Detroit Lions: The Biggest Winners, Losers in Week 2 Loss to San Francisco 49ers

Dean HoldenAnalyst ISeptember 17, 2012

Detroit Lions: The Biggest Winners, Losers in Week 2 Loss to San Francisco 49ers

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    Well, after two weeks of the 2012 NFL season, the Detroit Lions have already seen their first win and loss of the season.

    Undoubtedly, this was a game both of these teams wanted to win, and it turned out almost exactly the way most thought it would. It was defensive, gritty, ugly at times, and featured long drives and plenty yeoman's work in the ground game.

    And the 49ers came out on top by about a touchdown, which was also pretty much exactly as expected.

    This one stings, and it doesn't help remove the stigma that the Lions can't beat good teams. The Lions didn't play particularly well in this one, which makes any attempts to find positives rather taxing.

    Still, no game is a complete negative. We'll have plenty of time to talk about what didn't work, but let's first talk about some good news.

Winner: The Offensive Line

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    I know what you're thinking, and I'll meet you halfway

    Was it perfect? No.

    Is this an elite unit? Hardly.

    But did the Lions' offensive line perform better than expected against a ferocious 49ers defensive front? They certainly did.

    Matthew Stafford was sacked only twice by a unit that treated the Lions' offensive line like styrofoam turnstiles last year, and while the running game was never truly established as a threat, it was good enough for a few yards per play, and very few negative-yardage plays.

    It could have been better, and Jeff Backus got his lunch eaten a couple of times early on, but this was a unit that played better than expected against a dominant defensive unit. That's two weeks in a row that they've exceeded expectations, if only slightly.

    And that's what makes this next slide so very puzzling.

Loser: Matthew Stafford

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    I don't know what it was exactly, but Matthew Stafford was not himself in this game.

    Last week, he played an exceptionally sharp game from start to finish, but marred it with a trio of silly throws for interceptions.

    This week, he was just erratic for the majority of the game. He only threw one interception (as compared to three), but it was on a strange, wobbly pass that sailed 15 yards over the head of the nearest receiver. It didn't look like a miscommunication; perhaps it simply just a ball that slipped out of his hand.

    But there were more problems than just that one throw.

    Stafford had awful ball placement in this game, consistently throwing passes too high, too low or behind receivers. He practically skipped in a wide receiver screen to Calvin Johnson, who had to hit the deck just to pull it in.

    Maybe it's the high expectations that are affecting Stafford's psyche, or maybe it's just a couple of off games. It's almost assuredly nothing long-term.

    But something is up with Stafford, and he ought to sit down with Scott Linehan, and figure out what his deal is before the season progresses any further.

    He's better than he has shown thus far this season.

Winner: Special Teams

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    Sure, the 49ers were missing Ted Ginn, Jr.

    I'd be lying if I said that wasn't a big help for the Lions. But they forced a fumble on a kickoff return, covered every return brilliantly (one kickoff even got stuffed at about the 13-yard line) and even Stefan Logan contributed with a big kick return.

    Logan looks like he's much closer to his 2010 version than his 2011 version, and that's a good thing. The rest of the special teams play is, again, probably not league-leading or anything, but was excellent for a unit expected to be in the ICU in terms of performance.

    Save any long-term judgments for the first game against the Bears, though. The Lions haven't faced any truly dangerous return men just yet.

Loser: WRs Not Named Johnson

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    Who wants to take a stab at how many passes, of Stafford's 19 completions, were hauled in by wide receivers?

    Yes, it's more than half. 10, to be exact.

    Now who wants to guess how many of those 10 passes were caught by someone other than Calvin Johnson?

    Did you say four? Because you'd be wrong. The correct answer is two.

    As in one, two. As in an 11-yard completion to Nate Burleson, and an 11-yard completion to Titus Young (whose penalty yardage continues to match his receiving yardage—25 each). 

    That is nowhere near good enough. This is a team that has, in four drafts, spent a third- and two second-round draft picks on improving the receiving corps, and opposing offenses still get away with triple-covering Johnson.

    Theoretically, Stafford has a full stable of weapons in his offense. But defenses continue to treat the Lions offense like Johnson is the only threat, and in this game, they were right.

    When does the man get some help?

Winner: Everyone Sick of "Handshake-Gate"

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    Look. It's a handshake and a back pat. And nobody died.

    Now can we move on with the season?

    Thanks, media. Let's all just be thankful this game was the second one of the season, so we didn't have to deal with "look-ahead" previews and that all-too-familiar clip for half the season.

    Tom Coughlin and Greg Schiano provided more fireworks in their handshake than Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh.

Loser: Pretty Much Everybody in the First Half

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    When the Lions are playing teams that are less-talented than they are, they get away with a poorly played first half. When they play teams like the 49ers, Saints and Packers, they don't.

    The fact is, the Lions are a second-half football team. Typically, that means that a team plays better in the second half than they do in the first.

    In this case, it sort of means the Lions don't play at all in the first half. At halftime, Stafford's completion percentage was under 50 percent. The Lions failed to get so much as a first down on a drive that started inside the 49er 25-yard line, and the defense had already allowed two touchdowns with minimal resistance.

    To be fair, the tackling, which was atrocious in the first half, actually did not improve much in the second.

    Last week, Stafford threw three interceptions in the first half, but the end result (not finishing drives) was effectively the same.

    As is their M.O., the Lions made an attempt at what would have been a miracle comeback in the last three minutes of the game, but it wasn't enough. The 49ers (and most other playoff teams) are good enough to stop a miracle comeback.

    This is an issue left over from last year: the Lions need to play 60 minutes. Playing catchup 16 games a year is not good policy.

Honorable Mentions

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    Guys who deserve to be mentioned, but not for a whole slide:

     

    WINNERS

    RB Joique Bell

    Not much as a rusher, but a 50-yard catch-and-run set up the Lions' only touchdown. Too bad it didn't happen earlier.

     

    K Jason Hanson

    Yeah, he doinked one off the upright, and we all know Hanson is capable of longer field goals than 40 yards. But Candlestick Park is not an easy place to kick, and 4-for-5 isn't bad at all, considering he never got closer than 38 yards.

     

    LOSERS

    Everyone Who Attempted a Tackle

    If the Lions want to learn to tackle, they should watch some film of this game, and do everything the 49ers do. If they want to learn to be pinballs, they can watch themselves on defense.

     

    Defensive Coordinator, Gunther Cunningham

    Last year, the wham block was so effective for the 49ers against Detroit, people wrote entire articles about it. This year, they might do the same. I kind of thought you might game plan to account for that, but I guess not.