Thursday, August 31, 2006

I hate "last preseason games"

Just got back from the game. Watching in the cheap seats (well, at least as cheap as a $62 seat can be), you get a different feel for what is going on at the game. Here are my quick impressions based on what I saw without the benefit of TiVo...

First off, I feel cheated and lied to. We heard that CRog and BMW were going to be given "significant playing time" prior to the game. Here is the quick synopsis of their PT.
CRog - one series, open the 2nd half, 9 plays, 1 pass thrown to him, 3 yard hitch.
BMW - remaining series in the 2nd half, 21 plays, 0 passes thrown to him.
How in the heck can the staff call that "significant"? That was BS. In the stands by me, we were paying close attention to when either of them walked on the field. There were at least 2 more passes that should have gone toward CRog, but DanO wasn't looking his way. And BMW... sheesh. There were at least 6 plays that should have gone to him. What the HELL are they doing throwing 3 passes to Sean McHugh and 0 to BMW? When they throw a fade route to the end zone, WHY is it going to Glenn Martinez and not BMW? This made absolutely no sense whatsoever. And it's not like either guy wasn't open - they were. They were simply ignored.

If you say you are going to give them PT to evaluate them, at least run a few plays for them. 1 play in 30 to two former top-10 picks in the second half is ridiculous. If I'm Millen, and I was told the guys I drafted were going to get a shot, and then this happened, I might be firing someone tonight. Just ridiculous.

Now that I have that off my chest, I can get back to the game. This was my first game I was able to attend from my new season ticket seats. Let's just say that the people around me have already figured out that they are going to have a new experience watching the game. The reason is that I'm a talker during the game. Not yelling at the coaches, but basically providing running color commentary during the game. I had an old guy next to me turn off his radio to listen to my commentary about what we were seeing, and three separate people commented and thanked me for keeping them entertained while we sat through that clunker of a game.

The first series of the game worried me. That was our starting D against their starting O out there, and the Bills marched down the field on us. Not good. We all were commenting "this is going to be a long season" after the opening drive. And then to follow that drive, we went 3-and-out. Highlight of the drive was rookie Jonathan Scott giving up a sack on his very first play at LT. Ouch. At this point, the people in the stands were expecting to be in for a very long night. It was silent in there. Then we held Buffalo to a 3-and-out of their own. Still no emotion, save the few cheers for the A-Train. Our second possession started before the first quarter ended, and we managed a first down to give us a grand total of +2 yards of O in the first quarter. Nice...

But that drive kept going, mostly due to Eddie Drummond. It looks like McCown really likes throwing to Eddie. And we barely made 3 first downs during that drive - by probably less than the length of a football on each of them. And then it gets stuck in the endzone to tie the score. Nice drive, a lot of longer passes, the kind of drive I hope to see a lot during the season. And it was starting to get a little exciting in there.

Of course then Buffalo hits on a 24 yard pass on their first play after the TD to cool things off. But then they get stuffed on the next three plays and we have the ball back. After an uninspired short drive to follow the TD, Buffalo gets the ball back and promptly goes up top to Josh Reed for a 35 yard gain. Nice, just what we needed to completely silence the crowd again. But the D started to hold again, finally stopping them at the 2 yard line to force a FG as time ran out in the half. We end the half down 10-7, and the crowd is more than ready to go find the bathrooms.

The second half was barely watchable due to the scrubs that were playing. But it started out looking like we were going to be in for a show. The Lions got the kickoff, and CRog took the field. There was an immediate buzz in the crowd as we were all anticipating this. On the second play, DanO throws a quick hitch to Chuck, and we're all expecting several more balls to go his way. This was finally going to be his chance to show what he can do. But then they stopped. He was open a few other plays in the 9 play drive, but nothing even came close to him. Instead, DanO is throwing dump-offs to Bryson and Calhoun, and his longer passes to Glenn Martinez and Shaun Ellis. This is not what we wanted to see, at all. And then the drive stalled, due mostly to a sack, and we didn't see CRog again. The next series, BMW came in, and we were fully expecting to see him running alongside CRog. Nope, not gonna happen. Instead, we get to see the Arlen Harris show and attempted passes to Sean McHugh - who by no fault of his own is quite possibly the worst TE in the history of football. I thought for sure he was a goner when Mooch got the axe, but somehow he survives. Maybe he's got something on Millen, but I digress...

In between those series, Buffalo had another short series, not really much happening for them. We get the Arlen Harris show series, then Buffalo gets the ball back near midfield. They make a few first downs, and kick a field goal. Not really exciting stuff there. We get the ball back, and proceed to see the Brian Calhoun show. Calhoun looks decent running the ball, and we all get excited when we see him bust one up the middle for a big gainer. But in the end, too many runs up the middle, and ANOTHER pass to McHugh that he can't get to. The official NFL sheet says it was overthrown, but shoulder height is a high throw for someone with T-Rex arms. But again, I digress...

Buffalo's next series is the shortest of the night, the second play being an interception. We still have no idea who Craig Nall was throwing that ball to as there was no one within 20 yards of it except Lions defenders. But we'll take a little charity, it's nice to receive every now and then. We start with 1st down at the Buffalo 18. Should be an easy 6. The first play we run a fade route to BM...err.. NO, IT'S GLENN MARTINEZ, and he can't even stay in bounds before the ball gets there. Then we run a pass up the middle to BM...err... NO, IT'S SEAN MCHUGH who promptly lets the ball go through his tragically short T-Rex arms. And then DanO gets sacked so we kick a FG. Needless to say, we are pretty ticked in the stands. Here we have a thoroughbred on the field who was born to make those kind of plays, and we completely ignore him for a couple of undrafted free agents who shouldn't even be on our practice squad. Nice. I'm ticked at this point.

So what does Buffalo do to make me nearly get up and leave? They come back and on their third play from scrimmage, they connect on a 70 yarder. Nice deep pass against completely blown coverage. I missed seeing who it was that let Andre Davis just walk on by them, but that was horrid coverage. Half the crowd got up and left after that play, for good reason. I was fuming mad at that point. Time for another beer.

Then the Lions do the improbable - they go on a long drive. This one highlighted by Calhoun, Harris and Martinez. No CRog, he hasn't seen the field since his one series. No BMW, he hasn't sniffed the ball, even though he's been on the field ever since CRog left it. And the drive stalls at the Buffalo 18, for another FG to make it 20-13. OK, so there's 3:06 left, we'll do an onside kick to try to get the ball back. Of course if they do score, they have to go for 2, because we DON'T WANT OT in the final pre-season game. Nope, no way. So what do we do? We kick it deep. Everyone left in the stands is standing there with their mouths open wide; words can not express how dumbfounded we all are. OK, so we're gonna try to hold them, use our TO's and the 2 minute warning, and get the ball back, right? Except that strategy doesn't work when the Bills gain 19 yards on their first play.

At this point, we get up and walk out.

I forgot to set the TiVo to record, so I won't have to relive that nightmare of a game again. In a strange way, I'm really thankful for that.

It was good seeing McCown throw the ball that well. 11 of 14 for 97 yards and a TD? Not too shabby. And with DanO's performance, I'm guessing McCown just took the 2nd string job. I was wondering if his performance in previous games was more related to the players around him than himself, and I think we have our answer. He looked better with the 2nd stringers than DanO previously did, and better with the third stringers in previous games than DanO did tonight.

Calhoun looked good too. He has a darting and shiftiness that vaguely has some similarities to old #20. He's no where in Barry's league, but there are some similarities in his running style.

Another player who stood out was Claude Harriott. Sorry if I don't mention much about the D, but there really wasn't much that was noticeable. Harriott was. He has been a disruptive force with Swancutt when he's been in there, and he definitely belongs on the team. He just seemed to always be near the QB and the ball. Very disruptive, and I liked seeing that.

That's all for tonight. Maybe I'll write some more tomorrow when I see what the jokers in the press have had to say. Should be interesting. Can't wait to hear Rod's explanation for why BMW and CRog were ignored...

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The REAL game notes...

Maybe we should punt the entire season away...
OK, after last night I needed a little time to digest the carnage I saw on the field. I sat down and watched it again this morning, with a little less alcohol, and I think I have a bit better idea about what was going on out there. It still wasn't pretty, but it wasn't quite as bad as I thought it was last night.

- First the plays we were talking about. On the Moss TD bomb, Jon McGraw got to Brooks on the blitz, and was hauled down from behind. The play should have been called back for holding - never happened. It was that obvious on the replay. But since it wasn't, we got to face the absurd reality that we were trying to cover Randy Moss with Fernando Bryant. We've only played against him for like 8 years and seen him do this to us how many times? Ah yes, we have new coaches who aren't familiar with Randy torching the Lions. At least they hopefully learned this lesson in the preseason.

- The second Moss TD was a head scratcher as well. Somehow Levar Woods was matched up man-to-man with Randy Moss. Whoever called that scheme and thought Woods could guard Moss should be fired. Today.

On to the player breakdowns...
- Kitna looked awful. DanO also didn't look good. It was a bad night for our QB's, and that's never a way to win a game. If Kitna keeps running the way he has been, he won't make it to the 5th game. He got his clock rung a few times last night on his runs. Not a good thing for your starter to be doing. DanO skipped a few of his passes to his receivers they were so short. We didn't even see McCown, but he couldn't have done any worse than those two did.

- KJ looked good last night. Real good. End of his rookie season good. I love this Heisman Trophy pose... I actually was surprised when I saw the replay about how well he was running. Had a few of his teammates done their jobs, he could have had a 100 yard game last night. He was hitting the holes well, accelerating through them, and making contact when needed. He also caught the ball well out of the backfield. He was definitely the shining star on O.

- But once again, the O-line wasn't. I slowed down several plays, and saw more of the same from previous games - O-linemen not making the right reads, missing the correct blocks, not holding the blocks long enough. The only one I didn't see make a glaring mistake was Raiola. Verba seems to pull well, but he doesn't always make contact with the guy he's supposed to. Backus got beat by a speed rusher around the end again - what else is new?. And then the right side of the line... ick. We need Woody and Tucker back because Stokes showed why Butler is beating him out, and that isn't good. And DeMulling showed he was the same blocker as last year. Even Pollard got into the mix, getting blown up by a LB in the hole when he was supposed to lay down a lead block for KJ on one play. Beightol had better work his magic with these guys, and quickly.

- At WR, someone needs to remind Kitna who his best WR is. Roy was mostly invisible, and that's never good for our team. Instead, most of Kitna's throws went to Furrey and Bradford. I'm not really impressed with either of them. They're OK players, but nothing special. And when you don't have a single completion to anyone named Williams, it's not going to be pretty. To be honest, I don't even know if BMW got in the game. If this is what we're going to be seeing during the regular season, it's going to be really ugly.

- On the other side of the ball, we really miss Baby. Get well Shaun, because we need you in there to draw a double team. It really messes up the other teams blocking patterns because they have to account for him. Without him in there, they can pretty much run it any way they want. Shaun Cody looked good, but there was an obvious hole in the line next to him. Our ends were invisible all night as well. IMHO, we have to get Swancutt in there with the first team and see if he can get it done with them. He was a bright spot again, and he deserves a shot.

- At LB, I didn't see too much of Ernie Sims. He just didn't' seem to be around the ball like he was in previous weeks. On the other hand, the Raiders ran at Paris Lenon as much as they could, and it was obvious they intended to. On at least 3 of their draws, Lenon was in the hole, and simply couldn't react to stop Lamont Jordan and Justin Fargas before they gained 6+ yards. He wasn't stepping up into the hole and initiating contact, he was waiting for it to come to him, and it went right on by him. At least we did see Boss Bailey play, and he looked OK in the middle. And Alex Lewis looked good as well. Maybe next week we'll see a starting lineup of Sims, Bailey and Lewis instead of Sims, Woods and Lenon. That would be a huge improvement.

- At DB, it wasn't pretty. Once again, Bryant got burned deep. He has shown absolutely nothing since he came to Detroit. Oakland mostly avoided throwing toward Dre, because of how easy it was to throw elsewhere. And our safeties were mostly missing in action. But truth be told, this wasn't the biggest problem area on D, the line and LB's were.

Ugh, it wasn't a pretty game. Dunno how we're supposed to have any good feeling going into the regular season after seeing that kind of a display. Maybe I should try to get my money back for my season tickets...

Game Notes - Oakland

We Suck!

OK, so I probably should write a bit more. I'll post my thoughts tomorrow. Let's just say this was worse than last week...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Back to Earth

Two weeks into the preseason, and we've already had the rollercoaster start. After PW1, it was "this team could be awesome!" Now it's "we could be in for a LONG season".

Brace yourselves for my next obvious statement.

Preseason means nothing.

Take a deep breath in. Exhale. Repeat. Now repeat after me "Hi, I'm (state your name). I know that the results of any preseason game mean next to nothing about what will happen in the regular season." It's like a Lions 12-step course in dealing with reality. And we're going through it with some regularity already this year.

What I saw in the game has been already described in detail by a lot of other posters, and based on the late date of my writing, I'd be rehashing the same points over and over again. So I'll keep this one kinda short and simple.

On O, I'm concerned about the run game, but not because of KJ. It's the O-Line again. It's the same problem as last week, last year, last 5 years, every year since 1991. The line needs to improve in these areas:
- Get push on the D-Line at the line of scrimmage
- Make the correct line calls and ignore out of position defenders
- FB's and pulling OL need to hit the correct 2nd level defenders.
It's been an ongoing theme in Lions O-Line play for a long time. There is some communication we can chalk up to new players like Verba, but the same mistakes are being made that have been made for multiple years. Hopefully Beightol can correct this, but at some point you have to place the blame on the players in the system.

On D, we just got pushed around by the Browns O-Line. You want a textbook example of what I want to see our O-Line do, watch Cleveland's O-Line against us. Big holes were opened. Pulling guards hitting the correct second level defenders. Backs not getting touched until they were 4 yards downfield. That was good O-Line play, and outside of Shaun Rogers not playing, most of the guys on our D-Line will get significant PT this year. Granted, we still were without our starting LB's (what else is new?), but this was a bad job at stopping the run.

That's all I care to write about. It's too late after the game to bring anything more meaningful to the discussion. I'll be more prompt after the next game. That I promise.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Slowly but surely...

Sorry about the delay folks. I've been out of town over the weekend. I watched about the first half Friday night before I fell asleep on the couch. Yes, it was that boring of a game. But don't worry, I have it on TiVo and I'll finish watching it and have the writeup tomorrow night.

Of course you can guess that it won't be pretty. I kinda spelled it out in my one post over at The Den Saturday morning before we left for the relatives. "I guess that kinda killed the feel-good attitude we had from the first game, eh?"

More tomorrow night...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

What I learned last night...

It seems that Lions fans fall into fits of hyperbole when given the slightest glimmer of hope. The game last night was no different from most preseason games - it teased you enough on many different levels and gave you glimmers of what might be. As always with preseason games, it is next to impossible to judge every player on the roster as no one gets a lot of time against the first strings, and many starters are held out for the most minor of reasons. But we did see some things that are remarkably different from years past. In all, this was an interesting game from a number of points.

- That was definitely NOT the 'Greatest Show on Turf' offense. It didn't look bad, but they 'pounded the rock' a lot more than any Martz team I've seen in the last few years. Heck, they pounded more than any Lions team we've seen since Boss Ross was around. 25 runs in 46 plays. Definitely not what I expected to see from Martz.

- On the other hand, the choice of passes was a HUGE difference to last year. Far more passes (percentage-wise, not pure number) were thrown downfield than we've seen around here in a LONG time. And it looks like we've got the horses to run those routes.

- One thing I'm a bit concerned about after last night is not allowing the QB to audible out of a bad setup. On two different plays, Denver stacked 9 in the box against KJ, and the Lions called sweeps - a recipe for disaster. Unless there is a halfback option pass that is part of the play call, those two plays should never have been run. In addition, the two throws to Pollard were both destined to only get 1-2 yards based on where the D lined up against him. Maybe those were more on the QB for a bad read (both were quick throws with a defender in close), but they should be audibled out of.

- Kitna looked solid. I'm not sold on his arm strength as it looked like one or two of his passes were slow in getting to the target, but he was on the money. Dan-O looked good except for the duck he threw up. In re-watching the game, I'm not sure that INT was on him - it looked like he threw a corner route and Bodiford ran a post. IMHO, it's pretty obvious why he's #2 on the depth chart over McCown. McCown didn't look bad, but he was playing with the third string. I'd guess Martz switches it up next week, plays McCown with the second string and DanO with the third just to get a better feel for where each of them are.

- KJ is going to get a lot of work this year. As long as we can keep him from having to do a Barry Sanders impression (dodging 2-3 guys in the backfield), he should have a huge year. Based on the defense played against the Lions last night, teams definitely fear KJ more than the passing attack right now. The Broncos typically put either 8 or 9 in the box when KJ was in the game. Once he was done and Harris came in, they brought more than 7 on only one play - the quick TD toss to Harris. It was a remarkable difference to see when I watched the tape, and it speaks volumes about what other teams think the strength of the Lions O is right now.

- The O-line didn't impress me too much. Of course Woody and Tucker weren't playing, but it was the other side of the line - Backus and Verba - that didn't impress. Too much penetration was allowed from that side of the line. In re-watching the game, it appears that it may be more of a 'gelling' issue than anything. There were a few missed assignments that looked very much like they didn't know where each other was supposed to be just yet. Hopefully we'll see improvement in this area in the next few games. One good thing was that our QB's didn't get hit anywhere near as much as I had been fearing they would. I hope we see that continue next week.

- It was hard to get a read on any of the receivers. Too many guys out there and not enough balls thrown to any of them individually to really get a great feel for any of them. There were a few nice plays though - Roy, Bradford and BMW all made decent grabs. On the other hand, Drummond and Bodiford didn't impress me much as both caught only 1 of 3 balls thrown their way, when all were catchable. Martinez looked lost on the one pass he caught, and he was easily out muscled at the goal line on a play that BMW or Chuck could have made. There is a reason those two guys were 1st round picks, and Martinez, Bodiford and Drummond were undrafted. The last three may play with more desire right now, but they are physically limited and can't make some of the plays that the other guys can. That's why I expect that both BMW and CRog will make the team - for all their other assorted issues, they still are supremely talented. Hopefully the motivation will kick in and they'll get it soon.

- On the D side, even though the Lions were running without 6 of the front 7 projected starters, they did OK. The stats look skewed for both TOP and # of plays. Originally, I thought it was the result of the Lions working a short field most of the time. In re-watching the game, I was a bit more surprised at what I saw. Denver moved down the field pretty easily on most of their possessions. Had they not fumbled twice in the first half, they looked like they could have scored 14 more points as the D was giving up lots of yardage. Thankfully Denver couldn't hold onto the ball. Again, the Lions played without 6 of their front 7 starters, so I can cut them some slack.

- On the D-line, the two guys who stood out the most were Swancutt and Harriott. They were driving and creating havoc in the backfield. But we didn't see anything even remotely similar to what we should see in the regular season since Shaun Rogers, Shaun Cody and Cory Redding all sat this one out.

- At LB, Levar Woods still impresses the heck out of me. The guy looked like our best LB in the final 3 games last year, and he was all over the field today. But his play was overshadowed by Ernie Sims. Ernie should be playing on the first string next week, period. He looked that good, flying around, hitting people, and even doing it on special teams. When Boss gets back in the lineup, hopefully next week, this unit should improve considerably.

- At DB, I was impressed with the play of McCann and Bullocks. These two guys look like keepers. McCann did a good job in getting in front of the ball and defending a few passes. Bullocks laid the lumber a few times, and looks like a natural back there already. I think he may be starting over Holt by the end of the pre-season. On the other hand, Dre' looked like he knew it was a preseason game and wasn't flying around the way we have become accustomed to seeing him play. A guess is that it may have been due to Rod Smith and Javon Walker sitting out and him not feeling challenged. And once again, Fernando Bryant was invisible, but what else is new?

In all, we saw enough in this game to give us a better feel for what we will see once the games count - not in terms of the players, but in terms of the basic strategies. The deep pass is back, and once teams have to respect that, it should open things up for KJ more. The D is harder to read without so many starters, but it looked Ok even while being outmanned. Not a bad start to the preseason, but nothing to get too overly excited about.