Monday, September 21, 2009

Lions 13, Vikings 27

A Trainwreck?

I’m not the type of person who likes overused clichés. If I find myself outside and suddenly it starts to downpour, I’m not going to explain the story by saying “It rained cats and dogs.” To me, that’s not ever an accurate depiction of rain. I like words to actually mean something and if the clichés fall short, I’ll choose different words.

As I sat in Ford Field and watched the Lions lose to the Vikings 27-13 on Sunday, the thought that kept reoccurring in my head was “This is like watching a trainwreck.” I’ve heard situations described in that way many times, whether an uncomfortable workplace conversation or an awkward confrontation at school. Something so ugly and painful that you just can’t look away. That’s the Lions.

But here’s my question. Have you ever actually seen a train wreck? Do you know anyone who has? No, me neither. Trains don’t wreck all that often and when they do, I wouldn’t imagaine there are many witnesses. You could say it was like watching a car accident, but I’ve never just sat and killed four hours watching cars smack into each other either. I’ve been involved in a few car crashes, but it’s more like a split-second of sheer panic than a football game.

Watching the Lions unravel, yes, unravel is an accurate term for it, is a much more painful personal experience that watching a trainwreck. I have no emotional attachment to any train or even the passengers. I would actually have no problem looking away. But the Lions and I are attached at the soul. Their losing is my losing; their suffering, my suffering. Watching a 10-0 lead slip away into nothingness and the crumbling of another potential victory is a helpless, debilitating feeling. It’s paralyzing pain. It’s like watching a real good friend be harassed by some horrible bully, but there’s nothing you can do about it. It just makes you sad in a vaguely pathetic and powerless kind of way.

It’s nothing like a trainwreck. It’s much worse.


The defense played quite well in this game and you can’t place too much blame on the offensive line, the running backs or the receivers. The blame for this loss is twofold: Matthew Stafford, and Scott Linehan. The playcalling was awful, and Stafford was even worse. The defense was vastly improved from the Saints game they played last week. Could they have played better? Sure. But did they hold the best running back in the NFL to under 100 yards, including only twelve yards on his first six carries? You betcha. They also sacked Brett Favre three times and recovered a fumble, and forced the Vikings to punt four times. Here are my position-by-position grades for Sunday’s performance:

Stafford: F Minus.

I’m not giving the guy a long leash. He sucks. He deserves to be told he sucks. He should not be starting. I’m sorry, I know you’re a rookie, but you don’t get paid $72 million dollars to suck.

Here are some numbers for you:

First, Matt Stafford’s box score: 18/32, 152 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT

Not that bad right?

Well, check out what Stafford did donce the score was 27-10 with less than six minutes to play, and the game was practically over: 7-13, 40 yards.


That means in the three and a half quarters that actually mattered, Stafford had a whopping eleven completions for 112 yards. 112 yards?!?!? Really?!?

With six minutes to play and a 17 point deficit, what the hell were the Lions doing running a 15-play drive and killing more than half the clock??? They must’ve felt pretty damn good about their onside kicking team if they were willing to pin all their hopes on recovering two onside kicks in order to have any chance of winning!

If that were Brady or Manning or Brees in that situation, they’re throwing deep and scoring fast, because they’re down 17 points with six minutes left for crying out loud! But with Stafford, it was a two yard dump-off here and a three-yard slant there, up the field slowly and methodically and building up those stats so he didn’t look like a complete failure at the end of the day. 18 completions for 152 yards is bad, but it’s not that bad. But Stafford’s actual game was this: 11 completions for 112 yards and two horrible drive-killing interceptions. That’s downright terrible. That’s an F minus.

Kevin Smith: B Minus.

26 touches for 93 yards is pretty good, especially against the Vikings stout rush defense. Smith made the most of runs straight up-the-middle and reeled off several 8 or 9 yard gains on sweeps and counters. He ran hard and did the zone-blocking thing better than he usually does. Smith just lacks the speed and elusiveness to really be an NFL star. He would have earned a B Plus instead of a B minus if not for the costly third-quarter fumble.

Offensive Line: B.

One holding penalty (on Backus), one chop block penalty (on Cherilus), two sacks allowed (one each by Backus and Cherilus), but other than that … not a terrible game. Really. Seriously. The running game was alright, the guards held their own, and Raiola played solid as usual. Truth be told, the Vikings have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, so holding them to just two sacks and running the ball with some success is a feat that gives me hope for the rest of the season.

It may have looked like the O-line didn’t give Stafford enough time to pass, but it’s not their job to give him five full minutes to try to diagnose the defense and deliver the ball. They’re supposed to give him three or four seconds, to drop back, gauge the pressure and the coverage, glance through his reads and make a decision. Three, four, maybe five seconds. The rest of the job is Stafford’s. And, as I’ve already explained, Stafford sucks. He makes the offensive line look bad. Usually it’s the other way around, but not this game. They gave him enough time to pass the ball, and he hurried himself because he didn’t like what he saw. Or rather, he didn’t know what he saw. He couldn’t figure it out. He scrambled around when he didn’t need to, checked down when he shouldn’t have, and never once stepped up the pocket to deliver a downfield pass. You've got to be able to keep your eyes downfield when the pressure is coming, and Stafford's eyes were darting around like a squirrel crossing the East Beltline. No, the offensive line was'nt perfect, especially on the edges where Backus continues to struggle at times, but they were decent. They were better than they were last year. They earned a B grade and good for them.

Wide Receivers: Incomplete

Calvin Johnson earns an A just for being Calvin Johnson, but the rest of the guys were invisible. Bryant Johnson caught zero, Northcutt caught two short ones, and the rest was backs and tight ends. Why do we even throw the ball to Casey Fitzsimmons?? What the hell is he even doing on the field?? We drafted a tight end in the first round and Casey “0-16” Fitzsimmons still gets playing time?? I am baffled and bedazzled. Kevin Smith had only 10 receiving yards and Aaron Brown had 3. I was hoping for a lot more in that area. Brandon Pettigrew caught his first NFL pass, plus three others, for a total of 40 yards. Big stinking deal. Without a quarterback, you have no passing game. Stafford is worse than Orlovsky.

Defensive Line: C Plus.

They put pressure on Brett Favre on some plays and didn’t on other plays. Give them a break. The Vikings have an excellent offensive line, led by Steve Hutchinson, and can dictate the game with great blocking no matter who they play. Getting beat on a couple of long runs by Adrian Peterson is going to happen. The fact that his longest run was 27 yards is great. All that being said, they still weren’t good enough, and I would have liked to see more of Cliff Avril on the field.

Linebackers: B Plus.

Larry Foote rocks a solid ‘A’ for the best individual game by a Lions defender I’ve seen in a long time. He was all over the field on every play, making tackles, blitzing, and in coverage; basically he was what Ernie Sims is supposed to be. Sims didn’t have a bad game, but he wasn’t great, and he hurt his shoulder. Peterson was okay, but I’m still waiting to see him make a difference in the pass rush. If there’s one player who makes me believe that we will not be 0-16 this year it is Larry Foote.

Secondary: C

Nothing special, nothing awful. Truth is they didn’t have to do much because Favre didn’t test them. Their main assignment was to keep Peterson in check, and they did a mediocre, but not horrendous job. The good news is our secondary didn’t allow a pass longer than 15 yards all game; the bad news is that a thirty-nine year old man completed 85% of his passes against us. The Lions came out blitzing and the secondary earned a solid B in the first half. But then the Vikings made halftime adjustments, and the Lions did not. Favre burned the Lions blitz attempts with an assortment of quick slants and dump-offs and those little ‘bubble screens’ in the second half, and the Lions were either too stupid or too maladroit to adjust. This allowed Peterson to run a little more freely and move the chains to the tune of eight first downs in the second half. Marquand Manuel had two of the biggest plays of the game on defense, one good and one bad: his forced fumble in the first quarter was stellar, but his 3rd and 8 illegal contract penalty was a killer.

Special Teams: Non factor

Hanson was 2/2 and kicked a 48-yarder. We gave up only 37 total kick-return yards on five returns, which was great coverage. But Aaron Brown averaged a measly 16 yards on 6 kickoff returns, which was bad.

Coaching: D.

A D Minus for the offensive playcalling and a D Plus for the defensive playcalling. My dad, a lifelong Lions fan and sufferer, articulated the game and perhaps the past 52 years of Lions futility brilliantly in this one statement: “They play to lose.”

They don’t play to win. They don’t even play not to lose. Their playcalling and strategy is designed around how to lose the game. They run the ball on 2nd and 10; they throw short passes on 3rd and long; they don’t blitz on obvious passing downs; heck, even the time management is terrible and always has been.

During the third quarter, as the Lions continued to run the ball despite the deficit, myself and several fans around me groaned and cried “Time to pass the ball to Calvin!” A wise old fan in the row behind me stated flatly: “They’re running the ball to set up the pass.”

“It’s not working!” I yelled.

“It never works. They’ve been running the ball to set up the pass for the past eight years.”

…So true.

Our new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan loves the play-action pass. He raved about it all offseason and all preseason; we were going to run the ball, run some more, and then boom! Play-action, and deep ball to Calvin Johnson in single coverage. There’s just one teeny little flaw in the plan though, Scott.

It doesn’t freaking work.

Why not? For one, because our running game is lousy. For another, because our offensive line is abysmal. On top of that, we don’t have a good quarterback and never have. But most of all: No team in the NFL is stupid enough to single-cover Calvin Johnson, no matter how well we run the ball! He’s the only playmaker the Lions have! What do you think, the safety is just going to forget he’s over there?! The defenders have spent the entire week watching tape of Calvin Johnson and studying on how to stop him, and after Kevin Smith racks up 50 rushing yards in three quarters you think a play-action pass is going to slip right over there heads and catch them napping? Not a chance! You have to force-feed Calvin the ball in double, triple, or QUADRUPLE coverage (and he’ll still catch it) or else you’re just wasting the best player on our team as a decoy!

We’re not running the ball to set up the pass. We’re running the ball to set up the loss.

Overall, I would graded the offense as a C Minus and the defense at a solid B, which works out to about a C Plus team effort. That will earn you a 27-13 loss every time; now, if somehow the quarterback can step up his F Minus performance, we’ll be ready to compete.

Next Week ...

We are at home against the 1-1 Washington Redskins next week. They only beat the pathetic Rams by a score of 9-7 on Sunday, so that’s cause for optimism. It also might cause them to be angry. They were 0-5 in the red zone and had three field goals.

Last year Jason Campbell had the best game of his career against Detroit: 23-28 for 328 yards, so he’ll be excited to see us again. Clinton Portis ran for 126 yards in that game as well. The Redskins offense isn’t dynamite, however, and after playing against two of the best players in the NFL the past two weeks (Brees and Peterson) the defense will be happy about facing Washington.

The ‘Skins big acquisition is of course 340-pound Albert Haynesworth, who will devour any attempts to run the ball up the middle and overpower whatever double teams we throw at him. He causes more matchup problems than any defensive lineman in the NFL, and should allow the Redskins to put pressure on Stafford from all angles. Look out, it could get ugly.

I’m going to hold off on predicting the game for a little while and let this week simmer first. Ernie Sims looks like he might miss some games with a shoulder injury. That hurts. Talk of Stafford being benched has already started, but it’s not going to happen. Linehan needs to come up with a much more savvy gameplan for this game or it’s 0-3.

Until next time, GO LIONS.

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