Good morning…..or I guess not, since the Lions just dropped their 18 consecutive loss yesterday after losing to the Saints 45-27.
Then again….I thought signs of great change were pretty evident in the game, the most significant of which was the attitude exuded by the players. Many times the defense looked more resilient and confident. I saw many players performing like they had a chip on their shoulder, or perhaps they are just sick of carrying the results of last year’s team on their back. Unfortunately the results were the same.
Let’s take a look at some of the positive aspect of the game.
Louis Delmas, the talented rookie safety looks just that…talented. Delmas was everywhere and made an impact. He tallied 6 tackles, a pass deflection, and a fumble recovery which he returned for a 65 yard TD. I think his energy was even rubbing off on the rest of the secondary as they looked more aggressive and inspired to make plays then any past group in recent memory even if it didn’t always covert to actual production. He was even seen in the defensive huddle jawing at veteran team mates like Grady Jackson after big plays were yielded.
Alex Henry, who came to Detroit when Martin Mayhew traded Jon Kitna to Dallas in exchange for the veteran corner/safety made that trade look golden with his performance. He led the team with 10 tackles, with two assists, two pass deflections, and an interception. His presence was felt all over the field but most in run support which was one of the main reasons he was brought to Detroit.
Other mentionable players on defense were Larry Foote (9 tackles, 1 PD) and Marquand Manuel (7 tackles, 1 PD) both of whom were around the ball a lot, hitting hard, and putting pressure on their opponents.
Positive aspects of the offense were hard to come by. The team could not generate any sort of a ground attack however they did stay committed, as promised, for as long as they could before having to play catch up. Stafford shows a lot of poise and seems to be able to read defenses and diagnose there plays pretty well for a rookie. His release and arm strength continue to impress and look elite.
Kevin Smith may have had his best run of the game with his 4 yard touchdown early in the second quarter. Unfortunately it was the only bright spot of the running game as he only tallied 20 yards on 15 rushes and averaged just 1.3 yards a carry, his longest gain being 6 yards.
He was however most effective in the passing game as the team showed more of the screen game that we saw in preseason. From it, Smith caught a team leading 7 passes which also ties his career high for receptions in a game. His 52 yards were only behind Calvin Johnson’s total of 90 yards, and Smith averaged 7.4 yards a catch.
Aaron Brown had a nifty little nine yard rush but it was the lone carry of the game for the rookie. I thought we might see more of him but I can’t help but wonder if the team wanted him to just focus all his concentration, energy, and stamina on the kick return game. Perhaps it worked as Brown had 5 returns for 180 yards for a 36 yard average. He had a spectacular return of 87 yards that would have been a TD had he not run out of gas at the end of the play after switching gears and directions a few times. It was a site for sore eyes as it has been a long while since we Lions fans have seen a returner with as much quickness, explosiveness, and vision as Brown displayed against the Saints.
In the passing game, Calvin Johnson looked as monstrous as ever however the defensive scheme and pass rush put on by the saints hindered Mathew Stafford’s ability to get him the ball effectively. Johnson still made a couple of huge big plays, breaking tackles and accumulating yards after the catch averaging an astronomical 30 yards per catch. He finished with just 3 receptions.
Bryan Johnson began to show up late in the game and finished with 4 catches for 45 yards. Some of those receptions came off leaping, diving grabs with heavy pressure and a DB’s draped all over him. I hope we see more of that in the future or the other Johnson is going to continue to have a tough time getting the ball.
Now it’s time to talk about the bad aspects….
The defensive scheme looked, at best, like a huge work in progress. Gunther Cunningham once said they will blitz around 40% of the time. Well if the Lions did, it was hard to notice as the Lions didn’t seem to pressure Drew Brees much and didn’t tally one sack against the Saints. I know the defense is designed to funnel the plays to the interior of the defense but I saw too many times where the defensive ends were coming around the outside of the offensive tackles allowing the tackles to force the ends around the pocket and keep them well out of reach of Drew Brees.
If the Defensive Ends did get a bit of a push on the tackles and force them back towards the quarterback, the lack of an inside pass rush allowed Brees to just step up, by a bit of time and make big play after big play in route to 26 completions, 358 yards, and a career record 6 TD’s.
Julian Petersen was mostly ineffective, Eric King filled in for the injured Phillip Buchanon and struggled in coverage, giving up TD passes to Colston, Meachem and Henderson. The defense allowed 515 total yards, 157 rushing yards, and 358 passing yards. The Saints converted 9 of 13 3rd downs and averaged 10.5 yards per pass…good enough to convert a first down on every pass play.
Mike Bell, in for Pierre Thomas who was inactive with an injury, ran for a career high 143 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. The Saints crowd gave him a standing ovation when he left the field.
The Offensive line, as has been in the past, struggled to open up the running game and had a tough time keeping pressure off Rookie Quarterback, Matthew Stafford. The left side of the line struggled and both Jeff Backus and Daniel Loper had false star penalties during critical drives.
Stafford was only sacked once but that had more to due with Stafford’s play recognition, quick release, and strong arm which were a welcome change from the likes of past Lions quarterbacks that seemed to hold on to the ball way too long and lost many a yard. However sometimes his quick release seemed to contribute to his 3 interceptions.
We could probably go on and on breaking down all the bad things and looking for the good things that the Lions put on tape Sunday. I guess all we can do now is hope that next week they show they are improving and lets hope that improvement converts into their first win in 19 games.