Detroit's Christmas Ruined: Grinch Visits Lions Without Wearing a Striped Shirt
Now that was one tough opening game.
Every new season brings new questions and as Lion fans we sure had a long list of answers we were looking for. From how would the offensive weapons blend with Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson to how could that secondary hold up my anticipation level matched anything I felt on Christmas eve as a child.
Jahvid Best might be that race track set I wished for and Ndamkung Suh was the pellet gun that would terrorize every bird in the neighborhood.
Of course the last presents I would open were the Secondary and Linebackers, I could only hope this time my Aunt had sent a sweater I could actually wear.
Santa Claus came dressed as a Chicago Bear this year and the match-up seemed perfect. We knew Mike Martz would be an easy touch in his first game and the hints he left like that offensive line had me believing opening day was going to be a nice gift.
Certainly crazy old uncle Rod Marinelli wouldn't play scrooge to my plans.
But just like Christmas morning the event couldn't match the hype. This was like the Christmas where everybody forgot to buy batteries and the only new toys left to play with were the boxes.
I didn't expect to have all my questions answered but I didn't expect to come out with more questions than I started with.
I'll talk about that great surprise gift uncle Gun gave me later but right now I need to get my disappointment off my chest.
The catch that wasn't.
No doubt that's a touchdown in every way except in the NFL rule book. Unfortunately there is only one way to judge it and that's with the rules they play by. I can understand all the cries from the fans and I initiated a self imposed 24 hour moratorium on commenting.
I took my cue from the reaction to the Galaraga near perfect game when I tried to add a little perspective to the heated discussion. I learned my lesson, nobody wants to hear about things like that at a time like that and I was the target of some pretty animated attacks by many posters. That's okay, I'm a big boy and laughed it off but I felt I would let things calm down a little before I commented this time.
Let me just put this out there now, Jim Schwartz and the Lions are playing this perfectly.
I have heard many fans and even the media say Schwartz should have said something in the press conference Monday. The belief is the team needs to know the coaches have their backs or the NFL will just continue to shaft the Lions every chance they get.
Here's the problem with that. I promise you that will not be the last time the Lions have a big play go against them. There will be holding calls that wasn't holding and there will be times the officials don't call pass interference. Right or wrong there will be plenty of times where the officials don't see things the same way the Lions did.
Schwartz' response has nothing to do with the call, it has everything to do with the next call we don't like. He can't ask the players to move on if he can't control his emotions. I'm pretty sure he felt that was a touchdown but when it wasn't the Lions still had two more shots to win that game. When Schwartz says they didn't lose that game on that play he is saying the Lions will never let a single play determine their fate.
The Stafford injury
Now that was disappointing, it's like getting a new computer for Christmas and finding out it needs to go back to the manufacture for repairs.
Stafford being out 4 to 6 weeks will definitely impact the win total. Shaun Hill will do a good job and this team has enough weapons to win some of those games. It was pretty obvious that the receivers hadn't had a lot of work with Hill recently and I expect to see a much crisper passing game than we saw in the second half last Sunday.
The bigger question for me are the long term implications. This is Stafford's third major injury and at what point does chance become the norm. It's entirely possible that this is the last major injury Stafford has but it's also possible his potential and our hopes will go down in a pile of injuries.
The most likely scenario is he will miss the occasional game, they all can't be Bret Favre or Peyton Manning. That doesn't mean he can't be a great quarterback and the success the 49ers had with Joe Montana or what Dallas did with Troy Aikman says the Lions can do just fine if Stafford misses the occasional game.
The other discussion we see a lot of was this proves that the offensive line and especially Jeff Backus just can't get the job done. If you are a Lion fan you knew the lines in the sand were being drawn before Stafford ever made it the sidelines.
Now I have been called a Backus apologist many times so I don't expect to change any opinions but I have one question that leads into my biggest disappointment of the game.
What were you thinking Scott Linehan?
Let's start with that injury and let me point out is was Julius fricking Peppers that laid the hit. Did he treat Backus like a turnstile on that play? Absolutely, matter of fact there were a couple of other plays where Peppers cleanly beat Backus too. There is no way that Backus can control Peppers throughout a game.
But that's exactly my point. If the problem is Backus can't handle Peppers one on one I ask why try? The Bears paid him all that money for a reason and that reason is Peppers is one of the best pass rushers to ever play this game. The only question on him over the years was does he bring it every game and in his first game as a Bear shouldn't we expect him to be on full attack mode?
Peppers has made many a Pro Bowl caliber left tackle look silly and opposing teams have to game plan for him. The last team to try blocking Peppers straight up was the Vikings with their Pro Bowl LT Bryant McKinnie and McKinnie finished the game on the bench.
So what was the plan Linehan? Isn't this one of the reasons why the Lions drafted Pettigrew and traded for Scheffler? Where are the chip blocks?
But that's not my biggest complaint with the game plan. We are hearing the Lions offense stalled because they couldn't run against seven man fronts and 24 yards on 18 carries by the running backs is plenty enough proof of that.
There is a flip side to that whole can't run the ball against seven in the box - why couldn't the Lions throw against four DBs? Are we supposed to believe that the reason Peyton Manning throws for all those yards is because he sees a lot of eight man fronts?
I understand the concept of making that safety walk down into the box will open up the pass. But I also believe a team has to impose their will on the other team. This team is built for the passing game from Stafford to all the shiny weapons and only using them when we have the advantage is insanity.
The whole point of adding difference makers is allowing them to opportunity to make a difference. Are the Lions paying Calvin Johnson to block or because he has the skills to defeat double coverage and Stafford wasn't the number one draft pick because they liked the way he handed off.
The Lions can't expect teams to single cover Calvin and they won't ever sell out to stop the run. Even if the Lions did have success running the ball they won't try to stop Best by cramming the line of scrimmage. Defenses want to contain speed backs and a safety lined up in the box has no angle he can take that will beat Best to the corner.
I am trying hard to not over react to one game, make that one half because the game plan obviously changed with Stafford out but this is coming off a pretty disappointing performance last year. I was willing to write that year off as Stafford's rookie year and no weapons but I can't think of any reason for what I saw out of the offense last Sunday.
Stafford had five drives before the injury and in three of those drives it was three and out. Out of those 26 total snaps Stafford attempted just two passes over 10 yards and it was the one completion that led to the second touchdown while the only big play on the first TD drive was a roughing the passer call.
To make matters worse the Bears have one of the best front sevens in the NFL, the Lions won't be the last team that can't run against them. But those teams won't go in with a plan to bash their heads against the wall, those Bear DBs are very vulnerable and you better believe their game plan will include plenty of plays designed to take advantage of them.
I have heard the warnings of if the Lions can't run the ball better than that they might not win a game this year but I disagree. If the Lions can't find a better passing game they will never find a running game.
I am a big believer in Schwartz and we have heard him say many times that he doesn't want to handcuff Stafford but that's exactly what happened. The Bears didn't take away our weapons and the officials didn't steal that game from us. In a battle of wits Rod Marinelli won and Scott Linehan lost in a league that favors the offense more with every new rule.
I realize it will not be the same with Shaun Hill at quarterback for the time being and actually maybe opposing defenses will feel a little freer to jam that line of scrimmage. Hill might be a pretty good fill-in but he won't strike fear into the hearts of DBs and defensive coordinators like Stafford does.
Up until now it's been on Scott Linehan but if we don't see drastic changes when Stafford comes back it's on Jim Schwartz. If Schwartz allows anybody to continue to waste the talent Martin Mayhew has assembled he is as culpable as Linehan from this point forward.
Mayhew received his shopping list from Schwartz and it appears he did a masterful job filling the holes his coaches identified, especially on offense. They wanted a number two receiver and they signed the guy they wanted with Burleson. They wanted a big play running back and Mayhew found a way to get Best. They wanted a left guard and a pass catching tight end and Mayhew spun gold out of lead to get Sims and Scheffler.
If it is proven during the season that they were the wrong decisions so be it. We can put that on Mayhew and Schwartz if the players aren't getting the job done, problem is we won't know if they don't get the chance to prove themselves.
All I know is if I am Martin Mayhew I would expect more than what I saw last Sunday.
Gunther Cunningham took that collection of cast-offs he had in the secondary and teamed it with those studs on the defensive line and came up with one heck of an effort. Despite injuries to key players and the offense giving the ball to the Bears on the Lions side of the 50 four times in the game Gun's troops held the Bears to 19 points.
None of us ever expected that and I'm sure there will be plenty of games where this defense gets torched but I can understand that. Give the Lions another year of seasoning and a player or two and this defense will be fine.
What I didn't expect was that pathetic offense and I expect even less it will continue without some changes being made. Let's hope it's Linehan and Schwartz make the changes now instead of Mayhew making the changes in the off-season.
I have a feeling that Mayhew can do a pretty good Grinch imitation himself if need be.
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