Sunday, October 06, 2013

Make It 23 In a Row

The Lions added to their consecutive losing streak at Lambeau Field, losing to the Green Bay Packers 22-9.  They haven't won their since 1991 and today's loss makes it 23 games in a row. 

In the days leading up to the game I was about 11-9 odds that Green Bay would win.  Detroit was in place to end the streak (which is an NFL record by the way) and Jim Schwartz was about to get yet another monkey off this organization's back.  This morning I was thinking of a scenario in which Jim Schwartz could keep his job even if the Lions didn't make the playoffs, and that would be to go 7-9 but win at both Washington and Green Bay. 

Well, that didn't happen, and one reason why was the absence of Calvin Johnson.  Hours before the game, Johnson was listed as out for the game due to a knee injury he suffered.  He attempted to make a go for today, but ultimately decided he couldn't play, and that right there pretty much took the wind out of the Lions' sail right before kickoff.

Johnson's absence did more than cost the game.  It exposed what's probably the most glaring deficiency in Matthew Stafford's game: the inability to "make" his wide receivers.  Because Johnson was not playing, that meant the only other home run threat the Lions had on offense was running back Reggie Bush.  The Packers were able to narrow their focus on him and made the Lions' offense inert.

Stafford's play wasn't terrible; 25/40 passing with 262 yards, 1 TD, and 0 INT.  But today's game clearly underscored the need for Stafford to take the next step in his development if he wants to take Detroit deep into the playoffs.  And that next step is to make players out of nothing.

Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers, if not the best quarterback in the game, he'd be the first player taken by every team if they wished to start an NFL team from scratch.  Rodgers is relatively young, makes good decisions, and has the perfect complement of speed, accuracy, and throwing strength needed to be among the elite players in the game.  Stafford is almost to the point of making as good a decision as Rodgers, and almost there with accuracy, but his arm strength is no concern as his throwing arm is probably the strongest in the NFL.

What makes Rodgers better is that he is able to make players out of guys who came to the league with little fanfare instead of having to rely on the the Packers using all of their high picks on just skill players.  The same can be said for Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady. 

Stafford has had the luxury of having Calvin Johnson (taken 2nd overall in 2007) when he arrived, but the Lions have attempted to surround him with receivers and running backs in the 1st-3rd Rounds of the draft in every year but 2013.  Many of those high picks haven't worked out, such as WR Derrick Williams (3rd Rd, 2009), HB Jahvid Best (1st Rd, 2010), WR Titus Young (2nd, 2011), HB Mikel Leshoure (2nd, 2011), and WR Ryan Broyles (2nd Rd, 2012). 

I still say the jury's out on Broyles and TE Brandon Pettigrew (1st, 2009) until after this season's over.  Until Stafford can figure a way to make lemonade out of lemons, he's relegated to that 2nd tier of QBs with Jay Cutler and Matt Schaub.

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But today's loss isn't totally bad news.  Hardly anyone with any sense of objectivity thought the Lions would win this game.  Fact is, they're 3-2, and with the Bears losing to the Saints today, they still sit at the top of the division.

Today's game was quite encouraging.  I think they showed there's hope in beating the Packers when they come to Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day.  Just as I predicted, the NFC East is the once again the NFC Least.  Philadelphia has no defense.  Dallas had a spark today, but Tony Romo reverted to his old self just in time to throw a game clinching interception to seal the win for Denver.  And the New York football Giants are 0-5.

The AFC North is probably the 2nd weakest division and the Lions play all four teams making it very possible they could go 4-0 against their conference counterparts.  That includes defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.  Once-perennial contenders Pittsburgh Steelers are old and haven't won a game all year.  Cleveland was expected to tank the season and with the sudden loss of Bryan Hoyer, they'll revert back to being in the league cellar.  No one has a read on Cincinnati.

That leaves one more team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, another team that is winless and will probably tank the season now that they've given up on the once promising Josh Freeman. Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and the Giants are three winless teams that I would consider likely victories for the Lions.  The last five games of the schedule, which I thought would be the reason the Lions miss the playoffs, now seem much more favorable. 

I'm obviously upbeat despite the loss.  But let's see how the season plays out. 

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