Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Seattle delivers a stomach punch of EPIC proportions

Some teams are content to lose a game in normal fashion. Often a team will show up to play and get beaten in a regular, ordinary sort of way. Not the Lions. Not last night. Detroit's loss last night in Seattle was a special, evil sort of loss. It's the kind of loss that can take the soul of a fan away and turn it into one of those withered, pitiful creatures stuck in Ursula's Garden of Souls. Yes, I just made a Little Mermaid reference. I'm clearly distraught.

The Lions had mounted their best drive of the night, down by 3 with the clock winding down. The play-by-play guy was Mike Tirico, who is from Michigan and lives in Ann Arbor (and thus should've known better), had brought up Stafford's lack of success on the road against winning teams about 5 or 6 times, suggesting that THIS might be the game he gets off the schneid (Seattle didn't have a winning record, but nobody disputes that they ARE good). It was 3rd and 1 & a half on the 12 yard line with 1:51 to go in the game. Failure to convert would have meant attempting a FG to tie and then Seattle gets the ball back with time. For some reason I felt optimistic, which goes to show what I know. Then, THIS happened:

I hope they call a pass play, they've never been able to pick up short yardage when they needed to all game... Oh good, a pass play... Nice protection... CALVIN'S OPEN... HE'S GOING TO SCORE... YEE-NNNOOOOOOOAaaaaaah crap... No chance he broke the plane, right? Nope, not even a question.
That was my internal dialogue, almost word for word. Then I started to wonder how it could've happened differently. I think probably what Calvin should've done was go air-born, Superman-style, over the defender and into the end zone. Kind of like what Cam Newton did a couple of weeks ago. If he does that, he makes it. There were 3 defenders around, so Calvin needed to either protect the ball and bowl through, or else he needed to fly. He tried to do something in between, and that cost him. I can't blame him TOO much for what happened (Chancellor made a truly great play on the ball), except he's supposed to be on Another Level, and if he's to make any type of "Best WR in Football" claim, he gets in the end zone here.

The next part is where it gets crazy. The ball was bouncing toward the back of the end zone, and Seattle's TJ Wright ushered it the rest of the way out. I didn't know this at the time, but that is called "batting" and it's illegal. Detroit should've been awarded the ball on the 1. Instead, the ref stated that the play wasn't intentional (even though it CLEARLY was, and Wright admitted as much, unsurprisingly unaware of the obscure rule). The NFL's VP of Officiating Dean Blandino disagreed with the Back Judge's opinion that it wasn't intentional, and stated that while you could argue that batting the ball didn't really affect the play (the ball was almost out already and no Lion was close enough to recover it), the batting penalty should've been called and the Lions should've gotten the ball at the 1 yard line. Based on how many of these calls have gone against Detroit in the past (100% against, if my records are correct), the Lions are LONG overdue for one of these to go in their favor.

However, much like the uncalled pass interference in their playoff loss to the Cowboys, while this penalty swung the game away from Detroit and gifted it to their opponent, calling the penalty would've given the Lions something they didn't really earn (despite my belief that karmically, they deserve it). Johnson called it best. He can't fumble there. That just can't happen. And the game wasn't over. If the Lions had stuffed Seattle on the ensuing 3rd & 2, they could've gotten the ball back with about 30 seconds and no timeouts. Not ideal, especially against the Legion of Boom defense, but there was a sliver of a chance. Instead, Seattle drew up a nice pass play as the Lions were gearing up to stuff a run, Wilson found a wide open guy, and that was that.

Incidentally, Mike Tirico (who, again, is from Michigan and should know better), proceeded to say a whole bunch of stuff that made me feel worse about the loss than I already did. I can't remember specific phrases, but... let me use a hypothetical scenario to illustrate: imagine your best friend is dying and you're rushing to get to his bedside before he passes, but there's an accident on the freeway and you arrive hours late. A mutual friend comes to you, knowing you feel terrible and events beyond your control delayed your arrival, and says, "It's too bad you couldn't get here in time. His last words were for you, asking why weren't you there." Mike Tirico was like the mutual friend in that scenario. I wanted to straight up punch him in the face.


I feel like the rest of the game was a completely different event from the final 2 minutes, so that's why I'm treating it as a separate article. It's like looking at a person with a disfigured face. It takes a while to look past the disfiguring feature, so you need to address that first and then look past it to see the whole picture. As bad as this loss was, I need to look at some of the positives.

The Lions' defense was outstanding. Rashean Mathis still can't cover anybody, but overall the defense did everything that was asked of it and more. They held the Seahawks to under 350 yards and only 13 points. They hit Russell Wilson A LOT (credited with 10 QB hits, 6 of them sacks), forced 2 fumbles and recovered 3 (one fumble was a muffed punt, unforced), even returning one fumble recovery for the Lions' lone TD. Wilson managed to extend a lot of plays with his legs, which is what he does, and that led to broken coverage and a higher completion %, but by and large they frustrated the Seattle offense and kept the Lions in striking distance.

Matt Stafford... wasn't... completely atrocious. I would say he sucked for most of the game, but he didn't do anything that was really bad. No sacks, no fumbles, no interceptions. And this was against a REALLY good D. On the other hand, I think that fact was in his head most of the game. I think he was afraid of this defense, and it caused his aim to be off. He was afraid of making a mistake. Prior to the Lions' final drive, Stafford was 18-29 for 130 yards passing (not good). Prior to that final drive, the Lions had only 1 first down in the 2nd half, and that was due to an illegal hands to the face penalty on Seattle. Stafford went 6-6 for 73 yards on the final drive (had Calvin made the end zone, it would've been 74 yards and of course a TD pass), which boosted his numbers into respectability. But, one wonders why Stafford can't seem to get into a rhythm until super late in the game.

If Calvin had managed to find the end zone, the narrative today would be about Stafford coming through in the clutch and finally beating a good team on the road. He reminded me a bit of later-day Bret Favre, who would screw up for the first three quarters and then come back to murder you in the 4th. Favre often got a pass for sucking for most of the game because he would come back and eventually won a lot of those games late. Stafford was nearing that territory last night, but unfortunately he didn't quite make it when Calvin fumbled.

Another guy I've been critical of is OC Joe Lombardi. I thought the 1st quarter was one of the worst-called quarters Lombardi has ever had, but he DID get a little better as the game went on. He called a few more outside running plays that got the RB into space and away from the line. The passing plays seemed well designed, for the most part. Stafford missed a lot of throws he should've made, or he didn't have enough time to let the routes develop. And that brings me to the O line. Our offensive line is probably the worst in football at run blocking. They actually did a decent job in pass protect (only allowed 3 QB hits and 0 sacks), but the run blocking is a serious problem. Missing Warford is a huge issue, as he's their best lineman and possibly the only guy on the line who can pick up a block in space.

I'm actually optimistic that Lombardi might have figured something out in this game. That seems crazy to say, given that the Lions failed to score an offensive TD and only generated 256 yards of offense. I'm not saying Lombardi is going to turn this offense into a juggernaut or anything, but the play calling definitely improved and maybe (Maybe. MAYBE.) this offense will start looking like a credible NFL offense in a game or 2 (maybe).

However, the ultimate story in this game is how the Lions continually find ways to shoot themselves in the foot. They had several penalties that cost the Lions a first down or put them in the hole to start a series of downs. They did manage to take care of the ball for most of the game, but then their best player fumbled it when they needed him most. Epic fail doesn't begin to cover it.

The Lions suffered several costly injuries in the game as well. Eric Ebron was on his way to a solid receiving game (blocking, not so much) when a fallen lineman rolled up on his leg and he tweaked his knee. It could be relatively minor, like a mild sprain, but it could also be an ACL-thing that costs him the season. Tyrunn Walker was the victim of a particularly dirty (and ILLEGAL) block that probably broke his ankle. I'm guessing he's done for the year. Ngata went down a little later with a calf injury. It didn't sound too bad, but Ngata is big and old, and stuff like that becomes chronic at this point. Travis Lewis was also having a spectacular game when he was hurt on punt coverage and had to be helped off. Hopefully we're getting Levy and Warford back this week. I don't know how close Pettigrew is to returning, but I doubt Ebron plays for at least the next 2 weeks. It might be time to start scouring the CFL for a TE and a DT.

The season outlook is... well, the season is basically over 4 weeks in. They can't make the playoffs. Technically, they COULD make the playoffs if they went 11-1 or 10-2 the rest of the way, but there is really no way that happens. Not with this team. Not with this quarterback. If injuries or something were what created this mess and we were suddenly getting someone back, I could see a guy like Rodgers or Brady leading the team on a 10-2 tear. But VERY few others could, and certainly not Stafford. So while the season isn't over, it pretty much is. Work on developing the rookies. Work on Lombardi's offense (or fire Lombardi and work on someone else's offense). Find a way to get a running game. Get creative, because you really don't have anything to lose.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Lions MNF Preview

This is the Lions' season tonight. They're facing a TOUGH opponent in the toughest away stadium in the NFL on Monday Night Football. If the Lions lose, they fall to 0-4 and have to face the 3-1 Cardinals 6 days later. If they win, a glimmer of hope would exist, although they still have to face the 3-1 Cardinals next week.

I was REALLY hoping DeAndre Levy would be available to play tonight. He practiced with the team Thurs-Sat, which is usually an indicator that a guy is ready to go. Supposedly he's staying in Detroit because he was doubtful anyway and the team didn't want to subject his body to the rigors of flying to Seattle only to possibly not even play.

Joique Bell is staying in Detroit as well, but that's less of a disappointment. Bell is CLEARLY not the same guy he was last year. I'm hoping he can recover at some point, but for the time being the Lions are better off with Abdullah getting the (trying to avoid using the very punny phrase "lion's share") bulk of the carries. The offense doesn't NEED Bell, especially as he currently is. But the defense desperately needs Levy. He covers the pass better than any of the Lions' other LBs, he knifes through blocks on running plays and screens to make the play in the backfield. He's the Lions' best tackler. And he has an awesome beard.

With Levy out, the chances of a victory tonight diminish dramatically. There's that much more pressure on the offense to produce, and that much more on the defense to make up for the lack of DeAndre Levy. Seattle will be without Beast Mode MarShawn Lynch, but that actually increases the likelihood of more running plays called for QB Russell Wilson. I can't think of a more necessary player for Detroit in this game than Levy. Ziggy Ansah is probably 2nd most important, and he's been limited all week as well with a groin injury. He's traveling with the team, so I expect he'll play, but he's been taken out of games early twice now. This is a defense that needs to contain Seattle's run game at the edges, and the two best guys we have to do that are out or limited.

Naturally, all eyes are drawn to the Calvin Johnson-Richard Sherman matchup. I haven't watched a Seahawks game yet this year, but their tendency in the past was to use Sherman to eliminate the opponent's best WR, instead of, say, moving him around a bit to give different looks. If Seattle decides to cover Calvin one-on-one with Sherman, which no one has tried yet this year, one of two things will happen: either Calvin will finally take the top off of the defense and beat Sherman deep, or Calvin will be Decoy CJ and keep Sherman occupied far away from the play. The problems with the 2nd scenario are a) We need Calvin to be effective or this offense is pretty dead, and b) I don't trust Stafford to stay away from Decoy Calvin. If CJ is in decoy mode, I'm certain Stafford will try and force a pass into a too-small window and Sherman will end up with it.

The key guys to watch in this game for Detroit are Abdullah on offense and the DEs on defense. The Lions need to get that running game going, and Abdullah has earned himself more carries than he's been getting. On defense, the DEs are who should keep Seattle's read option in check. With Lynch out, Wilson is the biggest running threat on the team. If the DEs do their jobs, the ball stays between the tackles and Seattle probably tries to become more of a passing team than they really are.

You can tell I'm REALLY trying to talk myself into this one.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Non-Lions Stuff

I tend to get pretty Lions-dominant during the NFL season, so I thought I'd dedicate today's post to the other Detroit-area teams. The Lions play on Monday night, so I'll get back to them next week.

The Tigers have been monumentally disappointing, so I haven't said much about them on this blog. I feel like I need to break that trend, but only because there's more bad news to pile on. Brad Ausmus is finishing up year 2 of his 3-year contract, and the consensus opinion outside of the organization was that the Tigers would fire him and pursue Ron Gardenhire to manage the team next year. Well, you can throw that theory out the window. New GM Al Avila announced last week that Ausmus would at least be with the team through the end of his contract.

I'm all about giving a coach/manager the chance to figure things out. I think too often owners & GMs sacrifice the coach to appease the fans, and sometimes they really just needed to let things play out. Maybe that's the case with Ausmus. But I don't think so. Brad Ausmus inherited a NEARLY complete WS contender. The only issue was with the bullpen, although he would proceed to treat the 'pen as though it were a finished product also. I'd say Ausmus cost the Tigers a handful of games last year, including their playoff sweep at the hands of the Orioles. Not good. People were calling for his head THEN, but I thought he might learn from his mistakes and Dombrowski should let it play out a bit.

Then this year happened. The offense added firepower with the additions of Cespedes and Gose via trade, Iglesias returning from injury, and McCann supplanting Alex Avila as the regular catcher. Iglesias, Gose, and Cespedes would greatly improve the defense, as would Torii Hunter's departure and Castellanos improving his footwork at 3B. The starting pitching would take a step back with Scherzer and Porcello leaving, and Verlander struggling to stay healthy most of the year, but the 'pen was expected to be slightly better with Rondon's return and Soria hopefully bouncing back. But after starting the season as the best team in baseball, the Tigers dropped game after game. Some of this was due to unexpected (or expected) poor performances from key players, some due to the lack of improvement in the 'pen, and some due to some HIGHLY questionable managerial decisions.

Ausmus isn't the Tigers' only problem. He's not even their MAIN problem. But he is A problem, and the fact that they're keeping him for another year is disconcerting. It feels like we're just WASTING Miguel Cabrera, who is only the greatest hitter of his generation.


The NBA preseason is literally right around the corner. The Pistons have games against the Nets, the Bucks, and the Pacers starting next week Thursday, and we still aren't sure what the starting lineup is. Conventional wisdom is that Stan will start Marcus Morris at the 3 and Ersan Ilyasova at the 4, although he might go with rookie Stanley Johnson at the 3 and either Morris or Ilyasova at the 4. He's also intimated that Johnson might get some burn at the 2, which could move incumbent (but so far disappointing) starter KCP to the bench.

Stan seems quite impressed by the early returns from Stanley Johnson. His attitude is already NBA ready, by all accounts, and he seems to be approaching the game with a veteran's maturity level. This is encouraging in that it sounds as like Johnson might bypass many of the typical rookie growing pains.

The Pistons aren't expected to finish that much better than they did last year, however. Las Vegas put the over/under on wins at 33.5, after having won 32 last year. My opinion is this is a bit low, although not by much. The Pistons' Expected W-L total last year was 38-44, and I think the team is slightly improved. The rest of the East has improved as well, so that cuts little ice. I think the Pistons probably finish with something between 35 and 38 wins.


Michigan football this year looks like a bowl team for once. I don't think they're better than Sparty, and definitely not better than OSU, but they look like some kind of a team right now. The offense is still coming together (that O line... shudder), but the defense looks legit. After shutting out BYU 31-0, I fully expect them to steamroll a pretty weak Maryland team tomorrow. The line right now is 14.5 points, which is pretty high for a conference opponent. It might not be high enough. The Terps were easily handled by Bowling Green (27-48) and got absolutely HOUSED by West Virginia (45-6). I think Michigan is better than both of those teams.

Jake Rudock has at times looked like a 5th year senior, and at other times he's looked like a freshman. Hopefully he'll continue to limit his turnovers and the running game can carry the day.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Same Old... gaaah, I can't even say it

The Lions are in deep, DEEP trouble. They're 0-3 and their next 2 games are at Seattle (which is almost guaranteed to be a loss) and home against Arizona (who are currently 3-0 and the favorites to win the Super Bowl). Unless something EXTREMELY unexpected happens, the Lions will be 0-5 when they finally see Chicago. That's not a mathematical elimination from the playoffs, but it's as good as. The Lions had one of the toughest opening schedules. A 2-3 record would've been decent and a 3-2 record would've been phenomenal. They could still potentially come out of this 2-3, but they've already played the weakest 3 teams in that 5-game stretch, and the remaining 2 are the hardest stadium to win in and the top team in the NFL.

A good team would've started 3-0. The way the Chargers game played out, the Lions just needed to hold serve in the 2nd half and could've come away with a win. The Vikings weren't sneaking up on anybody and look like a decent team, but the Lions would've beaten this team last year. Denver definitely left the door open. Not only did Detroit not take advantage, they handed the game over in the 4th quarter.

I hate the "Same Old Lions" refrain. It's my least favorite phrase in football, followed by "illegal use of hands to the face, automatic 1st down" (seriously, why is this an automatic 1st down when it wasn't even a penalty 2 years ago? The penalty isn't commensurate with the crime). "Same Old Lions", or SOL, is a phrase almost GLEEFULLY uttered by Lions fans when the team fails. I've been particularly upset by this recently, since the team has been on a bit of an uptick. The phrase didn't fit. They weren't failing in the same way as before. They were reaching higher levels. There was positive traction. Not all failures are created equal, and the Lions' recent failures were of a more noble stripe. SOL refers to a particularly pathetic type of failure, the type of failure that makes you wonder how the people involved make it through the day without crapping themselves.

This 2015 Lions team is a throwback to the SOL Lions. I wonder how guys like ST Coordinator Joe Marciano make it through the day without wetting himself. I wonder what exactly (if anything) goes through OC Joe Lombardi's mind when he game plans for a particular opponent. Jim Caldwell has gone on record saying he doesn't think the play-calling is an issue, he thinks it's all in the execution. I'm sorry, but that's bullshit. I mean, yes, they don't always execute the plays well. Stafford is turning the ball over like crazy & the line can't block. That doesn't change the fact that the game plan is TERRIBLE. It's like Lombardi is drawing up an offense as though he's coaching the 2011 Saints. Execution is a problem in that these Lions CAN'T execute this game plan like the 2011 Saints. Lombardi needs to draw something up that both matches the opponent AND the current personnel. I was hoping he would bring some innovation to the offense, but really all he's done is copy Sean Payton and expect Stafford to be a vintage Drew Brees. That dog won't hunt, Monsignor.

There have quietly been a couple of bright spots in this otherwise disappointing offense. Ameer Abdullah has looked totally legit. His stats aren't especially impressive so far, but I think that's more a product of how the Lions are using him. He's looked very good when he's gotten the ball, and I think he'd be gashing off a few more longer runs if the Lions would stick with him for another 10-12 carries. You have to weather a bunch of 1-2 yd runs to get that running game going. Eric Ebron has improved, although he doesn't yet look like the game-changing TE he was purported to be. Theo Riddick has looked REALLY good, when he's gotten the opportunity. Lombardi has the play-makers he needs to make this a pretty good offense. A better O-line would certainly help, but you can work around that.

This team is in dire straits. They NEED to win both of the next 2 games to have any hope at all of doing anything. They're already a super longshot to make the playoffs, at 0-5 they would need to finish 11-0, 10-1 to make it as a wild card, unless they somehow beat out Green Bay and Minnesota for the division (EXTREMELY unlikely). Even at 1-4, they're basically out. 2-3 is doable, but I don't think they're beating Seattle AND Arizona right now.

Here's what needs to happen:
The Offensive Line has to work. Right now they can't run block and they can't pass block. Lombardi could scheme better to help them out, but I think the biggest problem with the line is that they are incorporating players that haven't played together before, and cohesiveness is most important with the line. If they can gel, this season could turn around QUICK.
Levy comes back at 100%. The Lions don't really have a defensive game-changer. DeAndre Levy is that guy. The defense has more or less kept them in the game and the offense hasn't held up its end of the bargain. This defense needs to be better than average, but to do that they need stars on the field. Levy is a Pro Bowl caliber talent, despite the fact that he's never made the team (INJUSTICE!). With a healthy Levy on the field, the Lions defense will have that edge they are currently missing.
The Offense has to diversify. Right now the Lions aren't throwing it down the field and they aren't running much. Everything is happening within 10 yds of the line of scrimmage. They need to run it more (preferably off-tackle more than this up the middle stuff) and they need to go vertical. They have 2 or 3 serious vertical threats who are being used like possession receivers, or in the case of Ebron, as a pass-blocker (1. Expecting him to stop Von Miller on a pass rush is hilariously stupid, and 2. Nice job on the Key & Peele celebration, Von!). Golden Tate says opposing defenses know what plays are coming, and that isn't surprising because I usually know what plays are coming. I don't care what Caldwell says, this is the #1 problem with the offense.
Take care of the football. The Lions are averaging 2.7 turnovers per game, most of them committed by Stafford. The defense has done a pretty good job at generating turnovers, but the offense does a better job of giving it back. Stafford has committed 6 of the Lions' 8 turnovers, so the onus is mainly on him to improve here.

If those 4 things all happen, everything is on the table with this team. If they don't, expect them to be drafting in the top 10 again, maybe top 5.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Lions are Dead in the Water

I didn't post about the Lions' 2nd loss of the season (to the Vikings) because I was on the road and didn't see the game. I was on the road yesterday as well, but due to the later start time, I made it home with time to spare and witnessed that particular debacle. Let put this to you straight - if you had any hopes that the Lions would return to the playoffs this year, squash them. Sometime, somewhere, I'm sure an NFL team that started 0-3 has gone on to make the playoffs. It's like the sports movie cliché, a raggedy band of misfits finds common ground and gels, and discover that they each possess a unique talent that gets amplified when working in conjunction with the rest of the team. The Lions are NOT that team.

The Broncos are a particularly talented defense. They have 2 great pass rushers in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, they have a stout interior D line, their LBs are solid, and their defensive backfield, highlighted by Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, is top shelf. It's not like I was expecting the Lions to light up the scoreboard. I did hope they'd be better than they were. The offensive line looks equally as bad as last year, which is MASSIVELY disappointing because they spent a 1st round pick and a trade on improving the line, and they got back starters who were injured last year. They still can't run-block, and their pass protection is horrendous. Stafford was practically annihilated in the Vikings game, and last night he had about 1.5 seconds to get rid of the ball on most of his dropbacks.

Speaking of Stafford, holy crap was he atrocious. His passing stats don't look THAT bad - 31-45 for 282 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs - but that belies the reality. Both picks were bad throws, one a toss into triple coverage where he never looked off the receiver, the other was a low-angle throw (I'm not generally opposed to Stafford throwing sidearm, but it hurt him here) that didn't get past the LB. David Bruton, the LB, made a great play to get that pick, but it was still a bad throw. Stafford had another throw that SHOULD have been a pick, but Calvin came back and took it away from Aqib Talib.

The worst, however, was the fumble. The timing hurt because the Lions were threatening to score, it was in the 4th quarter, and they were only down by 2 at that point. On the play, Stafford had the ball in the pocket for a couple of seconds and needed to avoid a rush. He managed not to get sacked but he HAD to get rid of the ball immediately, as Barrett was bearing down on him, or eat it. The direction Stafford took to avoid the rush and the throwing motion put the ball right in Barrett's face and it was an easy takeaway. It actually reminded me of the Statue of Liberty Play, except that is designed to go to a RB, not the opposing LB. Stafford argued at the time that his arm was moving forward and it should've been ruled a forward pass. I agree that it was a bad call, but it was still monumentally stupid of Stafford to ignore a pass rusher who was unblocked. The irony is literally seconds before this play, color commentator Chris Collinsworth said that Matt Stafford should be at his peak right now and able to beat Manning's Broncos in a home "must-win" game.

Detroit's Win Probability dropped from about 50% to 15.3% with that fumble. It was the play that changed the course of the game. The Lions were in Denver territory and very well could've taken the lead on that drive. It was 1st down, no need to force anything. Instead of going ahead, they gave the ball back to Denver with pretty good field position. Denver mounted a mediocre drive, and assisted by a defensive illegal formation penalty, got 3 points out of it. This was one of the more ridiculous turn of events in the game, by the way. Denver missed their initial FG try, but Detroit had lined up with 6 guys on one side of the defensive line. That's illegal for some reason (seriously, you can't line up over the center and you can't send 6 guys on one side?), and for some the Lions' Special Teams Coach didn't know that. That was probably the most animated I've ever seen Jim Caldwell on the sideline, when he was chewing out the ST Coach.

The defense was adequate. I thought they did a decent job on Manning, and Denver's run game had nothing going on. Darius Slay had a bad game (got burned for a long TD at the end of the half, had an INT pulled away from him by Sanders, was the guilty party on the illegal formation penalty on the missed FG) and Rashean Mathis continues to not cover anybody, but Glover Quin was good, Josh Bynes was good, Ihedigbo was much improved (although he got nailed for an iffy late hit penalty), Ansah was good as usual, and Ngata looked like the perennial Pro Bowler he was (in spots, not all game). They managed to pick Manning once and returned a fumble for a TD, although that was negated by the refs initially making the wrong call. Like I said, the defense was adequate, but no one was GREAT. The defense had 2 Pro Bowlers last year (should've been 3, DeAndre Levy was robbed again), but aside from Quin, no one on the defense is near that level right now.

The offense is BAD. We've already covered the line and Stafford. The run game hasn't done anything since game 1. The line sucks at run blocking, but the run game often takes a while to reap larger gains. The Lions' best RB by far is Ameer Abdullah. He's gotten 21 carries through 3 games. That's an average of 7 carries a game. How are you supposed to establish a rushing attack if you only give your best RB the ball 7 times? Additionally, the Lions are under some kind of delusion that Abdullah isn't head & shoulders above the rest of their RB corps. I like Joique Bell and he's a great story, but he doesn't deserve to get equal or more carries. The way they're holding Ameer back reminds me a bit of Lawrence Frank's refusal to promote Andre Drummond to the starting lineup. Let him loose already. The Lions have run 134 passing plays and only 51 running plays. That's a 72/28 split. They need to strive for something closer to a 60/40 split, but that would require more patience than I think they have.

This brings me to Lombardi. I'm starting to suspect that he draws up a game plan without any consideration to what the other team is going to do. We knew 2 basic things about Denver's D: they rush the QB well, and they have good pass coverage. There are plays you can call that turn those strengths into weaknesses, but Lombardi called very few of those plays. Most of the runs were designed to go between the tackles instead of outside, where they could exploit the gap created by a strong pass rush. The passing game was a bit more successful, but I thought they could've done a better job of starting out with shorter crossing routes to get rid of the ball sooner, and then incorporating longer routes as the offense got going. Nothing the offense did threw Denver off guard or made them adjust their game plan.

In fact, Lombardi has NEVER drawn up a game plan that had an opposing DC scratching his head. If Caldwell has any ambitions to beat the odds and make the playoffs after starting 0-3, his best bet is to fire his OC and take over the play-calling. Lombardi was pretty bad last year (his first season calling plays), but
Caldwell was reluctant to publicly assign any blame for the team's 0-2 start. I wonder if his tune will change now that the Lions are in desperation mode and their high-powered offense has yet to catch fire.


I realized I failed to post about my half marathon, which was 2 weekends ago. My bad.

I went into the race having JUST crammed in some barely-adequate training, but I felt confident that I could finish without having to walk. Based on my pace and how I finished my 10 mile run, I thought a reasonable expectation for my half marathon was 2:05:00, which is about a 9:30 mile pace. My pie-in-the-sky GOAL was under 2 hrs, which is closer to a 9min mile pace.

The actual race was in Lansing, the
Capital City River Run. It started by LCC, near the park where Common Ground takes place. It was a slightly tardy start (I was could see the clock and was counting down), probably 30 seconds or so after 8am. We ran up Michigan Ave through MSU's main drag, heading East with the rising sun directly in our faces. I was wearing a Batman Under Armour t-shirt that my sister had gotten me for my birthday, so I had a few randoms cheering me on. Everbody loves Batman.

I was running a few steps behind the 9min Pacer Guys for the marathon. If you've never run a road race before, the larger ones have a pace team that run (supposedly) a set pace so you can match speeds and hopeful make your goal time. This race had four pacers for every pace at 30 sec intervals, two pacers for the marathon and two for the half. The 9min pacers for the marathon were running a bit faster, maybe an 8:40 pace or so.

We turned the corner at Hagadorn and I saw my folks for the second time on the path (they were yelling & ringing cowbells, so they were easy to spot). From there the track turned down the river trail, which was a really nice place to run. It was away from traffic, the surface was better than the roads (which are pot-holey), and there was plenty of shade and nice scenery. I passed the 6 mile marker at about 52 min, which was still an 8:40 mile pace.

My wife & daughter were supposed to cheer me on at the 9 mile mark, but I was running faster than predicted & I'd given my wife terrible directions. They probably missed me by 3-5 minutes. I started to slow a bit around then, and definitely was running slower by mile 10. I saw my folks for the third time with about half a mile to go. My dad chose to encourage me by saying, "You're gonna beat 2 hrs if you don't die!" I finished with a bit of a kick and clocked an official time of 1:58:12, which is a 9:01 mile pace. I nailed my goal.

I haven't run since, but I'll get a run in tomorrow. My feet were/are pretty banged up and my legs were achy all last week. I've got a 10K to run in mid-November and I'm planning to run the Lansing Turkey Trot again, so no slacking off!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Lions disappoint and I'm running again

Calling the Lions' loss to the Chargers "a tale of two halves" is a bit disingenuous. That phrase is becoming trite, but it is used to refer to a game where a team dominates one half and then falls off in the other. The Lions started falling off well before the end of the first half, so saying they won the first half, while technically correct, doesn't tell the real story.

The Lions' offense AND defense were clicking up until the midway point in the 2nd quarter. They were leading 21-3, thanks to a nice opening drive, a Glover Quin pick-6, and an Eric Ebron 18-yard catch at the end of a short, 4-play drive. The defense was putting great pressure on Rivers and things looked well in hand. San Diego responded with a WAY too easy 80-yard drive during which the Detroit defense looked absolutely hapless, especially up the middle. 21-10. Detroit went 4 and out. San Diego was poised to score again at the end of the half, only Rivers threw a bad ball in the end zone and Slay came down with it. Despite going into the locker room with a two score lead, I did NOT feel good about where Detroit was in this game.

The second half was more of the same. The Lions continued to flounder and failed to get their feet under them until it was too late. Stafford had been pretty crisp in the first half. After taking a hit, which injured his arm and led to an INT, he seemed to be inconsistent and made poor throws. The offense was basically shut out in the 2nd half, save one TD at the end of the game. The defense was so porous it could've been a pumice stone.

This defense NEEDS DeAndre Levy. I don't know what San Diego figured out that limited Detroit's pass rush, but they need to figure out how not to be so solvable. Rashean Mathis and Ihedigbo had terrible games which didn't help, but Teryl Austin never figured out how to turn the pressure back on, how to cover the middle of the field, and how to stop Keenan Allen. With Levy gone, who are the playmakers on this defense? Ansah, maybe Slay and Quin?

I liked what I saw from Ameer Abdullah, on kick returns, in the passing game, and on the ground. If anything, the Lions didn't go to him enough. They CERTAINLY didn't go to Calvin Johnson enough, who only had 4 targets and 2 catches. OC Joe Lombardi continues to not impress me a whole lot with his play calling. I'm sure his scheme could work really well, but the mix of plays isn't very inventive. He needs to figure out a way to get Calvin the ball. I didn't happen to notice if he continued his "run on first down" tendency from last year, which probably indicates that he improved there, but the Lions had serious problems on 3rd down. The fault of that lies primarily with Lombardi.

It's a bit early to start shoveling dirt on the Lions' 2015 season. Maybe Levy returns soon and everything is ok on D. Maybe the offense starts to gel as Ebron (only one drop, but it was a bad one) and Lombardi develop. Maybe too many guys just had a bad game, all on the same day. But there are some legit causes for concern here. The defense needs to figure out how to stop people. The offense has to put more than 21 points on the board. The NFC North is a tough division, and the Lions are in trouble if they spend most of their time patching holes instead of gelling.


I ran the Detroit Marathon in 2013, which was a life-long goal. Well, running any marathon was a goal, as long as I finished. Anyway, the plan was to stay in decent running shape and be able to run another one at some point. Unfortunately, I tore my hamstring in 2014 and REALLY got out of the habit of running 4-5 days a week. I managed to get into enough shape to run a 10k and a 5k after I'd healed, but the damage was done. I wasn't living the runner's life anymore.

I decided to sign up to run in a half marathon as a way to motivate me to get into shape. As weeks ticked by, I was still only running about twice a week and making little headway. Recognizing my peril, I knuckled down in the final month. It was awful. I was forcing myself to run longer distances than I was prepared for, just to get the miles in. When I attempted my 8 mile run two weekends ago, I had to stop and walk twice for a total of about 1 mile. Everything changed last week.

Needing to complete a longer run, I ran for longer distances during the week. I pulled off two 5-milers, including one early Saturday morning at Wheatland, which was super hilly. I wasn't able to get the dreaded 10 mile run in until around 8pm on Sunday, after returning from the music festival and getting my daughter to bed. This is NOT an ideal time to run. It's dark by 8pm now, and Hines Drive isn't exactly "well lit" (or even "at all lit"). Anyway, my goal was to run a sub-10min mile pace, but the main goal was to finish the run without having to walk. You get the idea.

The first 4 miles were fine, nothing spectacular, but I got through them. Then somewhere between mile 4 and mile 5, something clicked. I hit a rhythm that I felt like I could keep up forever. I reached the halfway point at right about 49 minutes, which is a 9:48 mile pace for you math-challenged people (Side note - I had left with a full water bottle strapped to my back and two gel packs in a pocket, but I'd dropped and broken the water bottle after 2.5 miles and I had to hold it in my hand the rest of the way).

There was a bit of a hitch around the 6.5 mile mark. I glanced up and saw a skunk right by the path, not 10 feet away. Normally I'm more observant, but it was around 9pm by then and pretty dark. I could tell the tail was up, so I sprinted past before the thing had a chance to spray me. By the 7 mile mark, I had that feeling that every runner dreads more than anything else - the impending need to go #2. After another half mile, I'd resolved that I couldn't make it home and would need to stop in the public restroom located somewhere in between the 8 & 8.5 mile mark. Feeling more and more anxious, I was relieved to see the lights on. Unfortunately, the doors were locked, and my repeated attempts to shoulder past the deadbolt were unsuccessful. I briefly considered dropping trou and expressing my displeasure next to the facilities, but rejected that notion as being super gross. So, I unclipped the belt that was supposed to hold my now-broken water bottle, relieving the pressure on my lower intestine, and continued onward. The whole non-potty break probably delayed me a couple of minutes.

The desire to get home quickly without soiling myself was extra motivation, but removing the belt relieved a lot of the pressure I was experiencing, so I'd like to think I'd have finished at a similar pace regardless. I finished my 10 miles with a kick at the end, clocking in at 1:34:53, or about a 9:29 mile pace. Had I not been delayed by the unsuccessful bathroom break, I might have managed a 9:15 pace.

The big race is this Sunday, and I feel more prepared than I deserve. A realistic goal would be to finish in 2 hrs, 5 min, but I'd like to shoot for under 2 hrs. I think I can pull it off, if my bodily functions don't betray me.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Utah 24, Michigan 17

I haven't posted about Michigan in a while because, frankly, the Harbaugh Mania was a little strong for me. About 99% of it had absolutely nothing to do with football, and most of it was really ridiculous. I was excited as the next guy about Harbaugh coming to Ann Arbor to coach Michigan, but that didn't make me want to write about how he once put Gatorade on his cereal or what crazy thing he said in his Twitter feed. So I decided to wait until I had actual FOOTBALL to talk about before I posted anything Michigan-related.

Last night's game in Utah was a tough matchup. Utah beat Michigan soundly in Ann Arbor last year. The Harbaugh Effect was supposed to help (last year's team was a disaster), but there were plenty of built in excuses. Utah is at a high altitude, giving the home team an extra advantage. Utah is a good team, and Harbaugh was bringing along a LOT of new people. I HOPED Michigan would win, but I didn't really expect much and Michigan delivered on that expectation... not much.

The quarterback play was pretty mediocre, and that might be a generous assessment. On one hand, Jake Rudock seemed to have all the throws you need to be successful in this offense. At times he looked very crisp. He had a couple of passes for a first down that were tight and perfectly placed, and the TD pass to TE Jake Butt was a thing of beauty. At other times he was inaccurate and made bad decisions. The obvious thing to point out would be Rudock's 3 picks, which absolutely killed Michigan's chances in this game. I could excuse the first INT as a miscommunication. Rudock thought the receiver was going to run an out and instead he ran a stop. Whoops. The second INT was a bad throw. BAD. The third was a telegraphed 5-yard out to the sidelines, which is a pass that gets the opposing DB so slobbery-excited that they drop the pick half the time. He didn't though, and took it to the house. Bad decision on Rudock's part. The worst throw that wasn't a pick was probably a Tebow-esque "jump pass" that Rudock put at his RB's feet from about 10 yards away. While Tebow's version was successful, "Tebow-esque" isn't a made-up adjective that I'd like associated with my QB. He also missed badly on a couple of easy deep passes, either of which would have flipped Michigan's fortunes in this one.

I was actually encouraged by what I saw from Rudock. While I expected him to be better overall, he showed flashes of a greater ability. If he can clean up the mistakes, he could be pretty good. That's a big "if", but I think we probably saw a BAD game from Rudock, not a TYPICAL game.

There was much to be desired from the running game/offensive line. Michigan struggled to get anything going on the ground. Either the hole was non-existent, or the RB wasn't making the right reads. This will have to get better if Michigan wants to make a bowl this year. I would say that the pass-blocking was a bit better than it was last year, when Gardner had until about 2-Mississippi before he was running for his life. They only gave up 1 sack, and Rudock usually had enough time to get a throw off. Still, the LT had trouble maintaining his block at times, and there was pressure up the middle that caused several of Rudock's passes to be released earlier than he would've liked. Only 1 sack, but he took some hits.

This is the part of the game that concerns me the most. The line was by far the team's weakest point last year. It probably isn't anymore, but that run game HAS to get better and the pass protection is going to totally dissolve against MSU & OSU if it doesn't improve.

The defense was solid, but not spectacular. Well, PARTS of the defense were spectacular. Jabrill Peppers looks every bit as good as advertised. Chris Wormley and Mario Ojemudia looked good in spots as well. As a unit they weren't totally cohesive and missed some tackles, but I liked how they sniffed out the screen passes, and they might've had another sack or 2 if the opposing QB hadn't been a frickin' giant. They did manage to get a pick (I don't remember that happening, to be honest), but the coverage was iffy most of the game. Utah moved the ball with relative ease. They only gave up 17 points on D, but if Utah had converted their 2 missed FGS it would've been a less respectable 23 points instead.

The defense will be okay. It won't be a classic Michigan defense that crushes its enemies, sees them driven before it, and hears the lamentation of their women, but it'll be okay. Overall, Michigan looked like a middle-of-the-road team. Not really good, not really bad. They'll have more growing pains at first than the class of the Big Ten, which makes them a little hard to evaluate. A lot depends on the QB. If this was just Rudock stumbling a bit out of the gate, it's not a big deal. They might win 8 or 9 games. If Rudock continues to stumble and that running game never comes around, they'll be lucky to win 6.