Friday, January 6, 2012

Lions Congregation: Inaugural Playoff Edition!

Welcome to the return of the Lions Congregation for the Inaugural playoff edition!  From the look of things, this could be one of many playoff editions to come in the years ahead!
Just like before, Lions Bloggers from around the web gather to discuss your questions about the Detroit Lions.  Want to see your question featured?  Email
Today's Panel:
NetRat of The NetRat Detroit Lions site and blog
Blades Boyd - resident contrarian for Roar of the Lions
Joshua - DetFan1979 of Roar of the Lions
Question 1:  Based on the Lions active roster in their meeting versus who should be active and healthy on Saturday, how do you feel the Lions defense will stack up versus the Saints?
NetRat:  Better than last time, all things being equal (which they probably aren't).  Last time we played New Orleans Chris Houston did not play. Neither did Delmas or Suh. Fairley left after the 1st quarter.  IF those guys are all healthy and can play the whole game the Lions defense may be able to get a couple more stops, and that should mean a few more stalled drives (and really, most games, that's all it takes).
Zac:  Any defense is at a disadvantage against the Saints offense. While the Lions look to have the benefit of a healthy defensive roster, their ability to hang with the Saints will come down to execution, not personnel. If the Lions look to wrap up and tackle rather than just hitting then they can limit the damage. This is especially true with Darren Sproles who can turn a minimal gain into something big in a flash.
Al:  First off, I refuse to get overly worked up by Matt Flynn throwing for a gazillion yards, or the media talking heads who claim, "If a backup can throw 6 TDs against Detroit, Brees will throw for 20!" Flynn isn't your typical backup quarterback. He's a good quarterback who happens to be a backup to the best in the NFL. Flynn would start for half the league. What I am worked up about is the lack of a pass rush against Flynn, allowing him to pick apart the Lions' secondary at will.

The Lions may be healthier than they've been in weeks, but if there is only a minimal pass rush from the front four, an empty trainer's room won't make a difference.  Even if they are fully healthy, I'm not expecting big things from the Lions defense.

The Lions may be healthier than they've been in weeks, but if there is only a minimal pass rush from the front four, an empty trainer's room won't make a difference.  Even if they are fully healthy, I'm not expecting big things from the Lions defense.

All of which is my long-winded way of saying the Lions' chances rest on the shoulders of the defensive line. The front four must have a big game, pressuring Brees in a big way. The Lions aren't going to keep Brees from throwing for 300 yards. Few defenses are capable of it, and the Lions' aren't one of them. But they can minimize the damage by creating turnovers. How do you create turnovers? To channel my inner Al Davis, you must hit the quarterback early, often and hard.

After seeing little to no pass rush against the Packers, I'm not confident at all as to how the Lions match up against the Saints high powered offense. 

It's simple. If the Lions don't win the turnover battle, they won't beat the Saints. The Lions must fluster, or at least annoy Brees, Otherwise, it's going be a long, long evening for Lions fans.
Blades:  I think Schwartz made it perfectly clear who you will being seeing active Saturday night. He mentioned he would not bench any players based on last Sundays game. That being said, with the return of Delmas, I think Alphonso Smith should be worried.
The Lions defense shapes up extremely poorly against the Saints offense. The Saints strength is clearly in the passing game and there isn't a single player on the Lions roster who can cover Jimmy Graham or Colston. Also, no lions DB has the speed to run with Moore or Meachem.
 The other thing that few people are talking about is the Saints have two all pro guards which means they can shift protection to the outside and really stymy the pass rush. I fully expect Gunther to blitz up the middle more than we've seen all season. I expect the saints to double team Suh and single block the other DT with their all pro guard. As a result, the RB's will be protecting to the outside and if the lions blitz up the middle, they will come in unblocked.
DetFan1979:  The defense will give up points.  Make no mistake – this is a meeting of two of the top four offenses in the league and they will both put up some TD’s.  The key will be doing what they almost did in their first meeting with the Saints – slow down the Saint’s offense more than they are slowing down the Detroit Offense. 
Nick Fairley was getting good penetration and disruption before leaving the game with his injured foot – after that is when the Saints started scoring.  Seeing as the Lions were down by three linemen that game I expect the pressure to come much stronger, and more consistently than in the first meeting between the teams. 
As for the secondary, I seriously said the day before the first New Orleans game that with Houston and Delmas out along with the other injuries in our secondary Green Bay should have put up 50 on the Lions – and that Drew Brees should do the same.  However, it took a late game icing TD after the Lions had already committed ritual suicide via penalties to salt the game away. 
With everyone relatively healthy (all participated in practice Thursday) I fully expect a better showing from the Lions defense – especially playing motivated after laying an egg last week.  Will it be good enough?  That’s why they play the games.
Question 2:  Based on the Lions active roster in their meeting versus who should be active and healthy on Saturday, how do you feel the Lions Offense will stack up versus the Saints?
NetRat:  Last time we played New Orleans it was the first game Matt Stafford played without the glove.  His confidence probably wasn't real high and his finger probably wasn't fully healed.  Meanwhile, Titus Young has started playing better and Pettigrew is being used more.  For that matter, CJ is taking on more too lately.  Turnovers will decide the game most likely, if they favor the Lions or are equal, it should be a great game (for Lions fans).
Zac:  The Lions offense moved the ball in their first meeting with the Saints and we should expect them to do so again. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson have played their best ball since the first meeting so it will be fun to see what they can do in a rematch, especially if the Lions handle the blitz-happy Saints' pressure. Kevin Smith also figures to be healthier this time around and any explosion he can give them in the running game will be a bonus.
Al:  I expect big things from the offense. Actually, I think it would be more accurate to say I expect big things from Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.

Stafford has been a huge roll since removing the glove protecting his broken finger, averaging 383 yards and 3 TDs in the final 5 games. Megatron woke from a mid-season slump (doing little against the Packers, Saints and Vikings)m and is now playing like his dominant self, averaging 187 yards in the season's final 3 games. I don't expect the Saints to slow either of them down. 

Brandon Pettigrew also needs to play well, and he'll get more than his fair share of opportunities. Stafford loves to throw to his TEs, especially in the red zone (11 TDs combined between Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler) But Pettigrew also has to keep drops to a bare minimum....or don't drop a pass period. The Lions won't have a margin for error in a winner take all situation. They have to capitalize on their opportunities.

A healthy Kevin Smith would come in handy as well. He's the closest thing to an impact runner on the Lions' roster. And there will come a time when the Lions will need to keep the Saints' defense honest with the occasional hand off to Smith. As much as I'd like Stafford to throw 70 times a game (all to Megatron), it's not realistic.

If the wide outs and TEs play as well have they have in the final quarter of the season, the Lions won't have any trouble scoring points on Saturday. They will move the ball. It's just a matter of capitalizing on their red zone opportunities.
DetFan1979Matthew Stafford is 100% healthy and playing like it.  I mentioned earlier this week how Stafford became one of only four quarterbacks ever to surpass 5000 yards in a season. He accomplished that despite a broken index finger on his throwing hand that obviously hampered him for a solid 4-5 games.  As it is, as John Madden used to say incessantly about Brett Favre “It looks like he’s having fun out there.”  We all know what that meant – it meant that Brett was making throw after seemingly impossible throw and racking up yards and points in bunches. Imagine how much fun he would have had with Randy Moss on his team?
Guess what?  That is exactly what Stafford has been doing – only he does have Calvin Johnson. They are both clicking and confident in themselves and each other like they were in the 5 game win streak.  Only better.  And to add to it Brandon Pettigrew is playing excellent, and Nate Burleson has been taking advantage.
The biggest xfactor to me this game for the Lions offense are Kevin Smith and Titus Young.  Titus has taken his game to a whole new level since embarrassing himself at New Orleans the first game.  As for Smith, he wasn’t healthy for the first New Orleans game.  If he is, watch out Gregg Williams because Smith is one of the best in the league when it comes to picking up the blitz and protecting his QB. It has always been a strong point for him, and now he too has been playing better than he ever did in his first go round with the Lions. 
Question 3:  How do you feel this mostly young, emotional team will fare under the pressure of a high profile playoff game?   (coach Schwartz included)?
NetRat:   The problem with highly emotional young teams is you don't know how they will handle the pressure.  The crowd noise is going to be tremendous and that might help make the players forget the pressure somewhat.  Raiola is going to really be after the O players to perform (it's his first playoff game in the NFL after all).  KVB will do much the same on the D... and Delmas chatters all game long no matter what (the Lions opponents have scored nearly 100 yards less yardage in the games he has played in).  Hanson is likely to get a workout but he should be fine.  My prediction which I made last Saturday night in my blog is the Lions win this game 30-28, the next day Vegas set the over/under at 58 1/2, which I found scary odd.
Zac:  I see the Lions' biggest problems in this game being between the lines, not between the ears. If we can't have confidence in this team knowing the stakes are high and acting appropriately then we don't have any reason to watch the game on Saturday. It will be up to the leaders with playoff experience (coaches included) to prepare the rest of the differences of playoff football and how to keep the emotions in check.
Al:  The Saints have been to the playoffs before, and won it all. The Lions....well, we know all about their checkered  past.

So there will be a stupid penalty or three by the Lions. It's a given. It's their nature. But I don't expect to the Lions to embarrass themselves either, unlike we saw go down during their first meeting with the Saints.

The Lions realized they were throwing a shot at the playoffs away after their nationally televised back to back mental meltdowns. They have been relatively well behaved since...thank goodness.

But I do expect to see the team show some nerves, especially in the 1st quarter. For most of the Lions, it'll be their first exposure playoff pressure. Jitters and butterflies are to be expected.

I'm not worried about Jim Schwartz's mental state.  He's been in the playoffs before as defensive coordinator with the Titans (6 games in 4 appearances, winning 2), making it to the AFC Championship in 2002. He knows what to expect...though I'm sure he'll be on edge.

To be honest, I am still worried the Lions themselves will snap, and do something get in a sideline shouting match, throw a punch, shove a ref or stomp on a player. They've kept their emotions in check since their implosion 5 weeks ago. My fear is we'll see another if calls and bounces don't go their way. It's Schwartz's job to prevent it.
Blades:  No matter what happens Saturday night, whether we win by 10 or lose by 30, who cares. Despite what some people thought, this team was expected to go 8-8 and if you asked any lions fan before the season, "Hey, if the season were to end today, would you be happy with an 8-8 record?" Every fan would tell you not only would they be happy with it, they would throw a parade on the streets of Detroit in honor of the Schwartz. This team is still two years away from seriously competing. We need a capable secondary and a little more depth.
 If you've followed me through the years, you know how critical I am about the Lions. But you won't hear that now. No matter what happens Saturday, WE'RE THE LIONS AND WE'RE IN THE FREAKIN' PLAYOFFS BABY!!!!!!!!!!!!
DetFan1979:  I was really worried about this – until last week at Green Bay.  I’m literally half blind and I could have done a better job out there on more than one egregious call.  Yet, despite the frustration and the setbacks none of the Lions lost their cool – except Alphonso Smith, who was benched.  I’m not sure how many noticed but it wasn’t just that he was gambling, he was not in control of his emotions at all and I think that is also a major reason he got yanked. 
Ever since coming home from the Superdome last month, this has been a different team.  They were thoroughly embarrassed – twice – on national television when it was finally their chance to shine on a big stage and earn respect with their play.  Instead, they came off looking like an immature teen puffing out his chest acting like he’s da man.  No one likes that feeling.  Especially not a professional. 
I think we’ve all been there at least once in our lives (I know I have!) and you can do one of two things: Pout about it, or man up and do something about it.  This young team has shown they chose the second path so far. If they stay on it, I can see this game being really close.
Either way, I’m expecting an exciting electrifying game.
WRAP UP:  Thank you to our participating bloggers, and of course to you our readers. Please feel free to share your thoughts, comments, and questions in the comments section.  Dialogue is one of the most fun aspects of being a blogger.  If you would like the whole congregation to address your question, thought, or idea please email
Thank you and enjoy the game!!

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