Thursday, January 05, 2006

Game Notes - @ Pittsburgh: The Fat Lady Sings

Well, it's finally over. A season that we'd all like to forget started with high expectations, and was sent crashing to reality early. Stick a fork in it, the fat lady has sung, it's over. Now we can get back to the Lions fan's real season - the offseason rumor mill. Just once I'd like to take place in the NFL's offseason though...

Well, the Pittsburgh game was a strange affair for the kittens. How can this team come out and keep making plays on O against a team that had given up only 12 points total in the prior 3 games? How could our D never figure out how to stop the Bus? And how the heck could our special teams perform so abysmally to more or less cost the Lions the game? It's just the latest chapter in the saga of "The days of our Lions".

Once again, I'm going to take a little different approach to what I saw out there compared to most everyone else. In reviewing the game, I'd say Joey really wasn't all that sharp - he floated a few passes and threw a few others at the feet of players. Granted, a few of them were Joey getting rid of the ball to avoid a sack and making sure they couldn't be intercepted, but if they are a little more on target, maybe they end up being caught. Compared to the last few games, he misfired on more passes in the Pittsburgh game. But the biggest difference that contributed to people thinking he looked sharper in this game was that he wasn't victimized by drops. I only counted 1 drop - by Roy, of course. Believe it or not, for most of the game, the receivers actually made plays. It's kinda funny how his stats looked better in this game (except completion percentage) when other players make plays. And in all honesty, if the other players start living up to their potential, any QB could run the Lions O. Joey did look better in making his play fakes in this game, and he was definitely moving around better in and out of the pocket. But he still needs a lot more work before his play fakes can consistently freeze a defense - his were strongly aided by how well KJ was running. I also liked that for the first time, I could see Joey getting visibly upset with receivers after a few plays, indicating he was mad that they ran the wrong route. We've been waiting for Joey to take that kind of approach with the kids for a while, and it finally surfaced, granted about 2 years later than we would have liked. Joey didn't make any big mistakes in the game, and that may have been the most important thing he did. That and throw the ball down the field on third and long.

When have we seen the Lions convert that many third and long's? I honestly can say I've never seen the Lions do that. I have seen other teams do that to the Lions, but not the other way around. But here they were, against the #3 D in the NFL, a team fighting for it's playoff life against our Lions who are just trying to end the season, and they're out there converting 3rd and 8, 3rd and 13, 3rd and 19. It was surreal seeing the O do that. We kinda knew they had the potential to play that way, they just never actually performed.

One other huge difference - the O-line played MUCH better. Both in pass blocking and run blocking. They also kept the penalties down to a minimum which is a big change from previous weeks. It showed as Joey had more time to throw, and KJ actually had some small creases to run through. In fact, KJ ran like a beast. He popped several good runs right down the Steelers throats, and then busted a few outside for good measure. When it was over though, he still fell shy of 100 yards. But he looked like the KJ we saw last year. It's a good sign for the future.

On the other side of the ball, it's hard to tell how bad it really is after that game. When your entire linebacking core is on IR, it definitely impacts your ability to stop the run. And that's exactly how Pittsburgh won the game - running. The D held Ben in check, and the combo of Ward and Randle-El were mostly insignificant. But Willie Parker and the Bus ran through our D at will. My gut instinct is that we do need to shore up at least one DE and WLB at a minimum. But it's so hard to tell when Holmes, Bailey, Lehman and Lewis (Sounds kinda like a Law firm, eh?), the best 4 LB's they have are all on IR. But before they got there, they needed help - or at least better coaching.

Then, the area that truly gave the game away was special teams. I don't remember any time in the past where I could honestly say the Lions special teams were a liability. They have been good for as long as I can remember, and maybe we've just been spoiled by them. But to give up the kickoff returns they did, the punt return for a TD, and the Drummond fumble of another punt return, and the special teams truly lost the game for the Lions. Pittsburgh's first 3 TD's required a total of 70 yards of O to score. Without the blunders on special teams, the Lions may have actually beaten Pittsburgh and knocked them out of the playoffs.

But the pain of 2005 is finally over. It's now time to look for a new head coach, sign free agents and draft the next great Lions hope. There are a ton of questions for this offseason - Will Joey be back? Will CRog be back? Will Backus get re-signed? Can the Lions sign any quality free agents after last years debacle? Lets hope that we get the coaching

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