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.

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