Earlier in the week, I shamelessly prompted you all to flood me with questions via comment, email, twitter, BBM, telephone, telegraph, smoke signals, or however you else could transfer your ideas to my brain. Kindly, you folks obliged. Longtime reader Dennis voiced a question on a lot of folks' minds:
I was expecting to see a lot of Stafford-to-Pettigrew on hot routes, or as a safety relief for a rookie QB, but he was largely unnoticeable to my eye. He did not improve the running game either, but I could not always tell if he was in.
First let me say, I'm not finished with the offensive film breakdown, so I can't tell you exactly how much he was really in there. FYI, according to the official depth chart, Will Heller is actually the starting tight end. My guess would be that Pettigrew's quad injury, which kept him out of much of training camp and preseason, also kept him from actually earning the starting job. For the record, here's what Schwartz said:
"Yeah, you know there were a few times looking back at the film that we probably should’ve got him the ball. We were trying to push the ball deeper down the field and all of our tight ends were a little bit more open underneath but some of that again goes to being down and trying to catch back up in the game and it’s hard to be patient and take 5-yard gains when you need three scores in the fourth quarter."
That's a pretty reasonable answer. As we saw time and time again last season, being down by two or three touchdowns before you can open a beer means the OC might as well set his gameplan on fire. I think we'll see lots of Pettigrew in the second half of the Vikings game, once Megatron has stretched that Tampa 2 out a little bit and given him room to work underneath.
Don't forget, Pettigrew is a very effective receiver, but he's NOT an Antonio Gates or a Tony Gonzalez. You won't see him slicing down the seam and burning the defense for zillion-yard bombs. He's a 5-to-15 yard route guy, a chain-mover who's huge and has great hands. He should also be a size mismatch against the Vikes starting strongside 'backer, 6'-2" , 242 lb. Chad Greeway.
From Travis Duncan, editor of Digital Sports Daily:
Because Jim Schwartz started Stafford in Week 1, are we really to believe that Matthew Stafford is the next Peyton Manning? Are Lions fans only getting set up for a major let down by putting the entire franchise on his shoulders during his rookie year?
Wow, that's a hot potato. I guess my first response would be . . . did Bill Polian set Colts fans up for a major letdown when he put the entire franchise on the shoulders of the first Peyton Manning? When it's all said and done, Peyton will stand as the greatest quarterback ever to play--so anointing Stafford's head with THAT oil would be incredibly bold, and probably wrong.
It's apparent that Stafford has the physical tools to be as good as anyone has ever been. His arm is incredible, and he's more athletic than Manning. I've often thought that if he reaches his potential, the most apt comparison would actually be Elway . . . and man, it scares me to even put those words "on paper".
I've been round and round on this one . . . I've gone from thinking that drafting Stafford would be a critical, horrific mistake to thinking that starting him from Day 1 was absolutely the right decision. He will take his lumps--and I'm perfectly willing to accept that the Lions may win 1 or fewer games than they would have with Culpepper at the helm all year. Culpepper's out of here at the end of the year; I want Stafford to have a year of experience, a year of film, and a year of chemistry with Megatron and Pettigrew and all those guys to build on for next season.
Another from Dennis:
I hardly heard Ernie Sims's name called at all, at least not until the late hit personal foul. Thoughts?
This goes back to the fact that the defense was on its heels from the get-go. Phillip Buchanon was a surprise scratch--so, facing the most potent passing offense in football, the Lions were starting Eric King at corner, and Marquand Manuel and rookie Louis Delmas at safety. Henry played well--and even got a pick!--but it was "All Hands On Deck" to try and stop the bleeding from the opening kickoff. The Lions were playing with a bend-but-don't-break philosophy. Again, to quote Schwartz:
"On defense we knew that they were going to gain yards – points were the bottom line – we couldn’t allow touchdowns. We were poor on third down, we were poor on redzone defense and on those first two drives we allowed touchdowns on both and our offense went three-and-out right in between. You couldn’t start off the game any worse than we did."
So, all you've been hearing about all season? All that talk about Ernie Sims being unleashed, a 40% blitz ratio, taking the burden of read-and-react off of Sims' shoulders and just asking him to be a weapon up a lane? Yeah, all that stuff went away. There simply wasn't any choice; the Lions knew they simply didn't have the personnel to stop the Saints--so they tried to emphasize red zone defense, generating turnovers, and special teams excellence to keep the Saints on a long field and their offense on the short field. It almost worked. If Sims is again invisible in this Vikings game, feel free to be as concerned as you like.
From an anonymous commenter on the solicitation post:
Why do you rock so hard?Because I am secretly the Reel Big Fish.
John, from Champaign, wrote a wonderful email centered around this question:
Just wondered if you could give a quick rundown on what the game day environment is like around Ford Field on game days, and possibly how that compared to the old days at the Silverdome? For long distance Lions fans like myself that aren't from MI or Detroit, I kind of wonder what's it's like sometimes, and how the losing has affected the game day experience.
Well, I would absolutely love to give you an answer. Unfortunately, seeing the games live hasn't been something I've been able to do often enough, either. I live in the Lansing area, not Detroit--so when I've gone, it's not been the kind of thing where I tailgate all morning and then party all night. Second, when I was a little kid, spending the time and money to drive, park, eat, watch, etc. wasn't really something my mom was willing/able to do. The first time I was able to actually drive to and attend a Lions event on my own was the first training camp of the Millen era--so I can't really tell you how it used to be like in the Glory Days of Fontes and 5-11.
Honestly, the difference between the Silverdome and Ford Field, in my experience, has been that fans came to the Silverdome 80,000 strong, ready to raucously cheer for--or boo at--the home team at the drop of a hat. Now, fans come to Ford Field on a pilgrimage of quiet desperation, hanging on every moment, hoping to see something, anything positive.
I honestly think that the crowd will be going nuts at the beginning of this game--and if the Lions play well or win, it's going to be a madhouse. But if the Lions are out of it early, it's going to be a long, dreary day--and it'll be mostly Vikes fans by the bitter end.
But as I've said, I'm making a point to be there for this game--and if I have to be a one-man 12th man, then with you all as my witness, I will. If I have any voice left at the end of this game, I'll consider myself a failure.
Thanks again for all the great questions, folks—please, hit me up again whenever you want! You can email email@example.com, hit me up on Twitter @lionsinwinter, or of course just comment here!