Apropos of nothing

>> 8.22.2009

Quick update: I’m still working on the SFE (UFR) of the offense vs. Atlanta, but there’s no way I’m missing out on watching the Great Lakes Classic.  I’ll be Tweeting throughout, though, so be sure to follow @lionsinwinter for more!  Storylines of note:


sifting through the embers: Defense vs. Atlanta

>> 8.20.2009

I’m still experimenting with the best ways to deeply analyze Lions games, but, well, there are already games for me to analyze!  I’ve looked and looked and thought and thought and tried to come up with something AMAZING that’s never been done before,  but there’s only one way of analyzing games that really compels me: MGoBlog’s Upon Further Review.   Brian breaks down every single play, with down, distance, formations, etc.  So, with another round of apologies to him, I’m going to go ahead and rip it off.  Here we go:

F201-10I-FormBase 4-3PassDeep R (Henry)inc
The Falcons, aggravatingly, attempt to repeat their shock-and-awe approach from 2008.  Anthony Henry's right in Michael Jenkins's hip pocket, though, and this one falls incomplete.
F202-10Trips LeftBase NickelPassPenalty, offsides (Cohen)+5
A hard snap count draws Landon Cohen offsides.  Ryan throws it into the stands.
F252-5Single 3-WRBase 4-3RunIso R (penalty, offense)-2
The TE motions back to an offset fullback/H-back spot, and Turner runs behind him.  Cohen is sealed off with a double-team; Hunter drags Turner down from behind.  Jenkins is called for an away-from-the-play block in the back, though, and the ball moves back.
F222-8Single 3-WRBase NickelRunDraw (Hicks)+4
The alignment shows pass, and the draw's well-executed.  White is going for the sack, and Turner slides past him.  The defense closes up at the second level, though.  Lamarcus Hicks comes up and makes the play.
F263-4Single 3-WRBase NickelPassShort R (Sims)+7
Ryan takes a very quick drop, and fires it to Gonzalez on an out route.  As Sims wraps him up, T-Gonz stretches out for an extra yard.  First down.
F331-10Single 2-TEBase 4-3RunOff-tackle (Cohen, White)-1
The left TE screws up big time, releasing into the flat on a run play.  White comes in untouched, Cohen beats his man inside, and Hunter holds the edge.  Turner is stuffed just past the 31.
F312-11Trips LeftBase NickelPassNaked Bootleg+2
The offensive line run blocks to the right, but Cohen aggressively runs right-er, beating his man inside and getting a clear shot at Turner--only Turner doesn't have the ball; it's a play-action.  Ryan rolls left and underthrows Jenkins short.  Jenkins goes to the ground to get it, and Buchanon sticks him right there.
F333-9Single 3-WR GunBase NickelPassThrowawayinc
From the shotgun, Ryan has time, but nothing's open yet.  The DL gets a little push--especially White, who's beaten his man inside with a power rush.  Ryan slides left, buying time, but White spins and comes free. Ryan throws it away.  Great coverage.
First drive: 7 plays , 13 yards.  Cohen and White are looking great; Hunter's holding his own.  Hill's just taking up space.  Both corners are looking really sharp; not much out of the linebackers yet.
F231-10Single 2-TEBase 4-3RunIso R (Hicks)+3
Falcons get tricky by splitting FB Ovie Mughelli wide, then motioning him in.  After some communication, Henry stays outside, and Hicks follows the FB motion; he's now in an LB position.  Sims is lined up between Cohen and Hunter.  At the snap, Hicks blitzes, comes through clean, and gets Turner's ankles.  Foote helps cover up.
F262-7Single 3-WRBase NickelRunTrap R (Turner)+10
Hill is double-teamed by the right tackle and guard; he's neutralized.  Sims shoots the gap, but is taken out by the left guard, who pulled.  Hunter sheds the TE, but can't get Turner with one arm.  Pearson flies in and whiffs.  Hunter recovers and brings Turner down.
F361-10Single 2-TEBase 4-3PassShort L (Buchanon)+11
Roddy White motions into the slot, vacating the outside. At the snap he and the TE flare to to the sideline and hash, respectively.  Ryan hits White five yards downfield; Buchanon pops him right there.  White initially keeps his feet, then stumbles forward a few yards before falling out-of-bounds.  White got a little pressure.
F471-10Inv. WishboneBase 4-3RunSilliness-1
Offense lines up with what announcer calls "inverted wishbone", FB behind TE and RB.  TE motions to TE spot.  Lions send two; the Falcons pick them up, but leave DeWayne White untouched again.  Fake give to FB, then actual reverse to Roddy White.  DeWayne sniffs it out and nearly stuffs Roddy.  Roddy runs back to the 34 to escape, then turns it up.  Buchanon makes the stop around the original LoS.
F472-10Single 3-WRBase NickelPassShort R (Pearson)+6
Another quick dropback-and-throw; no blitz and no pressure.  Roddy White runs a 5-yard out from the slot; Pearson makes a GREAT open-field tackle.  Crappy spot gives the Falcons a free yard.
L483-4Single 3-WR GunBase 4-3PassMiddle Middle (Sims)+8
Lions flash blitz with Sims and Foote (?); Sims drops back at the snap.  Good protection; no pressure.  Ryan hits Finneran across the middle.  Sims sticks him there, but Finneran falls forward for another yard or so.  First down.
L401-10I-Form 2-TE4-4-3(?)RunTrap R (nobody)TD
Four down linemen, and either it's the base back seven or the 4 LB/1CB/2S alignment we'd heard about.  Hunter is set very wide, and is handled by the TE. The RT seals off Hill while the RG pulls.  The RG manages to block both linebackers, and Turner hits the hole cleanly.  Hicks whiffs, Pearson whiffs, off to the races, touchdown.
Second drive: Touchdown, 3-7, 7 plays, 77 yards.  Pearson is the hero once, but the goat twice.  Falcons are neutralizing pressure with 3-step drops.  Coverage still looks very good.  They're running at Hill, with trap blocks and great success.
F121-10I-Form 2-TEBase 4-3RunCounter L (penalty)-6
Ryan and Turner out, Redman and Norwood in.  Lions's ones still out on D.  Again with the FB split wide; this time he motions to his usual spot, leaving only Finneran at WR.  Sims is up between the DT and DE again.  Falcons' OL run-blocks right, except LT who releases to the second level, again allowing White in untouched--but this time, Mughelli makes the chip on White and slows him.  Cohen gets great penetration, and is held (and it's called).  Pearson gets there too, forcing Norwood to abadon the intended hole.  He bounces it out, where Buchanon drags him down.  GREAT execution, penetration, disruption, tackling, etc. after that horrifying lapse.
F61-16Offset I, 3 WRBase 4-3PassShort R (Peterson)+3
The RT and RG double-team Hill, and while both DEs get good initial burst, Turner's taken out by the running back.  White's speed move forces Redman to slide to his right, though. He hits WR Justin Peelle just shy of the original LoS; Peele's immediately hit and driven back by Julian Peterson.  An Illegal Shift penalty is called, but declined.
F92-13Single 3-WRBase 4-3PassShort M (King, Peterson)+7
Booker, lined up wide, motions into the slot behind Roddy White.  At the snap, Cohen and DeWayne White stunt, which pushes the pocket up a bit but Ryan just dumps it off to Booker underneath.  Eric King is the first of several Lions to pile on Booker.
F173-5Single 3-WR GunBase NickelPassShort Middle (Henry)+3
NOW we get a little Guntherball.  This appears to be straight man nickel against a three-wide Shotgun, but when the slot WR motions and the nickel corner (King) doesn't follow, Redman knows something's up.  At the snap, both Sims and King blitz up the same gap; Norwood takes out King, but Sims comes free.  Redman fires it to his hot route, Booker, but Henry immediately brings him down well shy of the marker.
Third drive: 3 plays, 5 yards.  This is exactly the kind of thing we want to see.  Relentless run- and pass-blitzing, hurrying the QB, stuffing the line.  It's worth remembering this was still the Lions' complete first unit, versus a mix of ones and twos for Atlanta.
L461-10I-form 2-TEBase 4-3PassNaked Bootleginc
Chris Redman in at QB.  Same naked bootleg as before; OL run-blocks left, double-teaming Cohen.  Play-action to Norwood; Redman rolls out. The TE releases from DeWayne, who streams for Redman, Redman wobbles a duck well short of . . . Robert Ferguson?  He's not on the ATL roster ATM . . . heh. 
L462-10Inv. WishboneBase 4-3RunDelay (Cohen, White)+2
Odd formation; camera doesn't cut to it until after the snap--but it looks like that three-back formation from earlier.  It's a draw to Norwood, who's essentially consumed by White and Cohen just after the line.  Legs keep churning for another yard-ish.
L443-82-back, 2-WR GunBase 4-3PassShort Middle (Roberson)+11
From a 2-back shotgun set, the Lions get good pressure.  Cohen pushed his man to the outside, while White went first outside, then spun in.  Hunter beat his man almost cleanly to force the throw.  Unfortunately Roddy White was wide open in the middle of the field.  Nice open-field bringdown by Roberson, though.  First down.
L331-104-WR bunchBase nickelRunToss Sweep (Henry)+3
Tricksy!  Initially, this appears to be a 5-WR set, but one of them is Norwood and the WR just outside the RT is a TE.  Norwood motions back to the tailback spot. At the snap, the TE tries to seal Hunter, and the RT pulls.  Hunter pushes the TE back enough to nearly make the play, but Norwood eludes him.  The pulling tackle murders Eric King; Anthony Henry pulls Norwood over the sideline before he can hit the corner--and paydirt. 
L302-7I-Form 2-TEBase 4-3(?)RunCounter L (Cohen, Pearson)+1
Tough to spot the alignment.  Peterson is up between Cohen and White.  All LB run to their gaps.  The FB picks up Peterson, Norwood hunts for daylight inside but runs into Cohen, who rips his damn hat off.  Pearson cleans up.
L283-6Single 4-WR GunBase NickelPassMiddle Middle (Pearson)inc
From the gun, Lions keep 4 DBs along the first-down line, then blitz everybody else.  Pearson comes through clean, Redman tries to hit the TE up the middle, but Henry (lined up at safety) is all over it.  Incomplete.
L284-6Field Goal  Field GoalFG
Fourth drive: 6 plays, 18 yards, FG, 3-10.  Cohen and White are really getting it done.  Hunter is again holding his own out there.  Hill still invisible.  Starting to see a pattern: bringing the heat on third down.  I like it.
F141-10Single 3-WRBase 4-3PassPen., 5 yds. (Avril)+5
Twos are in on D; Redman in at Q for ATL.  Cliff Avril, pumped to get out there, jumps way, WAY offsides.
F191-5Single 2-TEBase 4-3RunOff-Tackle (Levy, Roberson)+7
Falcons' OL run-blocks, I guess right?  Norwood takes it off-tackle left and finds a big hole between Avril and Smith.  Decent read-and-react by Levy, who comes from the right "A" gap all the way outside. First down.
F261-10I-Form 2-TEBase 4-3PassNaked Bootleg (Francis)inc
Here's that play-action naked bootleg again.  Avril gets good penetration, but Redman rolls away from him, Ikaika Alama-Francis (playing LE) sniffs it out all the way; Redman is forced to put it in the stands to avoid Five-O.
F262-10Single 3-WRBase Nickel(?)PassShort middle (Levy, King?)inc
Lions bring the nickel back (?) and mike (Levy?); drop Avril back into short zone.  Both blitzers come through clean; Redman gets rid of it, incomplete.
F263-102-back, 3-WR GunBase NickelPassShort L (Roberson)+3
Fantastic coverage.  Smith is double-teamed and goes nowhere, Avril gets a little heat, then chipped, but Redman goes through his whole progression and comes up empty.  He scoots up the middle, not wanting to run, finally dumps it off to Norwood for a couple.  Great stop.
Fifth drive:  5 plays, 12 yards.  Avril is fast, but overeager.  Smith looks good when single-teamed but not when doubled.  IAF showing a little something!  Coverage continues to be good.  Who are those guys back there?
F331-10Single, 2-TE, 2-WRBase NickelRunPower R (Avril)+3
D.J. Shockley & full twos in for ATL.  Initially WRs are bunched, then one motions to the other side, taking Roberson with him.  In the excitement over first handing off to Chris Snelling, and then faking a reverse, nobody remembered to block Cliff Avril.
F362-7Single, 3-WRBase NickelPassMiddle Middle (Levy)inc
Great protection by the Falcons. Smith is double-teamed, the TE stays on Darby, and the RB helps with IAF--Avril is the only DL without two bodies on him.  Shockley throws low to Weems along the hash--but the ball hits the turf first.
F363-72-RB, 3-WR GunBase NickelPassPen., 15 yds (Darby)+24
IAF is just a hair offsides, and gets called for it (though it’s declined).  Shockley hits Weems again; too much cushion by Roberson.  Roberson closes and brings him down with some (unknown) help.  Darby is flagged for a face mask, tacked on to the end of the play.  Gross.
L401-10Single, 2-TEBase 4-3PassPI (King), deep right+39
Horrifying.  The Lions send two blitzers, but it's a play-action.  Shockely's pass for Ferguson in the end zone is spot-on, but King's arm-barring, not-looking-for-the-ball, and elbow-to-the-face coverage thankfully breaks up the play.  Darby commits another stupid penalty, but that's obviously declined.  Spot it on the one.
L11-GGoal lineGoal lineRunBlast R (nobody)TD
The DTs actually hold the line, but Snelling follows his blocking and finds a seam.  Bad camera angle for picking out the culprit. Touchdown.
Sixth drive: 5 plays, 77 yards, Touchown, 10-23 Falcons.  Almost all of that was stupid penalties.  King not impressive.  Darby needs to knock that crap off.
F321-10I-Form, 2-TEBase 4-3PassMiddle R (Schweigert)Inc.
Quick drop.  Good protection at first.  Shockley pump-fakes, which gives Francis enough time to shed his block and put a hand in Shockley's face.  Stuart Schweigert jumps the route and breaks up the pass.
F322-10Single, 3-WRBase 4-3RunTrap R (Smith), Holding-10
Falcons pull the right guard and send him to lead the tailback between the left guard and tackle.  Lions LBs run upfield to help fill the gap, and Jennings cuts back.  Smith drags him down from behind.  Holding called on ATL.
F222-20I-Form, 2-TEBase 4-3PassShort Middle (Schweigert)inc
Darby and Avril stunt, and both get great penetration. Shockley is forced to pull down and run for daylight.  He sees Chandler Williams open down the seam, and fires one over his head.  After Williams jumps for it, Schweigert blows him up for good measure.  I'm digging the way Stu plays the game.
F223-204 WR Bunch GunBase NickelRunDraw (Roberson)+7
Nicely-executed draw; Jennings shows some wiggle, but Roberson brings him down well short of the marker.  Punt.
Seventh drive: 3 plays, -10 yards.  Good mix of coverage, pressure, and Shockley's inaccuracy makes this "drive" go backwards.  Critical victory at this juncture in the game.
F131-10I-Form, 2-TEBase 4-3RunIso R (Schweigert)-1
Schweigert comes right up to the line and run blitzes; incredibly he dodges the fullback and still wraps the tailback's ankles.  Loss of two (Schweigert informs the referee where he got him).  Stu is absolutely everywhere in this game.
F122-11Single, 3-WRBase NickelPassShort Rinc
On second-and long, the Lions bring what looks like everybody.  The pocket is pushed back, but Shockley still has a small bubble of protection.  He gets rid of it, again too high and too fast.  Incomplete.
F123-112-RB, 3-WR GunBase NickelPassMiddle L (Levy, Bing)+15
Argh.  Here's a familiar sight.  Destroing the offense on first and second down, then allow an easy completion.  Avril got great pressure (and face-masked, no call), but it wasn't enough to keep Shockley from shooting fish in a barrel.
F271-10I-form, 2-TEBase 4-3RunIso L (Schweigert)+2
The Falcons run to the left, but the fullback fails to open anything up.  Seeing daylight to the right, Jennings cuts back--but Stu Shwiegert was there, and dropped him in the open field.  Stu suggested a ball spot, but was ignored.
F292-8I -form, 2-TEBase 4-3RunTrap R (Robinson)+9
With everyone up on the line, it's hard to stop the run.  The Falcons run Jennings to the right, and a TE and the LG pull to help clear the way.  Jennings waltzes throught the back seven, until Ramezee Robinson caught up with him.
F381-10Offset I, 2 TEBase 4-3RunIso L (Darby, etc)+2
Darby, Smith, etc. do a good job of clogging the line.
F382-8Single, 3-WRBase 4-3RunPower L (Smith)+2
They tried running at Darby, but there was nothing there.  Jennings cut back and was EATEN by Shaun Smith.
F393-62-RB, 3-WR GunBase 4-3PassMiddle R (James)inc.
Shockley takes a 3-step drop and fires to Weems, who's running a short post.  The pass is high, and bounces off Weems's hands.  James was in decent position to make a play.  Punt.
Eighth drive: 8 plays, 26 yards.  Shockley's killing them with incompletions.  Smith seems to be great against single teams, but stuffed by doubles.  Schweigert is making a real case to make this roster.
F461-10I-Form, 2-TEBase 4-3RunIso R (Levy)+12
Shockley out, John Parker Wilson in.  Simple run to the right; Lions DL stuffs it at the line, and (I think, film problem) Levy comes around from behind and gets him.
F472-9I-Form, 3-WRBase 4-3PassRollout Short R (Schweigert)+11
Wilson does a play-action to the tailback running right, then rolls to his left and floats one to the FB, Verron Hayes.  Hayes rumbles for a first down, and is stopped by--who else?--Schweigert.
L421-10I-Form, 2-TEBase 4-3RunIso R (Robinson)+5
Ugh.  Lions run blitz every linebacker, but the tailback, Thomas Brown, follows his lead, and picks through the traffic.  Nearly the entire front seven had a crack at him and whiffed; Ramzee Robinson saves an even longer run.
L372-5I-Form, 2-TEBase 4-3RunPower R (Schweigert)0
Again, the Falcons try the caveman thing, and again, the Lions run-blitz the house, and again, Stu makes a play.
L373-5Single, 3-WR GunBase NickelPassShort L (Wynn)+7
Ugh.  We need this stop, but the DL gets no heat, and Wilson puts in where only Aaron Kelly can get it. Dexter Wynn has no chance of breaking it up--but does make sure to push Kelly out of bounds where he caught it.  Saving seconds will turn out to be a very, very, wise.
L301-10Quad Bunch(?)Base NickelRunStretch R+3
3 WR & 1 TE in a quad bunch?  Brown runs down the line behind a pulling guard, but the Lions sniff it out all the way.  Ramzee Robinson makes a nice open-field tackle to hold forward progress to a minimum.
L272-7I-Form, 2-TEBase 4-3PassShort R (James)+3
The tight ends release into the flat, and Wilson quickly zips one out to his right to avoid the blitz.  Will James makes the immediate open-field tackle.  This is a big third down.
L243-3Single, 3-WR GunBase 4-3RunFail (Schweigert, Kees)+1
Wow.  The Falcons try the handoff-to-tailback-and-fake-reverse thing, to no avail.  The Lions blitz 3, and--guess who--Stu Schweigert comes around and gets his ankles.  Kees comes in to mop up.
L234-3 Field Goal  Field GoalFG
Ninth drive: 8 plays, 31 yards, Field goal,  17-26.  Schweigert is going crazy, and Gunther's blitzing every down.  These announcers are seriously horrible.  The Falcons homerism is absurd.
F291-10Single, 3-WRBase NickelRunFail (Schweigert)-2
This is incredible.  Another run, another run blitz of Schweigert, and another loss of two.  Schweigert again helpfully points out the exact yard line where he feels he made the stop.  If he doesn't make the team, it's a crime.
F272-12Single, 4-WRBase 4-3RunToss Sweep R (Levy)-2
Okay, I guess the LT reported as eligible, and the guard snapped the ball, and the tailback motioned from a WR spot to his usual place . . . Long story short, they tossed it right, and Levy made a great open-field tackle.  Orien Harris BLEW UP his man, too. 
F253-142-RB 3-WR GunBase 4-3PassSack (Kees)-3
Folks, Gunther Cunningham has balls of steel.  Yes, I wrote that down right: 3-and-14, shotgun, 2 backs and 3 wideouts; Gun dials up his base defense and tells his DBs to back up a bit.  Incredibly, it pays off, as the 4-man rush gets to Wilson before the WRs can get open.  The Lions defense closes out the Falcons' offense with a sack.

So, what have we learned today?  First and foremost, The Lions stayed in a pretty vanilla alignment throughout.  As far as I could tell, we did not see the 3-3-5 nickel package, the 4-4-3 run defense, or anything else out of the ordinary—though keep in mind, I was going off the 720p TV feed, not the actual game film, so names/numbers are not always clear.

What we DID see a lot of was linebackers and safeties sneaking up—not just putting their “nose in the box”, but lining up on the defensive line, in between tackles and ends, bracketing ends, having two blitzers come through the same hole, etc.  Rumor has it that the number of blitz packages is well over forty; we probably saw five or six different blitzes out of the base 4-3 and base 4-2-5 nickel. 

For most of the first three quarters, Gunther avoided calling the blitz.  We saw it on a couple of crucial third downs, then a little more in the third quarter . . . then in the fourth quarter, the blitz was coming every single down.  As Atlanta was trying to go into a shell, put it in a cooler, and run out the clock with 2-TE sets, the Lions were bringing more and more run blitzers.  The more Atlanta tried to play it safe, the wilder Gun got in trying to disrupt them.  In the passing game, Atlanta used more max protect, too—TEs and RBs were staying in to block or chip, removing options for their quarterbacks and making life easier for the secondary.

The Lions won by a score of 27-26; the Falcons irrefutably scored 26 points.  However, that includes' Stafford’s pick-six and a mess of field goals.  The fact is that the Lions’ defense only allowed two touchdowns—and one of those was on a drive where the Lions committed 54 yards of penalties on a 77-yard drive!  As I’ve said, this is going to be a gambling, blitzing, feast-or-famine defense.  However, it looks like it might also be a good scoring defense—when it’s not shooting itself in the foot.  Lots of food for thought; a penny for yours?


disposable heroes

>> 8.19.2009

To say that I knew Charles Rogers would be a lie.

He and I are about the same age, attended Michigan State at the same time, and had some mutual friends.  In the course of hanging out with those friends, he and I hung out a few times as well.  A couple house parties, a few get-togethers, watching football once or twice.  I don’t know if he ever really knew my name then, and he certainly doesn’t now.  I’d be stunned if he even recognized me without context (i.e., the presence of those mutual friends).  That was the extent of my familiarity with him.

Still, it was surreal to see the same person—face, voice, lexicon, mannerisms—I’d hung out with, up close and personal on Outside the Lines.  It was bizarre to hear him tell Jemele Hill how his “Lamborghini living”, combined with his injuries, depression, and eventual addictions sidetracked what might have been an incredible career.  It was reassuring to see him avoid the easy outs—he wasn’t dodging questions, issuing blanket denials, or painting himself as a saint.  It was depressing to see him working hard, talking about a “comeback” that’s likely occurring only in his mind.

The NFL, as a hivemind/entity, has given up on Chuck.  You can just sense the groupthink take on him: he’s a bust, he’s a ‘turd’, he’s a stoner, he’s injury-prone; he’s been written off.  Matt Millen gave us several interesting nuggets in that interview—but foremost was this: if an NFL team believes that Chuck can help them win, they will take him.  It’s sad and ruthless, but Millen’s absolutely right.  The fact that he’s not on somebody’s roster proves that nobody in the NFL believes he can help them win.  Chuck appears to have been blackballed—and at least amongst NFL fans in general, nobody seems to care.

What a bizarre contrast, then, with Mike Vick.  Here is a man who spent six years in the NFL being almost, but not quite, an excellent NFL quarterback.  He was involved in a string of on- and off-field incidents, culminating in the discovery that he’d been funding, organizing, and personally committing dozens of violent federal felonies.  But, NFL teams still believe he can help them win--so now he’s got a million-dollar job with one of the best-run sports organizations in the world.  While there are many who believe he should have lost his privilege to play professional football, there are others who will argue that any suspension beyond his prison sentence could only be motivated by extreme racism.

Where, I wonder, is this same outcry for Charles Rogers?  Who is taking the NFL to task for casting him aside?  Is it the perception that all that “Lamborghini living” was his own damn fault?  How then, does that not apply to the choices Mike Vick made?  Vick is sometimes painted as a victim of circumstance, having been indoctrinated in a working-class, African-American subculture where illegal behavior is glorified.  Of course, I challenge anyone to explain how that would not apply to Chuck, as well.  Is it, then, the nature of the offenses?  Rogers committed crimes of dependency and sloth, whereas Vick committed crimes of passion and violence.  Could it be that Vick’s pardon comes because, if properly channeled, his flaws are usable?  That’s a level of ruthlessness I can’t possibly be comfortable with.

This all catalyzed for me yesterday, when I took my two oldest kids to the annual “Meet the Spartans” event at the Meridian Mall.  As much as I root for my alma mater, I don’t know all hundred-plus kids by face or number in August--so for most of them, I was shaking their hand and asking them their name before proffering my children’s posters for them to sign.

There was one player, an incredibly built kid.  His lean, but developed frame definitely brought the phrase “man amongst boys” to my mind.  I shook his hand—but when I asked his name, he froze; suspicion flashed across his face.  “Glenn Winston,” he replied.  I cracked a smile and said, “Sorry, I don’t know everyone by number yet,” and the tension broke.  He laughed and smiled wide, and said, “I’m sorry, I thought you recognized my face from something else.”

As he signed my kids’ posters, I remembered something I’d Tweeted not too long ago:

“Damn. Hoping this punk'd never don the Green & White again”.

I immediately felt sick to my stomach.  I’d just looked this kid—and, ripped or no, that’s what he is, a college kid—in the eye and shook his hand; yet just a week before I’d called him a punk, and complained that his future hadn’t yet swirled down the drain.  Is that really the kind of person I am?  Is that what fandom does to someone?  I’m so eager to make sure that “my” team represents me well, that I’ll wish for young man with a path to a bright future to have the door slammed in his face?  I can’t possibly be comfortable with that, either.

Unfortunately, complaining about the grand injustice of it all gets us nowhere.  The fact remains that life isn’t fair; how second, and third, and fourth chances to do it right are distributed isn’t equal in any walk of life; football is no exception.

To say there is an easy answer would be a lie.



>> 8.18.2009

Some of you may have noticed a little site tweakage here and there; this will probably continue over the next 24-48 hours as I tinker with some stuff.  Most of it’s simply look/feel/readability tweaks to keep the site looking clean.  However, there are definitely a few things I’d like to draw to your attention:

  • TLIW has partnered with Fantasy Sports Ventures, an awesome sports media company.  They own The Huddle, which has been one of my very favorite corners of the Internet for over a decade.  I’m happy to say I’m representing the Lions in their new network of NFL bloggers.  Keep your eyes peeled for collaborative content with my new brother and sister sites!  Before you ask, let me assure you: I have not sold TLIW; this is a promotional partnership that will make this site better.

  • I’ve added a much-overdue “blogroll” over in the sidebar; I’ve been beyond remiss in not linking to my fellow Lions bloggers up until this point.  Cool feature: the list automatically updates as the sites do; the most recently updated blogs float to the top!

  • I’ve also started a “links” section over there, with crucial resources for Lions fans—and football fans in general.  I’d like to highlight  the “Sports Speakers” link: it goes to AthletePromotions.com, a group that books athletes and sports figures for appearances, signings, speaking engagements, etc..  They’ve booked current Lions, like Kevin Smith and Daunte Culpepper, as well as historic Lions greats like Billy Sims and, yes, Barry Sanders.

  • I’d appreciate feedback about the ‘Story of the Game’ post I did yesterday—it sounds like it was helpful for those who didn’t see it; I think I’ll do one for each preseason game given the spotty availability and weird times for each preseason game.  Don’t worry, I’ll have some actual analysis up later today.


the story of the game: Lions 27, Falcons 26

>> 8.17.2009

It was a familiar sight: a Lions game concluding with a game-winning field goal; a lead held most of the game snatched away by a ball sailing through the uprights, as the clock ticked down to 00:00.  There was only one thing out of place in this nightmare Lions fans have lived through hundreds of times: the ball had come off of the black-shod foot of Jason Hanson, and the 27-26 come-from-behind victory belonged to the boys in Honolulu Blue.

For fans thrilled to get a glimpse of this thoroughly-turned-over roster, chomping at the bit to see the new schemes, and positively frothing at the mouth to see all three quarterbacks play, they got an eyeful—if they were patient.  Daunte Culpepper, as it had been announced, would start the game, and Stafford and Stanton would each due to receive plenty of reps.

After the defense held Atlanta to a single first down, the offense took the field.  Immediately, they did something Lions fans haven’t seen in a long time: they ran the ball, and ran it well.  Kevin Smith ran off-tackle for first 4 yards, then 7 yards.  Culpepper hit Smith on a little  swing pass, and Smith turned it upfield for eleven.  The Falcons defense was already starting to commit penalties trying to slow the Lions down.   Culpepper was flashing a little bit of his old speed—just a little bit, but it was there—scrambling to escape the rush; rolling out to make things happen. 

On a cruical 3rd-and-7, Culpepper hit Smith for another 16 yards.  Smith’s day ended there, but that was all we needed to see: Kevin Smith looked quicker than last season, but no less strong—in fact, he was hitting the hole even harder.  You can tell the offseason work with RB coach Sam Gash has really added explosion and burst to his game.  After working all the way down to the Atlanta two-yard-line, a dude named Thomas Johnson came barreling through the Lions’ line and took Culpepper down, even before he’d finished dropping back.  The Lions settled for a field goal.

Unfortunately, the Falcons answered quickly, mixing Michael Turner runs in with passes to Roddy White, moving from the Atlanta 23 to the Detroit 40 in just six plays.  Then, as we saw so often last year, the dam burst: Turner got out into the open field, and blew past both Lamarcus Hicks and Kalvin Pearson on his way to paydirt; a 40-yard touchdown run.  Immediately, I recalled something that Tom Kowalski said after the Lions drafted Louis Delmas: that long touchdown runs are often the result of poor safety play.  Of course, we can’t know if Delmas would have made that play, but we can know that if Kalvin Pearson is starting come Week 1, the Lions will be desperately looking to upgrade the position.

Culpepper’s second drive sandwiched the break between quarters--and accomplished little of significance, stalling one yard into enemy territory.  After the Falcons themselves put themselves in a hole on the first play with a holding penalty, they soon punted it right back to the Lions.  The crowd started to rev up for Stafford--but he stayed on the bench, and Culpepper came out yet again.  Aveion Cason, who would end the day with a very Casonesque 8 carries for 23 yards, got stuffed at the line.  Culpepper tried to a couple of short passes, but Stephen Peterman committed an extremely dumb 15-yarder that stalled the drive.  Atlanta took it back; while they didn’t get far, they didn’t need to to get within Jason Elam’s range.  Elam hit a 46-yarder to make it 10-3.

Now?  Finally, now?  Yes.  Now.  After a very nice 28-yard return by Derrick Williams, Matthew Stafford took the field to rousing cheers.  He got started right away, zipping one downfield to Keary Colbert—and it bounced right off his hands.  Stafford hit Derrick Williams up the seam for a quick 10 yards and first down, then Cason ran for no gain again.  After a swing pass to Cason, Stafford looked Colbert’s way again . . . and he dropped it, again.  This time, it killed the drive.  Nick Harris booted a beauty, and the Lions covered up on the 3-yard-line—but sixth-round pick Aaron Brown had lined up incorrectly, as he’d done in training camp, forcing a re-kick.

With the Falcons’ twos in, Cliff Avril apparently smelled blood; he jumped WAY offside on the first play of the ensuing Falcons series.  Jarious Norwood used his speed to convert the first down, but then the Lions’ defense stiffened up.  Nice coverage from Darnell Bing, and EMU product Chris Roberson, on successive plays forced the Falcons to punt it away.

Stafford took over again.  Working out of the shotgun, Stafford faked a handoff to Ervin, then rifled one down the sideline to Colbert for—whoa—a completion, of the 28-yard variety.  After the two-minute warning, An 8-yard run from Cason set the Lions up with a 2nd-and-2.  Stafford zipped two more passes to Colbert, neither of which Colbert managed to catch.  Stafford appeared to take it all in stride, with an almost Farvesque handclap and grin.  As announcer Desmond Howard noted, Stafford didn’t appear to be feeding Colbert, so much as he was properly executing the offense; Colbert just kept happening to be the ‘right guy’.  The ensuing Falcons ‘drive’ would quickly be interrupted by halftime. 

As Stafford took the field again, you could feel the good vibes flowing.  Stafford’s arm was as live as reports had indicated, he was placing the ball very well, he looked totally composed and poised, and was clearly having fun out there.  Then . . . the badness.

Rolling to his right to get away from a blitz, Stafford tried to force it to Dan Gronkowski near the numbers. Falcons LB Tony Gilbert read it, jumped the route, picked the pass clean, and took it to the house.  Stafford knew he’d messed up:

"(The receiver) ended up getting there, but he got there a little late. But still, it's not his fault. I've got to throw that one into the third row."
This is the kind of thing that only game experience teaches.  Schwartz can make Stafford practice throwing the ball away all he wants, but what drives the lesson home is the Ford Field crowd falling silent, while the enemy celebrates a pick-six.  Incredibly, the Falcons’ veteran kicker, Jason Elam, missed the ensuing extra point attempt.  Of course, that point wouldn’t prove to be the margin of victory or anything, so it wasn’t especially noteworthy. 

Still, Stafford went right back to it, hitting Allen Ervin for 22, hitting Eric Fowler for 21, and then—finally—hitting paydirt.  On a play action, Stafford looked deep to the left, quickly reset to the right, and zipped a gorgeous pass into the end zone, right over Derrick Williams’s far shoulder—and Williams snared it and tucked it in, beyond the reach of the cornerback, who was draped all over him.  Touchdown. 

Stafford, who’d stood tall in the pocket, and taken a real shot after letting it go, absolutely placed that ball.  It was a really, really, really nice pass.  Without the speed of the read, the quick re-set of his feet to throw to his second option, and the perfect throw in the face of the rush—without all three of those things—that’s at best an incompletion, at worst a sack.  Stafford’s final stat line: 7/14, 114 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.  Colbert’s drops would have tacked on at least another 60 yards, and, perhaps, gotten Stafford and the Lions in range for another TD.  Still, drops will happen no matter who’s throwing or catching, and we have to take Stafford’s performance for what it was: a really, really, really good rookie quarterback proving that he’s both really, really really good—and a rookie.

On the ensuing defensive series, the Lions made a mess of everything.  Chuck Darby was flagged for a 15-yard facemask on 3rd-and-7, and then Eric King was flagged for PI—to the tune of 38 yards.  The Falcons immediately punched it in from the 1, and took a 23-10 lead.

The Lions took back over on offense, and now Drew Stanton would finally have his day in the sun.  No shorts, no T-shirts, no 7-on-7.  No drills, no coaches, no air horn.  11-on-11, us vs. them, time to play football.  After Allen Ervin ran one for a couple of yards, Stanton got hit him for a 12-yard gain.  It was initially ruled that Ervin fumbled, but review proved he certainly did not.  Then, DS threw a frankly horrible interception to Jaime Winborn—but luckily, it was called back thanks to defensive PI.  Thanks to a nice mix of Ervin runs and a Stanton scramble, the Lions got back over midfield, and an Aaron Brown run for 6 put them up the Falcons’ 38.  On the ensuing play, Brown ran to the right, the—passing up what appeared to be a wide-open hole--cut back across the defense and exploded to the sideline.  He beat the incoming safety, and turned it up.  38 yards later, Aaron Brown cashed in.  As he explained it:

"The inside zone play is like the play we ran at TCU. It's not really a cutback, but just seeing all the defenders banging inside in the box, if everybody's inside, there can't be that many people on the outside. So I just went to the left.''

It showed the kind of vision, burst, and cutback ability that hasn’t been seen here since a certain Hall of Famer prowled the backfield.  Brown, obviously, isn’t nearly the player that player was—or he’d have been a top 3 draft pick instead of a sixth-rounder—but he certainly flashed NFL-caliber vision and speed on that play.

The Lions kicked off to the Falcons, and on first down Stu Schweigert made the first of many great plays.  On 2nd-and-10, the Falcons again committed holding, and again this put their offense way out of rhythm.  Ultimately they punted, and Derrick Williams fair-caught it at the 12.  After Ervin was stuffed up the middle, Drew Stanton again proved why he’s worth an NFL roster spot.  Seeing nothing, he tucked it and ran up the middle for a 27-yard gain.  After a 2-yard run by  Ervin, the third quarter came to a conclusion.

Two more Brown runs netted only five yards, and the Lions were forced to punt, just short of field goal range.  Rookie Atlanta tailback Thomas Brown was stuffed by Stu Schweigert for a one-yard loss, and then D.J. Shockley threw an incomplete pass.  Working out of the shotgun on 3rd-and-6, Shockley hit Eric Weems for a 15-yarder.  They tried to run Brown again, and again Schweigert came up to the line and made the play.  They ran Brown for three more consecutive plays, and he tallied up 13 yards and a first down, keeping the drive alive.  Back in the shotgun on 3rd-and-6, Shockley again looked to Weems, but couldn’t pull it off; Atlanta was again forced to punt.

The Lions completely misfired on this drive; a Stanton intentional grounding penalty on third down actually put the Lions back seven yards from where they started, on their own 13.  The rookie out of Alabama, John Parker Wilson, took over for the Falcons just shy of midfield.  Wilson dinked and dunked up to Lions’ 23, where undrafted rookie free agent DE Ryan Kees made a great stop on 3rd-and-3, forcing the Falcons to go to Elam again.  Elam nailed it, making the score 26-17.

Stanton took over, knowing this was his chance to flash the “gamer” skills I (and others) have been waxing rhapsodic about all offseason.  Working from the shotgun, Stanton hit D.J. Boldin for 9 yards.  Forgoing the huddle, Stanton  again helped himself out with a judicious six-yard run—and got out of bounds.  Again from the gun, Stanton hit rookie Carson Butler, who turned it up for a 24-yard gain.  Then, Aaron Brown earned himself a roster spot.  Seeing nothing, Stanton floated it to Brown as he released from his man—and Brown turned it upfield with a vengeance.  Freezing a DB with a sick stutter move, Brown turned it on and raced to the endzone—and then capped his 45-yard touchdown with a picture-perfect roundoff/backflip combination.  After sticking the landing, he got a –15 from the Zebra judge; a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that, frankly, was bunk.  Since his celebration involved no props, teammates, obvious premeditiation, or taunting, there’s absolutely no on-the-books rule against what he did.  Oh, well, it’s preseason—I’ll take it.

With the score now 26-24, it was imperative the Lions’ defense come up with a stop—and that they did, with Stu Schweigert again coming up and making a big tackle for a loss, DeAndre Levy following suit on second down, and the rookie from D-II Saint Cloud State, Ryan Kees, holding the Falcons to a single yard on third down.  The Falcons punted.

Stanton took the reigns on his on 27, down by two, with 1:36 left on the clock.  This is exactly the kind of goofy scenario that Jim Schwartz relentlessly forces the Lions to practice.  Again from the gun, Stanton hit Billy McMullen for 8 yards.  Going no-huddle, he threw an incompletion intended for Aaron Brown—then hit Brown for six on third-and-2.  On the ensuing play, the Falcons jumped offside, making it an easy 1st-and-five for Drew.  He again hit Boldin for seven, and quickly spiked the ball to kill the clock.  He went deep to Sippio on second down, but couldn’t connect.  On third-and-10 from the 47, this was it; convert or lose.  Stanton, almost predictably, called his own number.  With an 18-yard scramble up the middle, Stanton  both converted, and got the Lions into field goal range.  With a spike to stop the clock with three seconds left, Jason Hanson took the field.  Spotted on the left hash, 47 yards out, Hanson put it just inside the left upright.  Victory.  It may not count in the record books, but there’s no doubt it counted with the players, the coaches, and the fans.

There’s a lot of discussion to be had about this game, and—rest assured—we will have it.  But for now, let us bask.  We have not only one decent quarterback, but we may have three.  The two picks most widely panned—WR Derrick Williams and RB Aaron Brown—both came up huge in this game.  The protection was decent, coverage was solid, and Kevin Smith looks like he’s ready to not only repeat 2008, but take a big step forward.


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