To quote long-time NFL Head Coach (now in the UFL), Dennis Green: "They are what we thought they were." A statement applicable to both teams competing Week One in the Louisiana Superdome.
The Saints were what we thought they were—an offensive team that can clamp down on any team in which it sees a weakness. Sean Peyton's club is known for passing, but managed to run (35) one more time than they passed (34). The most stunning thing, however, was how much better the Saints have become defensively.
Don't get me wrong, no one is going to confuse these Saints with the '76 Steelers, but certainly this version is far and away better than last year's.
Sedrick Ellis is coming into his own as a disruptive force up front. The revamped secondary of Tracy Porter, Jabari Greer, Darren Sharper, Roman Harper, and Usama Young, could be one of the most underrated units in the league. The linebacking corps lacks overall talent, but has a great playmaker in the middle in Jonathan Vilma—who never fit well in Mangini's 3-4 defense.
So take solace, Lions fans. The boys from Motown may have lost 17 games in a row, but they lost to a very good team.
The Lions are not one of "those teams" yet. One of those teams which has been blessed by the NFL parity fairy. One of those teams who can win any game on any Sunday.
Against the 2008 New Orleans Saints defense, maybe we could have stole one, but combining the best NFL offense and a better-than-average defense, the Lions had no chance. Those among us who thought differently may have gotten indigestion from all that Kool-Aid and cornbread.
Don't worry, this columnist was among them.
The Lions are a bigger tease than the 17-year-old Olsen twins.
How many among our ranks "believed" the Lions could win yesterday—only down by 11 or 14 in the second half. "We just need a lucky bounce."
Then, they were who we thought they were.
Yes, the 2009 Lions have new players and new coaches, but they are still the same ol' Lions. The Lions are able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at every turn. But take heart, there were positives in yesterday's game.
Matthew Stafford, meet humility
Matthew Stafford is a lot of things. He is talented, composed, charming, and an all-around great guy. But he's not humble. Well, he really doesn't have to be. He's been the No. 1 pick in the NFL since his sophomore year in high school. He has always been the best player on his team, until now.
Stafford's biggest vice will always be the trust he has in his arm, his hubris.
That lack of humility is the cause of throws being forced into coverage, the cause for throws way too high or too low because Stafford trusted his arm instead of sound mechanics.
To be frank, Stafford missed horribly on a number of throws. He was, possibly, worse than his numbers suggest. He also seems to have a case of "Kitna-itis," the condition which strikes talented quarterbacks on the most crucial of drives.
The upside is that Stafford is down with that sickness (ooh-wah-ah-ah-ah) at the beginning of his career, whereas Kitna was far too old to be taught new tricks.
By all accounts, he is one of the most coachable quarterbacks ever. Linehan, by many accounts, is a great quarterback coach.
This game, however, may have been necessary in the grand scheme of Stafford's career. This game was his Aikman moment. Troy Aikman lost in his first game, also to the Saints, 28-0. Aikman had Herschel Walker at the time. Eventually, Aikman had to learn that the NFL is not the Pac-10, and he's not always the best player on the field. Stafford now knows that.
How he handles that knowledge over the course of this year is more important than a 45-27 loss to a very good team.
Stan Kwan slept like a baby last night
He had sweet dreams about laughing at all of us who consistently blamed him for all of the Lions' special teams woes.
I'm not making the case that Kwan is the next Frank Gansz, he's not even the next Chuck Priefer. However, maybe he's not as bad as we all thought.
The bottom of the Lions roster is one of the least talented groups in the league. In terms of coverage squads, Kwan doesn't have a lot to work with. In terms of blocking during returns, he has even less.
The purge of talent that took place on this roster after numerous offensive and defensive scheme changes, is why the Lions are where they are.
Yesterday, the Lions contained Reggie Bush and sprung Dennis Northcutt and Aaron Brown on long returns. In addition, Jason Hanson was perfect and Nick Harris (minus the early shank) was very very good.
Don't start singing the praises of Stan Kwan, but for once, give him the benefit of the doubt.
Anthony Henry Might Be the Real Deal
If it weren't for Darren Sharper, Henry would have been the best defensive back on the field in New Orleans.
The Saints picked on Eric King all night. Eric King is who he is. As a nickelback, no one is better against the run. As a nickelback, he is decent against the pass—better in a zone. On the outside, he has some issues. He lacks polish, which may come over time. Right now,this Lions team needs Philip Buchanon.
Henry, on the other hand, locked up Marques Colston for much of the day, which is not an easy task. He had to deal with one jump ball all day and picked it off. That's not bad for a guy who was judged to be about as good as Jon Kitna.
Not everything was glass-half-full- there were also "teachable moments".
Kevin Smith Needs Help
Blame the lack of the passing game. Blame Jeff Backus. Blame Daniel Loper. Blame Sedrick Ellis or Jonathan Vilma.
It doesn't matter where the blame is placed, 15 carries for 20 yards and a (wide open) touchdown is a horrendous stat line.
He was backed up behind the line of scrimmage all day. There were no lanes. There was no daylight. His work as a receiver shows his worth. The 52 yards he generated was a quarter of Stafford's passing yards.
Those running lanes will not always be so clogged. The more Kevin Smith is able to break loose, the more screens and draws will be opened up. Expect a much-less vanilla offense this season, and Kevin Smith will be a big part of it.
Just don't expect it against Minnesota.
Peterson? Peterson? Bueller? Bueller?
Where was Julian Peterson? He had one solo tackle. No sacks. No pass breakups. Where was he?
The easy answer is Gunther Cunningham.
With Buchanon sidelined and facing one of the more explosive offenses he's ever witnessed, Gunther coached scared. Not physically scared, but scared of missing with his blitzes.
So the Lions rushed three or four most of the day and got torched.
On the upside, the Lions probably would have gotten torn apart either way. At least this way, future opponents still haven't seen much of the Lions' blitz packages.
Fans however, are skeptical of things they haven't seen.
Check back later this week for more articles about week one and a preview of week two against the Vikings.