Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sometimes, Being Wrong Can Be Deliciously Sweet

I was wrong; I said the Lions would lose to the Chicago Bears.  Not only did they win, they are now tied for first in the NFC North at 3-1 with guess who, Chicago.

Man, talk about a difference one player makes, but Reggie Bush, good God.  This offense goes from a one-dimensional passing attack to when firing on all cylinders, it won't be fair.  With Bush, the Lions could have gone toe-to-toe with the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs two years ago.  Today was only the 9th time in his career he rushed for over 100 yards in a game (139 yards on 18 attempts with a TD).  Nine times?!?!?!?!  Go figure.

Matthew Stafford looked a little shaky early, overthrowing Calvin Johnson on a couple of throws, but once the second quarter hit, everything seemed to click.  The defense made turnovers and the offense made the Bears pay.  Stafford managed to spread the ball around, hitting six different receivers while going 23 for 35 with 242 yards, 1 TD, and 1 interception.  I'd take those kinds of numbers over last year when he'd throw for north of 350 in a loss.  The yardage was solid, the passes got more accurate as the game went on, and Stafford took a nice step forward.

Among the six different receivers, Brandon Pettigrew caught 7 passes.  Seven?!?!?!  Yes, he was only targeted twice last week, but this week he was targeted at least three times as much.  I'm not sure exactly how many targets he had, but I didn't see him drop a single pass.  He's been written off, but this might actually play well into his hands, quietly amassing more receptions and becoming the threat he was drafted to be in 2009.

Calvin Johnson was quiet today on his 28th birthday.  He caught only 4 passes for 44 yards, but did have a TD.  What with all the additional weapons Stafford has, Johnson will only become more dangerous.

The offensive line also played great, allowing only one sack on Stafford by Julius Peppers.  That one sack came off left tackle Riley Reiff, who did an otherwise commendable job protecting Stafford's blindside.  Peppers is getting up there in years, but Reiff still held his own, giving the QB the time he needed to find his receiver and throw it.

Then there's the defense.  No longer a liability, they are now a threat.  They're not great, but they can be very effective at creating turnovers and getting in the QB's head like they did with Jay Cutler today, sacking him three times, forcing three interceptions, and another turnover by fumble.

The defensive line led by Ndamukong Suh bullied and kicked around the Bears' offensive line allowing them to harass Cutler all afternoon.  Both safeties, Louis Delmas and Glover Quin had an interception (Delmas with two), but Cutler could've thrown five the way he was playing.

The score ended up being 40-32 Lions, but that's only because the Bears mounted a mini comeback after being down 24 points.  The final play of the game ended up being an onside kick recovered by Kris Durham, which sealed the victory for Detroit and put them in a first place tie with Chicago.

We're now 3-1, but that loss to Arizona feels like it's going to come back and bite us at the end of the season.  Still angry about that.

Next week will be the team's biggest test yet: can they finally win IN Green Bay?  The Packers were off with a bye this week, but enter next week's game 1-2.  The Lions haven't won at Lambeau since 1991, the last year they won a playoff game.  This streak has to end, and now it seems like they have the momentum to get yet another monkey off the team's back before doing anything like winning the division and winning a playoff game.

Judging by the Lions schedule the rest of the way, it looks a little more favorable now than when I first predicted they'd be a 9-7 team, but it's that Arizona loss that could be the difference maker in whether or not they get to the playoffs.  I'm still convinced the Wild Cards will come from the NFC West and South, but as for now, Detroit's definitely in play.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Bears at Lions

What kind of team is Detroit?  Are they closer to the 10-6 team from 2011 or to the 4-12 disaster that was last season?  For whatever reason, I still can't get a read on this team unlike previous seasons (okay, 2012, I predicted they'd finish 10-6...shows what I know).

Tomorrow the Chicago Bears come to Ford Field and its considered to be a crucial game for both teams.  If Detroit wins, we move into first place in the NFC North.  If Chicago wins, they're 4-0 and begin to look like they're supplanting Green Bay as the class of the division.

The writers for both Detroit Free Press and News are unanimously picking Detroit to win, including Drew Sharp, although I did see Terry Foster predict a Bears victory due to Lions' history of falling short the week after a big victory.  Last week, Washington was the favorite over Detroit, and the Lions still pulled one out.  Goes to show you the value of our writers predicting the team's success.

What worries me most about the Lions this year is that I get the feeling they're a lot like the 1999 and 2000 teams.  In those two years, the Lions were well in the thick of the playoff chase, reaching as high as an 8-4 record before fading away, finishing 8-8 and 9-7 respectively (ironically, they backed into the playoffs at 8-8 and missed them at 9-7 the next year).  You couldn't exactly tell what the team was, just like this year's, and won't really know until late December.

I'm hoping history doesn't repeat itself and we end up collapsing the following year like we did in 2001.

A lot of people have been talking about recreating the magic that was the Monday Night game two years ago when Chicago came to town and Ford Field was rocking.  That was zenith of Lions' football in the last 15 years, and it goes to show how bad our team has really been when our most memorable game is a midseason Monday night win, but no playoff victories.  (How many wins has New England/Indianapolis/Green Bay had in the same game?)

Even though Detroit has lost Jason Jones for the year and Nate Burleson for an indefinite amount of time, the Bears have lost stud defensive tackle Henry Melton.  One player shouldn't make that big of a difference, but if Charles Tillman is hurting more than he's letting on, Calvin Johnson should be in for a big day. 

My head says until Chicago shows me otherwise, it's Da Bears, 27-21.  I will gladly take any criticism that comes my way if the Lions win.  I hope I'm wrong.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Screw Arizona, Let's Talk Washington!

Man, there's nothing worse than my work schedule.  I get off work at 8:00 am Sunday mornings.  Most Lions games start at 1:00 pm, which means I usually have less than four hours for sleep before I can watch the game.  I caught a break the first two games, but I was really struggling today to stay awake during the second and third quarters.

Last week, the Lions blew it.  Sunday, the played pretty much the same way, but a different outcome and a huge, HUGE monkey came off their backs.

The good.

Matthew Stafford threw for 385 yards and 2 TDs.

Calvin Johnson caught the last touchdown that put the Lions up 10 and the game out of reach for Washington.

Joique Bell ran the ball effectively and gashed the Redskins' defense for some chunk yardage in the first half.

Ndamukong Suh created havok in the trenches and deserves credit Ziggy Ansah's sacks.

DeAndre Levy led the team with 12 tackles.  He's stepping into his own this year.

Nate Burleson: 6 catches, 113 yards.

The offensive line.  Protected Stafford all day to make clutch throws.

The defense.  The defense.  The defense.  They're not supposed to be this good.

Jim Schwartz deserves credit for getting another monkey off our back by winning at Washington, something that's never been done in Detroit Lions' history.  He ended the 19-game winning streak in 2009.  He ended the consecutive road loss streak even though he was there for a big portion of it.  He led the Lions to the playoffs for the first time in twelve years.  If Schwartz is fired after this season, let us remember he wasn't a complete failure, but had more along the lines of a Wayne Fontes' type of success here.

Next up for Schwartz: win at Green Bay, win on Thanksgiving, win the division, win a playoff game, and get us to the Super Bowl.  (Methinks the first two would mean beating Green Bay twice in a season, not done since 1991.  It's one or the other this year).

The bad.

Scott Linehan's play calling.  Virtually every play from scrimmage had Stafford in the shotgun or pistol formation.  They must not have much faith in Bell to carry the team in the run game, otherwise Linehan would've balanced the offense a little.  I don't care that they won, I think Linehan needs to go.  They can't keep this up for 13 more games.

Dominic Raiola's snap to Matt Stafford when he wasn't ready for it.  Stafford acted quickly enough and got rid of it, so the worst was that it was a broken play.

The referees penalizing Rashean Mathis for hitting a "defenseless receiver."  Some part of me says Mathis should've known better.  But a stupid rule is a stupid rule.  Nobody was even close to getting hurt.

Nick Fairley.  Disruptive but left the game twice due to injury.  Not his fault.  I am concerned.

Jason Jones.  Done for the year.  We need him.

Detroit Lions fans: I hear way too many fans calling in and complaining, AFTER A VICTORY.  Not just a victory, the first victory ever at Washington.  A win's a win.  No style points.  I'm talking to you, caller "CJ" on Karsch and Anderson Monday morning.  Not to mention that it was a ROAD victory.  Good god.  Love the Lions, hate the Lions fans.  Sometimes.

Next on tap: Bears at Lions.  Bears' DT Henry Melton out for the year with a torn ACL.  Our chances just went up.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lions in 2013/Vikings at Lions

Before I began to write, I have two things to say.  First, I couldn't access my blog because of some error on blogger's end.  Wasn't sure how to fix it and I was forced to just wait it out and hope that problem would eventually be corrected, which it did.

Second, I thought long and hard about what the Lions final record would be.  They look like they could be an 11-5 team, but then again, they could be 6-10.  There are so many unknowns to me, mostly about other teams: Chicago, Baltimore, the NFC East.

So, I'm going to write in a record of 9-7.  A winning season, but no playoffs as the NFC is loaded with more playoff-caliber teams than the AFC.  San Francisco, Green Bay, Seattle, New Orleans, Atlanta, and the winner of the NFC (L)East are likely to be the playoff teams (with Atlanta and Seattle getting the Wild Cards).

I don't know who will win the NFC East.  That division looks terrible.  You never know how what New York Giants team will show up this season.  Philadelphia has a new system with an aging quarterback and a team looking like it's falling apart, according to reports.  Dallas has talent, but they've been stuck in the same place with Tony Romo forever, and he'll never get any better than he is.  Washington has an RG III QB who's got a bad knee and should take a step back from his stellar rookie year.

It's conceivable the Lions could go 10-6 (even 11-5 in a best case scenario) and still miss the playoffs because of NFC South and NFC West.  We're sort of bottle necked with teams like Chicago, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, and the whole NFC East.  If we go 9-7 or better and miss the playoffs, Jim Schwartz keeps his job.

Minnesota at Detroit: Lions win!  Put it in the books!  The first half it was same old Lions.

Mental mistakes were all over the place.  Brandon Pettigrew was dropping passes.  The other tight end, Tony Scheffler, was targeted once and dropped a ball that would've been a touchdown.  Ndamukong Suh chop blocked the Vikings' John Sullivan, nullifying an interception return for a touchdown by DeAndre Levy.

Adrian Peterson gashed the Lions' defense on their very first offensive play of the season, taking the rock home on a 78-yard run.  It happened to be of course, on a misdirection play, the Lions' biggest weakness against the run.

The fact that the Lions went into halftime down 14-13 was practically a miracle.  Once the second half kicked in, it was all Lions.  Matthew Stafford didn't need to throw the ball all day to Calvin Johnson because Reggie Bush was there, displaying his dangerous home run capabilities that the Lions have missed since Jahvid Best's career ended.

Detroit went on to outscore Minnesota 21-10 in the second half to come out the winner, 34-24.  A lot of talk ensued about the lack of discipline, the impending fine/possible suspension for Ndamukong Suh (he was given an initial $100,000 fine that's still on appeal), and what hadn't changed since a year ago.

As I'm posting this, I'm about eight days late, and the Lions just came off a close loss, which I plan to write about.  What's clear to me about this game and the Arizona game is that the deficiencies are still there.  We still don't know what kind of coach Jim Schwartz is, and I think after going 1-1, it is becoming more evident that he may be on his way out of Detroit if this team can't do better than 8-8.

More in the coming days.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Best Weekend of the Year

Damn, what a weekend!  I am exhausted from everything that went down.  So much so, I wanted to post my game-by-game breakdown predicting the outcome of all sixteen regular season games for the Detroit Lions. But with everything that had gone down: an El Ten Eleven concert, Michigan and Michigan State winning on Saturday, and today's Lions win over the Vikings (minus Doug Fister's disappointing outing against the Royals), this has been the best weekend of the year, so far.

I managed to finagle a switch in my shift to allow me to work a double on Thursday into Friday and got Sunday and Monday off.  Two whole days!  I should ask my boss if I can do this permanently.

Saturday night, I went to Ann Arbor to see my second or third favorite band, El Ten Eleven at the Blind Pig.  It didn't occur to me until the two days prior that this game was taking place the same night as the Michigan-Notre Dame game.  I thought traffic would be a nightmare getting there.  I got it half right.

Getting into town was easy as I arrived in A2 by 8:25 and parked a couple of blocks from the Blind Pig.  The show began with an opening performance from Eliot Lipp, who played a variety of keyboard and other fancy electro-pop music that was heavy and enjoyable.  Then came El Ten Eleven, and played a 12-song set.  They sounded great, which was a shock to me, considering the last time I was at the Blind Pig, the band that played didn't sound so good.

I got to see Kristian Dunn (guitarist) and Tim Fogarty (drums) after the show and told them how great the show was.  We shook hands and I left soon after.  The show ended about an hour after the Michigan-Notre Dame game, which of course meant that traffic going out of town would be impossible.

So, I was hungry and I ventured over to Pizza House, betting that trying to get back into town would be 1,000 times easier than trying to get out.  It was only 100 times, instead.  Pizza House was slammed.  I walked in, looked around, and walked out.

I went over to Pinball Pete's and played a few games before checking out Pizza House again, and it was still packed.  I wanted to muscle my way to the bar to sit down and order food, but gave up after a few minutes and went for another walk.  It was after 2:00 am; I get it, Michigan won, but come on kids, go to bed.  I wanted my Pizza House.

It just so happened I discovered a new Pita Pit had opened.  I worked at one for three weeks in January 2007 making good money doing deliveries until the owner said he was filing for bankruptcy, which sucked.  I began to enjoy it there after a week and a half.

Round 3: made into Pizza House, bullied my way to an empty seat at the bar, and managed to order my favorite pie.  The waitress said it'd be an hour.  It took 20 minutes, slightly more than the 10-minute average, so it was okay.  I was willing to wait an hour, but this was kosher enough.

I found out watching the ESPN highlights that Michigan State had "won," which is okay.  Haven't watched a game, but through osmosis, I'm learning they're going to be a one-dimensional, defensive team again.  I like State.  Maybe not as much as Michigan.  But when Sparty wins, I'm still happy that a Michigan school is winning. 

So I ate my pizza and left for home.  Went to bed to wake up at 11:30 am.  Showered, got dressed, put on the Stafford jersey.  Headed to Hartland to continue the family tradition of Lions football with my sister's husband and her family.

The first half was typical, Same Ol' Lions.  Detroit was down 14-13 at the half, but judging by the way they played, it should've been 24-3, Minnesota.  But the Lions showed grit and mental toughness and dominated the second half, taking the game 34-24. 

My favorite band played the same day Michigan and Michigan State won. The Lions won.  It's always a great weekend when those three win.  I'll happily forget that Doug Fister had a disappointing outing, losing a 5-2 decision to Kansas City.  He pitched a great for four innings, though.  Yeah, okay, however you want to spin it.

Why can't more weekends be like this?