Another week, another close loss. After a heartbreaker in Chicago, Detroit played a streaky game against Philadelphia. They were dominant at times; they were doormats at others. Critics are quick to dismiss the Lions as the "Same Old Lions." The schedule looks too tough, "0-16" is only two years ago, Stafford is hurt, Calvin isn't performing up to expectations, the defense gives up too many big plays.
Okay, that's enough. These aren't the "Same Old Lions", and you know it. "Owen" is still fresh in the memory, but that was a different regime. Stafford's going to be back, and he'll be fine. Calvin's doing well, but the defense hasn't found a reason to stop blanketing him. And the defense is doing a lot better than I expected.
Before you throw out the stats on me, I'm not saying the defense is running at Pro Bowl level, yet. But the entire defense, not just the line, is showing signs of life. We'll get to that in a bit.
Both teams entered the game with a loss. The Eagles lost a close comeback to a Green Bay team that many predict will be heading to Dallas, and those that don't have the Pack in the playoffs. Their defense held Aaron Rodgers under 200 yards passing with 2 TDs and 2 INTs. That's an impressive defensive effort anyday.
Detroit lost a heartbreaker to Chicago. We all know what happened. We all have played it in our heads. However, that's not what lost us the game. We gave up big plays, big yards and were lucky to hold the Bears under 20 points. We also had the lead for a good chunk of the game, but couldn't move the ball at all. Red Zone defense was amazing, though, holding the Bears to one touchdown out of four trips.
The matchups and injuries seemed to point to a blowout of epic proportions. Vick seems to be his old self, and the Eagles defense is considered superior to the Bears. But, that's why they play (how cliché). The Lions gained the lead early in the second quarter, and held it for almost ten minutes. Then, Philadelphia dominated, but Detroit fought back and almost tied it up.
The Lions showed a lot of bite yesterday. There were periods of struggling, but as we've seen with many Eagles opponents, that's rather normal. Early in the second half, it appeared that the Eagles adjusted appropriately to the Lions, and were stuffing them soundly. However, this Lions team was able to mount a comeback, and nearly pulled it off.
Hill was average. He definitely improved from last week, but some of his decision-making is still not fully sharpened. He definitely showed us a better backup option than the Lions have seen in years, throwing for over 300 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He's still rushing the end of game drive too much. They had plenty of time to go for a first down, but he went for too much or didn't make the right reads. I'd give Hill a C+: He kept the team together, but made a few too many mistakes.
Best was a beast. He's making an early bid at Rookie of the Year, with five touchdowns in two games. While last week was pedestrian in terms of yardage, this week was stellar. It was obvious that the Eagles had to gameplan around him in the second half, but while that worked for a bit, the Lions eventually went to other options, allowing the comeback. I have to give Best an A-: He ran like a madman, but a few times he just didn't have enough.
The receivers and ends were very good. The first half was the Javid Best show, so we didn't see much of the receiving corps. Philadelphia has a very good secondary, and were covering CJ and company excellently. However, the receiving corps was instrumental in the comeback bid at the end of the game. Excellent catches and runs by Johnson and Pettigrew put the Lions in sniffing distance. Receivers get a B-: Some bad route running, a couple of dropped balls, but overall very good.
The Line was good. They only let up two sacks, which is good, and they opened holes for Best. They had a couple of mental errors, such as the Raiola knock (he was lucky there was an offsetting penalty), and didn't get the blocks on 3rd/4th and one. Solid, but not great, I'd give the line a B-.
Overall: B. The Eagles are a good defensive unit. While critics may dismiss them, they're a top-10 defense. Cohesion and gameplanning were probably the biggest setbacks for this offense, but 444 yards and 32 points is impressive against the Eagles.
The defense did well. Not great, but well. Anytime you give up 35 points, you can't say your defense played great. They missed far too many opportunities that were probably the primary reason for the loss.
The line was good. Five sacks by a defensive line is great, and Suh racked up another. They did have some missed tackles on Vick, which are somewhat expected with this kind of player. The Vick scramble made the Lions look like a fool, being able to spin out just as the Lion showed where the tackle would be. Vick also had a couple of other interesting escapes, such as the mid-air toss for the first down. That should have been a sack, but again the D needs to wrap up. Running defense wasn't great this week, giving up 160 yards rushing. Overall, the line gets a B: Good sack total, good effort, but let too much past.
The linebackers were almost invisible. Less than ten tackles amongst the corps. The plays were either not getting to them or getting past. Pretty bad. I'd give the LBs a D-: They really bordered on the F here, and I almost ask "We have linebackers?"
The secondary was actually pretty good. Yeah, I said that. They let up four passes of 20 yards or more, three by Jackson. This may be bad, but it's far improved over the Lions of recent history. Some of it may also be attributed to the hole in the linebacking area. They also had (at least) four missed interceptions. There could be more, but I saw four that should have been caught, and hit two hands. This young unit needs to come down with those, as easy gifts don't come often. However, when it came down to it, this unit made the tackles and kept the Lions in the game. Overall, I'd say B-: You have to catch those easy INTs, and big plays need to be stopped, but they held in really key situations.
Overall: C. The line made some good plays, the secondary did not break, but the linebackers did not show. The defense had enough opportunities that could have kept the Eagles under 25 points; this will improve over time. Forcing seven punts is a pretty nice number, though.
The special teams did very well. Onside kick recovery is always a plus. Nick Harris was solid. The endzone kick was amazing, especially considering the shortened buffer he had. Hanson was also solid, and hit the only field goal attempt he made. The special teams also held the Eagles to 78 yards on 7 kicks, which is very good (5 yard punt return average, 15 yard kickoff return average). I have to give the special teams an A: Wow, how often can we say we didn't let up a kickoff past the 30? Or keep all drive starts on the opponent's side of the field (aside from the last turnover on downs)? These guys deserve an A.
The coaching staff did okay. They didn't let up, but probably should have made better choices. Going for a fourth down in field goal range was risky, and we lost that bet. A field goal would have pulled us within 8, while losing the ball would give us less time to make up points. The defense saved their butts by forcing a punt, but those fourth down calls when field goals are still a feasible option are very risky. I'd give the coaching a B-: Some boneheaded plays, some outcoached periods, but a lot of good decisions.
This Lions team is definitely not the "Same Old Lions". They have fought through a couple of difficult weeks. The "Same Old Lions" would not have mounted a comeback down 18 points with six minutes to go. A few signs still remain, like dropped passes, but these Lions dropped interceptions, when the "Same Old Lions" would make those drops on offense. The "Same Old Lions" would have kicked the field goal on fourth down and hoped to get the ball back. These Lions took a big risk, and when they lost, fought to take the ball back. Even if the "Same Old Lions" went for the fourth, they would have popped once they didn't succeed, leaving them with no energy to come back.
The new Lions are still inexperienced, but they're tenacious. When your first four games come with three road division games and a playoff team that was in the division race in Week 17, that's a tough order for any team. These Lions are rising to that challenge.
Next week will also be a challenge, but I don't think we'll see a Vikings blowout. These Lions aren't your "Same Old Lions". They might not win, but they're certainly going to make it interesting. And when a young team makes things interesting, the wins will come.
Final Grade: B