Sunday, November 13, 2005

Game Notes - vs. Cards: About Time

It's about time.

The Leo's laid the smack down on the Cards today, and the game wasn't really as close as the final score. In fact, if Mooch hadn't gone into his 'Prevent O' and had actually tried to score again, the final could easily have been 36 - 14 or more. Granted, it was the Cards, so I can't get too excited about it. But there were some very positive signs today. I just hope they were more based on the Lions finally coming together as a team than the ineptitude of the Cards.

That was about what most of us were expecting from the O all season long. KJ running free and easy. Joey lighting it up on deep passes. Pollard working the middle of the field. iRoy catching TD's. It still wasn't perfect - the dropped passes (4 of them by my count) were still there. But here's the funny thing - what made the O performance so different was one thing the commentators barely even mentioned. The O-Line easily had their best game of the season. KJ had lanes to run in today. Joey was rarely on his back. If this game was on a grass field, Joey's jersey might have still been clean at the end of the game.

If anything was proven today, it's that Joey is capable of putting up good numbers when he isn't in fear for his life. His stats were easily the best he's had this season, and the correlation between him not getting hit and the good numbers isn't just a coincidence. When we go back over the last few years, when he's had time to throw, he has easily had his best games. When he's gotten hammered early and often, he gets happy feet, his passes sail, he dumps off much more frequently, and his stats go into the toilet. The message here is simple - keep Joey upright and he can win games. And his reward for his performance was for Mooch to basically imply that if Garcia was healthy next week, he'd start. What the heck, this is Detroit, and QB controversy has been a running joke around here for 47 years.

When you throw in that the running game had far more room to maneuver today, it's easy to see that the O-Line played much better. The biggest unknown was whether it was simply due to playing the Cards, or if they're finally starting to gel. It was around this time last year that they started to play better, and the running game took off. Only last year we had no healthy receivers by this point. This year, the receivers are just starting to get back healthy. In any case, Joey was rarely pressured and he actually had a pocket to move around in today. It was nice to see the improvement, now lets see if it carries over to Dallas before we announce that the line is finally 'gellin like Magellan'.

While the O looked significantly better for about three and a half quarters, the boneheaded playcalling was bound and determined to try to lose the game for us again. Starting with 1st and Goal at the 7 in our first series in the 4th quarter after Joey had moved the O 73 yards in 6 plays - 3 runs and 3 passes - Mooch once again went ultra-conservative with the playcalling. From that point forward, he called 10 runs and 2 passes. Two consecutive Pinner runs up the middle from inside the 10 before a well covered fade to Vines. On the next possession, Mooch called for two consecutive 3rd down and long draws to Bryson after runs into the middle of the line had put them in 3rd and long to begin with. The final series, he called 3 consecutive runs - all between the tackles - before punting. That type of playcalling is exactly what lost the Carolina game for us, and why no Lions lead in the 4th quarter is safe. Instead of going for the jugular and trying to put the score out of reach, Mooch tries to run out the clock. And he's done it so many times that EVERYONE knows it's coming, and they defend accordingly. The Cards were almost able to pull out the comeback because of this foolish and predictable strategy. Yes, the run had been working earlier in the game, but that was when it was mixed in with passing to keep the D guessing. When it gets predictable, it's easy to stop, and the Cards did just that. Mooch was lucky they didn't score and tie the game up.

The D continues to play well, but not great. They gave up more 2nd half points than they had all year, and it appears that the attrition rate is starting to take it's toll. We played without Bly, Bryant and Goodman - the #1, 2, and 3 corners. We played without Lehman and Lewis, and Holmes, Bailey and Davis all went down - the # 1-5 LB's. I hope a few of those guys are back next game, because we'll need them against Dallas. At least Shaun Rogers was back in the lineup. We didn't hear his name much - he didn't even record a tackle - but we did see him create havoc on a few plays.

Perhaps the best thing the D did was to see Big Daddy play so well. Maybe he's just a late bloomer and is finally coming into his own after 12 years in the league (I'm joking folks). But he was playing like his draft position would have made you expect (for those who don't remember, he was the #1 pick of the 1994 draft by the Bengals). Whatever the reason, his career has been given a rebirth by playing here in Detroit. I'll admit I was wrong in preseason in projecting him to be cut. But as I stated then, a decision to cut him would have been based on the emergence of some of the younger talent and the cap space it would have created - not because the team wouldn't want him. Clearly he has been a great investment for the D this year.

The final result is the most important - the Lions won. It does feel good to finally not be swearing up a storm after watching the Lions play.

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