The Watchtower: Lions vs. Chiefs

>> 9.17.2011


Week 1 is the Great Deceiver.

Every serious observer of the NFL falls prey to its tantalizing temptations and poisonous lies. After spending all spring and summer drawing our own vivid mental pictures of what all these teams and players will look like, our very first glimpse of reality either applies fixative—or punches a hole through the canvas.

If we see what we expected, we pronounce ourselves right and project fifteen more games of the same thing. If we don’t see what we expected, we either despair and project fifteen more games of the opposite—or dismiss the results out of hand.

There's a reason why they say "Any given Sunday." The NFL is an incredibly competitive league, with billions of dollars of revenue driving everyone to the bleeding edge of performance. The difference in talent and execution between a “good” team and a “bad” team is not nearly so great as we believe.

On the field, a lucky bounce or a fantastic play can dramatically alter the story of the game, and a few such breaks in one direction or the other can overcome even decisive differences in execution. That’s why I don’t include current-season data until after Week 3—and why we shouldn’t assume a Lions team coming off an opening-day road win will eviscerate a Chiefs team that just got whupped 41-7.

Bill Muir vs. Gunther Cunningham

Weis Ornk PgG YpA YpC Gun Drnk PpG DYpA DYpC PTS PTSΔ YpA YpAΔ YpC YpCΔ
NEP 25th 17.2 5.63 3.28 KCC 19th 22.1 6.32 3.83 30 +74% 5.88 +4% 3.39 +3%
NEP 10th 23.8 5.91 3.82 TEN 11th 20.2 6.30 3.83 7 -71% 4.42 -25% 4.31 +13%
NEP 18th 18.8 6.43 3.91 TEN 13th 20.2 6.60 3.79 31 +65% 9.17 +43% 5.96 +52%
NEP 18th 18.8 6.43 3.91 TEN 13th 20.2 6.60 3.79 17 -10% 7.06 +10% 3.56 -9%
NEP 23rd 18.8 6.79 3.79 KCC 29th 27.2 8.05 4.62 27 +44% 12.1 +78% 3.06 -19%

Bill Muir’s name sounds familiar to most people who read last week’s Watchtower. Muir was the offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay from 2002 through 2008, and current Buccaneers OC Greg Olson both worked under Muir and succeeded him. But Muir’s connections built over 33 years in the NFL are far too deep and varied to do my usual cradle-to-clipboard life story. So here’s what you need to know:

• 2011 Kansas City Chiefs: Head Coach Todd Haley, Offensive Coordinator Bill Muir, Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel, Assistant Head Coach Maurice Carthon.

• 1998 New York Jets: Head Coach Bill Parcells, Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis, Defensive Coordinator Bill Belichick, DL Coach Romeo Crennel, RB Coach Maurice Carthon, Offensive QC Assistant Todd Haley.

Muir is succeeding Charlie Weis as Chiefs OC, so the connections here should be excruciatingly obvious. From top (Chiefs GM Scott Pioli) on down, the Kansas City Chiefs football leadership is bred almost entirely from Parcells/Belichick stock. This great piece from Arrowhead Pride describes how this current Chiefs offense resembles Parcells’ original Giants squads.

When Todd Haley tabbed Bill Muir to replace Charlie Weis, he expected Muir to fully replace Weis—up to and including calling the plays. The problem for Muir—and for me—is that Muir didn’t call the plays in Tampa Bay; Jon Gruden kept that responsibility for himself. So: Muir was an “O-line coach++” in Tampa Bay, and was tabbed succeed Charlie Weis in KC because of his impeccable Parcells/Belichick background.

When Muir was hired, Haley explained he wanted continuity for QB Matt Cassel. Yet, according to Dan Pompei of the National Football Post, Haley wanted to refocus the offense on “meat and potatoes” football. Does this all sound familiar, Lions fans? It should: it’s what happened when the Lions fired Mike Martz. Former Lions OL coach Jim Colletto had a background with Martz, and knew his system well. Rod Marinelli on Colletto’s ability to take over:

"His appointment also allows us to maintain continuity in our offense, which is important to our players."

Right. And just like Muir with Weis, Colletto ripped out all the fanciest pages of the offense and skewed the playcalling run-heavy. For the Chiefs’s sake, let’s hope Muir fares better than Colletto did.

So, instead of Muir’s time in Tampa as our subject, we’ll use Weis’s from his time in New England. That should be a good balance between “Charlie Weis’s offense” and “without some of the college-y spread offense-y stuff.” And . . .

. . . I give up.

  • NEP 25th-ranked offense, KCC 19th-ranked defense:  NEP scoring up 74% over season average, with rushing and passing effectiveness unchanged from average.
  • NEP 10th-ranked offense, TEN 11th-ranked defense: NEP scoring down 71% from average, with passing down 25% and rushing up 13%.
  • NEP 18th-ranked offense, TEN 13th-ranked defense, 1st game: NEP scoring up 65%, passing up 43% and rushing up 52%.
  • NEP 18th-ranked offense, TEN 13th-ranked defense, 2nd game: NEP scoring down 10%, passing up 10%, and rushing down 9%.
  • NEP 23rd-ranked offense, KCC 29th-ranked defense: NEP scoring up 44%, passing up 78%, rushing down 19%.

There are several quality matchups here, including two from the same season (always the best comparison). However, I can’t identify a single trend or common thread. In all my three seasons of Watchtowering, I’ve never seen a set of data so ridiculously screwy. So I feel extremely confident in saying there is no identifiable systemic advantage or disadvantage.

We still don’t have usable data for this season, so again we’ve got zero historical OR current data to go on. Last season, the Lions had the 19th-best defense in the NFL, allowing 23.1 points per game. The Chiefs scored 22.9 PpG, 14th-best in the league. I’m going to project the Chiefs to score 23-27 points. I have hellaciously low confidence in this projection.

Mitigating/Aggravating Factors:

The Lions defense looks dramatically improved from last season. The Chiefs offense looks dramatically worse. I’m getting a very Jim Colletto vibe from this whole Bill Muir thing. But NFL teams rarely fall on their face that hard two weeks in a row; I suspect the Chiefs offense rebounds, and makes the Lions’ defense work a little.

Scott Linehan vs. Romeo Crennel

Lin Ornk PgG YpA YpC Romeo Drnk PpG DYpA DYpC PTS PTSΔ YpA YpAΔ YpC YpCΔ
MIN 8th 24.4 6.60 5.3 NEP 17th 21.6 5.99 4.71 17 -30% 6.63 0% 6.46 +22%
MIA 16th 19.9 5.94 3.69 CLE 11th 18.8 6.09 4.18 0 -100% 2.39 -60% 5.56 +51%
STL 28th 16.4 5.63 3.78 CLE 21st 23.9 6.37 4.51 27 +65% 8.36 48% 3.29 -13%

Romeo Crennel, as with Haley and Weis and Muir and Carthon, comes from the Parcells lineage. from 1983 to 1992, he was a New York Giants defensive assistant, first under Parcells and then Ray Handley. He followed Parcells to the Patriots in 1993, and then to the Jets in 1996. Crennel was hired as the Browns’ defensive coordinator in 2000, then jumped ship to join Belichick and the Patriots in 2001.

The rest, you likely know. Crennel stayed with the Patriots through 2004, after winning three Super Bowl rings. He got his own head gig, again with the Browns, and wore the whistle from 2005 through 2008. After sitting out a season, Todd Haley installed Crennel as Chiefs defensive coordinator—thereby putting the 1998 Jets band back together.

Linehan has faced off against Crennel three times. In 2002, Linehan was coordinating the Minnesota Vikings, and their offense was the 8th-best in the league. The Vikes were scoring at a 24.4 PpG clip, netting an okay 6.6 YpA but an outstanding 5.3 YpC. Crennel’s Patriots were the 17th-best defense in the NFL, holding opponents to 21.6 PpG, 5.99 YpA, and 4.71 YpC.

Impressively, the unremarkable Pats held the Vikings to just 17 points. The Vikes passed exactly as well as they did on the season, 6.60 YpA, and ran even better than usual, racking up 6.46 YpC. So what happened? Daunte Culpepper happened. He was sacked four times and lost one fumble (the Vikes fumbled three more times and lost two of them on that day). The Vikings were also penalized 8 times for 74 yards.

In 2005, Linehan’s Dolphins met up with Crennel’s 11th-ranked Browns defense. Cleveland was allowing just 18.8 points per game. Meanwhile, the Fins were ranked 16th, scoring 19.9 PpG. The Browns went and shut Miami out. Zero point zero, Mister Blutarsky.

Though Miami ran all over Cleveland, netting 139 team rushing years at an average of 5.56 a pop, their horrifying 2.39 yards per attempt kept them from getting anywhere near the end zone. They completed only nine of their 28 pass attempts. That’s really, really bad.

In 2007, Linehan’s resistable force met Crennel’s movable object. The lowly Rams were the 28th-ranked offense, mustering only 16.4 PpG, 5.63 YpA, and 3.78 YpC. The Browns weren’t much better; as the 21st-ranked defense they allowed 23.9 PpG, 6.37 YpA, and an awful 4.51 YpC.

For the first time in his career, Linehan solved Crennel. With the ‘07 Browns defense more susceptible to the pass, Linehan’s Rams racked up 8.36 YpA, a massive 48% boost in effectiveness. They only ran for 3.29 YpC, but who cares? They outscored their season average by 65%, hanging a solid 27 on Cleveland.

The trend here is obvious: when a Romeo Crennel has average-or-better skill level, it disproportionately disrupts a Linehan offense’s scoring—primarily, by depressing per-play pass effectiveness. Run effectiveness seems to go up in response, possibly due to Crennel ‘ceding’ the run in order to stop the pass. When Crennel’s available talent is lesser, though, the situation reverses itself: Crennel’s defense becomes extremely susceptible to the pass, and therefore allows points in bunches.

Given that the Chiefs have lost their best pass defender, Eric Berry, to an ACL tear, and given the Lions’ explosive passing offense, I believe Detroit be able to at least compensate for this schematic advantage—and possibly, overcome it and flip the tables on Crennel.

I project the Lions to score 31-34 points. I have extremely low confidence in this projection.

Mitigating/Aggravating Factors:

Again, just about everything here is an aggravating factor. The Chiefs allowed Ryan stinkin’ Fitzpatrick to light them up for four touchdowns; at that rate Stafford ought to throw eight to nine. Again, they lost Berry. Latif over at Pride of Detroit wrote a wonderful post breaking down the Chiefs’ 3-4 Cover 3 look, and the vital role Berry plays in it.

If the Lions’ passing offense can overwhelm the Chiefs’ secondary, they could be in for another very, very, very long day. Another possibility: the Chiefs are so scared of the Lions passing attack that they drop deep into a soft shell, and Jahvid Best goes nuts in the space underneath.


Once again, we have a frustrating lack of real evidence. We have good historical data for both matchups, but one is the most confoundingly contradictory jumble of data I’ve ever seen, and one points toward the Lions’ offense having an opportunity to blow away the Chiefs through the air. The Chiefs are coming off a blowout loss to a presumably-inferior opponent, but that gives me pause; you just don’t see that happen twice in a row in the NFL.

Knowing this is more of a shot in the dark than an actual projection: I project a 34-23 Lions win.


Okay so let's talk about this Watchtower thing

>> 9.15.2011

Recently, Commenter Matt—longtime friend of this blog—challenged several of the principles this Watchtower thing is built on. Many of you weren't around for the Watchtower's genesis, and I've been doing these things for three years now. Now's a good time to air this stuff out, explain my methodology, and make sure I haven't made a wrong turn somewhere in my execution.

The original mission of the Watchtower was to find out what the new-look Lions were going to look like. To, like the forest ranger in the old Lassie episodes, use a combination of familiar landmarks and mathematics to pinpoint a direction and distance to the truth.

With so much of the new-look Lions roster being turned over from the year before, we didn't know what to expect when they took the field that first week. Since Linehan and Cunningham have long track records with distinct schematic styles--and, because I've always thought the schematic interplay between offense and defense is overlooked--I  decided to analyze historical matchups between the Lions' coordinators and their first opponents'.

I found their season averages of points scored and points allowed, saw how each team performed relative to their averages when facing the other coordinator, and concluded the following:

As all three metrics of output--per-play passing, per-play rushing, and points scored—are way above their averages for the season, I’m going to say that given superior talent and execution, and/or excellent pass protection, Scott Linehan’s balanced offense disproportionately gives Gregg Williams’ attacking 3-4 defense fits.

Given equal talent, Cunningham’s hyperagressive 4-3 is extremely effective against Payton’s pass-heavy offense, but only if that aggression leads to mistakes and turnovers—otherwise, the holes in the defense will be exploited. Effective quarterback play may neutralize the defensive advantage.

Therefore, the most probable outcome of this game is a shootout that the Lions lose.

I didn't project a score, and didn't project passing or rushing effectiveness. I just tried to retell the story of the upcoming game, as clearly as I could read it in the data. Over time, I've added more data, made more projections, and reviewed the articles and methodology for their accuracy and completeness. I emphasized method's qualities as predictive tool because it showed great promise as such--and, I came to discover, that's what people want: a prediction.

However, it is still a study of offense vs. defense, and analysis based purely on per-play effectiveness and scoring output has limitations. Sacks, turnovers, penalties, injuries, special teams play, weather conditions, crowd noise, and clock management all dramatically affect the relationship between "how good is the team doing" and "how many points the team has scored or allowed". Look no further than the Lions’ 2009 trip to Chicago for proof of that: the Lions outgained the Bears 440-292, but lost 24-48.

When reviewing historical games, I always check for these factors to see if they're a more likely cause for unexpected outcomes than "Ol' Gun's just got Coach So-and-so's number," and I not only note that but build it into the prediction. Frequently, Cunningham's defenses have held offenses to lower totals than you'd expect based on their relative talent levels, frequently because Gun's Ds are designed to get sacks and force mistakes.

Matt said:

I totally disagree that fumbles and fumble recoveries are "random." Unpredictable, sure, but not random.

Here's some reading material on that:

  • Football Outsiders Basics: "Fumble recovery is a major reason why the general public overestimates or underestimates certain teams. Fumbles are huge, turning-point plays that dramatically impact wins and losses in the past, while fumble recovery percentage says absolutely nothing about a team's chances of winning games in the future. With this in mind, Football Outsiders stats treat all fumbles as equal, penalizing them based on the likelihood of each type of fumble (run, pass, sack, etc.) being recovered by the defense. Other plays that qualify as 'non-predictive events' include blocked kicks and touchdowns during turnover returns. These plays are not 'lucky,' per se, but they have no value whatsoever for predicting future performance."
  • Advanced NFL Stats: “The ratio is not significant for wins, points scored, or points allowed while overall fumbles and fumble rates are significant. This result indicates recoveries are indeed random. It also suggests that fumbles, and not fumbles lost is a better stat for estimating a team's future likelihood of fumbing.”
  • “Look at LSU. They were 70th and 102nd in 2005 and 2006, then suddenly finished 1st in back-to-back years in 2007 and 2008. Oklahoma went from 118th to 1st in the space of two years. BYU went from 112th to 2nd in two years and two years later were back at 95th. There is no pattern here. If you take a histogram of average fumble lost rankings by team, you get a tight, centralized cluster which is the hallmarks of a random distribution.”
  • As the New York Times explained, Jim Schwartz once told Bill Belichick the same thing: "“Fumbles are a random occurrence,” Schwartz said he told Belichick. “Being able to get interceptions or not throw interceptions has a high correlation with good teams. But over the course of a year, good teams don’t fumble any more or less than bad teams. Bill didn’t agree. He said, ‘No, good teams don’t fumble the ball.’ But actually, they fumble just as often as bad teams.”'

    Long story short, Matt is right that fumbles themselves aren't completely random. Daunte Culpepper fumbled the ball 80 times in 73 games as a Minnesota Viking; that's definitely his fault and not pure misfortune. But in general, using a team's current, or recent, fumble rate and projecting it forward to the next game simply won't be accurate.

    When it comes to recoveries, there's no doubt--once that ball hits the turf, it's statistically random. Just look at the ridiculous tip drills that occurred last Sunday. There were several near-heroic individual efforts on the part of the Buccaneers to force that fumble, keep it in play, and come up with it; that it ended up where Rob Sims could make a play on it was pure chance. The Bucs could have put their hands in their pockets and gotten the same result!

    The same thing goes for interception and fumble returns; whether they can be returned for scores depends more more on the spot on the field they occur than on team defensive ability. In my opinion, Matt is right that the Will Heller tip-pick was caused by a combination of Stafford throwing it too high and too outside, Heller batting it up instead of down, and Talib having excellent awareness and ball skills.

    However, Talib picking that pass off with nothing but green turf and white stripes between him and the end zone was purely a matter of location. Chris Houston's interception over Arrelious Benn's head was no less outstanding a play, but he was in no position to return it. If the same players had made each other's plays, the result would have been the same.

    The upshot of this: even though fumbles, fumble recoveries, special teams play, return touchdowns, and the like are either completely random or completely unpredictable, Matt’s right that without accurately accounting for them I’ll never be able to accurately predict the scores of NFL games. In fact, Advanced NFL Stats concluded that 42% of all NFL wins-and-loss records are determined by random variance, not relative performance. There’s a very hard cap on how close my projections can get . . . that’s why I remove, or adjust for, as much of these non-predictive factors as possible and then see how close I got.

    Maybe I’ve taken my eye off the ball a bit. Maybe I’ve been too focused on the score projections, and the accuracy thereof. I really only do it because, as Brian Cook from MGoBlog says, “the strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me.” What do you folks think? Is The Watchtower a worthwhile read even if I don’t take a stab at the score? Should I be reviewing every Watchtower I write?

  •

    Watchtower Review: Lions at Buccaneers

    >> 9.13.2011

    From the season’s first Watchtower:

    While highlighting the extreme paucity of data, I’m going to swallow hard, wipe the sweat from my forehead, tug at my collar and project the most likely outcome to be another narrow Lions victory: 24-21, albeit in regulation this time.

    Now, the final score was 27-20, but the Watchtower only accounts for offense-defense interaction. For the purposes of Watchtower evaluation the “real” score was 27-13. Before you folks cry foul, a quick reminder: the goal of The Watchtower is to spot systemic advantages that the Lions’ offense and defense have over their opponents’ schemes. Counting special teams and return scores throw off our evaluation of those effects.

    Detroit Lions defense vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense:

    I can’t identify a systemic advantage from one data point. Disproportionately disrupting scoring by stopping drives with sacks is the design goal of the defense. I’m kind of stunned it worked with Blount being so devastating; I expect the Bucs to give Blount more than 15 carries this Sunday. We have no current performance data to go on, so I’ll have to recycle last year’s. I project the Bucs’ offense will meet expectations, scoring 20-23 points. I have extremely low confidence in this projection.

    Right off the bat, we see the enormous difference: instead of LeGarrette Blount destroying the Lions at a 7.33 YpC clip, he was held to just 15 yards on 5 carries; a 3.0 YpC. As a team, the Bucs didn’t fare much better: 16 carries for 56 yards, 3.50 YpC.

    The Lions’ pass rush didn’t hit home quite as often as last year’s contest, or for as many negative yards (two for -7 vs. three for -25). But, there was just enough pressure to rattle Freeman a bit.

    Freeman’s completion percentage was nearly identical, 65.1% to last year’s 65.6%, but his yards-per-attempt was down dramatically. Freeman netted only 5.78 YpA this year—well off last year’s average of 6.80, and well well off the 7.64 he managed against the Lions last season. Between the there-enough-to-be-felt pressure and the excellent downfield coverage, the Bucs’ passing offense had to settle for underneath stuff—again, depressing scoring.

    The Lions also intercepted Freeman once, and forced four fumbles, recovering one. Last season, the Bucs didn’t give away the ball at all, so two turnovers this time doubtlessly depressed scoring. We don’t have season averages to work with, but I ascribe this better-than-expectations performance to the Lions’ defense skill level being vastly improved. Over the course of 2011, I expect the Buccaneers to ouutperform their 2010 scoring average—meaning this Lions defense performed like an above-average unit on Sunday.

    Detroit Lions offense vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense:

    The story is basically the same in reverse: the Lions more-or-less met expectations last time. Without any established trends for this year, I can only project the Lions’ offense to meet expectations, scoring 21-24 points. I have extremely low confidence in this projection.

    Of course, the Lions offense did outperform my “wildazzed guess,” as one MLive wag (downbeat) called it. As with the Bucs’, the Lions rushing attack wasn’t nearly as effective this time around. 35 carries for 126 yards netted only 3.6 YpC—nearly identical potency. But twice as many carries is a strong indicator that the Lions were A) moving the chains and B) winning.

    There’s an old saying amongst young statisticians: “You’re not winning because you’re running, you’re running because you’re winning.” The Lions weren’t pounding the rock any better than the Bucs were. They were just effective enough to control the ball and deny the Bucs possession. Tampa Bay couldn’t do the same thing because they were playing catch-up. Once they abandoned the run, the Lions could focus on pass rush and coverage—which, I’ll say it again, was excellent.

    Through the air, Matthew Stafford’s execution was visibly worse than it was in the preseason—which, since that was quite nearly perfect, was to be expected. He completed 24-of-33 passes—that’s an astounding 72.7%. He wasn’t just dinking and dunking either: he netted 9.24 YpA; equally astounding. He threw three touchdown passes, not including a perfectly-placed TD pass Brandon Pettigrew dropped, and a wide-open Calvin Johnson He threw one interception, counting one tipped catch that came down in Aqib Talib’s hands, and not counting another one Jahvid Best basically shovel-passed to a stone-handed defender.

    Even though the story of the game was correctly told as, “Stafford had the butterflies early and then settled down,” Stafford’s “jittery” performance was still outstanding by any measure. The ongoing performance of the Buccaneers’ defense will tell us a lot about how good the offense was this day. If the Bucs’ D turns out to be as good as many expect, this was an excellent statistical showing by an offense likely to average 30+ points per game the rest of the way out. If the Bucs’ defense is more hype than substance, then this was a pretty okay showing—but not near what we think the offense will be capable of.


    I projected a close Lions win in regulation, 24-21. I can’t call it “right” or “wrong” because there was neither a long track record of coordinator matchups, nor any in-season data with which to establish expectations. This 27-13 performance showed us a lot of good things, though: the defense stopped the run and covered downfield better than we expected, and the running game was just good enough to control the game after Stafford built a lead.

    There were a lot of mistakes, a lot of missed opportunities, and a lot of room to improve. But overall, this Lions team won on the road against a notional playoff contender—and looked better doing it than we could have hoped for.


    Three Cups Deep: Lions at Buccaneers

    >> 9.12.2011

    I was getting The Fear.

    The Lions had clearly established themselves as the better team, put it in cruise control in the third quarter, and inspired rapturous feelings of confidence in me and Lions fans everywhere. But the Lions had surrendered a long drive  to the Bucs for the first time all day—saved by a huge fourth-down stop—and answered with a three-and-out. The Bucs the finally breeched the Lions’ defensive wall; suddenly the forgone conclusion was gone. It was a one-score game.

    We’d seen this movie before. Many times before. I took heart, though; surely the Lions’ offense would take matters into their own hands. Jahvid Best had been effective running out the clock all day, and Stafford was completing over 70% of his passes. We’d seen some truly creative playcalling from Linehan today, so maybe . . .

    Jerome Harrison. Jerome Harrison. Jerome Harrison. Net gain: four yards. Oh, and then Gosder Cherilus committed an obvious and idiotic penalty to hand the timeoutless Buccaneers a free clock stoppage.

    After a mercifully huge Ryan Donahue punt, the suddenly-awake Buccaneers offense now had 1:07 to go 80 yards. If you’ve been a Lions fan for more than five weeks, you know in your heart how this story ends: with the Buccaneers finding a way to make it happen, likely with some assistance from the Lions.

    Neil at Armchair Linebacker has written many times about The Fear. It’s the horrible burden Lions fans bear, the shellshocked memories of all the traumatic losses we’ve seen. It’s the psychological reaction to having it come out for the worst time after time after time. We get that sinking, shaking fear in our bellies and we just can’t bear to watch as it all, surely, slips away again, victory just out of reach, another week of wouldas, couldas, and shouldas our only comfort . . . .

    Only, this year really is different. This team really is something special. The 2011 Lions are a good team. As in, better than most other teams. The ending didn’t follow that same old script, and the Bucs reduced themselves to ridiculousness trying to do that Stanford many-lateral thing as time expired. Time expired. The Lions WON.

    With that, the Lions went to 1-0, starting their season off on the right foot for the first time since 2007. They extended their road winning streak to three games, and overall streak to five. They return home this week to face the battered Kansas City Chiefs, then they travel to Minnesota . . . and suddenly, it looks as though Monday Night Football will be played with a lot more than bragging rights at stake.


    Fireside Chat: Week 1, Lions at Buccaneers

    The first Fireside Chat of the regular season was a great one. Many thanks to all who turned up! Listen via the player above, or subscribe via iTunes for free.


    The First Week of Autumn

    >> 9.11.2011

    The Winter has been long. At times, we have seen the sun peek through the clouds, only to quickly disappear behind a curtain of gray. At times, it has been so bleak we thought the sun would never shine again.

    Whether there were many helping me tend the little blue flame, or few, whether the fire was crackling with energy, or barely more than an ember, there is no doubt this is the season we kept it for, toiled for, waited for.

    Today, we Lions fans are gathered around the fire in numbers greater than we've seen in decades. The bonfire roars; huge blue flames race to the sky in a furious rush of sound and heat. The raging column of fire can be seen and heard for miles around.

    Whether you've been here with me since the beginning, hauling wood and casks of cider, whether you've stayed away because you couldn't beat to believe and be let down again, or you're just walking up to the back of the crowd curious what all the fuss is about, welcome. Welcome.

    Have a mug of piping hot cider. Take off you gloves, hat, and woolen coat. Listen to the cheers and songs, join in with the handshakes and high-fives. Take a seat and sip your cider--or stand and cheer the brave.


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