This may be a running feature during the regular season following games. While it was interesting to look at the first impressions after watching the Browns-Lions preseason game, it can be helpful to take a step back form the emotion of game day and look for something you didn’t notice or think about the first time. As I was reading through Three Cups Deep over at The Lions in Winter this morning, it occured to me that in order to make the Blue Flame grow, sometimes you need to look for the little blue sparks to save, versus stamping everything out like in my oldest Pink Lion’s favorite joke:
Q. Why do ducks have flat feet? A. To stamp out forest fires.
Q. Why do Elephants have flat feet? A. To stamp out burning ducks!
Thus, this season, I will try to find something positive in the negative (or maybe negative in the positive, or any combination thereof) that isn’t necessarily apparent on game day. Before I get into positives though, Big Al over at the Wayne Fontes Experience has a hilarious take on Saturday’s game that is not to be missed!
So what did I positively learn from this game? My first thought was that this game looked like just about every single loss last year. And then it hit me: It WAS like every single loss last year. A phrase that Marinelli, Colletto and Barry repeated amongst the picks, shovels, and other cliches was some version of “we play our game, we don’t worry about the opposition.”
I went back and looked over about a dozen articles from last year, and even the year before when Martz was here for the great collapse — and that theme showed up over and over and over. And it was one of the keys to 0-16, and a major key to Saturday against the Browns. The Lions Coaching Staff didn’t game plan for their opponent.
Once again, Schwartz and Co. weren’t focusing on the win-loss column, but the player performance column. On special tems, and at WR they wanted to see who would step up and EARN a spot on this roster. He even indicated that right now for the bubble guys since there is so little distinction at their various positions, that tackling and special teams, and tackling, and versatility, and did I mention tackling? are the keys to making the roster. They put player out there to see how they would respond — and for the most part the players failed miserably (Which was the other key to 0-16).
While the results I am positive were not what the Lions’ coaches were looking for, they were still doing what it is they wanted to do — continue to evaluate players in game situations to help determine who will be their final 53. Quite a few guys played their way off the team on Saturday in Cleveland.
Getting back to my thought on game planning, I think this plays a bigger part in the lopsided loss than at first glance. They didn’t try to prep the line for 3-4 a lot in practice (as they will surely do before facing Green Bay, for instance). They didn’t scheme to take certain players out of the game, or ratchet up pressure. The Browns were quite obviously keyed in on the Lions, and it showed. (They need a boost after last weeks loss, so it makes sense from a morale standpoint but even Cleveland blogs were less than thrilled with the victory.) When one team schemes to adjust, and the other does nothing, lets just say things are not in favor of the “predictable” team…
And that is why this looked hauntingly familiar. “We practice what we practice” and if we do it better than them, they won’t be able to stop us…unless, of course, they figure out how to stop your one trick pony and dare you to do something else in order to beat them. I am sure other teams were as shocked as fans when the Lions failed to adjust not only in game, but week to week last season. That feeling of overwhelming inevitability wasn’t just the talent of the players (though there were an inexcusable number of missed assignments in all those games), but the knowledge that the other team was more prepared to beat the Lions than the Lions were to beat them. This was evident to the players, the fans, everyone but Detroit’s coaches who kept plodding away. It undermined the players before they even got going.
I got this feeling Saturday, and had it all last year. I get the strong feeling that I will NOT be feeling it the moment the Lions start game-planning again. Whether that is the 3rd preseason game, or the season opener I just have this strong sense that once this coaching staff focuses in on planning to destroy an opponent, the Lions’ players will have just as good a shot at winning as the other guys — and both teams will know it. Where last year’s staff was oblivious to what not game planning can do to you, Coach Schwartz seemed well aware of what happens when you don’t game-plan, but was more concerned with the play of the individual players so he could get his final roster set.
And he should be! These are preseason games — the one chance the coaching staff has to test players in game-like conditions to see how they respond, and who will give them the best shot to win on Sundays. Last year, the coaching staff didn’t seem to be able to differentiate how to prepare for a Sunday in October from a Saturday in August. When does winning matter, and when does evaluating a guy matter? It is a weakness I do not feel this coaching staff shares. That is why in the game last week they had Shaun Smith starting to see how he would fare after Cohen and Hill had their shot. Trying packages with DT’s like Smith and Fluellen in at DE. moving guys around, seeing how the responded. Experimenting and preparing during the preseason for what REALLY matters: 16 Sundays coming up soon, not winning preseason games. As Coach Schwartz amended after the game: “I know I said that they don’t put preseason games on your resume or your epitaph, but that is as an organization. As player, every performance counts.”
So while many Lions fans have a feeling of “here we go again”, look past those clouds of the past to the Honolulu Blue and Silver Lining — it’s pretty bright, and has the potential to shine. IF…