Monday, November 13, 2006

knee-jerk reactions

I'm back again after not writing last week. Last week, I decided not to write because I didn't want to sound too negative amidst all the good feelings after beating Atlanta. This week, I'm going to sound fairly upbeat compared to all the negative feelings about the 49ers game. The reason for this is that I'm not about to have another knee-jerk reaction to the outcome of a Lions game. Not when I see the same things happening again and again.

Here is the truth about what I've seen the last two weeks - the Lions played about the same against both the 49ers and the Falcons. Now I know everyone will think I'm crazy for saying this, but I do have my reasons for believing this. In quick bullet point form, here's why:
  • The Lions are still committing a lot of penalties
  • The O still has periods where they don't seem to be on the same page
  • The D still can't seem to stop anyone from running between the tackles or making 3rd down conversions
  • Both games were won by the team that won the turnover battle
That last point is the most critical one. Against Atlanta, the Lions benefited HUGE from the Falcons first half turnovers that led to KJ's TD's. Against the 49ers, the Lions turnovers kept them from getting any kind of momentum going on O until after halftime. Once again, in a game between two teams in the middle of the great 'parity bubble' of the NFL, turnovers will decide nearly every game. And that has held true the last two weeks.

I won't dig into dissecting the O or D this week - it's the same story every game, and it's well enough explained by my bullet points. What I will get into is a few other issues I have a beef with. First, the officiating seems to be at a worse level than I have seen in a long time. I am as confused as ever about what criteria officials use when reviewing instant replay. Both Lions challenges should have overturned calls on the field - Kitna fumbled only after hitting the ground, and Hicks fumbled going to the ground which should have spotted the ball behind the first down marker. Instead, both calls on the field were upheld. I'm curious if the officials are relying on some obscure section of the rulebook that states "A call should not be overturned if it makes a member of your crew look bad". Instead, the lack of overturns made the entire crew look bad. And what does Roy Williams have to do to get a pass interference call? I re-watched the game on TiVo, and it confirmed my suspicions at the game - Roy should have drawn about 5 PI calls, but he only got one whistle on the 49ers. And to hear the announcers, they agree with my assessment. However, the most egregious of the no-calls on Roy's defenders, they seemed blind to the obvious no-call - I'm talking about the no-call on the pass in the endzone. While the announcers were praising the CB for his anticipation, they overlooked a simple fact easily seen on replay - he missed the ball and made contact with Roy's arms before the ball got there. This was easy to see and call, yet even the announcers missed it.

Which leads me to a second beef - can the announcers do a LITTLE homework before they spout off incoherent nonsense? Heard yesterday were these gems. "The Lions have not scored on their opening possession all season" - The previous week against Atlanta, they scored a Field Goal on the opening drive.

And in this situation - Lions down 19-13, 4th and 13 from the 49er 19, they state "The Lions should kick the field goal here and rely on their D for a hold with their timeouts and the two minute warning" EXCUSE ME, but how does that differ from going for it, not making it, and THEN relying on the D for a hold? the only difference is you have a chance for a FG to tie if the D holds. If the D doesn't (and it didn't), it's a moot point. At least this way, they took a chance to win the game.

There were numerous other screw-ups I don't even care to listen to again. But it's typical of the minor-league announcing crews they send to Lions games. I mean if they are going to call the game, they could at least do a little homework before the game. Sheesh.

Finally, I'm going to repeat my concerns with Rod. I'm not going to jump all over his case, but these same points are what has me concerned about this squad.
  • They have not gotten any better in reducing the number of penalties per game from last year - if anything they are worse.
  • They still are not making any effort to develop the some of the talent that they inherited, instead trying to plug in free agents.
  • They are still turning the ball over at a far worse rate than in years past, only this year it's far more fumbles and fewer interceptions.
  • And finally, the final score is what matters and last year through 9 games, the Lions were 4-5, this year 2-7.
This isn't a death blow to Rod, just that I'm not seeing the improvement I would have expected to have seen by now. What was the main selling point is that Rod would create a new culture, demand accountability, and improve the basic skill level of the players. I still haven't seen that happen.

Again, with all of that, this team is perilously close to being both 8-1 and 1-8. Only the Atlanta and Chicago games have not been in question in the 4th quarter. That still puts the Lions in with the vast majority of teams in the NFL's parity of the middle grounds. The biggest difference between the Lions and a team like the Saints this year is the Lions haven't figured out how to close out games. Until that happens, they'll continue to have a below average record. And we fans will continue to lament the lack of wins.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Back in the Saddle

First off, I must apologize to everyone about the lack of posts recently. When given a choice between investing my emotions on the Tigers in the playoffs and the Lions and their misery, I'll go with the Tigers. It sure feels good to have a winning team that we can all be proud of. The Tigers had a heck of a run, and made me mostly indifferent to whatever was happening with the Lions.

Now that my Tigers related euphoria has faded into the past, I find myself coming back into paying attention to the Lions. Yes, I have watched the last two games, and seen the same things that most everyone else has seen. It's far too late to go breaking down game tape, so I'll just talk today about my general impressions about this club.

I see this season so far as a "glass is half empty / half full" season. The club is very close to being 6-1, and also even closer to being 0-7 right now. As John Madden says (and you likely will never hear me quote him ever again), "a team is what their record is, regardless of how many close games they've had". I find this to be somewhat true, but also I think there is more to it than that. For example, I think both Minnesota and St. Louis – both 4-3 – are absolute frauds that are no where near as good as their records would indicate. Likewise, I think that Pittsburg and Washington – both 2-5 – are nowhere near as bad as their records indicate. This is the problem with NFL parity – there is so little difference between the vast majority of teams in skill or talent that most games are a crapshoot. And our Lions fall right into this great middle area.

I tend to usually be a glass half-full kind of guy. I like to think that things aren't as bad as they look and that they are getting better. I don't know if I can do that with the Lions right now though. I came into this season with certain expectations of what we would see different, and I haven't seen them yet. To be clear, I'm not talking about the record – I'm talking about the way the team plays. Yes, the O has looked a lot better this year, and I'm glad about that. But I still haven't seen the discipline and the penalties being less. I still haven't seen the O-Line and D-Line significantly improve. I still haven't seen the Lions stop shooting themselves in the foot at the most inopportune times. In short, the only thing I see different from past teams is that the O actually is scoring points. And that keeps me from thinking glass half-full.

I do like that the O is scoring points. For the first time in years, we're not wondering if they will be able to put 20 points on the board. And to be honest, I give 100% of the credit for that to Martz. It's about as obvious as can be that the WR's are a LOT more wide open this year. That makes the QB's job a lot easier. There still aren't many holes for KJ to run through, although that has been better in recent weeks. We'll see if getting Tucker and Verba back this week really makes a difference on the O-line. I'm taking a wait and see approach on that one as I'm not sure what the impact will be. Hopefully it's a big one.

Perhaps the biggest question mark on O is why Kitna can't seem to play well in the 4th quarter. He's done well in the first three quarters of games, but his play in the fourth quarter has directly lost at least 3 games. I don’t even know what to think, but since this season is basically toast already, I do think it’s time to see what McCown or DanO can do in the game.

On D, the injuries to Alex Lewis and Teddy Lehman have hurt us in perhaps our weakest area – LB. Ernie Sims looks to be a pretty good player, but he’s still young. Boss looks OK out there, but he’s still adjusting. Paris Lenon? Ouch. Going with a Packers castoff at LB can’t be good. But as bad as that unit has been, at least they weren’t getting hammered every play because of the play of Shaun Rogers. Now with him sitting for 3 more games for taking a banned weight-loss substance (brilliant one there), it’s going to be VERY rough on our LB’s for the next few weeks. The secondary actually hasn’t been as bad as some people think - it’s hard to defend a WR for 10 seconds because there is no pass rush. And that brings us to another weak spot – DE. Nothing against the guys we have there, but none of them are complete all-around NFL DE’s. We need at least one guy who can generate consistent pressure on the QB from the end. IMHO, this is our #1 need in the draft next year. And since right now we’ll be picking so early, we should get the cream of the crop.

After all of that, you can see why I’m having such a hard time maintaining a positive outlook. There are so many holes, so many problems. There are still lots of penalties. Still dropped passes. And yet through all of that, the team has been in a position to win in the 4th quarter of every game except at Chicago. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me other than to think in terms of the NFL parity.

So I’ll keep watching, hoping to see something that gives me a hint that maybe the team is finally getting ready to round the corner. I’m not sure I’ll see it, but I’ll let you know if I do.