Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

They're pulling me back in...

I was prepared for the worst. I didn't think Sunday's game against Seattle was going to be pretty. I thought the Seahawks would come into Ford Field (hopefully, with better entrance music than "Bittersweet Symphony"), remind each other they lost Super Bowl XL in that building, and crush the Lions like a bowl of holiday walnuts.

So what am I supposed to think now, after the lovable Leos lost by only three points to the defending NFC champions? I'm looking at that bowl of Kool-Aid. The cup is in my hand. Do I reach for that ladle and fill it up or not?

Maybe some of you thought the Lions would play the Seahawks that close. If so, you're certainly smarter than me. But you couldn't have predicted that kind of performance from the Detroit defense. Not after what we saw in the pre-season, when draw plays were guaranteed first downs for the opposition, receivers were allowed to run clear down the field unchallenged, and special teams players were starting alongside Ernie Sims at linebacker.

The defensive line was damn close to dominant. (And I'm not just talking about the two blocked field goals.) If Steve Hutchinson makes that much of a difference for Seattle's offensive line (and I think many of us would've guessed that), then the Seahawks front office should tell Deion Branch to keep his bags packed, ship him and a first-round pick (if that's even enough) to the Vikings, and wait by the phone with fingers crossed.

Or maybe... maybe Detroit's front four is just really that good. Is that possible? Matt Hasselbeck was running around for cover like Jeff Garcia last year. Shaun Rogers and James Hall were in his face all day. Not only was Tyoka Jackson's name mentioned on the broadcast, but it was because he made some big plays. Maybe Rod Marinelli should coach those guys every gameday. (Just watch it when you go for some drive-thru munchies, Coach Joe.)

Thousands of fantasy football players wept when they saw Shaun Alexander's rushing totals. And it wasn't just the D-line's work, in that case. As Evan pointed out in the comments, Ernie Sims was ready for him on virtually every carry (and yes, Evan, he totally deserved a Game Ball). The linebacking play might have been the most surprising aspect of the game. Who were those guys out there flying to the ball?

Yet the Lions did still lose the game, and you have to pin that on the offense. And I thought a Mike Martz offense got at least six points just by rolling out of bed on Sunday morning. But I think Sunday's game was a great example of just how much talent matters. Good (great?) coaching - and it looked like Sgt. Marinelli and his staff did a hell of a job coaching his guys up - will only take a team so far. Eventually, you need some guys to make key plays. And I'm not sure the Lions have that yet.

Read more of "They're pulling me back in"...

The passing game looked out of sync all day, with several of Jon Kitna's throws landing just ahead of his receivers, and those same receivers making their breaks just a second too late. (I'll have more on Roy Williams' little guarantee tomorrow, but when you go back and watch that game, you can see what he's getting at. If a few of those catches are made, it may have been a whole different ballgame. I know - "what if?") Kitna did get some good pass protection, however, which was a pleasant surprise.

But the offensive line was terrible with the running attack. Kevin Jones barely had a hole to run through. When he did get some space, he usually churned out some yardage. On most of his carries, however, there was a tackler - often, many tacklers - waiting for him. Jones showed a lot of moxie by fighting for yards, never going down easily, and earning the love and respect of Lions fandom. Yet he had to come out of the game for a blow several times because knocking heads with defenders just got too tiring.

It's hard to knock him, but sometimes, KJ is a little frustrating to watch because he never seems able to make a play on his own. Again, his line wasn't doing him any favors. But there are times when a running back has to do it on his own. Break it to the outside. Cut back against the flow of the play. You'd love to see what KJ could do with a credible run-blocking unit in front of him. Yet I occasionally wonder if his apparent lack of "wiggle" is the one thing keeping him from being an elite runner.

And while I'm nitpicking, let's talk about Roy Williams. Roy, not every ball thrown to you is going to be perfect. Sometimes, you have to jump for a catch. Other times, you might have to dive. I can only imagine how those turf burns hurt. But the great ones do that. They don't just reach. Or give up on a ball that's thrown just a bit too far. They get in there and fight for the ball like there's money stuffed in it. And occasionally, those guys even make a catch over the middle when they know they're going to hit - and hit hard.

Go ask your teammate, Mike Furrey, about that. Did you see that 19-yard catch he made in the second quarter? Ken Hamlin nailed the poor guy, but he still held on to the ball and got a first down. I know, Roy - you've made some pretty one-handed catches while you've been in Detroit. But I'll go so far as to say that's the best catch a wide receiver has made since Matt Millen took over this team and subjected us to the likes of Bill "Please Hammer, Don't Hurt Me" Schroeder.

(I see the Lions brought back Az Hakim today. But you know what? The guy was never better than when he played in Martz's offense, so why not give it a go? Not sure where he'll will play, though. I'm liking Furrey in the slot, as mentioned above.)

Maybe I'm being too hard on Roy. Maybe I'm underestimating him, and he's just one of those guys who makes it look so easy, so effortless, that it looks like he's not trying. But it's not difficult to see he could be a special player. You just have to wonder whether he really wants to become that guy.

One more note on the game, and it's in response to something else Evan said in the comments: I'm very close to sold on Rod Marinelli. The Sarge had me the moment he plugged in his headset and a big grin broke out on his face. And how about that first Seattle kick was blocked? How often do you see that kind of joy from a football coach? They're often the most sour-pussed, irritable-looking cusses on the planet. Yet Marinelli looked like there was no place he'd rather be than on that sideline on Sunday. And I imagine that has a tremendous effect on his players, even when he tells them their effort wasn't quite good enough.

3 Comments:

  • At September 13, 2006 9:25 AM, Blogger the sports dude said…

    Yes it is early and yes it is okay that you are being cautious about being pulled back in but all in all there is just something different about these guys, almost like the stink is starting to be washed away. It all starts with Marinelli and the way he does things. I think the fact that they cut Rogers and the way he is handling Mike Williams right now is sending the right message... draft position don't get you shit in my trenches!

    I am telling you that there is a chance that this could be a very special and different year, all it takes is the guys on offense to flush their systems of years of Wet Toast and to just get the Martz Madness down. I had a feeling the defense would be better with the influence of Marinelli and Henderson, it is only a matter of time before the offense gets it down.

     
  • At September 13, 2006 12:46 PM, Blogger Leelanau Sports Guy said…

    I want some Kool-Aid!

     
  • At September 13, 2006 2:32 PM, Blogger Mini Me said…

    You know you are drinking that kool-aid...mmm mmm good!

     

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