Disclaimer: Once again, I'm posting this the night before due to scheduling conflicts. This may turn into a regular deal as Monday mornings have turned into chronic nightmares for me. Maybe I re-name this column The Sunday Night Soiree? It's got a ring to it...
I've been under the weather for the last few days, so I had a rough time getting up for the game this morning (both literally and figuratively). These beautiful fall conditions love to wreak havoc on my sinuses. But like the trooper that I am, I gave it my best try to get into the game-watching mood by pumping myself with three hours of NFL Gameday, five cups of Sumatra-blend Starbucks coffee, hitting about fifty golf balls in the backyard (I love my new Callaway Diablo driver, by the way) and then finishing up by throwing the football around with my son for a half hour or so. Yet when I sat down to watch the game, I was still not in my characteristic "game form". It wasn't until my pre-game ritual was complete that I realized that I was still feeling the effects of the emotional drain from the week before. It was that full depletion of passion coupled with knowing that Stafford was not playing, that spoiled my mood somewhat. I felt like I was watching a game that didn't matter... subconsciously, of course. I knew full well what a win could do for the team, but it still felt like a preseason game until the team took the field. Two minutes into it and that old familiar feeling came back again and I eased into game mode. But much to my dismay, as the closing seconds of the game came and went, another old familiar feeling came back... losing a close game.
So I guess that the 2010 Lions are the newest incarnation of the Cardiac Cats, hey? The only difference being that the Lions are getting us psyched for a last minute win only to come up short. I know that two games does not a trend make, but I think this is what we fans should get used to for this year - close, competitive games that they still don't have the overall talent to win. As I sit here today, I'm not really sure if I'm supposed to be über-disappointed or slightly encouraged by another spirited effort that fell short? We really had every chance at being 2-0 right now; we just couldn't get it done for a number of different reasons. At times, the Lions look like the squad we have become accustomed to watching - one that is lacking in both discipline and self-assurance. But only moments later, we see the flashes of what could be with this team.
The only thing consistent about the Lions over the years has been inconsistency. Once again, we watched a game that was plagued with it. Both offensively and defensively, the Lions were hit and miss with their execution. This can be especially frustrating offensively because of all the weapons. To watch Jahvid Best tear through holes in the defense one series and then get stuffed for consecutive losses in the next is a recipe for absolute frustration for the fan. I'm no Nostradamus, but I think we can expect to see a lot more of this as the season progresses... especially without Stafford.
I'm not one for entertaining a lot of past-tense hypotheticals, but I can't help but wonder what could have been if Kolb had started in the place of Vick? I thought our defense got good pressure on him all game, but there were so many times where he was able to spin out of a sack or just flat out make an unbelievably athletic play to keep drives going. That was my concern all week with Vick starting. I think Kolb would have taken a lot more hits and sacks and probably been forced into several turnovers/mistakes. But again, we can't really get into the game of what-ifs. To his credit, I thought Vick played a great game... as a quarterback. I know that McCoy had a great game as well, but the Eagles won by the arm of Vick today. He showed poise and good accuracy, even under pressure. My guess is that there is soon to be a quarterback controversy in Philadelphia... especially as fickle as the Eagle fans can be.
Thoughts on the Game:
- Shaun Hill was horribly inconsistent today. I think that he missed too many open routes and forced far too many passes into heavy coverage. What I do like about Hill though is that he's confident and not afraid to take chances down the field. He just has to learn when to do that and when to simply take what the defense gives him. I saw many times where the underneath route was open and Hill was trying to force it to the wide receiver downfield (see the last four plays of the game). He has to get better with his decision making. I think that he lost this game as much as he kept us in it... if that makes any sense. But going forward, Hill does give us a chance, unlike Culpepper serving in the same capacity last year. Right now, the big difference I see between Hill and Stafford is the overall understanding of the offense. Stafford seems to know where everyone is supposed to be and knows where to go after he sees what the defense is giving him. Hill seems to be less sure of anything beyond his first or second read. Maybe it's because he didn't have a lot of time today, but he looked hesitant of where to go too many times.
- Can you say Jahvid Best, offensive rookie of the year? I shudder to think what today's game would have looked like without Best in the offense. He is a dynamic player that adds to the offense on so many levels. Although it's hard to argue against his production, I still don't think he was used properly throughout the entire game today. With the fits he was giving the defense, he should have been able to take much more pressure off the wide receivers, which they didn't seem to be able to do. I think the playcalling was better today, but it still wasn't great. They needed to be able to either take advantage of Best by actually getting him the ball every play or making the defense pay by forcing them to focus more attention his way. With Best having such a great game, Calvin Johnson should have reaped the benefits much more than he did.
- Speaking of Calvin... is he going to start playing before the fourth quarter in games this year? I don't know what it is, but I just don't see the passion from him. I want to take Ndamukong Suh's attitude and put it into Calvin's head. With the physical attributes Johnson has, he should be dominating... and he's not. We saw a little fire at the end of both games from him, but we need that all game long. This guy should be catching 8-12 passes per game. There is no reason at all that he shouldn't be. If he's not careful and doesn't start producing, he's going to start to flirt with that "overrated" label.
- Welcome back, Brandon Pettigrew! What a nice game he had today. I think people were starting to forget the reason he was drafted. He can be a game-changing tight end from both a blocking and pass-catching standpoint and today he forced the defense to either pay attention to him or just simply pay. I know the offense has been sketchy at best, but I think at least individually, guys like Best and Pettigrew (and Scheffler last week) have shown that we have some significant talent and when it comes together, it's going to be something pretty damn special. Get well soon, Matt Stafford!
- I think that the offensive line played much better overall against Chicago. Granted, I believe that the Eagles defensive line is quite underrated, but Hill had little time all day and there was scarce daylight up the middle for Best. The offense seemed to move better when they spread out and forced the defense to play the entire field. Once we settled into an I-formation or other base formation, the defense was able to just crash forward and get sufficient penetration. Where I felt that the offensive line excelled today was with the sweeps to the outside where the guards did an excellent job of quickly pulling and sealing the blocks on the edge. But... I'm convinced now more than ever that this is always going to be an average group. I just think that they key is going to be for Linehan to call plays that allow the line to play to their strengths.
- The defensive line was impressive again today. They are showing good depth as well. I thought once again Turk McBride played well and so did Lawrence Jackson, which was a beautiful thing to see. When Mayhew hits home-runs on guys like Jackson and Alphonso Smith - which at this point, it seems he has - it helps create that much needed depth that we haven't had in a long time. Suh and Vanden Bosch were their normal disruptive, energetic selves and I expect no less in the coming weeks.
- After two weeks, I think it's safe to say that this secondary is better than last year's version, but when given time, the opposing quarterback will find holes. This game was a tough one to read from a defensive perspective, because of Vick. He makes plays that few other athletes and quarterbacks can make. The defense did a decent job of holding containment until it appears the play has broken down, but that's where Vick really hurts you. I stopped counting how many times Vick converted a third and long purely because of improvisation. Is that the fault of the defense? Yes, but it certainly makes it much more difficult when you have a guy that significantly extends plays with his feet. So like I said, this is difficult game for judging the defensive play.
In a new section of Monday Morning Microscope, I'm going to give be giving out three awards each week. I will give out two game balls, one to an offensive player and one to a defensive player. I will also give out an award for the Goat of the Game. This will be the player that did his best to give away the game or hurt the team the most. So without further adieu....
Offensive Game Ball:
Jahvid Best - Running Back
Okay, this one was very easy. Jahvid having a good game helps us on a multitude of levels. First, it finally gives opposing defensive coordinators another person to game-plan against other than Calvin. They may plan to shut down Best, but will they then be able to silence Johnson and Pettigrew and Scheffler and Burleson? Not likely. We just need Hill et al to be able to take advantage of the extra coverage Best will receive in the coming weeks. I do have to say that Pettigrew was a semi-close second for this award.
Defensive Game Ball:
Ndamukong Suh - Defensive Tackle
It was down to Suh and Delmas for me, but I just thought that Suh was disruptive the entire game. In both the Bears game and this game, I really watched Suh a lot. I can't begin to express how impressed I am with this kid. Not only does he get doubled on every play, but he beats that double-team on nearly every play. It just depends on how quickly the quarterback gets rid of the football. It's not about if Suh "can" get to him. He "will" get there on every play if given the time. He is relentless. In my humble opinion, we are looking at the greatest defensive player of the next decade or more.
Goat of the Game:
Shaun Hill - Quarterback
While Hill did some things right, he did more wrong. He had two horrible interceptions thrown into double and triple coverage and forced many more. I just saw so many plays where I was screaming at the television because a guy was either open underneath or in the flats or down a seam and instead, Hill was staring down a receiver on the outside and then sailing the ball ten yards out of bounds. Hill's a good back-up and I'm glad he's a Lion, but he needs to get better at learning who is going to be where and then taking what the defense gives. If Hill can clean up his game, we have a great shot at knocking the snot out of an out-of-sync Vikings team that is ripe for another upset.
I feel like I should be more upset about today's loss. Maybe it's because I spent all last week feeling like the season was already over. I think I've psyched myself into already conceding the season. I hope not, because I think there is still time to salvage something. The Packers are for real, but the Vikings are unraveling and the Bears are pretenders. The majority of the NFC is in flux. Teams that were supposed to be the contenders are struggling and after two weeks of NFL football, there are few teams on our schedule where I just feel we have no shot at winning. I think we will be competitive in every game. We have enough talent to be dangerous, but not enough to always seal the deal. That dynamic should create a recipe for some interesting games.
For me, that's meeting the expectations I set for this team before the season began. I wanted to see steady progress on both sides of the ball, competitiveness in all games and an increase in the win column. I think we'll see all those things happen, just maybe not at the pace we had hoped. But I'll say this and everyone can take it with a grain of salt... had Stafford not gotten hurt, we'd be 2-0 heading into a key matchup with a weakened and already wearied Vikings team.
Busts out his best country voice...
"I try not to think about what might've been... ‘cause that was then and we have taken different roads. We can't go back again... there's no use giving in. And there's no way to know... what might've been."
Wipes tear from his eye...