Monday, November 12, 2007

Answering the Detroit Lions' NFL week 10 "Burning questions"

It's the Monday after a Lions game, so you know what that means. Yes, I know, more bitching and moaning about a lost opportunity. But I was actually talking about more burning questions! In today's Detroit News, Lions beat writer Mike O'Hara dissects the loss to the Cardinals in a Q&A with himself.

Topics covered include the Lions inability to handle success, Mike Martz and his total abandonment of the ground game, and just where the Lions stand in the playoff picture.

Let's dissect the dissection, shall we?

Burning questions from the Lions' 31-21 loss to Arizona Cardinals on Sunday:

Q: Did the loss teach coach Rod Marinelli anything about the Lions?

O'Hara: Yes. He needs to learn that there's still a weakness in the team's psychological core. It doesn't react well to success, or when it gets out of its routine.

Big Al: I don't think it's as much about routine, than it is about their inability to handle success. For a team that hasn't been relevant for 6 seasons, and that's being generous, they couldn't handle the sudden turnaround, being talked about as a playoff team.

In other words, it was the same old Lions. The Lions I've known for decades. It's been their fatal flaw for generations, the buying into their own hype, always believing their press clippings. The Lions played against the Cardinals as if all they needed to do was run on the field.

Q: How did that show up in the game?

O'Hara: The performance was the byproduct and showed up in their performance. After last week's victory over Denver, Marinelli gave the players Monday off. Combined with Tuesday, that gave them three nights off before they had to be at practice on Wednesday.

It was a break in the routine and was supposed to make the team fresh for the second half. Instead of being energized, the Lions were sluggish and out of sync Sunday.

Earlier in the year, they didn't react well to a change in the routine. After beating Minnesota in overtime, Marinelli took the team out of pads in the first full practice on Wednesday. He wanted the players to recover from a tough, physical game.

Instead, the Lions were dead against the Eagles. They gave up 42 points in the first half.

Big Al: If the Lions can't handle a small break in the routine, it sure doesn't say much about their mental toughness. There's very little that's going to be considered "Routine" over the next few weeks. They have 2 games in 5 days, with the Giants on Sunday, and the very quick turnaround for the Thanksgiving Day game against the Favres.

If the Lions, as a group, can't handle small disruptions like taking a day off, or a day when they don't wear pads, how in the Hell are they going to make it through that 5 day stretch? Rod Marinelli has his work cut out for him, if his team is that mentally weak.

Q: Is this a fatal flaw?

O'Hara: Not at all. The Lions have to learn to react better to different situations, and Marinelli has to learn exactly which buttons to push. It's all part of the development process.

Big Al: It has been in the past. Why else would you hear nothing but "It's the same old Lions" everywhere you go today?

To Marinelli's credit, he has gotten his team to bounce back from previous awful, painful to watch, losses. Too bad he has to do it again...

Q: There weren't many tactical questions in the game. One was a challenge by the Lions on Shaun McDonald's third-quarter fumble near midfield. After viewing replays, the ruling on the field was upheld, and Arizona kept the ball. Right decision by the Lions?

O'Hara: It was a close call, and a big play in the game. Arizona had a 17-7 lead, and it was the first possession of the third quarter with the Lions driving. It was close enough to throw the challenge flag. But it clearly was a fumble.

Big Al: This is one time where I can't blame Marinelli one bit for challenging the call. To call McDonald's play "Clearly a fumble" is ludicrous! Clearly a FUMBLE? Was O'Hara watching the same game? In my mind, the refs BLEW that call. Everyone I watched the game with yesterday agreed, the ground caused that fumble. In the world I inhabit, the ground cannot cause a fumble.

Even if you gives the refs the benefit of the doubt, it was a borderline call at best. Replays did NOT clearly show that McDonald has lost control of the ball as he was going down. Still, be a actual fumble or a phantom fumble, it was not the reason the Lions lost the game.

If blame is to be thrown around, I put it on Mike Martz for making such an asinine play call. There was no reason to run an end around with your #4 receiver at that point of the game, deep in Cardinals' territory. Martz was known, and often pilloried, for making such weird ass play calls when he was with the Rams.

When it comes to the "Genius" of Martz, you have to take the occasional bad with the brilliant. Unfortunately, the entire game was bad for Martz.

Q: One play before Jon Kitna threw a TD pass to Roy Williams in the third quarter, the Lions got a penalty for having 12 men in the huddle. What happened there?

O'Hara: Kevin Jones was sent in from the sideline as a late replacement. He really wasn't in the huddle. Blame that one on the coaching staff.

Big Al: Just another example of Marinelli's game day issues. He seems to be a motivator of men, someone who knows which buttons to push in order to get players to perform. Marinelli may have no peer with that side of being a head coach. The players have totally bought into his overall philosophy of "Pound the rock."

But Marinelli as a game day, X's and O's, organized coach? To be blunt, the Sarge has been sorely lacking. His total lack of experience as a coordinator or head coach rears it's ugly head in certain game situations.

Not that Jones is blameless, far from from it. You're the starting running back, keep your head in the God damn game, and be where you are supposed to be. To not be on the field when you are supposed to be is inexcusable. That shouldn't happen at any level of the game, let alone in the NFL. As the quote machine that was Marty Moronweg used to say, "That's hairy high school stuff!"

Q: There was another strange development in the third quarter. The Lions ran 18 plays from scrimmage, but not one run by a running back. What's with that?

O'Hara: Words fail me in trying to figure out why Mike Martz, the offensive coordinator, can forget about the running game at times. There is no explanation. All that does is play into the pass rush of teams like the Cardinals.

Big Al: Sure, the Lions had trouble running the ball. But it wouldn't have hurt to call an occasional draw play against a defense that is rushing Jon Kitna with their ears pinned back. You sometimes have to wonder why Mike Martz's thought processes has him essentially making the Lions a one dimensional team on offense.

We've seen Martz abandon the running game early in games before. I don't know if it's hubris or stubbornness, but Martz's steadfast belief, often to a fault, in his complex passing game can be his Achilles heel.

It would also make sense, in an attempt to improve the running game, to NOT give the ball to your least talented running back, Avieon Cason. Why is he even dressing, let alone taking hand offs away from Jones and TJ Duckett? He's a horrible kickoff return man, and Cason is not any better when running from behind the line of scrimmage.

This is why Tatum Bell being inactive makes no sense to me. You thought enough of Bell to trade a pro bowl cornerback in order to get him, and name him the starter when Jones wasn't ready. But now he's a pariah, never to play for the Lions again. Huh?

Say what you will about Bell's ability, but he's unquestionably better than Cason. With Bell essentially a Lion in name only, as it appears he's no longer going to see the field on game days, and George Foster having another awful day at offensive tackle, with several false starts and look-out blocks, why did Matt Millen insist on those two players n return for Dre' Bly? Your guess is as good as mine...

That one-sided trade alone is exhibit A as to why Millen even being considered for "Executive of the Year" is an utter farce.

Q: There were other games Sunday that involved NFC teams competing for playoff berths. The Packers beat the Vikings. What did that mean?

O'Hara: It was a lock for the Packers the day the schedule came out. The Vikings weren't going to beat the Packers. To win the North, the Lions are still going to have to beat the Packers at least once and maybe twice.

Big Al: If you think the Lions are one dimensional, the Vikings are NO dimensional without Adrian Peterson. Not that it matters, as the Favres had the game totally under control before Peterson hurt his knee. I hated to see such a great talent get injured, but I hope Peterson doesn't get healthy till after they play the Lions...

I've been saying this for weeks, the Lions only competition are the Favres. Screw everything else, beat out the Favres, and the Lions are a playoff lock. I loathe to say it, but Brett Favre has played well enough to almost deserve all of the orgasmic level of praise the MSM loves to heap upon him. For the Lions, they have their work cut out for themselves, as their Turkey Day game with the Favres is, for lack of a better word, HUGE. Also applicable are...Massive. Monstrous. Season defining. Must win.

The division title will be on the line, as the Lions need at least a split with the Favres to stay in the NFC North title mix. I don't think the Lions can beat them on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, so they best win on Thanksgiving. Otherwise the Lions have to scratch and claw their way to a wild card berth.

Q: How about Philly beating Washington?

O'Hara: A good result for the Lions. The Redskins dropped to 5-4. They beat the Lions, which gives them a tiebreaker advantage. The Lions need them to finish with a worse record in the tiebreaker.

Big Al: Why did O'Hara even ask this question? I guess he needed to fill column inches.

You even have to ask if a team that the Lions will be in the wild card hunt with loses is a good thing? Well...Duh! Of course the Redskins losing is a good thing, especially when they own the tiebreaker over Detroit.

That the Lions have to to worry about Washington, amongst other contending teams, is why I'd much prefer they overtake the Farves. Win games, thus keep your destiny in your own hands. Then you're not watching the scoreboard, hoping for other teams to lose. But losing games to the Cardinals is no way to handle your "Destiny." A few more displays of Lions ineptitude like Sunday's, and we'll be spending the rest of the season calculating tie breaker scenarios.

Q: The Cowboys beat the Giants (6-3). Does that help the Lions?

O'Hara: Yes, but not as much as the Lions beating the Giants on Sunday. No extra rest this week, coach.

Big Al: Again, why ask such a silly question? Of course the Giants losing was in the Lions' favor. As it is, the Giants are not going to catch the Cowboys in the east without a major collapse in Dallas. They have already set their sights on the wild card.

Actually, the Lions shouldn't even be worrying about who will be their competition for the wild card with 7 games left. They need to stay in contention for the central. The Lions should only be concerned about their own situation, and despite the loss in Arizona, they still find themselves in a good one.

The Lions are currently tied with those Giants for the 2nd best record in the NFC at 6-3, behind the Cowboys and Favres, who both sit at 8-1. They are still in very good shape for a playoff spot. Thing is, there are several teams hovering between 4-5 and 5-4, so few teams are truly out of playoff consideration.

The Lions should remain in the playoff hunt till the end of the season. But they cannot afford to stumble against teams they should, and need to, beat. A couple more clunkers like the Cardinals loss, and we'll be talking about what might have been for the Lions, instead of what could be.

1 comment:

  1. What a day. Life interfered, so I couldn't watch the game Sunday. As happened when I missed the Redskins game, it was for the best.

    A delicious bit of irony, though. Drew Sharp did a piece on Saturday (I think) arguing that the Lions should have drafted AP over Calvin Johnson. All day, I wondered how somebody that stupid could get a paying job. Peterson has an injury history, plays a more damaging position, etc. And after half a year, numb-nuts is going to call him a better pick than a guy who is considered a sure-fire superstar? How stupid do you have to be? So I was actually kinda wishing for an injury, just to get some irony going.

    He shoots, he SCORES!!

    Think we'll get a retraction of his article?