Announcing: Barry Week

>> 10.20.2010

The Lions in Winter celebrates Barry Sanders, with Barry Week

Recently Brian Phillips, of and phenomenal soccer blog Run of Play, sensed a need to explore both the legend and reality of Pelé.  As Brian wrote:

I can’t shake the sense that we’re missing the boat on Pelé, that, like the Hot Fives and Sevens or The Godfather, he’s become invisible through repetition and influence. We’ve all known his name since the day the atom was split, and I wonder whether what we’re seeing when we watch him is dulled by what we already know and expect. I want to shake that off and make an effort to look at him with fresh eyes.

Thus began “Pelé Week,” an anthology of guest blog posts that explored many facets of the player, the man, the cultural phenomenon, the corporate pitchman, and the FIFA-approved International Face of Soccer that Pelé was and is.  The posts, and resultant discussions were fantastic, enlightening, revelatory—but even as I read them, I knew something similar had to be done for Barry Sanders. 

The problem with Barry is the opposite of the problem with Pelé.  Any man, woman, or child alive who has ever heard of any soccer player has heard of Pelé.  Anyone able to grasp both the concept of soccer and the concept of greatness will tell you that Pelé is the greatest soccer player of all time.  Meanwhile, Barry’s legend is as elusive as he was as a player; already he seems to be an afterthought in the discussion of great players.

His close association with the worst franchise in football has no doubt taken some of the shine off of his Hall of Fame bust.  The Lions’ lack of team success has always been used to marginalize Barry’s achievements; his “resume” will forever lack the baubles of his peers.  The national fans and media who didn’t really watch the Lions when they were mediocre with Barry, have put them completely out of mind during the past dark decade without.

Further, it’s something I’m feeling inside myself—my childhood memories of Barry are starting to do what childhood memories do: fade.  I increasingly find myself remembering my memories of Barry more than the player himself; I feel him slipping through the cracks of my mind, just as he slipped between defenders.  Further, there’s a whole new generation of Lions fans, high school and college students who never saw Barry play at all.  For them, for me, for every Lions fan—and football fan—alive, let’s remember, let’s celebrate, let’s share, let’s keep the fire burning in his honor.

Barry Week starts on Sunday.

Lions (and football) writers out there: I’ve already reached out to some of you for contributions, and have some in hand.  But if you’re reading this now, and would like to contribute something awesome, hit me up on email.


Tinderbox: Up To Eleven

The Pride of Detroit Podcast interviewed Matthew Stafford on their latest episode, which is very cool.  Stafford says he has in fact let “a couple” of passes rip at full speed, and the shoulder “feels good.”  Jerry Mallory, the host, wasn’t afraid to grill Matthew about Shaun Hill, the Giants, and the Redskins game—so check it out!

As has been reported at Mlive and elsewhere, Stafford is, in fact, taking reps with the ones throughout practice  this week.  Though, as Dave Birkett of the Free Press notes, “the ones” is a pretty loose description of what’s left when you put 18 of the active 51 on the sidelines.  51?  Aren’t there fifty-three on the roster?

No.  Tom Kowalski notes that the Lions have cut DBs Dante Wesley and Paul Pratt, leaving two empty spots.  One of those may be for recently-activated-from-the-PUP Jack Williams, but the Lions technically have three weeks before they actually need to commit a roster spot to him.  Hmm . . .

Finally, I have to give a shout-out to Jim Schwartz and John Niyo.  First to Jim Schwartz, unquestionably the most rock-savvy NFL head coach in the league—and maybe ever—comparing the Lions’ MLB position to “the drummer from Spinal Tap.”  John deftly picked up the reference and ran with it in his latest column, primarily dealing with the Lions’ penalty woes.  For those of you who haven’t seen the film, and for those of you who never tire of it, I leave you with this:

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Watchtower Review: Lions at Giants

>> 10.19.2010

This one will be fairly brief, since nobody likes a braggart, but last week’s Watchtower was almost spookily accurate:

The Lions haven't lost in the Meadowlands since 1990 (H/T: Tom Leyden, via Twitter), which is an incredible thing—but the Lions’ road losing streak is an incredible thing, too, and unless the Giants simply fail to motivate themselves for this game, I don’t see it stopping. With sadness in my heart, I must admit that the mostly likely outcome of the game is a 20-24 Lions loss.

Before the game, I took a fair bit of heat from Giants fans for predicting so close of a game—but after the fact, I nearly nailed the final score!  Unfortunately, my projection for how the Lions would get there wasn’t quite as prescient:

Given greater or equal talent, Perry Fewell's aggressive 4-3 front, zone coverage defenses will surrender a disproportionate amount of yards to Linehan's balanced offense, but also generate high numbers of sacks and turnovers, disproportionately disrupting scoring. Additionally, regardless of talent level, Scott Linehan's inside running game is disproportionately effective against Perry Fewell defenses.

Given the Lions’ systemic scoring disadvantage, I project the Lions to score 17-21 points, even while outpacing their season averages through the air (6.50-7.00 YpA) and on the ground (4.00-4.25 YpC). I have medium confidence in this projection.

The passing effectiveness estimate was quite close.  With 313 yards on 49 attempts, Drew Stanton and Shaun Hill combined averaged 6.39 YpA.  However, the ground game only averaged 3.05 YpC—and that’s counting Drew Stanton’s three scrambles for thirty yards!  The Giants absolutely shut down the Lions’ running game.  I remember being distinctly impressed with the job the O-line did with pass protection for Drew (just two sacks, and he was holding it forever on many plays)—but once again there was nowhere for Best and Smith to run.

I’m going to do a film thing on this, because I’m trying to pin down why Jahvid is sometimes “.44 Cal,” 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year and why sometimes he’s  just a rookie.  If the running game had been able to get going at all, it would have bailed Drew out in a big way.  They need this dimension of the offense to work; throwing it 50 times a game is never a recipe for success.  With luck, the bye week will let Jahvid rest his turf toes, and the interior of the O-line can get back in synch.

Defensively, there wasn’t enough data to make any kind of prediction:

Given that Kevin Gilbride now runs a more conventional “New York Giants” offense that includes tight ends and multiple running backs, I do not have enough data to draw any firm conclusions about Gilbride’s offense against a Schwartz/Cunningham defense. There may, however, be a mild systemic advantage for the Giants’ ground game.

. . . and yeah, ouch.  With two solid running backs in the stable, an absolutely decimated Lions linebacking corps, and a mild systemic advantage, the Giants gashed the Lions for 5.67 YpC.  Interestingly, the Lions contained Eli Manning, allowing only 5.90 YpA—but he did complete 20 of his 30 passes for 2 TDs and no INTs, so while he wasn’t effective he was at least efficient.

Unfortunately, there’s not much to glean from this—for all the wild and wooly happenings, the end results was yawn-inducingly expected.  Let’s get back to the surprise 44-6 blowouts, eh?


Three Cups Deep: Lions at Giants

>> 10.18.2010

Drew Stanton, of the Detroit Lions, makes a fool of the New York Giants' Deon Grant

Last night, I mourned the loss of the 2010 season.  I buried my dreams of a surprise playoff run, set the marble marker atop the grave, and shed a single tear for what might have been. 

O for the Lions of twenty ten, fantastic team too early made rest
here Stafford, Pro Bowler, sleeps with top rooks named Suh and Best

They battled foes sixteen strong, besting nine to be wild card
these Lions made their fans proud, this little blue fire bright roar’d

Yet alas, this season met early doom, so fans again must don
their parkas, tend little flame, as winter's wind bloweth on

Yesterday, the Bears and Packers both lost—and the Lions lost their last opportunity to claw back into the division race.  If they’d been able to come away from Your Company Name Here Stadium with a win, they’d be tied with the Vikings at 2-3, one game behind the 3-3 Packers, and two games behind the 4-2 Bears—with nine left to play.  For the sake of our collective sanity, I’ll refrain from mentioning that the NFL stole a win from the Lions and gave it to the Bears, and the Lions would actually be one game behind both the Bears and Packers if they’d completed yesterday’s comeback . . .

. . . but, they didn’t.  They didn’t, and a happy truth we’d been glumly unaware of—that the Lions weren’t really out of it, even at 1-4—has been erased, before we could even enjoy it.  I’m not going to blame Drew Stanton, because he played better could be expected of a third-string quarterback.  I’m not going to blame Brandon Pettigrew, even as the old saw “in the NFL, anything that hits your hands you have to catch” indicts his hands, again.  I’m not going to blame the defense—for though they were gashed by the run in the second half, they kept getting off the field on third down.  I’m not going to blame the refs, either, though the hankies certainly fell like snow from the New Jersey sky.

This team is simply not good enough to beat the Giants, on the road, with an already-iffy LB corps completely depleted.  They’re not good enough to overcome the mistakes, and—before you flip out about the penalties—they’re not good enough to simply not make the mistakes, either.

As I said in the Fireside Chat, some of these penalties—like defensive holding in the secondary—are being made because the Lions can’t beat the other guys clean.  If they’re losing the one-on-one battles, they’re going to commit more penalties to prevent total disaster.  Further, we heard in the offseason that the Lions’ coaching staff was going to accept the occasional offsides or encroachment call from the defensive line in order to get as much jump off the snap as possible.  The pointless after-the-play personal fouls have to stop—but other than that, there’s not a lot that can be done.  This team is what it is, and what it is wasn’t good enough to win  yesterday.

So . . . now what?  Two weeks, then the Lions start up again.  For the second straight year, the Lions will have a healthy Matthew Stafford at the the helm as they host the Redskins—and the leashes will be off.  From here on out, the Lions have nothing to lose—they can bench habitual mistake-makers, they can bomb it down the field, they can call any blitz they want.  Without the absolute, suffocating necessity to play mistake-free football, the Lions can cut loose and have fun.  They can attack without abandon on both sides of the ball, they can play the young guys whenever and wherever they want. . . and who knows?  With that schedule, they just might win a bunch of ballgames in the process.

The 2010 Lions’ season is over, requesicat in pace.  But maybe, just maybe, the 2011 Lions’ season has just begun . . .


Fireside Chat: Lions at Giants

>> 10.17.2010

If, for some reason, you want to hear my quick-take reaction to yesterday’s loss, check out this week’s Fireside Chat:


Gameday Post: Lions at Giants

I really don't know what to think about today. The Lions are going to be riding a wave of tremendous momentum--but then, so will the Giants. The Lions haven't lost to the Giants in New York since 1990, but the Lions haven't won on the road in 23 games. The Lions have a great pass rush, but the Giants have a better one. Every reason I can think of for the Lions to have a chance today, the Giants can match--or better.

. . . except one thing: hunger. Drive, passion, the desperate need to win. The Lions' entire season rides on today: a win keeps 2010 on life support; contention is still mathematically possible. With a win, the losing streak snapped, a bye to build off of it, and the return of their quarterback, the Lions--if not realistically playoff-bound--at least have a pulse. Lose today, and the Lions' plug will be pulled.

I can't say I have the unshakable faith in victory that I had last week--but I believe the Lions want it more, need it more--and that gives them a chance.


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