Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet . . .

>> 11.05.2009

Hey folks, it’s Mailbag time again.  I’m going to get right to it with a great one from Scott T.:

I was watching SportsCenter tonight, and they cut to a preview segment of tonight's MNF game, with Matt Millen. For the first time, a raw emotion hit me as I listened to MM speak; loathing. I remember listening to Matt Millen, the color analyst, prior to his tenure with the Lions. My thoughts then were "he's pretty sharp, makes good points" etc, etc. Now that he has returned to that position in broadcasting, I am now POSITIVE, that he could make the same statements, prove the same points, and for me, I just want to turn the TV off, or change the channel. His words no longer are credible with me. To be honest, I haven't paid much attention to his return to broadcasting, and have never really listened until tonight. In my mind, and probably my own, Matt Millen, the NFL analyst, is now a joke, and I resent his being on TV passing his opinion on to national and even regional viewers.
This one is tough for me.  I’m always the first to defend Millen’s right to ply his trade—and like you, I enjoyed his analysis work the first time around.  I don’t think that his failure as the CEO of an NFL franchise disqualifies him from a career in broadcasting; certainly there are plenty of great players and coaches who would be terrible analysts, and plenty of mediocre players and coaches (Merrill Hoge) who are very sharp on-camera.

However, I experienced something very similar to what you're talking about a few weeks ago, when Carolina played Dallas on Monday Night Football.  After the game, the talking heads were all taking turns discussing Dallas’ situation, and Millen said “You know, someone who’s got to play better is Roy Williams.”  Within minutes of that admission, he said “You know who I’ve really been impressed with, is Demarcus Ware.”  All of a sudden, I felt an inexplicable rage: YOU DRAFTED ROY WILLIAMS!  YOU PASSED ON DEMARCUS WARE!  ROOOOOAAAAAR!

Bile rushed up my throat, veins popped out of my forehead, and my hands screwed themselves into murderous red claws.  It was a vicious, violent, Pavlovian reaction wholly beyond my control.  After the “Hulk Mad!” moment passed, I was astounded that I could get so worked up over such idle comments.  I’m sure that every NFL executive has dozens of players they wish they could have drafted, including ones they passed on in favor of another prospect they liked *this much* more.  Still, something about Millen making those statements flipped a switch in my brain that I didn’t know I had, especially not in regards to football analysis.

Once we get past the “credibility” angle, the main factor working against Millen is his job selection.  As smooth and insightful as he was in NFL booths, I think he looks awkward and out-of-place during his roundtable work on the MNF pregame/postgame shows.  Also, his college booth analysis, while not awful, lacks the insight of his understanding of the NFL—it’s someone who knows a lot about football in general “reacting” to what’s happening on the field, not an insider “guiding” you through what’s happening on the field.

Now our second question, from my boy Neil at Armchair Linebacker:

Ty, how long can I cry before I dehydrate myself?
Well, we know the human body is about 60% water. According to Wikipedia, symptoms of dehydration begin to set in after losing approximately 2% of the body's water volume, grow severe after 5-6%, and become fatal after a loss of 15%. Given a 200-pound adult male, and accounting for lost water via breathing, sweating, etc., you'd have to cry about five pounds of tears to experience severe dehydration--less depending on how much beer/whisky/turpentine/drain cleaner you've been drinking.

From commenter SomeChoi:

How do you get the energy to keep writing?
I know you're at least partially joking, but I'll answer you seriously: A) my inexplicable love for this team would have me writing on forums and Mlive and the Freep and the News anyway; this just gives all my Lions-y rambling a place to be focused, a place to live and thrive and grow and be useful.  B) I want to be there for other fans like me.  I want to give people a place where they can read and write about the Lions thoughtfully, intelligently, and without fear of mocking laughs or ignorant donkey brays.  I regularly tell commenters and emailers that their kind words give me the fuel to keep driving; I’m not lying when I say that. 
And now a more serious question, what precedent is there to expect Stafford's accuracy to improve? If missing too many wide-open receivers was his problem in college, can we really expect this to be a correctable problem?
First, you'd have to convince me that "missing wide-open receivers" was his problem.  Georgia folks have been constantly telling me that Stafford’s biggest problem at Georgia was actually his total lack of an offensive line . . . in my estimation, Stafford looks fine.  He throws with a lot of velocity, and I think it makes his less-on-target passes look more-not-on-target, if that makes any sense.  I mean, it only follows that receivers have more time to adjust to quails than to rockets. 

Part of this is just his lack of rapport with these wideouts; he spent most of the preseason and training camp running with the twos.  Johnson & Johnson were either starting or hurt throughout most of that time, and Dennis Northcutt missed the entire preseason.  It’s no wonder that they’re not sure where or when to expect his throws, and it’s no wonder that he’s not placing balls right where they need them.

In the second half of the Rams game, Stafford’s body language, throw velocity, ball placement, and facial expressions just screamed that he was trying to execute the offense SO WELL that the Lions couldn’t help but score.  He wasn’t working with his wideouts, he was trying to win despite them—of course, they weren’t doing him any favors either.  On the second-to-last drive, Stafford came to the sideline with a glowering I-can’t-believe-these-guys look on his face that spoke volumes about his opinion of his receivers’ efforts that day . . .

This is both a roster problem, and an experience problem. The Lions will have to bring in better non-Calvin wideouts, and Stafford will have to learn to work with what he’s got, instead of trying to impose his will on his teammates with overexecution.

And now, one from Lopper (which was later seconded by Matt):

Why is it that Killer and others always say that the Lions can't afford another high draft pick because they already have Calvin and Stafford with big contracts?
Well, the answer to this one is pretty depressing: since 2010 is almost certainly going to be an uncapped year, the salary cap actually has nothing to do with it.  It's that the Lions can't afford another Top 5 draft pick.  Like, in terms of money.  Yes, the Fords have a family fortune that we all imagine is effectively infinite.  However, the Lions as a business unit aren't nearly as profitable as they ought to be given their stadium and lease.

Being contractually obligated to rustle up millions every week for game checks to Stafford, Calvin, Backus, and the rest puts a big squeeze on the Lions’ cash flow.  Think about it: 40,000 tickets at their average $67/ticket is $2.68M cash coming in the door each week.  The Lions’ payroll obligations for 2009 are at $120M.  If that’s all paid out over 16 weeks in game checks, that’s $7.5M/wk.  Obviously, this is a MASSIVE oversimplification--but if the Lions are even close to operating from a week-to-week deficit, they’ll be minding their Ps and Qs this offseasons.

If they’re stuck with a Top 5 pick again, they’re probably going to be sideline sitters during this upcoming free agency period.  The focus will be on B- and C-level guys who can fill holes and play roles, instead of young veterans who’d start on a majority of teams in the NFL.  They certainly won't be backing up the Brinks truck to win the Anquan Boldin sweepstakes. On the other hand, if the Fords believe that they're one or two players away from competitiveness--and therefore, a full stadium--they might do as they've (unsuccessfully) done in the past, and spend money to try to make money.


the watchtower: lions at seahawks

>> 11.04.2009

As regular readers know, I briefly revisit the previous Watchtower piece at the start of each new one.  Let me hold my nose and . . .

Ultimately, Stafford’s return should give the Lions improved QB play over their season average. Combined with St. Louis’ horrific pass D, the Lions should still strongly outperform their averages on offense. Therefore, I’m calling the intangibles a wash, and presuming that Megatron’s presence, or lack thereof, will simply push the Lions’ performance to the high end, or low end, of my projections.
                                . . . obviously, the introduction of the new Watchtower format didn't erase my wholly unfounded faith in the Lions. It was punishing to watch the offense operate on Sunday (once I’d found a bar that had the game).  Stafford's passes weren't always perfect, but there were an egregious amount of stone cold drops--and as lifeless as the passing game was, the running game was just as moribund.

If the Lions' offense could have performed the way it did in the first few games of the season, this would have been an easy victory.  However, as's NFC North blogger, Kevin Seifert, discovered while doing the legwork that I didn’t, the Lions' offense without both Matthew Stafford AND Megatron in the game is offensive.  With Stafford and Johnson in there, the Lions have a respectable NFL offense--one that should have had no problem putting 23+ points on the Rams, as I projected they would.

However, without both the young signal-caller and his favorite target in there, the Lions’ offense is worse than bad--it’s wretched, pathetic, rock-bottom, UFL awful.  Even so, the Lions’ defense did exactly what I projected: they kept Steven Jackson from running completely wild, and they stopped the Rams’ passing cold.  In fact, let’s look at those projections, versus the actual results:

Lin Spag Ornk PgG YpA YpC Drnk PpG DYpA DYpC PTS YpA INT YpC Sack
DET STL 23rd 17.2 5.50 3.74 30th 30.1 7.83 4.30 10 5.09 1 3.85 2-6
Shrm Gun Ornk PgG YpA YpC Drnk PpG DYpA DYpC PTS YpA INT YpC Sack
STL DET 32nd 8.6 5.25 4.38 31st 31.3 7.83 4.65 17 5.89 1 5.77 0-0

I projected the Lions would get 24-27 points, 6.5 to 6.75 YpA, and 4.0 to 4.25 YpC, with medium confidence.  Obviously, the points projection was nowhere near correct, due to gaining 1.5-1.75 fewer yards per passing play than I expected.  I projected the Rams to outpace their season averages: 10-13 points, 5.60-5.80 YpA, and 4.5-4.75 YpC; these numbers were spot-on.  If the special teams TD, the fake field goal, had been a regular field goal, they’d have scored 13 points, and my projections would have been dead solid perfect (though that “36-yard passing TD” inflated STL’s YpA by .8 of a yard).

Okay, postmortem over.  Let’s look at the upcoming opponent:

The Seahawks, at the beginning of the season, appeared to be amongst the rarest of birds: a beatable road opponent. While their 2-5 record certainly doesn't change the first-glance assessment, with these Lions we take nothing for granted. First, let's break down the Lions' gradually improving defense against the Seahawks' veteran offense:

Greg Knapp versus Gunther Cunningham:

Knap Gun Ornk PgG YpA YpC Drnk PpG DYpA DYpC PTS YpA INT YpC Sack
SFO KCC 6th 24.2 7.27 4.33 19th 22.1 6.32 3.83 21 9.76 0 4.03 0-0
ATL KCC 16th 21.2 6.11 5.10 29th 27.2 8.05 4.62 10 5.12 2 5.67 0-0
SEA DET 21st 19.3 5.84 3.51 31st 29.3 7.53 4.82          

Greg Knapp is a purebred Bill Walsh Offense coach, with papers and everything: he came to the Niners as an offensive QC assistant under George Seifert in ‘95, was promoted to QB coach under Mariucci in ‘98, took over as OC in 2001.  After Mariucci’s ouster, and a year under Dennis Erickson in 2003, 49ers DC Jim L. Mora (a.k.a Jim Mora “Jr.”) left to become the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons—and he brought Knapp with him.  Knapp served as the OC of the Falcons from 2004-2006.  After Mora was run off in Atlanta, Knapp was recalled to the Bay Area by new Raiders HC Lane Kiffin, to serve under him as offensive coordinator.  Knapp called plays for the Raiders for two seasons, before rejoining Mora in Seattle.

Unfortunately, in all that time, Knapp didn’t face off against Gunther Cunningham much.  Only once did the two meet: in 2004, Knapp’s first year in Atlanta.  I’m going to include a 2000 meeting between the 49ers and Cunningham’s Chiefs, as Knapp was the QB coach of an offense he’d take over in the following season.  I have decent confidence in this data, as Knapp was a devoted Mariucci/Seifert/Walsh disciple, and he obviously was a trusted offensive assistant when this game was played.

Of course, the 2000 49ers were an offensive powerhouse: the 6th-best scoring offense in the NFL, averaging over 24 points per game. Despite featuring passing attack based on shorter routes, those 9ers averaged a whopping 7.27 YpA--evidence of their offensive efficiency, and Jerry Rice & Terrell Owens' post-catch effectiveness. More surprising was the Niners' ground effectiveness: Charlie Garner & Co. averaged a stout 4.33 YpC. On defense, Cunningham's Chiefs were mediocre: 19th-ranked, allowing 22.1 PpG. They were a little soft against the pass (6.32 YpA), but tougher to run on (3.83 YpC).

The expectationts would be that the Niners would score above their 24.2 PgG average, and be especially effective through the air. Actually, they scored a field goal below average (21 points), despite gaining a whopping 9.67 yards per pass attempt. As expected, the running game was slightly depressed on a per-carry basis (4.03 YpC)--though they pounded it repeatedly, grinding out 149 total rushing yards. These extremely close-to-norms results don't imply much of an advantage either way.

In 2004, Knapp's Falcons met Cunningham's Chiefs, this time with Gun in his second stint as KC DC. The Falcons were the median offense in 2004, with 21.2 average points, and a subpar 6.11 YpA. However, Warrick Dunn, T.J. Duckett, and Mike Vick combined for a mindblowing 2,672 yards on only 524 carries (5.10 YpC)! Meanwhile, Gunther's Chiefs were one of the worst defenses in the NFL, allowing 27.2 PpG, 8.05 YpA, and 4.62 YpC.

One would expect the to Falcons explode on the Chiefs, passing for well above average, running at their usual pace, and scoring near the Chiefs' allowed average of 27.2.  Nothing of the sort happened.  The Chiefs blew out the Falcons, 56-10.  Not only were the Falcons held well below their scoring average, their sole offensive TD was an Alan Rossum punt return!  The Falcons’ truly wimpy 5.12 YpA can be laid at the feet of one Mike Vick, whose stat line was unforgivably bad: 7-of-21, 119 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, sacked 4 times for -25 yards . . . and those stats include a 56-yard bomb. Oddly, the Falcons' rushing was actually more effective than usual, 5.67 YpC instead of the year-long average of 5.10.

Since the second data point is the exact same coaching configuration, Mora HC with Knapp as OC, as the Seahawks, I'm inclined to weight it more strongly. However, since the first data point was Jeff Garcia executing the offense extremely well, and the second featured Mike Vick executing the offense horrifically, I think the truth is between these two data points. I'm concluding that regardless of talent, Gunther Cunningham defenses disproportionately depress the scoring of Greg Knapp offenses, despite allowing typical rushing and passing per-play effectiveness.

This season, the Seahawks are the 21st-ranked offense, scoring 19.3 points a game. The per-play effectiveness of the offense isn't good: 5.84 yards per attempt, 3.51 yards per carry. Again, the YpA is depressed a little because of the offensive system, but it is what it is. Hasselbeck's QB play has been typically efficient-but-unremarkable: 55.9% complete, 9 TDs vs. 3 INTs, 87.0 passer rating.

Meanwhile, of course, the Lions defense is still 31st in scoring, allowing 29.3 PpG, 7.53 YpA, and 4.82. Given a definite talent gap and a mild systemic points-denial advantage, I expect the Seahawks to mildly overperform their season averages: 20-23 points, with 6.00-6.25 YpA, and 3.75-4.00 YpC.  I have medium-high confidence in this prediction.

Mitigating/Augmenting Influences:

I'm renaming "Intangibles", because the effects of injuries, recent trends, and coaching/roster moves are certainly "tangible". For the Seahawks, their rebuilt WR corps is matching expectations, with Burleson, Houshmandzadeh and Branch giving Hasselbeck more athletic options than he’s had in a long time. However, their offensive line is missing two tackles (Walter Jones, Sean Locklear) and a guard (Rob Sims), and they're still desperately searching for a consistent ground game—they cut their second-leading rusher, Edgerrin James, this week.

We’ve seen that the Lions’ defense can turn up the pressure—and play like they’re supposed to—when the deep passing game is disrupted; the less the Lions’ secondary factors into things, the better. If Seattle's WRs can get behind the defense before the pressure comes, the Lions will have a hard time limiting scoring to the 20-23 that I project. However, if the Lions can bring the heat before Hasselbeck can make them pay, they could hold the Seahawks to significantly fewer points.

Scott Linehan versus Jim L. Mora:

Lin Mora Ornk PgG YpA YpC Drnk PpG DYpA DYpC PTS YpA INT YpC Sack
MIA ATL 16th 19.9 5.94 3.69 18th 21.3 5.95 4.71 10 4.68 1 4.20 1-0
STL SEA 28th 16.4 5.63 3.78 6th 18.2 6.17 3.77 19 5.22 2 3.35 4-0
SEA DET 25th 16.1 5.42 3.76 14th 21.0 6.49 4.25          

Jim L. Mora, commonly called “Jim Mora Jr.”, even though he doesn’t actually share a name with his father, took over the Seahawks job from longtime coach Mike Holmgren.  Mora, like Knapp, came up as an assistant in San Francisco—though Mora had been on the staffs of the Charagers and Saints from 1985 through 1996 before signing on to be the49ers secondary coach in 1997.  In just two years, Mora was installed as defensive coordinator.  After five successful seasons in San Francisco—including three with Greg Knapp as OC—Mora was hired as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.  Mora brought Knapp along with him.  After a tempestuous tenure as Falcons’ HC, Mora returned to his native Pacific Northwest to assist Holmgren; Mora was eventually named Holmgren’s successor.

Fortunately, we have two real data points for this comparison.  UNfortunately, Mora has decided to move away from his balanced 4-3 and incorporate some Tampa 2 elements.  He hired Tampa Bay LB coach Casey Bradley to be defensive coordinator, and to begin laying the foundation for that defense.  However, Bradley has never been an NFL coordinator before, and I have to believe that Mora will have a strong hand in overseeing the defensive coaching, and probably the playcalling as well.  Therefore, I’ll include Mora’s historical data, rather than use Linehan’s numbers against established pure T2 defenses. 

The first data point is from 2005, when Scott Linehan’s Miami Dolphins faced Mora’s Falcons.  the ‘Fins were the median offense in 2005, ranked 16th, scoring 19.9 points per game.  They were balanced, but mediocre, on offense, averaging 5.94 YpA and 3.69 YpC.  Meanwhile, the Falcons weren’t any better on defense: ranked 18th, allowing 21.3 PpG, and a scary 4.71 YpC against the run.

However, the Fins failed to capitalize on the Falcons' D.  While the Dolphins did run much more effectively than usual (25 carries for 105 yards; 4.20 YpC), they only managed to score 10 points.  I’m blaming this scoring depression at least partly on the dominating possession denial by Atlanta; 41 carries for 162 yards by the Falcons left very few offensive reps for the Fins.  Still, the appalling 4.68 YpA the Dolphins put out is more than a full yard-per-play shy of the Falcons’ typical defensive performance.  It’s undeniable that the Dolphins’ O deeply underperformed in this game.

In the second matchup between Linehan and Mora, Linehan’s 2007 Rams faced Mora’s Seahawks.  Technically, Mora was not the DC for this game, but the “Assistant Head Coach/Secondary”, the typical designation for top assistants that have some input into playcalling.  However, the actual DC for this game was John Marshall--Marshall being the DC Mora worked under in San Francisco.  I’m going to call the data point good.

The Rams, as we know, weren't very good in 2007; they ranked 28th in the NFL with 16.4 points per game. They threw for 5.62 YpA, and carried for 3.78 YpC.  Meanwhile, the Seahawks were defensively excellent. They were the 6th-ranked scoring edefense in the NFL, allowing only 18.2 PpG, 6.17 YpA, and 3.77 YpC. Given the execution level of the Rams, expectations would be that they underperform their averages, probably severely.  Bizarrely, though, nothing of the sort happens—the Rams scored 19 points.  They did pass and run for notably fewer yards-per-play than usual: 5.22 YpA versus 5.63 average, and 3.35 YpC versus 3.78 average.

Noting that the two St. Louis scores were a 53-yard Steven Jackson run, and a 15-yard Isaac Bruce catch, it seems as though Jim L. Mora’s conservative 4-3 disproportionately depresses the per-play effectiveness of Linehan’s balanced offense—unless scoring can come from big plays that get behind the defense.  Given that elements of the suffocating Tampa 2 short zone-based defense have been added to Mora’s historical approach, this effect should remain in place.

The 2009 Lions offense, besides being a bipolar Jekyll-and-Hyde monster, is simply not that good. They're ranked 25th in scoring offense, with 16.1 points per game, 5.42 YpA, and 3.76 YpC. The Seahawks' D, however, is ranked 14th, with 21.0 PpG, 6.49 YpA, and 4.25 YpC.  If "Dr. Jekyll" shows up--the Lions offense that features Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and Kevin Smith all healthy and effective--the Lions should be able to push it deep and meet or slightly outperform their expectations: 17-20 points, 6.25-6.5 YpA, and 3.75-4.YpC.    I have medium-low confidence in this prediction—since if this is “Mr. Hyde”, and Johnson and Smith can’t play or are limited, it may be much worse: 10-13 points, 5.00-5.25 YpA, and 3.5-3.75 YpC.

Mitigating/Augmenting Influences:

Besides what I just said about Johnson—and, by the way, he practiced today—the real story here is the running game, featuring Kevin Smith—who, by the way, didn’t.  Smith has been running poorly ever since coming out of the Lions’ sole win with a shoulder injury; he’s looked very tentative, running with none of his old conviction.  Seahawks castoff Maurice Morris, however, ran for his life last weekend, and was much more effective.

The Lions will need either Morris to continue to run well behind the Lions’ subpar offensive line, or Smith needs to get healthy, quick.  Without a legitimate running game to keep the Lions’ offense on schedule, they are asking Matthew Stafford to win games by himself—something that he’s not quite capable of doing yet.

I’m projecting 20-23 points for the Seahawks, versus 17-20 points for the Lions.  Unfortunately, I don’t see a trip out to the West Coast, a notoriously loud crowd, and a running game that’s forcing the coach to give his tailback a public vote of confidence affecting those numbers in favor of the Lions.  The only hope for an outlier performance is the defense putting worlds of pressure on Matt Hasselbeck and forcing an un-Hasselbeckian number of turnovers.


any questions?

>> 11.03.2009

We have more questions about this team than ever after this past week, so send them to me via email (, twitter (@lionsinwinter), or even Google Wave (also!  You can also just reply to this thread. I'll do my dead-level best to get to the heart of the matter, and you'll see your name in lights here shortly.

By the way, season-ticket holders out there, use the following info to contact me about a cool potential opportunity . . .


three cups deep: resignation

>> 11.02.2009

Don't be fooled by the title!  I'm not tendering my “resignation”, merely writing about my mood this morning.  My second cup of coffee is slowly waking me up to reality: the Lions really lost to the Rams.  Moreover, they looked completely impotent.  It wasn’t just that they couldn’t score any points the Rams didn’t hand them for the first three quarters.  It was hauntingly familiar scene: linemen who couldn’t block, receivers who couldn’t catch, and defenders who couldn’t tackle.

In the theatre of the mind, the DVD one feels has been popped in is the 2002 Lions.  There’s rookie Joey Harrington trying to keep his head above water, throwing to a cobbled-together crew of stone-handed also-rans: Bill Schroeder, Az-Zahir Hakim, Scotty Anderson.  There’s RB James Stewart, a decent NFL starting back, whose inside running style is being stymied by an offensive line unable to open inside holes.  That line, of course, features Jeff Backus, Dominic Raiola, a young mammoth RT with tons of upside but questionable athleticism and instincts (Stockar McDougle), and a rotating cast of has-beens and never-wases at guard (Tony Semple, Ray Brown, Eric Beverly) . . .

The resemblance is uncanny.  However, there are a few critical differences between the ‘02 Lions and the ‘09 Lions.  Joey Harrington, then, was clearly “swimming”; in NFL-speak, that’s thinking instead of acting or reacting.  You could watch his wheels turning, watch him trying to take it all in, watch him trying desperately to slow it all down.  In 2009, Matthew Stafford looks more like he wishes he could slow it down for his teammates.  He looks like he’s trying to will his team to victory—or like he’s trying to win despite them.  It’s telling that on the Lions’ sole offensive score, Stafford called his own number.

There's another critical difference: one of the NFL’s best WRs was on the sideline.   In 2002, there was no Calvin Johnson who wasn’t able to go that day; Schroeder and Hakim were it.  With Megatron in there, Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt become valuable second and third options instead of woefully inadequate starters.  With Megatron in there, Stafford has an oasis he can go to again and again, instead of rocks in a desert.  With Megatron in there, the defense has to bend and flex soften and roll his way, opening the field up for everyone else.  

There’s one more critical difference: the defense.  Believe it or not, folks, this Lions defense is starting to meet expectations.  Many thought the Rams would finally get their passing game on track against the Lions’ woeful secondary, but 17-of-35 for 176 and 0 is not what I would call “on track”.  If you switch the fake field goal TD for, you know, a field goal, that leaves the Rams with 13 points; exactly what I projected.

Sure, they allowed 149 yards rushing to Steven Jackson—and yes, he made a lot of would-be Lions tacklers look like fools.  But Jackson’s the hardest man in the NFL to bring down, and until the closing minute he never even hit paydirt.  The fact is, a defense that holds its opponent to 13 points has done its job.  A defense that holds its opponent to 13 points, in the NFL, should expect to win.

Ultimately, that's what hurt the most: we expected the Lions to win this one.  They were favored, they’d played better throughout the year, they were at home, and this was the softest opponent on the schedule.  Winning this game would have been a solid step forward: “Hey, we were supposed to win and we did!  Good on ya, boys!”  Meanwhile, the Rams wanted to win.  Needed to win.  The Rams might not have another winnable game left on their schedule ; to them, this was the last chance they had at preventing their own run to 0-16.

The Lions probably got the Rams’ best effort all season—and if the Lions’ WRs could catch a pass, the offensive line could have blocked a little better, or the defense could have tackled a little better, the ending might have been different.  Instead, we need to collectively sigh.  We need to hang up our dreams of 7-9, our expectations of 5-11.  We need to stop thinking that the quick-fix bounceback is happening; it isn’t.  We need to resign ourselves to reality: the Lions are not good, and they’re not going to be good this season.

Let's take another swig of coffee, and open eyes: from this point forward, we're looking for sparks. We're looking for signs of growth, for evidence of progress. We need to see Matt Stafford developing, and starting to elevate those around him. We need to see Calvin Johnson get healthy and build a rapport with Stafford. Mostly, we need to see this team fight for every down, every game, all the way out--even if they don't win any.


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