The Detroit Lions saved their season, and maybe their coach’s job

Written by :
Published on : October 11, 2016

 

 

It was a scene that we are all too familiar with. The Detroit Lions have a lead at halftime and everything seems to be going their way. The offense is scoring points and the defense is holding up. If they can just maintain the momentum of the first half, they should win the game handily. Then the second half rolls around and everything goes to shit. The offense can’t get going and the defense gets torn to shreds. Then the Lions do just enough to make you think they can pull it off, only to screw it up in the end and lose in painful fashion. It’s a story that everyone in the Lions fandom universe knows very well.

 

That’s how it was at Ford Field on Sunday when the Philadelphia Eagles came to town. The Lions scored touchdowns on all three of their first half drives and managed to hold the Eagles to 10 points. The perfect storm of good fortune and the type of scenario that is ripe for another Lions letdown. But this time was different. And for once in this harrowing 2016 campaign, the defense of the Detroit Lions did enough to win, forcing two late turnovers and sending the Eagles back to Philly to drown themselves in tears and cheese whiz.

 

   

Both of those late turnovers were forced by cornerback Darius ‘Big Play’ Slay. The first was a fumble by Eagles RB, Ryan Mathews, and the second was a great interception on an ill-advised deep ball thrown by rookie QB, Carson Wentz. It was the type of deep ball that you can see beating the Lions in your nightmares. Except Slay made a great play on the ball and Nelson Agholor wasn’t even looking for it. This was the first game this season where Slay has shown the type of talent that got him a fat contract extension over the summer. And by finally showing that top-tier talent, he may have saved his team’s season and his head coach’s job.  

 

One of those things makes me very happy. The other, not so much.  

 

If the Lions had lost this one, after once again holding a sizable lead, then that would have been curtains on the 2016 season. The team is still dangerously close to unraveling and there are considerable issues involving injuries, depth, discipline, and overall talent on the roster. But with that win over the Eagles, this team lives to fight another day. And the same goes for their coach, Jim Caldwell.      

 

 Big Play Slay saves the day!

 

Jim Caldwell has underwhelmed as head coach of the Detroit Lions and he seems destined to be relieved of his duties by 1st year general manager, Bob Quinn. The different issues facing this team can and should be placed on the shoulders of Caldwell. Lack of concentration, sloppy play, guys giving up on plays, failure to make adjustments in game. These are things that should be corrected after a few games, yet they seem to keep popping up. When it keeps happening you have to think that it’s systematic. Most would agree that Caldwell should go, but while saving the Lions season, did Darius Slay save Caldwell’s job too?    

 

 

It seems unlikely, but the Lions are great at doing just enough, or just little enough, to fuck everything up. Doing well enough to justify keeping Jim Caldwell would be a typical Lions move that would continue to keep the team mired in mediocrity for years to come. Through five games, it’s obvious that Caldwell is not the guy to take this team to the next level. I would never hope for my team to lose, and while I still hope they can get it together and make a playoff run, I sure hope it doesn’t save Caldwell’s job.

 

This Lions team has proven that they have the talent to win. They have been competitive in every game this season, despite missing some of their biggest playmakers for a majority of the games. They will be getting some of those guys back soon and that should make them better, but this inconsistency will be their downfall in the end. That’s on Jim Caldwell. So while Darius Slay and his teammates may have saved their head coach for the time being, they won’t be able to overcome his inadequacies for the entire season, and eventually he’ll be gone.

 

 


Concerns about the Lions defense

Written by :
Published on : September 15, 2016

 

 

In typical Lions fashion, the team gave up a late lead with less than a minute to play on Sunday. In not-so-typical Lions fashion, they managed to drive down the field and win the game with a late field goal. Much like the first game of last season, the team built up a 21-3 lead in the first half, only to watch it slip away as their defense withered against Andrew Luck. If not for superb play from Matt Stafford, and a long lost running game that showed up big time, this team could very well sit at 0-1 right now.

 

The offense was a pleasant surprise. The line held up fairly well (against a weak Colts defense), and the Detroit backs and receivers more or less did as they pleased all day. A win is a win and in the NFL, you have to take them where you can get them. It’s encouraging that the offense seems to be picking up where it left off last season with Jim Bob Cooter calling the shots. But there might be some cause for concern on the other side of the ball. After a strong first quarter, the Detroit Lions defense regressed as the game wore on. The way things unfolded in the second half has me wondering if the Lions defense might be in trouble. Here are some of my biggest concerns at each level of the defense.

 

Piss poor pass rush

Early on in the game, the Colts offense looked lost and the Lions defense looked pretty tight. I was specifically impressed with the play of the defensive line, going as far as to voice my pleasure on Twitter…

 

 

As usual, I was premature in my praise. Early on, the pressure was constant and guys like Kerry Hyder Jr (one of the last players to make the 53-man roster) were making plays. The team was using stunts and disguising the rush in order to confuse the Colts offense. Andrew Luck looked uncomfortable and the pocket was collapsing with regularity, causing some difficult throwing situations for the young QB.

 

About midway through the second quarter that began to change. The Lions had built up a comfortable lead and then it seemed like defensive coordinator Teryl Austin took his foot off the gas. The play calling went vanilla as the Lions switched almost exclusively into a two-linebacker package, after working the 4-3 with Kyle Van Noy early on in the game. The four man rush was inept and the guys looked slow off the ball. Big boys like Haloti Ngata got pushed off the line much more often than they should have been. Devin Taylor wasn’t much of a factor either, giving a bit of legitimacy to my original concerns about him being a full time starter.

 

 Ziggy just couldn’t get there.

 

There just wasn’t much going on up front and Andrew Luck took full advantage of it. Even when there was pressure the boys couldn’t get home. Like on the Colts final drive, when Ziggy Ansah allowed Luck to narrowly escape a sack that could have been a big boost to the defense. By the end of game, hell, by mid-game, the defensive line looked worn down. This is despite a pretty constant rotation of bodies. The defensive line has got to be the heart and soul if this defense is going to thrive. If they play against top level offensive lines like they did Sunday, then there are going to be some painful moments in Detroit this season. Two sacks against that Colts is unacceptable.

 

Linebacker issues

Tahir Whitehead started the game pretty strong. He made some big hits and looked good in man coverage. But as the game progressed, and the team asked him to play more zone coverage, he got exposed. Teryl Austin was clearly asking him to do more than he could handle. There were some suspect coverage hand-offs in zone that left me thinking Whitehead may have been out of place or indecisive about where he needed to be. The team should let him do what he does best and let other players who thrive in more complex coverages do their thing. That’s what we have our other stud linebacker for, right?

 

The only problem is that he didn’t look so great either. DeAndre Levy played a total of 17 snaps in 2015, and only a handful during this year’s preseason, but was on the field for all 70 defensive snaps in week 1. By no means was he a liability (except on that shit head taunting penalty), but he didn’t live up to what we expect from him either. He was solid enough but also much slower to react than Lions fans have become accustomed to with him. It was his killer instinct and quick reflexes that helped earn him a big contract extension before last season, but this was not the same bearded beast we are all used to seeing. It was obvious that there is some rust to be knocked off with Levy, but if by some unfortunate chance his play doesn’t improve, this defense could be in trouble. They need him to be game changer not an average guy.

 

Second(ary) Thoughts

We all know that the Lions have at least one star in the secondary with Darius Slay. They also happen to have one above-average safety in Glover Quin, although he had a bad game against the Colts. In the NFL, that’s the foundation of a pretty good secondary. If those guys do their job and you can get just a few more players to play up to, or slightly above, their potential then you can have some real success. On Sunday that didn’t really happen.

 

It remains to be seen if Tavon Wilson and Rafael Bush can combine to form a serviceable safety tandem, but they sure as hell aren’t going to do it if the defensive line can’t get any pressure. Slay and Quin can only do so much on their own, and without a consistent pass rush the entire unit will be a failure. Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs have shown that they can be better than adequate when given a fair shot in a defense that is functioning properly at all levels. When that was not happening on Sunday they couldn’t keep up and they shouldn’t be expected to. This secondary can thrive, but much like the defense as a whole, that is predicated on the defensive line.

 

 Nevin Lawson getting beat for a TD.

 

With all of that in mind, we have to remember that this is only the first week of the season. Many of these issues will probably get resolved as the team plays itself into game shape and the boys knock off some of that rust. With the limited amount of full contact practices during training camp nowadays, many teams need a couple weeks to get back up to speed, and after the last two seasons it’s clear that the Lions are one of those squads. This team seems to come out of the gate in sluggish fashion every year.

 

We often don’t see a team’s true self until they have played a few games. I suspect that may be the case with these guys too. DeAndre Levy had played only a handful of snaps in more than a year before Sunday. Time will tell if he will ever get back to being his pre hip injury self, but I’d be willing to bet that once he gets into shape we will see a better version of him than the one we saw against the Colts. Jim Caldwell and his staff once again has failed to have his football team prepared for 60 minutes of regular season gameplay coming out of training camp.

 

Speaking of the staff, defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin, deserves a big chunk of the blame for how the defense played Sunday. He displayed an unwillingness to play to the strengths of his players and the team suffered. By simplifying his schemes once the team had a comfortable lead, he gave Andrew Luck the window he needed to mount a comeback. It was a repeat of last season in San Diego all over again. This year, they were lucky enough to come out with a win in week 1, but they had better hope they get up to speed soon.

 

 


If I was GM: Lions Offseason Edition

Written by :
Published on : March 6, 2016

 

Free Agency begins on Wednesday and with it, the season of hopes and dreams. This is the time when you get to imagine all the amazing things your team can accomplish in the offseason. I usually have a wish list of sorts for all the things that I hope my beloved Detroit Lions will do during free agency and the draft. This time of the league year is pretty much a crap shoot and most of what I hope for never comes to pass.

 

There are just too many variables. Too many other teams willing to be reckless with their spending and too many other top notch destinations for free agents. Let’s face it, Detroit isn’t exactly the ideal spot to relocate for work. That doesn’t mean that the Lions can’t have a successful offseason, they just shouldn’t expect to land any marquee free agents. In fact, while everyone loves an over-hyped free agent acquisition, I don’t really want them to overspend. The recipe for a successful franchise involves finding value in free agency and building your roster through the draft, just look at the Patriots and Packers. If I was GM, here are a few things I’d like to see this offseason.

 

Trench warfare

 Larry Warford is a piece you can build around but he needs some help.

 

Football games are won in the trenches and for that reason the Lions have got to make some major improvements along both the defensive and offensive lines. If they can add a few pieces to the foundation they have then there is a chance the defensive line can be as dominant as they have been in recent years. The offensive line is going to need a little more love though and the team should not be shy about spending serious money there if necessary.

 

The offensive line is the weakest part of the team in my opinion, so let’s start there. Matthew Stafford has been getting his ass kicked for the last couple of seasons and if they don’t want to absolutely ruin their (relatively) young franchise QB then they’ve got to make figuring out the o-line priority one. The line already has three solid, if not remarkable, pieces in place. Last year’s first round pick, Laken Tomlinson, wasn’t jaw dropping in his rookie campaign at left guard but he showed some flashes of what he can be capable of once he fully adjusts to the pro game. At right guard is former third round pick, Larry Warford, who was one of the best interior linemen in the league during his rookie season. He followed it up with a much less impressive showing last season, but I think that he improved once the zone blocking scheme was ditched along with Joe Lomardi. His future remains bright. Currently sitting at left guard is the much maligned, Riley Reiff. A lot of people inside and outside of Detroit love to trash him but the reality is that he is serviceable at worst. I personally would love to see him slide over to right tackle so that a more athletic tackle could cover Stafford’s backside, but franchise left tackles don’t grow on trees so that might not be so easy.

 

Anyway you slice it, the Lions are in dire need of a tackle who can protect their quarterback. The last two seasons have seen them start undrafted free agents at right tackle, and the reasons for them going undrafted were evident in the game film. While I do think that it is important for them to draft someone this year, I don’t like the idea of counting on them to develop in their rookie season. Tackle is the one position I would love to see them spend some money on if the right player is out there. As far as center goes, we could give Travis Swanson another chance to show he can cut it in the NFL, but I definitely want to add some depth as insurance.

 

The defensive line is in pretty good shape with Ziggy Ansah leading the charge but there are still a couple unplugged holes. The team already made a good move in getting Tyrunn Walker back on a cheap one year deal. He showed some very good potential in four games last year before a dirty play by the Seahawks defense ended his season. If the injury hasn’t set him back too much, he should be one of the starters at defensive tackle. For the other d tackle position I would love to see Haloti Ngata come back, but not for too much money. The draft is also pretty deep at that position so that should be an option too. We also need to decide if we want to bring Jason Jones back at the defensive end position opposite Ansah. I like him as a player but he is also getting a little long in the tooth, so I wouldn’t be too upset if they let him walk and got someone just as good who might be a little younger.

 

Someone to catch the ball

 Please don’t go.

 

By the time you read this article there is a very good chance the Calvin Johnson will have announced his retirement from the NFL. That makes me sad but the truth hurts sometimes. My dream scenario is that he comes back for one more year, but it would have to be at a reduced rate because his cap hit of $24 million is pretty hard to swallow. Even if that happens, the Lions need some help at receiver because after Megatron and Golden Tate, that position group doesn’t have a whole lot of talent and I’m not comfortable with counting too much on Eric Ebron.

 

I would like to see the team add someone in both free agency and the draft. A deep threat is the real need in my opinion so I hope it’s someone with some speed who can take the top off opposing defenses and take some pressure off of Tate and Ebron over the middle. Some deep speed at receiver combined with improvements on the offensive line to keep Stafford upright will make the Lions’ offense great again and strike fear into the hearts of NFL defenses.

 

Levy…… and who else?

 Let’s get this guy in a Lions jersey!

 

In just two seasons the Linebacker position has gone from serious strength to serious question mark. DeAndre Levy is a stud, who missed all of last season with a hip injury. That’s scary for someone whose strength is lateral movement, but I’m going to pray he fully recovers. The other two spots next to him are up in the air. Stephen Tulloch is no longer with us because it’s obvious that he can’t be a three down middle linebacker anymore. He’s still strong against the run but is regularly exposed in the pass game, and our defense can’t live with that. Tahir Whitehead is a free agent who I would like to see the team re-sign so that he can continue to fill the other outside linebacker position. Kyle Van Noy was drafted a couple of seasons ago to eventually fill that role but he hasn’t looked like anything other than lost during most of his NFL game action.

 

I’m kind of torn on if I want the Lions to add a Linebacker through the draft or through free agency. I’ve heard the idea of the them going after a guy like Alabama’s Reggie Ragland in the draft and I wouldn’t be mad about that but I have my eye on Danny Trevathan. He won a Super Bowl last year with the Broncos and led the team with 109 tackles. He was a big part of that defense and was rated by Pro Football Focus as the 10th best linebacker in the league. With him and DeAndre Levy, the Lions defense would have two very athletic linebackers who can play the run and the pass.

 

Secondary opinions

 Bring Isa back but don’t stop there.

 

I could see the Lions adding another mid level starter at corner through free agency but I was pretty impressed with how Nevin Lawson handled himself across from Darius Slay last season. With Quandre Diggs in the slot and Alex Carter’s development, I don’t see the Lions acquiring any big name cornerbacks but they do need some help at safety. Glover Quin has been great since the Lions signed him a few years back, but the other spot needs some attention.

 

The team has decided to let James Ihedigbo walk after it became evident that age is beginning to catch up with him when it comes to his coverage skills. Isa Abdul-Guddus took over for him halfway through last season and showed some very good stuff. He is a free agent and I really want the team to bring him back but the jury is still out on if he can be a full time starter. He is great for depth and special teams but relying on him for 16-plus is a gamble. I’d like to see him come back along with a new addition to the safety position.

 

There you have it. Without getting too technical, these are the types of things that need to happen for the Detroit Lions to have a successful offseason and get back into playoff contention. The only thing I didn’t mention is that I would look for the Lions to draft a quarterback in a later round to be groomed as the new back up to Matt Stafford. This isn’t really a glaring need though and could easily be put on the back burner until next season. So here’s to a good offseason and a Lions Super Bowl run in 2016-17!

 

 


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