The Monday Morning Microscope: Week 9

First of all let me say, regardless of the loss, it was good to see Lions football on my TV again.  Because of the blackout and bye week, it had been three weeks since I'd seen a game.  I'll always enjoy game day - even if it ends in a loss.  There is nothing like that hopeful feeling that always seeps in, even when you know the likely outcome.  That said, no matter how long they lose, I will never get used to it.  Each one brings the same frustration, just new circumstances.  Monday mornings after losses are for level-setting and re-adjusting expectations.  So what am I feeling today?  Well, I think that this team is what it is... that being a very bad roster that is really counting heavily on its young players to save the day.  So when the rookies shine, the Lions shine.  When they don't, well... the Lions look miserable.  That's why we get such stark contrasts, not only week to week, but sometimes quarter to quarter.  Rookies are inconsistent at best.  When the Lions get a few lucky breaks and a little momentum, things can look good.  That can be deceiving, though.  The bottom line is that every team can look good when the opponent is making mistakes, but only the good teams rebound and sustain play into the fourth quarter.  

Let me expound on that last sentence.  Just because things go well for a while doesn't make you a good team.  Every team in the league has things go against them at times.  But the real difference between teams in the NFL is that good teams with good talent play well for an entire game and can overcome those mistakes.  Bad teams that make mistakes get blown out.  When evenly talented teams meet, most times the lucky breaks can be the difference between winning and losing.  It's just the way of the NFL.  The sad fact is that the Lions don't have the talent to play well for an entire game.  They are one of the bad teams that cannot afford to make any mistakes.  The lucky breaks only last so long and the result is a mirage.  Yesterday, it was more about Seattle's mistakes and us having a short field than it was about us being a good football team in the first quarter.  Sure, we made some good plays, but we simply don't have the talent on either side of the ball to sustain anything. 

At the most basic level, it comes down to match-ups.  The Lions against their opponents, man to man, individual position to individual position, each and every Sunday, is a mismatch.  Whether it's a defensive end against a tackle, receiver against a corner or center against defensive tackle, the Lions almost always have the weaker player.  The opponents are usually just a little bit stronger, a little bit faster, a little more seasoned or a little more confident.  The problem is simply talent, folks.  Nothing is going to fix this team except a few more years of good drafting and picking up a few quality free agents along the way.  For now, we'll just have to sit back and look for signs of progress from the young players, enjoy the good plays when we get them and hope that things can come together for four straight quarters one or two more times again this year.  I'm not being pessimistic, just realistic.  I think we've seen enough to call this what it is... a rebuilding year, pure and simple.  I still think that we have a good core group of young players, regardless of what they did yesterday. 

 

Thoughts About the Game:

  • As usual, I'll start with Stafford's performance. Five interceptions are ugly no matter what way you slice it and it was a miserable last three quarters for him. He is the quarterback and therefore, takes the bulk of the blame offensively. I won't make any excuses for his decision making and lack of execution. You could say he's just a young player trying to make plays. That's true, but aside from the last pick, the team was never down more than 8 points. You have to stay poised. You have to be smart. He'll learn the hard way that you can't give games away like this. I will say that the blame is not solely on Stafford, however. On more than one of those picks, it looked like a receiver was not where he was supposed to be. It's just not a good offense right now. They have to learn to execute as a team. The old Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach John McKay said it best, when he was then referring to his abysmal '76 Bucs. When asked what he thought about his team's execution, McKay replied, "I'm all for it." That pretty much sums up the Lions' offense as well.

  • Calvin Johnson did not look like himself yesterday. He looked like he is still suffering the effects of the injury. I think by the time the 1st quarter ended, the Seahawks knew this. They remained focused on the run game and contained the Lions' passing attack with minimal personnel. He needs to be the dominant player he can be to pull this offense from the doldrums.
  • I still think Kevin Smith's lack of running lanes has much more to do with the awful play by the offensive line than with his running ability. I can't count how many times the lanes were closed before he even got to the line of scrimmage. I'd love to put him behind a great line for a few games and really see if he explodes. I bet he would. He runs as hard or harder than any back in Lions' history. I'll go on record right now by saying that I won't complain one bit if the Lions take a tackle with their top pick next year. Hold me accountable for that, guys.
  • Special teams are still a disaster. Just too many damn leaks. Players bunching up in the center of the field, no decent returns and sieve-like blocking. Not sure it's going to get any better this year. I think it's a matter of collective prayer and finger-crossing any time this unit is on the field.
  • Defensively, it was once again a hodge-podge, lackluster performance. A few good plays, sprinkled with loss of containment, missed tackles and blown assignments. By the way, can any of our corners tackle? I mean, there was just some plain wuss-bag tackling going on out there by Buchanon, James and Hobbs, to be specific. Man up. Gunther's gonna hand out a good old-fashioned passionate ass whooping to those guys at practice this week. But that's the discouraging part... if these guys can't tackle at this level, no amount of weekly practice is going to help. If we Lions fans have learned anything, it's that you can't get more out of a player than he is capable. If he is a free agent that has suspect tackling, he will be a Lion with suspect tackling. No coaching change is going to matter enough to make an impact. So we are stuck until next year with this mess.
  • Did anyone but me notice that Ernie Sims was pretty much invisible when he was on the field for most of the day? But as soon as he got hurt, I saw Levy making plays all over the place. Look, I wasn't one of the guys calling for Sims to be traded. I think he's still a good player and is playing hurt right now. But even I can't deny Levy's impact anymore. I believe that - since the season is pretty much officially in the tank (can anyone object at 1-7?) - Levy should take over as the starter for the rest of the season. Let Ernie get healthy and let the two of them duke it out over the position next year. I think Levy could be special and as much as I like Ernie, we need to find out if that is the case. If by the end of the season you think he's the real deal, you then have options. If Foote bolts via free agency, you could move Levy to MLB. If Foote is resigned (which I desperately hope is the case), you can either trade Sims or keep him as a back-up, albeit an expensive one. There is also the option of moving to a 3-4 defensive scheme and keep both Levy and Foote in the middle and see how Ernie does in a pass-rushing role (or vice-versa). Although neither really fits the mold of a traditional 3-4 OLB, they are both very fast and it might simplify the game for Sims.

It's that time of the year when we all pretty much know what this season is and what is to be anticipated.  I think most of us expected this, but had hoped for a miracle.  Well, the hope for that miracle is all but gone, but there is still hope for the future and that is now officially what we are playing for.  I know that seems to be a perennial theme, but with so many young players getting time, this year is a little different.  I for one, will enjoy simply leaving any and all expectations at the door and watch solely for progress and entertainment.  Forget wins and losses... they are irrelevant now.  I will be watching for more sequences like the one yesterday when Delmas picked off Hasselbeck, then Stafford threw the TD pass to Pettigrew to cap it off.  That was progress, regardless of what followed. 

As for the Stafford haters... hate on.  Your insults and bust predictions will have absolutely no impact on what he will become, so keep blowing your hot air at any and all brick walls around you.  Stafford is a 21 year old rookie on a very bad team.  He is measured in progress and potential right now.  There will come a day when we can label him boom or bust, but right now - even after a five interception game - those labels are moot.  Me personally... I still believe wholeheartedly that he was the right choice and will eventually lead the Lions to the post-season and perennial contention. 

Go Lions!

 

Edit:  Guys, I will be on vacation for the next two weeks, so there won't be a MMM again until Nov. 30th.  I know, I know... this disappoints you all greatly.  Actually, I thought I could hear the faint sound of cheering and applause, lol.  Anyway, there are a few deer in the U.P. that need a bullet.  Sorry if that sounds barbaric.... but it's true.

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