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...

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