Monday, October 31, 2005

Game Notes - vs. Bears: Broken Record

I'm beginning to feel like a broken record when I describe the Lions Offense this year. It's had the same problems week after week, even when players are changed for whatever the reason may be. Here is the quick summary of the issues:

- Questionable decisions by the Quarterback

- Shoddy pass and run blocking by the O-Line

- Bad route running and dropped passes by the receivers

- Little to no running game

- Overly conservative and predictable playcalling

It should be painfully apparent now that the Lions have significantly more problems than just the guy under center. I've been chanting this mantra all year, and it looks like the bozo's reporting for the newspapers are finally coming to the same realization. Joey Harrington was an easy target because he has that 'blue skies' personality where he is naturally the eternal optimist. So the fans and press crucified him as the sole problem with the Lions and Mooch was more than willing to lay the blame for his inept offense on Joey so he could continue to bring more of his 49er players and coaches to Detroit.

The problem for Mooch is that everyone is finally starting to see that the emperor has no clothes.

About a week ago, one of the posters in The Den decided to venture to the 49ers message boards and ask the people there what they thought about Steve Mariucci. What's funny is that they repeated almost verbatim what the criticisms of Mooch have been here in Detroit. To paraphrase, here's what they said:

"He's far too soft with his players and practices."

"He is ultra conservative and unimaginative with his offensive playcalling."

"His system needs a superstar WR to bail him out."

"He's a snake-oil salesman who the media has a hard time pinning down on anything."

"We'll never win a Super Bowl with him as coach."

Sound familiar? Only too eerily so – especially on Halloween. I could get into the details of the train wreck on O this week, but we all know them too well. The dropped passes that killed drives. The short passes on 3rd and long. The poor throws that were nowhere near the receivers. The poor blocking causing the QB to get hammered all game. The lack of much running room for most of the game. The ridiculous sideways 'pass'. The interception in Overtime. It all sounds like a broken record. The only difference is that Joey Harrington wasn't out there to be the scapegoat for the rest of the offensive inadequacies.

One final point on the O issues before I move on as just don't want to beat a dead horse too much. Scott Mitchell was benched and never started another game for the Lions after throwing an ill advised interception that was returned for a TD in overtime. After a nearly identical situation, Jeff Garcia was asked if he felt OK, and if he thought he would be healthy enough to play next week. You draw the conclusion...

The Defense again played OK, not great. For most of the game, they kept the Bears in check, save 3 key series, all of which resulted in points by the Bears. The 99 yard drive was just unthinkable. Boss Bailey dropped two easy interceptions, both of which could have been returned for TD's. The first was on the Bears first pass of the game. Think that may have completely changed the tone of the game? The other was on 3rd down, immediately before a FG. Kenoy also dropped an interception.

It's also readily apparent to me that the D misses Dre Bly much more than it misses Shaun Rogers. I think that's more to do with the depth and backups at those positions than the individuals involved though.

And then there were the quick whistles that negated potential fumbles. The long pass play to Bradley was close to being a fumble at the end, but the whistle blew. It likely would have been ruled as being caused by the ground, but it was still a quick whistle. The swing pass to Thomas Jones that was ruled an incomplete and not a fumble due to a quick whistle was heinous. Using any definition that the NFL has, that play was a fumble, and it was picked up and returned for a TD. Again, the Lions got hosed by incompetent officiating. What was funny is that after that play, someone must have gotten hold of the officiating crew and reminded them to not blow the whistle until the play is over, as they sure didn't blow it on the Garcia 'intentional grounding' pass.

What may be the most frustrating aspect of the game was one that I read this morning after Drew Sharp reported it. To quote: " The St. Louis Rams beat Jacksonville Sunday without the benefit of their starting quarterback, top two receivers -- all three of them former Pro Bowlers -- and two defensive starters. And, yeah, their head coach told them last week that he's out for the remainder of the season due to a bacterial infection striking a valve in his heart." Other teams can do it, but the Lions can't. I'm tired of the excuses.

But once again, the excuses keep flying in LionsLand. Mooch had his typical 'woe is us' press conference after the game, deflecting all criticism, selling his snake oil, and trying to put a positive spin on the Lions prospects. Even with the lack of plays being made on both sides of the ball, the game was still within grasp. Truth be told, there still are 9 games left in the season, and in the watered down 'parity' of the NFL, anything is possible, even a 9 game Lions winning streak.

But if history is any indicator, I wouldn't bet on it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Quick note...

Wow, I've gotten hits like crazy since published my game notes last night. Since I don't want the comments to get overcrowded with spam, I changed the switch that only allows you to leave a comment if you're registered with blogger. Sorry, but the spam had gotten ridiculous already.

Also, if you have a Lions related link you think I should add to the links to the right, post them in a comment. I'll try to get the good ones added. No need to leave links for the obvious ones like ESPN, CBS, Fox, Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, etc.

Have fun, and please remember, this is only my opinion. I'm not an expert, just a fan. :)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Game Notes - @ Browns: What Did 'The Change' Really Do?

Coming out of the Cleveland game, I have more questions than answers for the Lions. Yes, they won the game, but again I have a different opinion on what I saw vs. what the media is reporting. IMHO, we saw about what we predicted earlier - a win against a bad Browns team that exposed some of the same flaws on Offense that we have seen all year. I saw the Defense hand the Offense everything it could in gift-wrapping the game, and the O still tried to give it away. If it wasn't for Cleveland being so inept in their own O, this game would likely have been a loss.

I'm not taking anything away from Jeff Garcia. He played a nice game. He did some things that Joey Harrington simply can't do:

- The bootleg for a TD - nice play, and Joey just can't run well enough to do that.
- The shovel pass to Bryson - Great improvisation, something Joey has not done well at all.
- He is 10,000% better than Joey at play fakes.

But the O still only scored 13 points. - against a team with a suspect D that couldn't generate any pressure to speak of on Jeff. He showed some of the same maddening tendencies as Joey does:

- He did the same dump-off passes that Joey gets ripped about
- The same unexplainable overthrows of receivers on simple routes
- What's worse is he simply cannot throw the deep ball even if he wants to.

He was lucky that the Browns didn't pick him off 3 times yesterday - a better Defense would have. He was very fortunate to get this tune-up game before facing the Bears next week.

If anyone really wants to debate the Jeff vs. Joey stuff any longer, save it until after the Bears game. Jeff is the starter for the foreseeable future. But to compare the two, the Bears game will be a better gauge because:
A - Jeff will have had another full week of practice
B - Roy should play and give him a better target - if he catches the ball
C - The Bears have a significantly better D compared to the Browns
D - We know what happened the last time we played the Bears

I fear that the Jeff vs. Joey debate is far from over. I hope this doesn't sound like I'm defending Joey and bashing Jeff - I'm not. I've said all along that the Lions problems are more the other players on the team than the QB. We still didn't have a great game running the ball. The pass protection was better, but likely only because Cleveland isn't very good at pressuring the QB. In the end, our O only scored 13 points against a team that isn't that great defensively. It's not something to be that ecstatic about.

If it sounds like I'm saying that Cleveland's D is not in the same league as the last 4 teams we played, you're right. I've heard several people trying to justify that Cleveland is a top-10 scores against D, and they even shut down Indy. Sorry, I don't buy it - they just aren't as good as the other teams we've faced. If we really want to compare team's D's, I've come to trust the Aikman Efficiency Ratings as the best source for truly comparing teams' O's and D's as it factors in scoring, red-zone, and turnovers along with yardage allowed. The Lions last five opponents D's were rated like this prior to week 7 games:

Chicago - #1
Tampa - #2
Baltimore - #11
Carolina - #7
Cleveland #16

Baltimore was rated much higher before we dropped 35 points on them with all the rushing yardage and red-zone success we had against them. Clearly Cleveland isn't as bad as some people say, but it's not the murderers row we just got done facing.

I'll put it another way that clearly demonstrates the difference. Last week, the Lions had a nearly identical situation late in the game against Carolina where they had the lead and got the ball back. Mooch ran nearly the identical plays that he always runs - 1st down run up the middle, 2nd down run up the middle. Everyone in the NFL knows Mooch will run these plays as he does it EVERY time. Last week, those plays gained 2 yards, this week 9 yards. 3rd down this week was an easy run up the middle conversion to seal the victory, last week it was a 3rd and 8 desperation rollout that got Joey sacked before he could even turn around. The difference between the two games was more the defense the Lions played against than the guy running the plays.

In the end, we won, and that is what it's all about in the NFL. 13-10.

Once again, our D was dominating. They only gave up 3 points this time, and held Cleveland to only 73 yards passing. Of course Ruben Droughns ran for 100 yards, but he was slowed down - way down - in the second half. He had 11 for 83 in the first half, but only 8 for 17 in the second half. But the win may have been extremely costly - Baby went down with what's being reported as a strained MCL, and Dre' has a severely sprained wrist which may require surgery. I haven't heard it yet, but I suspect that Dre may be able to play with his cast. I'm not sure about Baby though. Any lost time by those two will hurt.

The O also lost KJ2 - our most consistent receiver to date. Apparently it's a torn Achilles tendon, so he's gone for the season. We may get Roy back next week, but we may need a new nickname for him to go with his continued injured status. iRoy maybe? May also fit his personality which seems to have been taking a slant toward the typical prima donna #1 WR attitude of the T.O.'s and Randy Moss's of the NFL. I kinda like it - it fits. Sledge played this week, and he looks like he needed the time to get the rust out.

In any case, we need a better effort next week, or the Bears will sweep us. Their D looks every bit as dominating as ours does, and they'll get a lot more pressure on Garcia than the Browns did. If we have the same effort next week, it could get ugly inside Ford Field. Let's hope it gets better...

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Something that Atticus3 said a few days ago has been rattling around in the back of my head and has sparked a few thoughts about the difference between Joey and some of the more successful NFL starters. I've come about with the theory that the biggest difference is one thing - Confidence. You definitely see it when you watch some of the other QB's in the league - Manning, Brady, McNabb - they're just overflowing with confidence that somehow their team will get the job done. It's clear to me that right now, Joey has no confidence - not just in his receivers catching the ball or his line blocking for him, but in himself. The looks on his face and the tone in his press conferences tell of a QB who has completely lost confidence in everything going on around him. A lack of confidence may have more to do with his erratic performances than anything else.

It bears repeating that I'm not a Joey Lover or Hater. I simply want the Lions to win, irregardless of who the QB is. Personally, I like the guys attitude and hope he can be successful because if he is, then the Lions will be as well, but he simply hasn't been successful yet. I've watched Joey enough to think that he has all the necessary skills to be a successful NFL QB, but something else non-physical is just missing. This is just a theory of mine to try to understand what we see on the field.

It's easy to see how Joey's confidence could have gotten so low - constant losing will do that to anyone. He has little confidence in his receivers because of how little help he has gotten from them. This may be part of the reason he checks down so much - he may think if he does throw downfield that the receiver will simply drop the ball. Again, I'm not sure if this is the reason, but it seems possible based on previous games.

He almost definitely has little confidence in his line because of the hits he's taken. We can all see when he gets nervous as he starts to get 'happy feet' in the pocket and fails to set them properly or dances around too much. Every time I've noticed that behavior, it's been after he's gotten hit early and often in a game.

If my guess is correct, and Joey's only real issue is confidence, then the obvious question is how does he regain it? The answer is surprisingly simple and difficult at the same time - he needs to have success in a tough situation.

There have been several times when we as fans thought he may have been ready to turn the corner and become the QB we all thought he would be. A key drive by Joey to win a game could easily do just that. On the other hand, a key game where the team falls just short can have the opposite effect. Think of one game last year - the Minnesota extra-point game. He led the team down the field, poised for a comeback, and then we missed the extra point. Snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. That kind of a let-down could be crushing to a player's confidence. The feeling that "no matter how well I play that we can't win" sets in. Especially when any real success has been so limited already.

This year, I'm almost wondering if the Bears game followed by the end of the Tampa game is having a similar effect. After taking the beating he did against the Bears, compounded with the interceptions, the blame was laid on Joey, and much of it was justified. His confidence had to be pretty low at that point. Then against Tampa, the Offense did little for 55 minutes before coming alive. Finally, the O marches down the field, and Joey looks good moving them. The drive is capped off when they score the game winning touchdown. His confidence had to have taken a boost from that series. Then the unthinkable reversal happens - and shatters his confidence. He digs deep, and follows with the next play, where he once again throws what could have been a game winning pass, only for BMW to not drag his toes. By that time, he's spent what little confidence in reserve he had, and sails the last pass over Roy's head, and the Joey bashing commences.

The fact that everyone in the world knows that Pollard was inbounds is of little consolation to the fact that the Lions lost in the record book. Had the Lions pulled out that game, it could have sent his confidence soaring. Instead, it's the kind of a defeat that can send a players confidence into a free-fall, especially when everyone points their finger at that player as the reason the team lost.

Joey had another opportunity to re-gain his confidence this past weekend. He once again faced some long odds with 30 seconds left and needing to get 20 yards with no timeouts and none of his top 3 receivers in the game. Again, had Glenn Martinez made the catch, and then Hanson kicks the field goal, Joey would have had a genuine reason to be proud of the team's performance in the clutch - irregardless of the rest of the game - and his confidence could have received a badly needed shot in the arm. Unfortunately, we all know the outcome.

The most sure-fire way for Joey to regain his confidence is to have success. A come from behind victory can do exactly that. Joey's had 3 chances for that in the last 8 games - Minnesota, Tampa and Carolina. At some point he is going to need some help from one of his teammates to get the Lions over the hump. He definitely is running out of chances.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Game Notes - vs Panthers: Truly Offensive Line

On Sunday, I got a rare opportunity to watch the Lions play at Ford field as I'm still a ways down the season ticket waiting list. The unfortunate thing was I forgot to turn on my TiVo to record the game, so I'm writing without a net this week. That means that people can tell me that I'm delusional and that I need to re-watch the game they way I usually tell other people that. Touché...

In any case, I saw two things on O that really bothered me today - The O-Line play, and the playcalling. Even with how inept the O was at moving the ball during the game, we still had multiple chances to put the Panthers away, and we couldn't capitalize. The problems though start back where I've said time and time again that everything starts with - line play. And ours was truly offensive.

Before the game, I had a bad feeling about what Julius Peppers was going to do today. Turns out we had to worry about the entire Panthers D-Line as every single one of them recorded a sack. Let me repeat - every Panthers D-Lineman registered a sack. That is just amazing, and it describes to a tee what the biggest problem was in this game. Our O-Line reverted to their Bears / Rams games form. I can only remember two or three pass plays where Joey didn't finish the play on his back. He spent so much time on his back he may have thought he was Michelangelo painting Ford Field's roof. We had no running game because the O-Line opened no holes. Plus the O-Line continued on with the Lions time honored tradition of committing stupid penalties at inopportune times to put the O in a hole. It was truly a trifecta for the O-Line today.

That being said, the playcalling lost us the game. With as bad as the O was, they still could have salted the game away. On our last three possessions, the playcalling was so bad that everyone - and I mean everyone - in my section of the stands knew EXACTLY what plays the Lions were going to run. The first series with 1st and Goal from the 5 - a run, a bad screen, and a scramble for a minimal gain due to no one being open and a heavy rush. Then with 3:40 left, run, run, try to pass and get sacked. Two series that were so predictable that had we been the least bit creative, we would have scored a TD on the first and been up by 10, not 6. Then on the second, we would have been able to run out the clock. Two series, two entirely predictable outcomes. Predictable because we’ve seen Mooch do the exact same thing so many times it makes our heads spin.

And all that was after watching Mooch refuse to stop running into the strength of the Panthers D. We ran between the tackles 20 times during the game, and gained more than 3 yards only 3 times. The strength of the Panthers D is their run D, we were having no success with our attack, and yet we refused to try something different. And again, we came out and ran up the middle on first down 13 out of 24 times. When you look at the combined effect of those two stats, you can easily see why we as Lions fans feel like we’re beating our heads against the wall while watching the team play.

But wait, it gets worse...

After Carolina had done the other predictable thing – drive the length of the field for a go-ahead TD – we were treated to a fantastic kickoff return by R.W. McQuarters. It seemed like there may actually be hope that maybe, just maybe we might be able to pull this game out after all. It’s then that the Lions O stuck the final dagger into our hearts. We needed about 15-20 yards to get in field goal range with no timeouts and 30 seconds left on the clock. Everyone knows we have no choice but to throw, and so does Carolina. First down, Joey gets hit as he tries to throw (what else is new) and the ball goes into the turf. On second down, he throws a strike about 15 yards downfield on the sideline to Glenn Martinez - who two weeks ago wasn’t even on the practice squad - that in classic Lions fashion, he drops. On third down, he throws again to Martinez as he again gets hit, and the ball is knocked away. On fourth down, he heaves one to Kevin Johnson as he is getting dragged down from behind, and that one goes just past KJ2's outstretched hands. It felt like Tampa Bay all over again, but worse - somehow Joey was throwing to a guy who couldn't make our practice squad coming out of training camp as his only open target on the final series of the game. Dang, that sounds a lot like last year all over again.

The playcalling and O-line did us in. Sure, Joey didn't look great, but I doubt if even Steve Young could have saved that game for Mooch. Joey's final stats were both helped (86 yard completion) and hurt (4 straight incompletes) on the final 3 drives. Before those, he was 16-23 for 117 yards (69.6%). Very pedestrian yardage and definitely not as much as we would hope to get from our starting QB – But far from the horror show so many others are reporting. He threw 1 pick and from what I could see at the game only two other passes that were off – a high one toward the sideline over KJ2’s head, and one at KJ’s feet. There were still drops included in those numbers too. All for a guy who hit 70% of his passes to that point. He actually was hitting on the short passes that are supposed to burn the blitz, but the receivers just couldn't turn any of those into big gainers - likely because the Panthers didn't have to worry about the long pass and could play tight coverage. The reason for that? Simple – Joey never had time to throw a long pass – he was already admiring the chandeliers.

It got so bad that the guys in my section that had been chanting “Joey sucks” every time the O went on the field started wincing every time he got hit again and saying “dang that boy is getting killed” before shouting out another “Joey sucks”. It was surreal, and I’ve never seen any QB take a beating like that. Of course I haven’t watched the Texans play this year.

More than anything, the Lions shot themselves in the foot repeatedly. Here’s a quick summary of our first half possessions.

Possession 1 - drive 31 yards, 3rd and 6 at CAR47, then false start and sack before punting
P2 - gain 5 yards to CAR29, field goal blocked
P3 - gain 10 yards to DET15, sacked and fumbled
P4 - KJ gains 8 on 1st down, then loses 7 on 2nd down, Joey scrambles for dear life on 3rd, punt
P5 - move 14 yards to the 50, then holding + false start to turn potential 3rd and 4 into 2nd and 24. Gain 14 yards back on next two plays, only to turn 4th and 10 into 4th and 30 with successive holding penalties. Panthers get ball at CAR41 instead of CAR12.
P6 - after gaining 15 yards, false start, then sacked and fumbles
P7 - Pollard drops first down pass, sacked on 2nd down, run up the middle on 3rd and 18, then punt

I could go on and on as the same kind of ineptitude continued in the second half. But I think I've beat this dead horse enough. Now to talk about what was good - the D.

I honestly can't recall ever seeing the Lions D play at this kind of a level for this long of a stretch. Maybe back in the days of Spielman, Blades, Ball, Porcher and Crockett, but I think this group has played even better. Dre Bly and Shaun Rogers are locks for the pro-bowl. The linebackers are starting to step up and the safeties are so significantly improved over last year that there is no comparison. I could go on and on like crazy about the turnovers they have created this season. For all the grief that Dick Juaron was getting in pre-season, he has this D flying around the field, making plays, and creating havoc. They gave up one big play for a score, and allowed only one real drive on the day – which just so happened to be the game winner - so it wasn't perfect, but they also put 14 points on the board. That should have been more than enough to win.

Where we go from here is anyone's guess. When Mooch finally gets his wish and puts Garcia in, he'll be in for a rude awakening as Garcia may not last the entire game. He was known for getting hurt during his time in San Fran – he seemingly always had a sprained ankle or bruised ribs - and now he will be the beneficiary of one of the worst lines in football as well as being 35 years old. Add in that there is no one open to throw to unless Roy Williams decides to show up (and stop dropping passes), and he'll be getting booed in record time by the faithful. If he starts next game at Cleveland, he'll at least have one game to compile some decent stats before the Bears come in and maul him at home. I just don't see him surviving that game, and then what is Mooch to do? Start the rookie DanO and let him get killed as well? Something's gotta change and change quick. The first change will likely be Joey, but it won't solve the problems on the Lions O. This is not looking too good...

Friday, October 14, 2005

How did he get here?

In looking back through my previous posts and all the stuff I've seen and read of the trials and tribulations of Joey Harrington here with the Lions, I think it's time to pull all of it together to try to understand what makes him tick. I've long thought that the environment he has had to work with here with the Lions has been less than optimal. It's time to try to figure out what happened and how he got to this proverbial crossroads of his career. A lot of what follows is my own guesswork as I really can't be sure of any of this. But the pieces in the puzzle seem to fit together...

Coming out of college, Joey was a gunslinger with a flair for late-game heroics. He reminded a lot of people - Matt Millen included - of a young Brett Favre. Maybe not quite the cannon Favre had, but definitely the moxie and leadership skills. If anyone doubts this, I'd encourage them to visit Russell Arch's Oregon Ducks Web Page and click on the Oregon 2001 highlight video. The QB in that Video is supremely confident of his arm, throws the deep ball, takes hits, and even upends a defender on one play near the middle of the video. (Incidentally, that P.O.D. song Boom just gets my adrenaline flowing and makes me want to get out and play football every time I hear it) The guy led an 11-1 team to a #2 final poll ranking, and was a Heisman Trophy runner-up when he was drafted #3 by the Lions.

In his rookie year, he became the starter for Marty Mornhinweg's crew after only 2 games. Since the Lions had only win 2 games the previous year, and were clearly devoid of talent, Marty dumbed down his playbook to keep Joey's head from spinning. Marty asked Joey to really only do two things - throw the ball away so he doesn't take sacks, and use your checkdowns if no one is open. Marty's idea was that if Joey limited the negative yardage plays and the big interceptions, it gave the team the best chance of winning with a rookie QB. The WCO is predicated on timing routes and YAC to turn small gains into big ones. Unfortunately, it didn't really work well for the Lions as Bill Schroeder and Az Hakim proved to be expert at dropping passes. Oddly enough, nearly the identical strategy is what Bill Cowher preached to Ben Roethlisberger last year, only Big Ben had 2 stud WR's, a great O-Line and running game, and a dominant D - yielding very different results.

I believe that rookie year is still in the back of Joey's head during every game he plays. The Lions O-line wasn't very goo that year - or in any year since - and he got so used to checking down to save his skin that nearly everyone forgot that the kid actually could wing the ball downfield. Of course you can't well throw the bomb when you only have 2 seconds to release the ball before a D-lineman is breating down your neck. Since he was a rookie, people pretty much forgave him as he wasn't expected to 'get it' right away.

His second season, Mooch came to town. While Mooch runs a very similar WCO to Marty's, Mooch prefers to call a much more conservative game plan, wanting about 55% running and 45% passing plays. Mooch wasn't exactly enamored with what he saw of Joey on game tapes - a QB who checked down often, didn't seem to scramble, and wasn't very accurate. At least that's what the stats showed, and the game tapes seemed to back it up. Mooch took an instant liking to Mike McMahon the backup as he reminded him of the successful QB's he had in SanFran - Steve Young and Jeff Garcia - athletic and mobile with a cannon arm. But Joey had a lot of money invested in him, so he was going to start - even if Mooch really preferred someone else.

The match between Joey and Mooch isn't a good one. I personally think that Mooch has wanted something different from his QB ever since he got here, and he hasn't changed his WCO to fit the personnel he has to work with. Mooch's version of the WCO is definitely more effective with a mobile QB as it adds that dimension to the attack. But the WCO has been run by a lot of teams with far less mobile QB's than JH, only those teams make adjustments to fit their QB's style - more shotgun, less roll-out. That really hasn't happened here with either the formations or the play calls, but that's another story completely. As it relates to Joey, Mooch has continued to run his power-running version of the WCO while he doesn't have the O-Line to play that way, and consistently set JH in 3rd and long situations. Based on what JH learned from Marty, he throws shorter passes, hoping for YAC to get the extra yardage needed for the first down - classic WCO playing style.

His third and fourth seasons have followed the same route as his second with Mooch - disapointment due to many factors. Joey has been the victim of promising WR's who can't stay on the field (Charles Rogers and Roy Williams), Veteran WR's who can't catch (Az Hakim and Bill Schroeder) and TE's who simply can't play (Mikhael Ricks and Stephen Alexander). He seems to have better players around him this season, but between the abysmal play of the O-Line and the mistakes of players new to the offense, the end result is the same. And it's going to cost him his starting job, and at the end of the season he will no longer be a Detroit Lion.

Unlike many people, I think Joey can still be a successful NFL QB. I've posted before that I can easily see Joey getting signed by Kansas City in the offseason to take over when Trent Green is done. Green will be 36 next year, Joey 27. Add in that Dick Vermeil and Carl Peterson both think he could be successful in their scheme, and it likely will happen. Heck, apparently they tried to trade up to draft Joey in 2002, but just couldn't work out a deal with Millen. Joey's strengths fit well into the offense that KC runs, and it wouldn't suprise me if he made a quantum leap improvement there.

In any case, Joeys days in Detroit are nearing the end. It's no longer a question of if, it's only a question of when. And the Lions will have continued in their legacy of failing to have produced a QB. Maybe next time...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Positive Signs

I posted this in another thread on The Den, but I feel it deserves it's own posting in my blog. In short, I believe we're starting to see some improvement with the Offense, and we can expect to see more in the next few games.

IMHO, the problem with the Lions O is the same one a lot of us thought we may have before the season started - they're still young and don't have a ton of time playing together yet. If you step back and look at it, you see the same things we all were concerned about before the season began:

- O-Line still is figuring out how to gel and play as a unit
- Our young and new WR's are still learning the offense
- Joey's accuracy hasn't been the greatest
- The playcalling has still been fairly predictable

But there have been two things happen that we hadn't counted on:
- KJ getting off to a slow start
- The continued dropping of passes

But there are signs that indicate that it has been getting better each week. During the last two games, the O-Line has been playing better. They're still far from pro-bowl level, but they look markedly better than they did against the Bears.

The playcalling has gotten much better since the final drive against Tampa. Tollner / Mooch finally had to open it up on that drive, and it looked like it carried over against Baltimore. Granted that we didn't catch a single one of those long passes, but the fact that the Lions threw long on 6 different occasions, and actually gained yardage by drawing penalties on two of them is a drastic change from previous games.

The running game seems to look like it's starting to get on track. Again, they didn't gain a ton of yards, but KJ seemed to be hitting the holes with authority, and we finally had a few 10+ yard runs.

The wild card looks to once again be the passing game. I don't think anyone thought there was any way we'd be without our top 3 WR's by game 5.
- BMW will likely play, but he's listed on the injury report. But BMW's been playing like the rookie that he is.
- CRog was ineffective before his suspension.
- Roy has dropped a lot of passes in this young season, and now he's out for a while.
- The best receiver has been KJ2, and if you had told me that before the season started, I'd have told you this team would be in trouble.
- Pollard hasn't been the stud some of us were hoping for, but he has been a significant improvement over Alexander.
Factor all of these in, add in the defenses we have played so far, and the result should have been predictable with exactly what we have seen. Prior to the season, these 5 guys had a combined 17 starts in the Lions WCO, and it takes time to get in sync. Joey hasn't looked good, but the blame needs to be spread evenly between him, the WR's and the playcalling. And the drops should decrease as BMW's head stops swimming as much, and Roy starts concentrating.

I have been encouraged by the improvement I have seen, even if it hasn't been reflected in the game stats. As I have pointed out in a few other threads, I think Joey's play improved last game, along with the final drive against Tampa. It still wasn't stellar, but it was better. It remains to be seen if he is the long term solution, but right now I believe much of the criticism heaved on him is overdone. I believe that with the softer defenses the team will be seeing in the next two weeks, we should see improvements, provided that we don't see a backslide in O-line play and continued excessive drops.

I continue to be optimistic about the teams chances this season. Many of us warned about a slow start, and now we seemingly have forgotten our own warnings and want results now. Hopefully we'll begin seeing the results soon.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Game Notes - vs Ravens: Appearances can be Deceiving

After watching the Lions game yesterday, and seeing the comments being written about the game, I'm a bit confused if people really watched the same game that I did. It's always amazing that I see some of the write-ups that focus on the absolutely wrong items and neglect items that were crucial. This game is no exception. Here goes my take on what I saw - and then verified by re-watching the game thanks to TiVo.

This is starting to almost become a weekly item - my having to defend Joey from the haters. Again, I'm not sold on the guy by any stretch, but the arguments I keep seeing written by others seem more based on his stat line than by analytically watching the game. His stats were hardly impressive - 10 of 23 for 97 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT. Watching the game, I was suprised that those were his final stats as I thought he played much better than those stats showed. I was even more suprised when I started reading the boards and saw people bashing him for 'inaccurate throws'. So I went back to the tape to see if maybe I had missed something and re-watched every passing play. My opinion didn't change - it anything it was reinforced.

By my count, I saw only 4 inaccurate passes thrown all day. They were two interceptions, a ball that sailed over Pollard (not the gator arm pass), and a high throw toward KJ2 on a 10 yard out to the sideline. Re-watching the throws to Roy and BMW on the deep passes based on the routes being run, outside of the interception, Joey threw the balls where only Roy or BMW could get it. Hate to tell the haters, but that's the best any QB can do on a bomb - put it where only your guy can get it. The first one to Roy was a good defensive play by Rolle as he kept Roy from drifting toward the sideline to make the catch. BMW's one-handed stab where he ran out of bounds was thrown to the only place it could be thrown and have a chance of completing it - and BMW could have stayed in bounds had he not turned the wrong way looking for the ball. BTW, anyone else think that Joey, Mooch and Tollner heard our bitching about not throwing enough deep balls? As far as that BMW pass across the middle - the tape is pretty clear - BMW was late in looking back for the ball, and had he looked back sooner, he would have had an easy grab.

Joey also threw the ball away 5 times (7 if you include two that came back on penalties) contributing to his low completion percentage. Now I know people complain about him throwing it away instead of continuing to look for receivers, but consider that he was getting HAMMERED all day by the Ravens D. I re-checked the video, and not one of his throw-aways happened when he had time to look for another receiver - he either got drilled immediately after throwing it, or was running out-of-bounds. He may not have gotten sacked, but he sure did get hit and chased around by the Ravens D a ton. Once again, would you rather he throw it away and save the sack yardage, or just take the sack? To me this is a no-brainer - throw it away and save the yardage. In fact Killer actually pointed something out, which I must give him credit for, that Joey displayed some of the best toughness you could ever hope to get from a QB in this game. It may not have been pretty, but it was a gutsy performance, and Joey played much better than his stats indicate.

I won't go too much into the 'fumble'. In my book, it was an incomplete pass, and we got a gift. As far as the outcome goes we probably still would have scored, but it's hard to say if it would have been a TD or a FG. The play was on a 1st & 10 from the Ravens 25, so there was easily more time and downs to move and score, and we had scored the previous possession. I'll just chalk this one up as the make-up call for the Tampa game and move on...

Another play that everyone seems to be talking about is the Pollard 'gator arm' pass. People are either ripping Joey or Pollard, saying that pass was inexcusable. Again, I have a different view of this. Based on what I saw in the replay, Ray Lewis was sitting back in coverage, and was blocked from Joey's sightline by the blocking - which led Joey to think it was a safe pass. As much as I want to rip Pollard for not catching it, that WAS Ray Lewis lining him up for the kill shot. In my book, the pass was accurate, Joey didn't see Ray, but Pollard did, and I can live with the outcome.

As far as the O-Line goes, they did a better job than they have, but it still is sub-par. Joey may have had time to throw, but most of it was due to him moving around in the pocket. He took a lot of hits - more than a QB should take. Further evidence is how pathetic the running game looked. KJ finally broke two 10+ yard plays, and there was the Bryson 77 yarder, but the remainder of the time our RB's were having to fight for 1-2 yards. Those 5 runs to gain a 1 yard TD should have told everyone what they needed to know about the O-line's run blocking. But then again, everything is relative - that was the vaunted Ravens D they were facing.

On the other side of the ball, I was once again concerned about our play on the edges. Our LB's and DE's are fast, but they sure do miss a lot of tackles. The Ravens ran 30 times for 159 yards (5.3 per carry), with no plays longer than 14 yards. That was dang solid running against us. That should definitely be a concern going into next week with Stephen Davis and DeShawn Foster coming to town. The problems still seem to be overrunning plays - particularily Boss and Teddy. Simple cutbacks seem to cause them to go flying by as they are aggressively pursuing the runner. It's not as bad as it has been in recent weeks, but it's not good either.

As far as the pass D, I guess that Dre is back, eh? He was everywhere, making plays all over the field. IMHO, he was the best player on the field. The rest of the pass D did a decent job, as the Ravens really didn't move the ball through the air until we were firmly in the lead and back in prevent.

I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the penalties. That was a meltdown like none that I've ever seen. After the first penalties started piling up, I took a much greater interest in checking out each penalty. What shocked me is how blatant some of them were, and how the Ravens completely melted down and committed several frustration penalties. There is no excuse for bumping the ref. No excuse for throwing the ball at another player. No excuse for heaving the ball into the stands. That's usually what we see from the Lions, not from another team. But as I started paying attention to them, I honestly couldn't see any phantom calls. Maybe in my next viewing through TiVo I'll check out the early ones closer - especially all those defensive holding calls.

All in all, the most important stat is that the Lions won. There are still some problems, but at least we don't have to hear all the same doom-n-gloom all week long that we have heard in the past.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Reefer Madness

Doesn't the title say it all? Before the drug test issue cam up, I was going to write a blog entry about how CRog should put up or shut up. Now I'm just going to write that he should shut up. His career here with the Lions has been one disapointment after another. He started off with a bang, scoring 2 TD's vs the Cards in his first game. Then he broke his collarbone after a bye-week practice entanglement with Dre Bly, and only made it through 5 games his rookie year.

His second year, he only lasted 3 plays before breaking the same collarbone.

Now, in his 3rd year, he starts off by sulking about losing his flanker spot to Roy Williams, he lets it effect his game play, and now he get suspended for 4 games for a 3rd substance abuse violation?

His career totals for 3 seasons:
9 games started, 27 catches for 327 yards and 3 TD's

He already was skating on thin ice for his comments about the franchise and questioning if he fits into their future plans. Throw on the drug suspension, and this kid has done about everything wrong and had about as many bad breaks as any single person can have.

And the worst thing is that he brings it on himself.

He doesn't need to complain in the press aobut his future with the team. He doesn't need to sulk on the field about not getting the ball. He needs to get out there and play his hardest, SHOW the world he's the best receiver on the team (which he may well still be FWIW), and earn his way back into our good graces.

And then he gets busted for what most people believe is Marijuana. He'll miss 4 games, and he may not get his #2 WR job back from BMW when he returns. Just what he needs while he's bitching about not being the #1 receiver is to make him #3.

And just to add insult to injury, had he not failed the drug test, he would have had a perfect opportunity to regain his flanker spot with Roy out and hurt. The exact opportunity he craved he missed because of his inability to control himself. And by the time he gets back, everyone else will probably be healthy. Of course with the way Roy gets hurt, there will be other opportunities, but he'll have to wait again.

Hopefully, he learns his lesson from sitting out 4 weeks without pay. I wouldn't bet on it. He sat out most of the last two seasons and he doesn't look like he's learned a thing.

Dumb, just dumb.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

3rd Down Woes

I was reading Killers article about Mooch on Tuesday and what's wrong with third down conversions, I was amazed that Mooch didn't seem to have an answer.
Mariucci identifies problems, not solutions

Detroit Lions head coach Steve Mariucci has identified the team's problem: Everything.

When it comes to solutions, though, Mariucci is a little less forthcoming. During his weekly press conference Monday, Mariucci had precious few answers for questions concerning Detroit's 17-13 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

While the Lions' defense played a fairly good game, forcing four turnovers and holding Tampa Bay's running game in check, Detroit's offense struggled in every phase.

"We were two-of-12 on third down (conversions) and that can't happen. You have to be over 40 percent," said Mariucci, who was just beginning his laundry list of problem areas. "We don't have the explosive plays. We haven't established the ground game like we want to to keep people playing run-pass and with play-action to get people to bite.

"There's just a lot of it, from protection to accuracy to decision-making to catching the ball, making the tough catch to separating from defenders to reading coverage properly . . . the timing of it all. That has to improve quickly."

So the Lions were 2 for 12 on 3rd down agains the Bucs. Here is a breakdown of the plays...

1 - 3rd and 6, incomplete to Roy, dropped sure TD.
2 - 3rd and 12, Joey scrambles for 4
3 - 3rd and 19, Bryson draw for 10
4 - 3rd and 4, Joey scramble for 1 - Field Goal
5 - 3rd and 5, Bryson catch for 4
6 - 3rd and 8, Joey sacked, 0 yards
7 - 3rd and 5, incomplete to Bryson, dropped
8 - 3rd and 5 - BMW catch for 11 yards, First Down!
9 - 3rd and 5 - incomplete to Pollard, Field Goal
10 - 3rd and 5, KJ2 catch for 7 yards, First Down!
11 - 3rd and 5, Incomplette to CRog, dropped, made 4th down conversion
12 - 3rd and 1, Incomplete to BMW, toe on line

Does anyone else notice anything wrong with this?

What I take out of that horror show is:
A - We only had ONE 3rd and less than 4 - PATHETIC. Gain some yards on 1st and 2nd downs.
B - We dropped 3 balls on 3rd down - INEXCUSABLE. Drops are bad at any time, but those were drive killers.
C - We ran / scrambled / were sacked on 4 plays, averaging 3rd and 11, including our 3 longest 3rd downs. You have very little chance of converting 3rd and 10+ if you run unless your name is Michael Vick.

If Mooch can't see it, he needs glasses and a lesson in Football 101. Just eliminating the drops brings us to 5 of 12 - much more respectable. Better play calling on the 3rd and longs, and maybe we convert one of those as well. Heck, better play calling on 1st and 2nd downs, and maybe we actually have some 3rd and shorts, not just on the 2nd to last play of the game with no timeouts and 12 seconds on the clock where a run is not an option.

This is frustrating as a fan, because you see a team that is not giving itself a chance to succeed.

Get a clue Mooch. Most teams don't convert a high percentage of 3rd and long's...

Monday, October 03, 2005

Game Notes - @ Bucs: Where the problem lies...

Well, this last game showed me about everything I needed to see to truly understand why the Lions are in the predicament they are in. And here's a hint - it isn't Joey.

It's Mooch.

I'll make this as simple as possible for the less feeble minded Lions fans out there. For 3 1/2 quarters, we keep running the ball into the middle of the line, putting ourselves in 3rd and longs, and walking off the field after another 3 and out. Then FINALLY when the chips are down, and we are out of timeouts and it's obvious we have only this last possession, we open the offense up. And what happens? We march almost 90 yards showing the offense we all KNEW we had, only to get screwed over by the refs on a bad call at the end.

To put it plain and simple, WHY IN THE HECK DID IT TAKE 3 1/2 QUARTERS FOR US TO OPEN IT UP?????

That is coaching my friends, and that last drive told me everything I needed to know about who is to blame for the Lions 1-2 record.

It wasn't a great day for Joey prior to that final drive. Before the last drive, Joey was 7 for 13 for 66 yards on the day - far from what we would want our QB to be. There were 3 drops already - one by Bryson and 2 by Roy. Edit: I originally mistakenly had the CRog drop listed here, not on the final drive. My bad... (Although the NFL stats will probably somehow say that there was only 1 drop for the entire game, but I digress...) That means that Joey was on target and should have completed 10 of 13 passes. One of them would have been an EASY 68 yard TD that Roy dropped.

Irregardless of the drops and what happened earlier, we were losing with 5:15 left in the 4th quarter. The O wasn't moving the ball running or throwing. Joey was in line to be set up as the scapegoat. There was almost no evidence that the problem had anything to do with anything except Joey.

Then the strangest thing happened - we had that final drive. Down by more than a FG, we had to score a TD to win it. There would be no chance for a second possession due to the clock. And the Lions come out for the first time all day in 3 WR sets. We saw an O that moved the ball with relative ease against one of the best D's in the league. They should have scored two different times at the end of that drive, save a blown replay call and a rookie not dragging his toes. Some will argue that the Bucs were in prevent D, and that's why we were able to move that easily, but that's just not factual. The Bucs played the same basic Cover-2 they always play. The Lions actually ran 2 consecutive running plays into the pile in the middle fo the drive, and were bailed out of that stupid play calling by a good KJ2 catch on 4th down. The evidence is there - the Lions can move the ball when they spread the field and start throwing it.

And the biggest suprise? In the final drive, Joey goes 8 for 14, with three of those incompletes being the final 3 plays. It also includes a CRog drop on a 3rd down play. That's 8 for 11 on the final drive for 71 yards prior to the hose job. Not even accounting for the drop, Joey should have been 9 of 12 for 83 yards and a TD. All while the Lions were in a 3WR formation. A formation that the Lions hadn't run consistently all year until that point.

Edit: As was pointed out to me, the Lions went into 3 wide one other series, but it was so brief that it really didn't register. The last series of the first half, The lions went 3 wide on a 2 play drive in which Joey was 2 for 2 for 41 yards before Pollard fumbled. If anything, it makes this argument even stronger...

To put it another way, the 3WR O is the offense we all thought the Lions should be running this year. Stretch the field and take advantage of the personnel we have. And suprise, suprise - when we ran it, it worked. And that's when you have to start asking questions. Why haven't we seen that O before? Why do we keep running the same runs up the gut that weren't working? Who is calling the plays?

I feel like I have to defend Joey because of what I keep hearing people say. I HATE this. I AM NOT A JOEY SUPPORTER. I just call it like I see it. The issue in this game was play calling - not Joey, not the O-line, not the D, but play calling. Go back and re-watch the game and ask yourself why in the HECK we are running yet another dive into the pile on 1st and 10, then again on 2nd and 10...

Argh... I hate playing this game - what would JH have done if it weren't for the drops. I grew up learning "If if's and but's were candy and nuts we'd all have a happy Christmas". Unfortunately, in a game like this, you have to in order to prove a point. Here is the summary in simple bullet point form:

- If Roy doesn't drop that first pass, he has a 68 yard TD, EASY.

- If we don't get hosed by the replay ref, Pollard catches a 12 yard TD, and 2 more pass attempts aren't even there.

Joey's actual game stats: 15-27-137-0TD, 55% completion
Joey's revised game stats: 17-25-217-2TD, 68% completion

If his final line is like the bottom one and the Lions win, NO ONE save the absolutely worst Joey haters is calling for the kids head.

And this brings us back to the main question - why haven't we seen this until this point?

It's coaching, and that's Mooch's responsibility.

I understand the need to have a balanced attack, to keep running the ball so that the D has to be honest. But Mooch seems intent on using the run to set up the pass, when with this team it should be the exact opposite. Use the pass to set up the run. Use those stud receivers to stretch the field AND THEN let KJ run through all the open daylight.

I used to be firmly in Mooch's camp. I'm now seeing the light that he may be too inflexible for the good of this team. I only hope he comes to the same conclusions I have about the O, swallows his pride, and opens it up.

This team needs it.