Monday, November 05, 2007

Answering the Detroit Lions' NFL week 9 "Burning questions"

As we are all recover from the shock of watching a Detroit Lions team anihilate another NFL team, being the destroyer, rather than the destroyed, it's time to answer the Detroit News' Lions beat writer Mike O'Hara's burning questions.

Today's topics include the onside kick call, if the Lions are good or just flukes, the effect Jay Cutler's injury had on the game, grading out the respective units, and who could be considered "Key" players.

Let's answer some questions that were originally published in today's Detroit News. You happy now, McCosky? That attribution enough? Good. Let's go to the Q & A!

Burning questions from the Lions 44-7 torching of the Denver Broncos on Sunday at Ford Field:

Q: The Lions are 6-2 at the halfway mark of the season. Is their record and surprise or a fluke?

O'Hara: It's a surprise, because nobody expected them to be this good. But it isn't a fluke. They are making plays on offense and defense, and they have a strong kicking game.

They have taken advantage of other teams' weaknesses. That isn't a fluke.

Big Al: You don't get to 6-2 in the NFL as a fluke. But a surprise? Hell yes! The Lions are not a great team, but they sure look, and carry themselves, like a good team.

I still have reservations, as the Lions, despite their record, are a flawed team. The offensive line is average (At best), there's no depth at QB (If Kitna goes down, the season goes with him), and the defensive backfield still scares the living Hell out of me, though the dominant defensive line is taking a great deal of pressure of of them.

The Lions are playing to their strengths (D-line, wide receiver, Kevin Jones, Kitna), while minimizing their weaknesses through their schemes.

Q: The Broncos had injuries going into the game and lost their starting quarterback, Jay Cutler, because of a leg injury early in the second quarter. Does that take anything away from the Lions' victory?

O'Hara: Absolutely nothing. Gary Danielson, who played for the Lions from the mid-1970s through 1984, once made this remark when things weren't going well for the Lions: "Teams know a patsy when they see one."

What he meant was that when a team has a weakness, good teams will recognize that and exploit it. That's to their credit. It's like a great boxing champion fighting a stiff. He doesn't give him a chance to get anything going.

The Lions treated the Broncos like stiffs. They pounded them from the beginning, and when Cutler went down and they were even weaker, they pounded them even more. They didn't let up and give the Broncos a chance to get in the game.

Big Al: Why did Jay Cutler get hurt? It wasn't due to a fluke play, it wasn't while making a cut, or thanks to lingering injury. He was injured because he was literally snowed under by a defensive line, lead by Shaun Rogers, that was dominating the line of scrimmage. That's part of the game, you don't protect your QB, you risk the consequences. The Broncos suffered those consequences.

The Lions didn't let off the accelerator after Cutler injury, they took advantage of Denver's weaknesses. I'm sure most Lions fans expected that Patrick Ramsey would come in, and as we have seen time and time again, look like the next coming of Johnny U. I'll admit that I did. Instead, the Lions made Ramsey look exactly what he is, a shaky backup QB. Talk about a refreshing change...

It is just another example of Rod Marinelli's mantra to "Compete on every snap of the game. " The Lions never let up, and refused to allow a weak Denver team back in the game. Good Lord, Marinelli was challenging plays though the Lions were up 44 points! If that doesn't show how competitive the Sarge can be, nothing will. That competitive edge has rubbed off on his players.

Q: How would you grade the Lions' different units?

O'Hara: Give the defense an A. It didn't do anything wrong -- five sacks, three fumble recoveries, an interception and two touchdown returns by the linemen, Shaun Rogers and Dewayne White.

The offense gets a B+. Jon Kitna wasn't that sharp early. The running game was strong for most of the first half. There was one important drive in the second half -- 95 yards on two plays.

Special teams gets a B+. Kicker Jason Hanson and punter Nick Harris had good games. The Broncos didn't hurt them with any returns.

And coaching gets an A, all the way around.

Big Al: The Lions defense gets an A+. Shaun Rogers gets an A++++. They were the best unit on the field Sunday, and Rogers was the best player on both teams.

I'll give the offense a B+. As O'Hara says, Kitna wasn't truly effective till late the 1st half, as the running game carried the Lions on their early scoring drives. I'll give Kevin Jones an A, as he gives the offense that extra dimension it sorely needed.

Special teams get a B, getting knocked down a grade for the botched onside kick, and Jon Bradley whiffing on what should have been a sure blocked punt. I'll give the kickers, Jason Hanson and Nick Harris, an A. Hanson drilled a 53 yard field goal, and was booming his kickoffs deep into the end zone. Who knew he still had that much leg? Harris was continually pinning the Broncos deep in their own territory, with high, pinpoint punts that would die inside the 10 yard line. He has a spectacular day.

Coaching gets an A+. Mike Martz has actually developed a ground game, while taking whatever the defense gives him. For example, the Broncos tried to take away the outside threats, Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson. So Kitna would just throw to a wide open Shawn McDonald and Mike Furrey instead, both catching TD passes. That's an offense that will be hard to stop.

Joe Barry's defense is playing the best D I've seen in Detroit since the Wayne Fontes glory years of Chris Spielman, Robert Porche, and Benny Blades. I'm finally sold on Marinelli. I'll always have issues with some of his in-game decision making, but he's winning with essentially the same roster that lost 13 games in 2006. Amazing....

Matt Millen gets an F, just because.

Q: There had to be something to nit-pick about. How about the onside kick after getting a field goal for a 3-0 lead in the first quarter? The Broncos recovered and got possession at the Lions' 46. Good move or bad move?

O'Hara: Bad move. The Lions had dominated the first two possessions. The defense got a three-and-out on the Broncos' first possession, and the offense had 57 yards rushing on its first possession to set up a field goal.

It was a good, physical start for the Lions. They should have kicked deep and kept pounding.

Big Al: I'm not going to give Marinelli too much grief for the onside kick. It's one of those either/or plays, where you'll either be called a genius if it works, or an idiot if it doesn't. The way the defense was playing, I can understand wanting to take a shot. It just wasn't executed correctly, as Hanson himself took the blame after the game.

Q: How did Rod Marinelli explain trying the onside kick?

O'Hara: He said they saw something that might work, and he has faith in Hanson.

"We worked on it all week," Marinelli said. "It was set up for us. When you have a playmaker like Jason Hanson, I'm going to go with our playmaker. I called it."

I agree with his logic, but I wouldn't have done the same thing.

Big Al: Again, it just didn't work. The defense bailed Marinelli out, which I doubt would have happened in previous seasons. Keep in mind, the threat of the onside kick will have the opposition thinking about it the rest of the season. The more you keep the opposition guessing, the better off the Lions will be. Now let it go, and move on...

Q: Will the Lions finish the deal this year and make the playoffs, and who are their most valuable players?

O'Hara: Yes, they'll make the playoffs. They are passing test after test -- on the road one week, avoiding a letdown the next. All their players are key players because Marinelli makes them feel that way.

But to single out three:

1. Jon Kitna, because he's the quarterback and a natural leader.

2. Ernie Sims, because of the fire he brings to the defense.

3. Shaun Rogers, who can be the best player on the team when he wants to be. And right now, it looks like he wants to be.

Big Al: After starting 6-2, anything less than a 10 win season will be a disappointment. They only have to go 4-4 in the season's 2nd half to get there. Without question, 10 wins will make the Lions a playoff lock. Not to look too far forward, they have a VERY good shot at going to 7-2 against a struggling, very beatable, Cardinals team. 7-2? Am I dreaming?

Don't forget, the Packers aren't losing, so the Lions need to keep winning to have a shot at winning the NFC North. As I've said in previous weeks, the only team the Lions should worry about is the Favres. They handle their business in the division, the Lions will be just fine. Beat out the Pack, they are in the playoffs. And after a 6-2 start, not making the playoffs will be considered a disaster.

As O'Hara named 3 key players, I'll name a few more.

1. Kevin Jones: The offense became multi-dimensional once Jones became healthy. The opposing defenses can no longer lay back for the pass, which has made Kitna that much more effective, without having to throw 40 times a game.

2. Dewayne White: He's a big time playmaker, yesterday's fumble return for a TD being the latest. He's only behind Jon Kitna as the best free agent signing of the Millen era.

3. Shawn McDonald /Mike Furrey: It wasn't that long ago that the Lions were pulling stuffs off the street to be their #3-#4 receiver? Look who's passed through over the past 2 seasons. Kevin Kasper, Az Akim, Corey Bradford, Devale Ellis, Scotty Vines, Troy Edwards, Glenn Martinez, Shaun Bodiford. Nothing but used-to-be's and never-were's. With McDonald and Furrey, the Lions are 4 quality receivers deep, each and every one of them capable of the big play.


  1. The Lions didn't let off the accelerator after Cutler injury, they took advantage of Denver's weaknesses. I'm sure most Lions fans expected that Phillip Rivers would come in, and as we have seen time and time again, look like the next coming of Johnny U. I'll admit that I did. Instead, the Lions made Rivers look exactly what he is, a shaky backup QB. Talk about a refreshing change...

    I was more afraid of Patrick Ramsey tearing up the Lions, because Phillip Rivers was busy losing to the Vikings.

    But yeah, the same thought occurred to me too.

  2. Thanks for catching the mistake Joe.It's been corrected. I can't believe I did that, considering I must have typed Ramsey's name 50 times yesterday. Go figure...

  3. Big Al:

    Yeah, very good point on Marinelli winning with basically the same roster as last year, especially on the defensive side of the ball. He's getting more out of this team.

    What's happened with the defensive secondary has been nothing short of miraculous. They are average, talent-wise, but they are covering reasonably well and getting to the ball most of the time.