Sunday, October 01, 2006

Lions-Rams preview

I got to this a little late, because I got a little to wrapped up in playing "Best Case Scenario" with the offense and defense. Still, in less than four hours the Lions kick off a crucial game against the St. Louis Rams. The main storyline actually surrounding the game is Mike Martz's return to the Edward Jones Dome to coach against the team he led to a Super Bowl. I agree, it's a pretty boring, overplayed storyline, but what do you expect, it's the Lions. Once the game gets underway, however, the only Mike Martz story that will matter is whether or not he can get his offense in-sync after three subpar weeks to start the season. Detroit's offense has only averaged 12.3 ppg so far, and most of that offensive came against a below average Green Bay defense, against whom they scored 24. But there will be no breaks this week, as Detroit plays a St. Louis defense that has only allowed 44 points in three games this season, an average of 14.7 per game. In comparison, Green Bay's defense had allowed 84 points in three games, an average of 28 per game. If Detroit wants to win, however, their offense will have to step it up and play to their potential, for all four quarters.

On the defensive side of the ball, it'll come down to whether or not Detroit's secondary can stop Marc Bulger and St. Louis' passing attack the way they did against Seattle. If Dre Bly, Fernando Bryant and company can render the passing game ineffective, then you can count the Lions in as having a chance. But if the secondary gets lit up like they did against Chicago and Green Bay, then it could be a long afternoon for the Lions. The Lions front seven should continue to do a pretty good job stopping the run game, although they'll have to watch for double threat Steven Jackson catching passes in the flats.

My final prediction: Rams 20, Lions 13

Saturday, September 30, 2006

If hell freezes over tomorrow..... (Defensive Edition)

I'm back for the second part of my best case scenario for the Lions. Now for the defense, the inconsistent group that don't seem to grasp the concept of making a big stop at crucial times. In the three games this year they have been slightly better than the offense, although that's kind of like saying you're slightly faster than a quadriplegic. There is certainly room for the defense to step it up, and I'll break down what can be done for them to do their part to help the Lions win games.

When Rod Marinelli came in this offseason, he had spent the past 30 seasons as a defensive line coach. He was a d-line mastermind and with all the raw talent Detroit had at that position, he would turn them into a very formidable group. Three games into the year I've seen nothing different about this year's defensive line than any other line that they've had in the past years, except there is a few new faces starting. Outside of that, they've done nothing special, and I think they may be worse then in year's past. So there's much improvement to be done, and it starts from the top, with Sean Rogers. Rogers, when he wants to play, is arguably the best defensive tackle in the league. But the key phrase is "when he wants to play". Big Baby often takes plays off and doesn't try to fight through when he gets double teamed. Becoming more of a leader to the inexperienced players around him will make the line become better as a whole. His talent is fine. But he just needs to set more of an example to everyone else if he wants them to be complete. Another thing I have noticed is that whenever it is a passing down the line seems to go into a bull-rush mentality. They don't try to rip through or beat the tackles to the outside, it just seems like 80% of the time they want to bullrush. Uhhhh, Rod (or the naked defensive line coach, if you're still there)? That doesn't work. You've been getting no pressure on the quarterback, and you can't give them that much time to throw without being hurried, hit, or even having a hand in their face. That killed the Lions in the game against Green Bay, and playing St. Louis and Marc Bulger won't be any different. You have to get pressure on the quarterback.

The linebacking corps has been the brightest spot on the whole Lion defense, or the whole Lion team for that matter. No, they haven't been good, but they haven't made stupid plays or had too many blown tackles and around here, that qualifies as excellence. However, I'm here to point out the negatives, and in three games, running backs and tight ends have combined for 32 receptions against the Lions. Most of the time, they're being guarded by a linebacker. And it won't get any easier this week, with Joe Klopfenstein coming in off a great career at Colorado in which he caught 86 balls. Steven Jackson can also be a double threat out of the backfield, so hopefully Detroit can bump up it's linebackers pass defense skills.

I'm about thisclose from saying the secondary is a lost cause. What do they need to improve? Just about everything. They've been missing tackles, misreading plays, and most of all getting burned just about every play by opposing receivers. So I'll go through this is bulleted form, or else this article may be a few (10) thousand words.
  • Making tackles. Everyone is missing them.
  • When playing the deep thirds in zone, they don't know where their third is. At least two of the touchdown passes that have been scored against them (one against Chicago and one against Green Bay) were a result of the receivers running a route between the middle and side zones, and the DB's not adjusting. It's really bad that they can't have the communication to let the side DB know that a receiver is entering your zone and letting him adjust, and on the flip, they aren't reading the field well enough to know where the receivers are. That might confuse some of you, so I'll move on.
  • On multiple occasions when the DB's come up to jam a receiver, they can't react and get burned by the receiver. Once you're done jamming a receiver you need to either backpedal (for slow wideouts only) or turn your hips and run with them. Neither way is ideal, but the Lions haven't mastered either and therefore have given up way too many catches which leads me to.......
  • The safeties can't get over to help in time. Many times when running man-to-man the corners will get beat, but it's the safeties jobs to recognize that and get over to help. That hasn't been happening and was partly in fault for the 75 yard touchdown that Greg Jennings burned them for last Sunday.

Detroit will try to get into the win column tomorrow when they take on St. Louis on the road. Game time is 4 pm from the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Go Lions!

Friday, September 29, 2006

If hell freezes over tomorrow...... (Offensive Edition)

In a time like this, with the Lions in pretty deep trouble as far as the win-loss total and just the general outlook on the season, there needs to be a positive tilt for the team. So I'm gonna cut the crap on this one and just give the best case scenario for the Lions.

Of course everyone wishes that suddenly something or someone within the Lions organization would light a fire under the team and "click", you've got a team full of Pro Bowlers. But every year I pray for it around this time, and every year it's to no avail. Fear not, however, because there is room for improvement everywhere, starting from the top. When John Kitna came in this offseason, Lions fans knew what they were getting. He's a great backup, ok starter, not real mobile, a typical Lion quarterback. So there isn't all that much improvement that you can realistically expect from him, especially with how well he's played. But Kitna still has a tendency to sometimes rush passes into coverage, which has caused some problems for Detroit in crucial points in the games. The one that really comes to mind is the interception he threw into double coverage in the first half last week against Green Bay. It was returned for a touchdown and gave the Packers some decisive points when the Lions needed them in the close loss. Regardless, Kitna has been the best player one the offense, and if he continues to play at the pace he's at, should lead the team to a few wins.

On the complete flip side of the decent play that Kitna's had is the offensive line, an inconsistent bunch of fat men unable to count to two, as witnessed by all the offsides. I've really stopped expecting much out of this group, as more times than not leave Kitna alone in the backfield with three defensive lineman waiting hungrily to tear him apart. What would be nice is if the line could learn not to get so many penalties and block the d-lineman better, especially on run plays. That may be asking a little much of such a bad group, so realistically you can hope for them to occasionally open up big holes and make the run game work better. The passing game protection has been spotty, so if the line can give Kitna maybe even a half second more to throw, then I would be very, very happy.

Another group I'm very happy about is the receiving core. After getting rid of Bradford they don't seem to be all there. Roy Williams is the only good receiver they have, and they now have absolutely NO elderly leadership. They drop way too many passes and seem to not run the right routes. What would help is to get someone, preferably an older player, to step up and emerge as a leader. Then the receivers would start playing for them and they would become better as a whole. Who that could be, I'm not sure, but I just hope someone emerges.

The running backs are a hopeless group, because without a sufficient blocking crew they simply cannot make the plays. But Kevin Jones could do his part, and that could happen by him finding a happy medium between becoming a tough, bruising back, and a juking, "make 'em miss" back. Somewhere in between is where he was in his days at Virginia Tech, and if he can return there, then he will still be a great back, even without the blocking.

That concludes my offensive portion of this, and I'll probably be back tomorrow with the defensive portion.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Corey Bradford released, I'm still not sure why

In a surprise move yesterday, the Lions released starting wide receiver Corey Bradford. Uh, ya, I don't really know how to explain this one. In three games this year, Bradford had three catches for 36 yards. Not good numbers, but not "This makes us go out and cut a starting wide receiver" numbers either. Bradford was one of the big free agent signings this past offseason, and up to this point had been starting opposite Roy Williams as the second wide receiver. His playing has been ok the first three games and as a veteran leader I can't imagine he did anything that bad in the locker room to warrant being cut like this. One move that may lead to a reasoning behind this madness is that as soon as they cut him, the Lions organization turned around and picked up veteran offensive lineman Blaine Saipaia who played for Mike Martz in St. Louis. The Lions are pathetic on the line, but is it really so bad they need to get rid of a starter to fix that problem? I'll break it down.

The Detroit Lions offensive line is bad. But if you're taking the time to read this, you probably knew that already. They can't block for the run, they can't block for the pass, and they don't seem to know how to go on two. The Lions wide receivers are also pretty bad. They drop passes, they don't run routes, and half of them are under 26. After the game last Sunday against Green Bay, the offensive line became a major cause for concern. The Lions didn't take too long to fix it, by bringing in Saipaia on Wednesday. But was the situation really that dire??? We'll have to find out. What I really don't understand is why Bradford turned out to be the victim in this roster move. The Lions, before cutting Bradford, had seven active receivers on the roster. Bradford, Roy Williams, Mike Furrey, Eddie Drummond (mainly a kick returner), Mike Williams, Az Hakim, and Shaun Bodiford, who is returning from injury. There is no way that they could of released Roy or Furrey. Drummond needs to stay because of his returning abilities, and Hakim is talented and knows the offense. But that still leaves two choices of other RECEIVERS that could have been cut instead of Bradford, who lost his starting job to Furrey. The reason the Lions are probably giving to keeping Mike Williams is that he's young and he should bud soon. Yes, the Lions made a commitment to Williams by not cutting him in camp. But if you're going to keep him, PLAY HIM!!! Against Green Bay Williams barely saw the field, getting thrown to once, with 45 seconds left. That's unfair to leave him on the sidelines cold all game, then throw him in there and expect him to catch it. And yet I'm digressing. If the Lions made a commitment him and think that holding on to an almost sure bust first round pick is more important then a proven veteran, than he better see some time. I can kind of see the reasoning, however, on why they kept Bodiford. He is a rookie who had a great camp, then when it was time for the reward, got hurt. He deserves a chance before getting kicked out the door, and along with Williams, should get that chance Sunday.

What's up with all these former Rams now on the Lions? Dre Bly, Mike Furrey, Az Hakim, and now Blaine Saipaia have recently played for Martz in St. Louis and are now in Detroit. It's like St. Louis east in Detroit now.

We'll have to see if the sudden roster move pays off in the long run for the Lions, and hopefully Saipaia adds another demension to the line. The biggest challenge he'll have is adjusting on the run, and I don't see Saipaia contributing right away. We'll see Sunday.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Another season lost

I spent nearly 20 minutes trying to come up with a good introduction to describe how I felt about the Lions loss to Green Bay on Sunday. I wrote out three different paragraphs that could of worked, but none of them seemed to really fit well. I really gave new meaning to "words don't describe this loss", and they don't. There is no real way to point a finger or put the blame on one person or group after the loss, it just kind of happened. Yeah, the defense allowed a few to many big plays and the secondary got humiliated yet again, this time by a walking legend in Brett Favre. Yeah, the offense was unable to capitalize on big opportunities and the offensive line flexed their muscles as the worst group, top to bottom, in the NFL. The end reality is that it was a total group effort to lose that game, as it's not easy to fall at home to a team of "has-beens" and "might-be's". And that's a sign of a really, really bad football team.

Most people expected the Lions to start 0-2 before the season ever started. And they should have, as they were playing two defending playoff teams in Seattle and Chicago. The defense almost carried them to a win against Seattle, making expectations even higher for this years Lions squad. Then they went into Chicago and got absolutely pounded, but everyone has their bad days, even the Lions. Sunday was the breaking day. One good game, one bad one. Which was the real Lions? In case you were wondering, it was the latter. Just downright bad. The Green Bay-Detroit game was close, I'll give the Lions that. But with how the Lions played, getting torched for 340 yards and three touchdowns by Brett Favre, only 3-12 on third downs, there is no sign of hope with the team. Close isn't good enough at home, in a must win game, against one of the worst teams in the NFL.

Now I'll try to elaborate on what made this game so bad. First off, the negatives.
  • Why is it so hard to stop Brett Favre? Now granted he has played well, and was at his best against the Lions. Still, he threw for 340 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions against the secondary for the Lions that is really bad. Favre only threw 11 incompletions and completed 25 with a 127.1 passer rating. I don't care if Johnny Unitas came back to play, you don't give up that kind of numbers and expect to win. On Favre's second touchdown pass, a five yard strike to Donald Driver on a play action roll out, it was so obvious that the Pack would score, I said "touchdown" as soon a Favre faked the handoff. The secondary couldn't stop anyone.
  • The wide receivers still can't grasp the concept of catching the ball! John Kitna had 15 incompletions Sunday, and probably five to eight of the incompletions were dropped passes. Mike Furrey has made a couple of great catches in the first three games, but has also made a couple of key drops at crucial points in the games. Now he did play safety last year, so I'll cut him some slack there. But Roy Williams and Az Hakim both made drops at big points, and that needs to be eliminated.
  • Dumb plays are killing the Lions. That 29 yard interception return for the touchdown killed the momentum from their first touchdown and put Green Bay back in the drivers seat in the game. Other than that Kitna was pretty good, it's just that mistakes like that need to be eliminated if the Lions are going to win games.
  • The offensive line sucks, plain and simple. They couldn't open any holes for Kevin Jones, and first time starter Jonathan Scott played well until the final drive, where he allowed Kitna to get under pressure immediately three plays in a row, and jumped offsides, killing the Lions final drive. And Jeff Backus just continued to anchor his position as worst left tackle in the league. The same week that Sports Illustrated has a feature article about the importance of the left tackle, protecting the QB's blind side and all, Backus leaves Kitna fending for himself all afternoon, at the mercy of KGB.

There were a few positives, and here they are.

  • John Kitna continued to play well. Other than the few key mistakes he made, he was pretty good. Green Bay's secondary is by no means bad, and he threw for 342 yards against them, and with no dropped passes, could have thrown for 400.
  • What's up with Dan Campbell? Last year he caught three passes all year for only 24 yards, and just Sunday he caught three. He obviously was the main choice at tight end, and I like how Martz has utilized him from that "blocking" tight end role to a more conventional one.

The season's not quite over yet, and the Lions play Sunday at St. Louis. If there was ever any time where you'd expect them to step up, it would be this Sunday. It's Mike Martz's return to the Louie, where he was head coach before taking the job in Detroit. So hopefully there'll be a light at the end of the tunnel, or else the Lions might be staring 0-16 in the eye.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Picture's worth 1,000 words

Just when you thought the Lions situation couldn't get any worse. The Lions hit an all time low today, losing to a really bad Green Bay team at home, 31-24. You can't really talk about this loss without dropping into an insane rage. The offensive line looked awful, the receivers were dropping passes, and the secondary couldn't stop Brett Favre and the Packers passing game. Just an all around terrible loss for the Lions team, and they needed that to keep their hopes alive. Oh well, maybe if they blow the rest of their season they can get one of the three top quarterbacks in the draft (Quinn, Troy Smith, or Drew Stanton, none of which I'd want to base my franchise around). I guess there's always next year. If this play keeps up, there might not be however for Rod Marinelli.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Lions-Packers Preview

If there is one person outside of Michigan and Wisconsin that cares about this Detroit-Green Bay game this Sunday, well then, they must be among the two remaining Brett Favre fans. Point is, tomorrow's Lions and Packers matchup between two 0-2 teams doesn't hold much significance outside of local media outlets. But dig deeper and you'll find that there actually is things at stake Sunday, if nothing else just not being embarrassed at home by one of the worst teams in football. The Lions need a win to have a shot to have a shot to salvage their already disappointing season, and Rod Marinelli definitely needs it to keep the critics off his backs, the same critics that drove Marty Morningwheg, Steve Mariucci, and Joey Harrington away before him. The players need the win to save their own egos, and everyone needs a win to stay alive in the NFC North race. With so much on the line it doesn't matter if the media is on the bandwagon or not, the Lions need this!

Lions run game vs Green Bay's run defense
It's been 20 games and almost two years since the last time Kevin Jones ran for 100 yards in a game, and he's shown no signs of eclipsing that mark since. I don't think he'll have a shot tomorrow, either, as he goes against a Green Bay run defense that's shut opponents down this year. In two games this season the Packers have allowed an average of 2.6 yards per carry and will be going against a pathetic offensive line for the Lions. Jeff Backus, the so called "franchise player" for the Lions has been getting reguarly beaten by the defensive ends for the Seahawks and Bears, and will get no relief as he goes up against Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila tomorrow. Don't be surprised when KGB ends up living in the backfield all day tomorrow, disrupting Jones and the running game in general. The linebackers for the Pack have been equally as good, with rookie weakside backer AJ Hawk surprising many so far with his play. Don't expect much from the running game for Detroit tomorrow, I'd personally be surprised if Jones runs for 70 yards.
Advantage: Pack

Lions passing game vs Green Bay's secondary
Green Bay's secondary has never been exceptionally good, and this year is no exception. They've gotten torched for 615 passing yards and three touchdowns in two games. Both the Bears and the Saints have gone after the Packers passing game, and both teams were successful. Don't expect tomorrow to be any different. The Lions know they can't run against the Green Bay front seven, and so they'll attack the secondary. John Kitna was also one of the few Lions who played well against Chicago, and hopefully he'll play even better this week if they want to beat Green Bay.
Advantage: Lie Downs

Green Bay's run game vs Detroit's front seven
Not even close here. Porus offensive line and a back with a running back who is passed his prime and has been plagued with injuries against a D-line and linebackers who should come out pissed after getting no pressure and allowing way to many yards against Chicago. If Green Bay runs for 40 yards, be very surprised.
monstrous Advantage: Lie Downs

Green Bay's passing game vs Detroit's secondary
It's not who's better here, it's who's not as bad. Brett Favre hasn't been able to get anything going with his receivers, and his decision making has been horrible. Meanwhile Detroit's secondary got TORCHED for four touchdowns against Chicago and looked horrible all game. Hopefully they'll return to the form they were against Seattle, and shut down the Pack.
Minor advantage: Lie Downs

Take your pick: Two first year coaches who have yet to win but have had plenty of talk. I don't want either.
Advantage: Even

My completely biased prediction: Lions 20, Green Bay 10