Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Game Notes - @ Saints: Hurricane Jason
I'm more than a bit late in writing this weeks game notes, and for good reason - I've been celebrating Christmas with my family. The win made me think that I could actually enjoy the holiday before writing my notes out. And then I've seen the Newspaper articles and the message boards and once again, I'm shaking my head in amazement. It seems that once again, I'm watching a different game than most everyone else out there, which I guess shouldn't surprise me, since the game looked so similar to ones I saw early in the season. So, here we go again...
I've replayed that game a few times now, looking to see what I could see about how the O and D really played. I came away seeing several of the same problems I saw early in the year:
- The O-Line can't open any running lanes and allows the pocket to collapse quickly
- The Receivers are having trouble getting open and are still dropping passes
- The playcalling is still boring and predictable
- The Quarterback is actually playing much better than he is being given credit for.
There are a lot of people out there who will really question that last point, but I went through all the pass plays several times and I was actually impressed with how Joey played. All in all, I only saw 2 passes thrown that I would consider 'bad' and 2 more that were off the mark. When you consider that's out of 30 attempts, neither of those numbers are that bad. Joey has improved his pocket presence significantly since earlier in the year, and he was actually moving around inside and outside the pocket well. His biggest mistake was the interception on the first drive - on my TiVo review of the replays, he checked over to Roy's side before the snap, checked the other side, snapped the ball, turned and threw before he realized that Thomas had cheated off to the fade route. Good scouting by the Saints to realize that one was coming, and a bad mistake by Joey to not check the route before throwing the ball.
Outside of that play, and another one where the MLB was shielded from Joey's view and dropped an easy INT, Joey threw the ball well. There were a few throw-aways as we always get, and a few check downs as well. The biggest improvement was the accuracy of his throws - I only had two as being off target, and iRoy caught one of them. The problem was of course that there were several other throws that were dropped. I had my drop count at 6 for the game, and I three different times I thought the drops erased TD's. Everyone remembers the Roy drop near the end of the first half, but he dropped another that could have gone for 6 earlier in the second quarter. And don't forget that Pollard dropped another one in the end zone before Hanson kicked his first field goal. Of course Pollard was also called for Offensive Pass Interference on the play - declined- so it would have been wiped out anyways, but there would have been another chance. But it still was a drop in the end zone.
That leads me to another area where I was disturbed about what I saw - penalties. The Lions were called for 6 False Starts, and had 3 more offensive penalties declined . How a team can false start that many times is beyond my comprehension. One actually saved the Lions near the end as it stopped the clock instead of having a fumbled snap that was recovered. But still the discipline of this team is so bad that the penalties keep piling up. And when your O is constantly having to make up extra yards because of getting behind the 8-ball from stupid penalties, it dramatically reduces the effectiveness of the plays being run.
Of course, that assumes that the plays being run would have been effective anyway. Let's get this straight - Artose Pinner is a hard runner with good hands for catching screens, but he has no moves, no lateral quickness, and no vision. Knowing that, you shouldn't expect to run him into the pile too many times as the opponent's D will surely figure out that he can't do anything else - and they did. 20 carries for 57 yards isn't my idea of a good use of the running game. Bryson looked a little more effective when he was in there, but not much more. With their limited effectiveness, a logical assumption would be that the passing game should be leaned on to move the ball, but that simply didn't happen until once again the chips were down. Olsen seems to have learned too much from Mooch, relying on a running game that doesn't exist to move the ball. And time and again, the passing game was asked to bail out the O after a few bad runs or a silly penalty put them in 3rd and long.
One of the problems why the running game couldn't get going was once again the O-Line. This time, it was worse due to Woody going out early in the second drive. But the problem remains the same from earlier in the year - The interior of the line can get no push in the running game and can't keep the pocket from collapsing in the passing game. While Joey remained mostly upright during the game, he was still getting hurried and hit fairly often. And Pinner can gain some yardage if there is a hole to run through, but this line can't open any holes to speak of. It appears to take two of our players to block opposing DT's on every play - whether it's G-C or G-FB, if there aren't two of our players there, the opponent overpowers the single guy. And of course that leaves no one to go and hit the LB's to keep any semblance of an open hole or to stop a blitzer. At least with Woody in there, Raiola could focus all his attention on helping out the LG. Without him, this could be ugly against Blitzburg.
On the other side of the ball, I've singled out a few players who simply aren't getting it done. Yes, we did hold New Orleans to 12 points, all on Field Goals, but you just had a feeling watching them that it was more due to their own offensive incompetence than the Lions D stopping them. Here are the players I think are hurting the D.
James Davis - For a guy who has started 13 of the 15 games at LB, he has a total of 53 tackles this season. He seems to always be out of position, and he doesn't wrap up tacklers. I'm sure he's still starting simply because the Lions lack healthy bodies at LB to play in his spot. But when he's getting outplayed at LB by two guys who were walking on the street free agents two months ago (Woods and Wayne), it's not a good sign.
James Hall - Unfortunately, James simply isn't good at defending the run to his side. He's always been a bit undersized, and opponents are taking advantage of him there. It also doesn't help that behind him is Davis, so runs to an opponents left side often can turn the corner, leaving the Safeties to clean up the mess. I like James, but he really should only be a situational pass rush specialist.
Cory Redding - Cory is the anti-Hall - he can defend the run decent enough, but he gets no push in the pass game. He's the invisible man out there in the pass rush, from a position that screams to have a good pass rusher. As a result, unless Hall or the big fellers in the middle can bust through, opposing QB's have plenty of time to throw on the Lions.
R.W. McQuarters - Granted he's supposed to only be our nickel CB, but he's getting burned nearly as much as he did in Chicago when he got the nickname 'toast'. For all the grief that I've heard people giving Dre Bly, R.W. has gotten used and abused by the opponents #2 or #3 WR's - not their #1's. Anytime the opponent seeks to throw deep, they go after R.W. - because it's easy. Sure, his crybaby routine back at Donte Stallworth was funny, but Stallworth had already burned him several times during the afternoon. I won't be upset if he's not here next year.
After all of that, we get down to the final possession. In many ways, it was a comedy of errors as there were 2 dropped passes, 2 offensive penalties - one declined on 3rd and 17, a sack, two throw-aways in the face of an all-out blitz, a completion to the middle of the field with 23 second left and no time outs, and then finally the 'hurricane drill' field goal. The Lions pulled out all the stops in trying to lose this one. In the end, Joey did the only sure thing he could - throw difficult passes to iRoy. You know, the kind that Roy makes spectacular catches on, not the easy kind that he drops. And then Hanson came out in that coaching blunder that reminded me of MSU - Ohio State, only the Lions didn't screw it up.
I am still waiting for a flag to come flying for some infraction on that FG attempt. In any case, the Lions got a win, and I got some much needed time with my family. Now, we only have one more game to suffer through, then we get the Lions version of the post-season - a head coaching search, free agent signings and the draft. Whee, isn't life great as a Lions fan? I'll keep hoping to see the Lions play in a Super Bowl in my lifetime, but I definitely am not holding my breath.