Friday, December 30, 2011

Time to Cut the Cheese and Seeding Myths

I'm not talking about silent but deadly in the headline -- I am of course referring to the Green Bay Packers!  Despite those calling for rest, I think the Lions need to go all out to beat the Pack at Lambeau for the first time in 20 years for a variety of reasons. 

1. The Fifth seed is preferrable to the Sixth seed at this point (though I'll explain below how I don't think its as big a deal as everyone is stating)
2. The team, already on a year of breaking records (in a good way for once) would do well to take this opportunity to end the Lambeau curse.  As long as Aaron Rodgers is doing the discount double check, Green Bay at Green Bay is never going to be an easier game than this week.
3. Momentum.  All of the low seeds that have made Superbowl runs have one thing in common: they played all out their final few games of the regular season and rode their hot streak into and through the playoffs. The Packers did it last year, and the Giants did it even through losing to New England to cap the end of the perfect regular season in one of the most epic games I've ever watched. 
4. MOMENTUM yes it deserves two mentions.  The Lions have been playing on fire since about the end of the third quarter at Okaland on all three facets of the game -- when they play like they did against San Diego, they can beat any team any time any place. They are not even close to a point where they can "rest up" and then just turn it on like a light switch.

Playoff Seeding:  I see a lot of people, even sports writers, screwing up the way the NFL playoff seeding works.  Lets assume it goes like this (you can sub the giants in for the cowboys whereever they appear)

1st Seed: Green Bay
2nd Seed: San Fran
3rd Seed: Saints
4th Seed: Cowboys
5th Seed: Lions
6th Seed: Falcons

Seeds one and two have a first round bye.  So on wildcard weekend we have:

Falcons at Saints and Lions at Cowboys. 

Looks pretty good - Lions have already beaten Dallas at Dallas, so that is preferrable to playing in the Superdome again against a red-hot Brees.  But remember, the highest remaining seed plays the 49ers while the lowest remaining seed plays the Green Bay Packers.  So assuming Saints and Lions win, the following weekend is:

Saints at 49ers and Lions at Packers. 

Yuck.  Unfortunately, getting the 6th seed doesn't help -- it guarantees that any win means playing the Packers in round 2.  As a matter of fact there is only on scenario in which the Lions would NOT have to play the Packers in round 2:   Detroit as the 5th seed needs Atlanta to win the upset over the 3rd Seed team assumed to be New Orleans.  Then, the Lions as 5th seed would play the 49ers and the Falcons as the 6th seed would play at Green Bay.  Of course, unless someone beats the Packers in round 2, then the road to the playoffs leads through Green Bay.  Since we are rooting for Atlanta to get the upset in wildcard weekend, we might as well root for them to upset the Packers as well -- that way, Detroit can host a home game against the Falcons for the NFC Championship.

Sound impossible?  The Detroit Lions are locked into a playoff berth with one game yet to playjust 3 seasons after losing every single game.  Anything is possible!  Maybe that apocalypse is going to occur in 2012 after all....

Have a safe and happy New Year everyone!!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Lions Fans More Loyal

The packed house and huge home field advantage that was Ford Field were beyond importance as the Lions trounced the Chargers giving the Lions their first playoff berth in over a decade.  The loyalty of the fans of the Detroit Lions is nothing short of astounding.  Remember looking at the news stories every week of a home game, trying to see if you would be watching the game on TV or some shaky internet feed? (for those of us in the blackout zone)

Even in the 0-16 season, there were still games that sold out Ford Field.  The average attendance still topped 45,000.  During an 0-16 season!!  Winless! -- And despite not having a winning record since Bill Clinton was playing the blues on his sax and chasing interns around the white house.

As the Lions kept showing improvement over the last 3 years, tickets went from easy and cheap, to easy to get, to you could get them early in the season, but you were going to pay more than you were used to as a playoff run became more and more apparent.  I'm sure no matter how they do, next season is going to be a surefire sellout of the home games.

Imagine my shock and downright stunned surprise when I read that the Bengals are having trouble getting fans to show up to their games.  During a push for the playoffs where if they win their final home game against a struggling Baltimore team they are in!

The attendance as they played a meaningful game to eliminate Arizona? Just over 41,000.  More Lions Fans showed up to see if the team could avoid infamy (or be part of it) for the final meaningless games of 2008.  Bengals fans, that is just plain pathetic.

The article blames 20 years of mediocre play and no postseason wins since 1990.  At least they have been to the postseason AT ALL since the Millennium changed and years start with "20" instead of "19"!  They had a few years where Carson Palmer was on fire and tossing long bombs to Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson and TJ Howeverthehellyaspellit.  Lions fans had Matt Millen that whole time.  At least the Bengals got a couple high draft picks for Palmer - and a young quarterback with potential (Andy Dalton) to replace him.  Lions fans got Barry retiring and being replaced by guys like Sedrick Irvin.

I'm ecstatic the Lions are in the playoffs - but even if they were in a situation like the Bengals are I have NO DOUBT that the house would be sold out and rocking.  Detroit Lions fans have supported their team in the worst of times, and sure aren't about to miss out on the best of times!

As I picked up some Biggby Coffee for my wife and myself Christmas Eve morn, I was wearing my Lions leather jacket (of course).   The barista was telling everyone that came in the Lions were going to win by 20+ over the Chargers -- just wait and see.  (Even I thought that was a long shot, but I stuck by my 8-8 season til they were over 9-5 and I was the one decked out in Lions gear)  That is the type of fans that the Detroit Lions have -- Proud and Loyal, just like a real Lion.

Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas!! With the Saints beating the Falcons (barring a late 22 point comeback in the next 9 minutes as of this writing) the Lions can earn the #5 seed and a chance to face either Dallas/New York Giants in round one, and likely the 49ers to get to the NFC championship game -- a much preferred route than Saints round 1 and through the Packers at Lambeau to get to the NFC Championship game.  If the Lions beat the Packers week 17, there is a better than decent chance the NFC Championship game could once again feature two teams from the NFC North.

Friday, December 23, 2011

All I want for Christmas is the Playoffs?

Christmas is coming, and I must say up until today I just wasn't really in the full Christmas spirit. Usually I'm putting up loads of decorations, humming Christmas carols and songs, hoping for piles of crisp white snow so that on Christmas morning, I will get a cup of hot cocoa and enjoy the morning as the little pink lions see what Santa has brought them as the monorails glide around the tree and the chimneys drift light colored smoke into the cool winter air.

We have red and green monorails gliding around our tree.  Notice the Lions Santa hat in the background

Not sure what it was, but it seems to have struck me today  -- and even as it did I realize one thing that has never really been on my mind in a very long time at this point in the year is the NFL playoffs.  Most of the time, the Christmas weekend games I would tape the Lions, and then watch it later.  After all, it usually had no meaning in the grand scheme.  All of a sudden, this year I could get an extra present on Christmas -- The Lions clinching a playoff spot!

I'm not really great at the prediction business -- and I feel this game against the Chargers could fall anywhere from a solid loss to a solid win.  I just don't see either team getting blown out -- but then again, I said the same thing about the Lions at Chicago game and look what happened. 

Win or Lose, the Lions have already exceeded my expecatations for accomplishment, but more importantly, they have provided spectacular games to watch all season!! I expect no less Saturday night. 

Keep in mind that even though the Lions are on TV it is Christmas eve and be sure to keep what is most important -- family, friends -- in the forefront and even if the Lions lose, don't let it ruin your holiday spirit.  After all, there are two games left to get one win -- and after breaking every other bad record that has been overshadowing them for years, maybe the Lambeau curse is next...

Merry Christmas everyone!!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lions O vs Oakland D

The Detroit Lions are a vertical passing team.  Quite often, short passes act as a kind of extended handoff.  The Philadelphia Eagles used to constantly do this with Brian Westbrook, and now Lesean McCoy.  It stems from the fact that Philadelphia has a pass-blocking offensive line.

Contrary to what many commenters on sports articles believe, there are typically two pretty distinct ways to build an offensive line -- Pass-block first, or Power-Run first.  It is very rare and would be quite difficult to find players that excel at both of these skills equally.  The nature of the beast is that as an offense you have to choose your identity.  The Lions are a passing team, and have a pass blocking line.

Essentially, the short throws force teams to roll coverage short/inside, allowing Detroit to take some long shots down the field.  If they keep multiple guys up top to cover Calvin Johnson, then they are leaving Titus Young, Nate Burleson, Tony Scheffler, or Brandon Pettigrew with a favorable matchup. (and also whatever back is coming out of the backfield)

Oakland for years has run a straight up man coverage with lots of pressure on the opposing QB.  Without Nmandi Asmogouha in the defensive backfield, I'm not so sure that was the best of ideas.  The Raiders essentially manned up on the WR and then sold out run blitzed (essentially if not in fact by where they were positioning players) to bring the heat on the Lions.  In essence, they wanted to force Matthew Stafford into making a long series of short throws to get down the field with players in his face.  While they knew their secondary wouldn't really be able to cover Calvin Johnson downnfield, they tried to make sure Stafford didn't have time for any long plays to develop. 

For the most part, it worked well for the Raiders. The Lions really had no running game, but still managed to put up two TD's up to midway through the 4th quarter.  The pressure was getting there just enough to keep the Lions off balance.  However, they misjudged a couple of factors that went against them on the last two drives. 

The first problem with Oakland's strategy was that the Lions really don't care if they do have success on the ground as long as the passing game is clicking.  This meant that often Kevin Smith was held in to block -- especially on the last two drives.  While Jahvid Best is a more dynamic runner, Kevin Smith is the best blocking back on the roster.  He excels at blitz pickup and keeping the QB clean when the opposing defense brings extra rushers.  The Lions also have Brandon Pettigrew and Will Heller on the roster -- two more excellent blockers that you still have to account for if they break off for a short pass play. 

The second miscalculation was the ability of Calvin Johnson to beat multiple guys in coverage.  It really does take more than one person working together very well to keep CJ under wraps.  Oakland just didn't have that. 

When you put those together, you end up with Megatron having some huge plays on the Megadrive.  Oakland sends sends extra rushers at extra blockers -- only the fact that Stafford is forced to sidearm the throw to get it down the field stops CJ from getting a TD on that throw. (its a good thing too -- it would have left too much time for the Raiders to get into FG range)  So while the Raiders strategy allowed them to hold down the Lions for a while, they adjusted and were able to show that when this offense is clicking, they can knife down the field in a hurry and a half. 

What Oakland learned is something teams should have been well aware of at this point: after now 4 times coming back form 13 or more down this season, the Lions can score so quickly that no lead is safe.  As this team matures and becomes more consistent, it is just mind boggling to think they are just scratching the surface of what they can do. 

Can you imagine if the Lions offense can come out in the first quarter like it has been in the 4th?  And to keep it up over a whole game?  Look at the feared offenses of the Saints and Packers -- in a year or two the Lions are set to be that good -- or possibly even better.

In the end, while Oakland tried it's best to contain the Lions all they really ended up doing was providing an abject lesson in how not to defend Calvin Johnson -- the number of which seem to grow longer each week. 

These Lions can play against any team in the league, and have a good chance to beat them any given Sunday.  So watch out Chargers -- you may have a lightning bolt but the Lions are playing electric right now too!

Oakland Raiders Sunk by Lions

I had a chance to re-watch most of the game, and the added perspective was interesting.  I'm not going to do a play by play breakdown (I do have a full time job and three little pink lions ya know) but I sure do wish I had the time to do it.  That would be awesome!  If any of you know a place/person who does that let me know -- I'd be there reading every week.


I'll save the numerous thoughts on the offense for second.  First, I want to focus on the matchup between the Oakland offense and the Detroit defense.  I know the big press coming into this week was how badly the Raiders played in their last two games, but there was much more than meets the eye in that equation -- after all, the Raiders were 7-6 and looking to get back into the playoff hunt with a win over the Lions.  Say what you will about there recent egg-laying, the Raiders have been far from a joke all year and a tough, competitive team.

Despite the headlines surrounding (QB)Carson Palmer, and the injury to (RB)Darren McFadden the real story of the Raiders offense has been the wide receivers and the offensive line.

Al Davis was almost as obsessed with speedy wideouts as one Matt Millen.  A big difference is that his picks A. were not all in the first round, B. were not overweight, lazy, or drug addicts, and C. can actually catch the ball.  The result is an offense stacked 4 deep with very fast WR on the field -- none of them a CJ caliber (who is?) but they don't have to be.  They are more a bunch of faster Titus Young clones.  The Raiders' problem the two weeks before?  3 of them were injured.  Two made it back against the Lions and the difference was noticeable.  YAC is a very underrated statistic, and an area where Oakland's group will make you pay.  (as they did to Chris Houston on the long TD when he bounced off the WR instead of wrapping him up)  Carson Palmer (and Jason Campbell before he got injured) rely on lots of quick hits to the open man, depending on yards after the catch to get then the gains they need.  Screens especially mixed in with their strong run game make this tactic especially deadly.

To make matters worse for the Lions, on top of Delmas being out (and losing Harris) at Safety, their CB's were banged up.  Both Wright and Houston were having speed and cutting issues as they recover from injury.  This meant they were limited in their type of play they could use to defend.  No matter what Jim Schwartz blathers about the health of the secondary played a big role in the big cushion look the Lions gave the Raiders.  The intent was almost a man-up version of the Tampa 2, keeping everything in front of them to limit any big plays.  They also were selling out on the rush and the pressure to keep the Raiders in their short game only and counting on the Lions defenders to limit YAC. 

The result was that despite a long TD on a missed tackle, the Lions defense held the Raiders to just 20 offensive points scored in what on paper should have been a bad matchup for them on that given Sunday.  Even though Palmer was taking 2-3 step drops and runing smoke routes, the Lions still got to him for three sacks. 

So while the Lions were playing with 3/4 backups in the secondary, they still played a solid game and did their part to help the Lions win, and to get the ball back to set up the Megadrive. 

Tonight I'll look at how the Detroit Offense and Oakland Defense matched up.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Great Scott!

Still in a frame of refernce in regards to Back to the Future (I need to watch the DVD's with the Pink Lions again) I couldn't help but think of a fun line from Back to the Future 3. 

Doc Brown has just passed out in the Saloon.  Mad Dog Tannen is going to be waiting outside in 10 minutes to kill Marty.  They need to leave to catch the train in fifteen minutes to get back to the future.  How long is the "wake up juice" going to take?  10 minutes. 

Marty looks out the window, looks at the doc, and then says "why do we always have to cut these things so close?!"

That's how I've felt about...oh, every game but Denver and Kansas City this season. 

The Lions have easily generated 1.21 Giggawatts in electrifying games so far in 2011
 The big difference from year's past?  The Lions are winning these close games most of the time.  Sure, you can question a lot of things about the Lions.  You can point to how some teams "lose X number of games by a touchdown or less" as to how they are so close to good.  That, however, has always been a hopeful misdirection.  A major Red Herring so to speak.  A large number of NFL games are decided by a touchdown or less every week.  The difference between playoff teams and teams going home is whether you can win more of those games than you lose.


The win-loss record speaks for itself.  The Lions have managed to win more of those close games (Tampa Bay, Dallas, Minnesota (twice), Panthers, Oakland) than they lost (49ers, Falcons).  That in and of itself is the major sign of a playoff team.   So too is that ability to come from behind while maintaining composure.  On the last two drives in Oakland, the Lions looked more like the preseason/5-0 start Lions than the mid-season Lions struggling to find a rhytm.

I will have a more detailed analysis of the game tomorrow, but suffice it to say as a fan this is the most exciting season of Lions football since Barry Sanders retired, hands down.   I'm not sure if any of them in recent memory have featured so many electrifying games. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

C'mon McFly, U Chicken?

Most everyone has heard the phrase "egging you on" in reference to goading someone into doing something -- typically something stupid, silly, dangerous, or all three.  Websters defines it as:

2 [eg] Show IPA
verb (used with object)
to incite or urge; encourage (usually followed by on ).

1150–1200; Middle English < Old Norse eggja  to incite, derivative of egg edge

As I watched Suh throw a hissy fit on National Television as I chonked on Turkey I could only wonder why the bigger Turkey was on TV.  I had an image of my youngest little pink lion throwing a temper tantrum screaming "she started it!" Then, the following week against the Saints I again wondered if this other word from Websters was in the vocabulary of the Detroit Lions:


[self-kuhn-trohl, self-] Show IPA
control or restraint of oneself or one's actions, feelings, etc.


self-con·trolled, adjective
self-con·trol·ling, adjective

self-discipline, self-restraint, willpower, levelheadedness.
It certainly wasn't being emitted from Jim "Meet me outside to see who the bigger Jimmy really is" Schwartz.  As a matter of fact, against both the Packers and Saints one would be hard pressed to find it being exhibited by the Lions anywhere on the field.
I know, I know.  The officiating was horrible you say -- it was.  But they were untying his shoes! you say.  Apparently they were.  Of course as soon as I read that, I instantly pictured good 'ol Biff Tannen. 

Your Shoe's Untied McFly.

The interesting thing is the Lions have been like two totally different teams.  Against the 49ers and the Falcons they pretty much George McFly'd their way through the entire game -- I just got the feeling they were waiting for that next nuggie, next jab.  In the meantime, they stammered their way through "putting on the second coat of wax right now" excuses that no one was buying.  They were playing timid, not the bold swaggering group from the first 5 games. 
Is making the playoffs their density, I mean destiny?
After building a Tebow proof lead against Denver, and then once again coming back against Carolina sandwiched around another timid game loss versus the Bears it became clear the Lions were playing alternating stretches of bravado mixed in with bouts of low self esteem like timidity.  Sticking with my Back to the Future analogy here they were acting more like Marty McFly than his pop.  Unfortunately, I didn't realize how much like Marty they were until the Green Bay and New Orleans debacles...
Let me start with this basic thought: If you think New Orleans and especially Green Bay went through 8 quarters against the Lions without a single holding penalty I have this great property in Montana with a beautiful view of the Caspian Sea and magical fairies that tend the gorgeous gardens to perfection producing amazing fruit all year round to sell you.  Really.  That is still no excuse; The Packers, soon followed by the Saints, were basically calling out to the Lions "whatsa matter, you chicken?"

That's right.  Just like poor Marty and his historical namesake, the Lions couldn't walk away from a fight and paid dearly for it.   Will they also end up getting fired from a dead end job because they are too "manly" to back down?  Just like Marty McFly and my temper tantrum throwing daughter, now the other 31 teams in the league know all you have to do is goad them enough, and the Lions players will lose it to the tune of 15 yard penalties, ejections and even suspension.

Against Minnesota, they finally managed to ignore these McFly Penalties -- but how long will it last?  Will Marty McSuh be able to keep it together once he hits the field again?  If not, just like in Back to The Future III it will be his name and the Lions playoff hopes on that tombstone...

The future can still be altered.  Will the Lions avoid this fate?

I'm thrilled the Lions are 8-5.  They are making a push for the playoffs and hold their destiny, like Marty above, in their hands.  The question now is can they hold it together, or will they give in to the shoelacing taunts of their opponents?   Oakland is the most penalized team in the league so there will be a parity of reputations - if the Lions can come out of that game relatively clean (and with a win) then that is a huge step in the right direction.  If not, I'll have to start a "Great Scott!" Marty McFly Chicken Penalty of the week.

For everyone with Christmas gathering this weekend, I hope that you take the time out to enjoy your families while you can.  DVR, VCR, or have the game on in the background but remember what is most important this holiday season. 


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Longest Time...

I take my first tentative steps back into blogging about the Lions and find myself wondering if maybe I'm still sitting in the hospital having delusions.  Lions?  In Control of their Playoff Destiny?  The Detroit Lions, Playoffs -- in the same sentence, seriously, in December? 

8 wins?  I can barely remember 6 months ago (okay a few days ago) much less the last time the Lions had 8 wins or more.  I was not yet a parent - the Little Pink Lions were merely a glimmer of the future.  If we go back to when the Lions were in the playoffs, I was still in college. I was not yet married. 

In a year fraught with trials and tribulations, the Lions have been a pleasant bright spot.  So where have I been, you ask, that I am just now weighing in on this already 8 win season?

I injured my shoulder in January.  It turned out to be pretty severe (torn labrum, torn rotator cuff, and a bone spur just to top it off).  I finally had surgery on it in May.  Prior to the surgery it was just too much pain to sit at the keyboard and type, so my blogging trailed off.  The surgery had a few complications, and despite early promise after the surgery our house flooded.  So post surgery my father and I were ripping out and rebuilding the basement/first floor while I was also doing physical therapy. Toss in some family needing help, trying to catch up at work and I was pushing myself harder than I should have been.  Too hard.  Too soon.  Major blood pressure and fatigue issues led to Minor heart issues. I nearly collapsed and work and was hospitalized briefly. - I only call them minor as I was supremely blessed not to suffer any real permanent damage.  That episode sidelined me completely for over a month.  In September I headed back to physical therapy in what has been my routine and will be through the end of the year: get up at 4am.  Physical Therapy for two hours, get ready for work, go to the office until about 6.  Supper, Family time, bed.  Repeat. 

I've just been too tired to blog.  Now things are finally improving! Most of the pain is gone. I'm doing better balancing things.  The Little Pink Lions now each have their own brand new bedroom in the walk out basement/first floor. (We took the opportunity that the disaster created to make things better).  I'm afraid I still can't promise consistency for a while, though I will try. I don't even know how many of you are still reading -- I appreciate all of you who are!  I'v really missed blogging about the Lions, and it's been building for quite a while that I feel a need to start writing again. 

This experience has definitely given me a great respect for how much time and effort -- and pain -- football players go through; even those who are not injured.  For those who are and are still playing through it I feel I have a better understanding - and more sympathy for how it can effect their game.  While I haven't been blogging, I have been watching.  It has been an enjoyable and entertaining ride - I am excited to see how it ends!

Real football is being played in Detroit, and from the looks of it will be for years to come.  My health is improving, and I can see "normal" not so far distant in the future.  Live every day your best - because you never know what will happen in the next. 

Its good to be back