I'm all about context. As a finance analyst, my job is about more than just the hard, cold data at the end of the day. It's about the environment and circumstances that drive that data to be able to properly measure and analyze it. Now, I refuse to sit here this morning and make excuses for the extraordinarily shoddy play by the Lions yesterday, but I do think a little context is needed.
This is a wounded team right now. Yesterday was a perfect storm of injuries, mental lapses, environment and yes, unquestionably poor play in every phase of the game. But what this really shows - glaringly, I might add - is our lack of depth. For a team coming off the season it had last year, there is no room for injuries when it comes to your few, real playmakers. As we have seen, once these guys are out, we are not even competitive. So the end result was that for the first time this season, I can say that there was no progress made. Yesterday was a step backwards. This regression occurred on a number of levels and it's really tough to gauge its full impact on the team and the season. I'll get into this a little deeper....
What we know now offensively... We know that if Stafford misses significant time, we are smacked two-fold. First, we miss out on valuable experience that might somewhat reduce our gains for next season and surely adds to a significant reduction in our offensive abilities this year. Second, Stafford being out has clearly shown that we don't have a viable back-up option, as Culpepper is... I'm very sorry to say... done in this league as a starter and Stanton just hasn't had enough reps and remains unpolished at best. We know that Calvin being out absolutely destroys any chance of a running attack as there are no other receivers viewed as threats on this team. Johnson is a game-changer, through and through. He and Stafford need this valuable time together to build the ever-important chemistry between a quarterback and a top receiver. We also know that our offensive line cannot withstand constant blitzing and eight men in the box. Without a passing threat like Johnson, defenses just send everything at the offensive line, knowing we can't block it and our quarterbacks can't get it done.
What we now know defensively... We know that Sammie Hill and Dewayne White need to get healthy in a hurry. We know that pressure is the ONLY way to mask the symptoms of a truly diseased secondary. Hopefully, everyone realizes that this secondary is unfixable this year. Unless Mayhew can put together some blockbuster trade before tomorrow, there are no diamonds in the rough to be had from combing the waiver wire that will save this sinking ship. I think it is very unlikely that the Lions make any trades for several reasons. First, we have nothing to offer. What players on the Lions roster are trade-worthy? Exactly... none. Second, Mayhew is building for the future and will not nor should not offer draft picks as compensation to try to buffer the secondary play in a season that is going nowhere fast. That would be counterproductive to the long-term strategy of this team. We just have to ride this out and hope that our defensive line gets healthy and starts to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Thoughts About the Game:
- I think I'll just make it habit to start with the quarterbacks. It's the most intriguing storyline anyway. Culpepper simply affirmed everything I wrote about him last week. This week, his flaws were simply magnified by an unrelenting defense, hell-bent on blitzing or stacking the box every play. If Stafford and Johnson continue to be on the bench, this is the blueprint for every team to shut out the Lions. Culpepper basically folded under the pressure. The defense came at him fast and furious all day and he just couldn't read-and-react quick enough. As pocket after pocket collapsed, so did Daunte. Like I said last week, Culpepper needs time to go through his progressions. Once he feels pressure, he mentally breaks down and is left scrambling to make a play. He's a gifted athlete, so sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't. Yesterday, it just all fell apart for him. I don't think he's as bad as he played yesterday and the receivers did little to help him, but as a starter... he's washed up, I'm afraid. Stanton fared a little better because he stood firm in the pocket even as it crumbled. He showed some poise in there. His downfall, I feel, is that he is simply too green. He hasn't had enough true-blue, meaningful game experience and he is prone to making critical mistakes - like his second interception. He doesn't have the skill-set that Stafford has to make up for the lack of experience. I think Stanton has some upside though. In my humble opinion, I think Stanton should be the number two and if the Lions can get even a seventh round pick for Culpepper, they should trade him by tomorrow.
- The Calvin Johnson factor on this team is immeasurable. The Packers match-up without him was so lopsided that the NFL's competition committee should have been consulted before the game. The score should have been more like 38-0, in all honesty. All the Packers did was play to stop the run or blitz on every play and let Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt try to beat Al Harris and Charles Woodson one-on-one. Can you say "mismatch"? Without Calvin on the outside, the Packers simply disregarded our outside game altogether. They gave it no respect, nor should they have. It was a joke. Very few offensive lines in the league could stand up to the constant blitzing and run stuffing like the Packers did yesterday. The receivers needed to be fast off the line and get open on quick slants and outs and they failed to get it done all day long. Kevin Smith continues to take a beating because of this lack of production by the receivers. I think Daunte would have seen fewer blitzes with Calvin in the game, too. No one can cover Calvin Johnson. Woodson? Harris? Puh-lease... No one can cover him.
- The one bright spot has been the tattered remnants of our defensive line. Now, I'm not saying that they played well for sixty minutes, but for what we had to work with, they did pretty well. I'll say it this way... I'll take Avril, Jackson, Cohen and McBride's pressure from yesterday over any game we played last year. That's without some starters. I feel pretty good about that, I guess. This unit has surprised me some, considering the low expectations I had for them. I definitely think we need to add at least one defensive tackle and end next year, but I think we will have solid depth at that position in a year or two. Problem is there just isn't enough talent there to get pressure the whole game right now. There are not even enough players healthy to form a solid rotation. Once everyone is back, this unit might be pretty good.
- Special teams are still a disaster. The blocking on returns is atrocious and block-shedding on kickoffs and punts is ridiculous. We will not win another game this season if we can't alter the field position battle. Of course, most of this lies with the offense's inability to move the ball. It's a vicious circle that goes round and round until one unit makes something happen. When the offense goes three and out, then the punt coverage allows forty yards on the return and the defense can't get off the field on 3rd and 8.... you lose. Want proof... check the Lions' stats from 2001-08.
- I don't think the bye week could have come soon enough for the Lions. Can you imagine if we would have had a week 10 bye? Good Lord. This team is beaten, battered and bruised. I just pray that they use this time to regroup, get healthy and come out swinging in week 8, because they cannot lose to the Rams. What they need to do is come out and slaughter the Rams. I mean like a 35-7 beatdown. Show the fans that with a full deck, they are competitive and better than your average cellar-dweller in this league. Matt and C.J. need to get back on the field and show that they will be a dominant tandem in this league for years to come. They have some very winnable games down the stretch and they need to get back on the right track. This week they completely derailed.
I'll say it one more time, I think we have to look at the Packers loss with a little context. The Lions lost to a good team, on the road with a lot of good players not on the field. It was a brutal and deadly cocktail right from the start. To be honest, it could have been (and maybe should have been) a lot worse. Maybe it's the ever-present optimist in me, but I thought we played very well against the run and got some good pressure on Rodgers - if only sporadically. It was the offense that was just dismal for the entire game. I haven't looked at the official stats, but did we cross midfield more than twice all game? I'd venture a guess that we did not. Most thought that we would be 0-6 at the bye and we're 1-5. I can list about a dozen teams in the league right now that would be no better than that after playing our schedule. It's time for us all to take a deep breath... exhale... then get set for the second stretch of games that should offer several opportunities for us to get wins. The most important thing for the Lions right now is to get healthy.