water. It's now Week 11 in the NFL, and every team is banged up in one way or another. Some have even lost their starting quarterbacks for the year. The week before, the Lions lost at Arizona and the Cards were forced to start former Lion Drew Stanton in place of injured Carson Palmer. Stanton hadn't started a game in over a year. But Arizona still won handily. Good teams find a way. The next guy steps up and does the job.

Question: Where would the Lions be if Stafford went down for the rest of the year?
Answer: In big trouble.

The Lions have got fat so far this year for two reasons. First, they had a relatively easy schedule which is typical for a losing team the year before. Second, they made three improbable late fourth quarter comebacks in a row to win games they likely should have lost.

Interesting stat: In their last 5 games, including the 3 comeback wins against New Orleans, Atlanta, and Miami -- and also the last two losses to Arizona and New England (they can't all be easy), the Lions have had the lead in those games for about 46 minutes, and trailed by about 210 minutes. Yet they went 3-2 over that span. Make of that what you will, but it sounds a lot more like they've been eating their Lucky Charms than being dominant to yours truly.

Of their last five games, the Lions play four of them against sub .500 competition, including the next three at home. Even with their age-old and ongoing penchant for fumbles, foibles and brain farts, it's almost like the Lions would have to totally collapse NOT to make the playoffs.

But remember the four words that have come to aptly describe this team over the decades, despite how promising they may appear at any given time. They've certainly earned it.

It's still the Lions.

If there's a way to screw it up......  

And even if they make it to the playoffs, do even the hardest core Honolulu blue and silver koolaiders REALLY think they have the remotest chance of advancing far, let alone going back to Arizona for the Super Bowl? Whatever happened to Mr. T and his "I pity the fool"?

They've been lucky to beat mediocre teams, and were totally exposed by the Patriots. It wasn't so much men against boys as smart against dumb. The Lions like to fly around and hope for the best. The Pats are much more into precision. Big difference, as the eventual 34-9 score showed.

But never fear, despite the blowout at the hands of the Patriots, there are those in the Detroit media that continue to put a positive spin on all things Lions. After giving up 24 points in the first half, their mighty defense stiffened up in the second half -- they said. Truth is, the Pats would score 10 more points in the second half, while the Lions could only muster a single field goal. Besides, when leading 24-6 at halftime, the Pats knew it was pretty much a done deal. They dialed it back in the second half to cruise to an easy win. Had Brady/Belichick REALLY wanted to, they likely could have put 2-3 more touchdowns on the board. The Lions were helpless to stop them. It was the NFL tacit equivolent of the "mercy" rule in other sports.

Bottom line? The local Pollyannas aside, the 2014 version of the Lions are a slightly better than average team. Better than some, but nowhere near elite status.

And all the Koolaid in the world isn't going to change that.

1 comment:

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