First things first, Green Bay did not “rest their starters” they rested some of their starters, while the Lions were missing several of theirs due to injury in their 45-41 loss on Sunday. Obviously, Aaron Rodgers being on the sideline was huge, but every other healthy starter on offense played. The Lions came into this game riding the high of their first playoff clinching win in over a decade, but showed they still need to hone their big game experience.
Standing in their way were the playoff tested Packers and some of the worst officiating I have ever seen. I have literally watched thousands of football games and I understand officials miss calls and it’s part of the game, but it sure does seem to be a much bigger part of Lions’ games than any other.
The Lions were robbed of a possession when Stefan Logan clearly was down by contact, but the officials ruled it a fumble on the field. A short time later they were robbed of seven points when Titus Young caught a very obvious touchdown, yet was ruled out of bounds. More importantly, the officials ruled a Tony Scheffler catch a fumble, which it obviously was not, and forced Jim Schwartz to use one of his challenges. So due to three horible calls, but only two challenge flags, the Lions were not able to challenge the third awful call.
The officials were hardly to blame for the whole loss, but they did add an extra layer of difficulty for the Lions. Since Brian Billick and Thom Brennaman were announcing, it wasn’t shocking at all that very key bits of information were left out of the broadcast. Replacing analysis was butchering of the English language and horse laughter. With all the talk of key Packers that were sitting, they missed the opportunity to shed light on the most important player missing today’s game, Louis Delmas.
The Lions were a top five pass defense (Ranked by FootballOutsiders.com) with Delmas in the lineup, and without him the secondary has crumbled. Delmas is the quarterback of the defense and probably the best cover safety in the NFC, he doesn’t get lots of recognition from the media, but coaches and players voted him a Pro Bowl alternate despite missing a month and having no interceptions.
Delmas makes the secondary calls and adjustments and is so sound in coverage that the other members of the secondary can play aggressively knowing he has their back. With Chris Harris in the lineup, the Lions have been abused by the deep ball and it has forced them to allow more passes underneath as they overcompensate on the deep ball. Harris also takes terrible angles in pursuit which is why the Lions have given up so much run after the catch yardage. The Lions expect to have Delmas back next week when they travel to New Orleans to face the red hot Saints.
The Lions lack of a running game killed them once again as they are unable to run any clock when they have a lead or possess the ball long enough to give their defense a break. The Packers couldn’t control the clock either, but it’s much easier to overcome that obstacle when you are at home and have the natural momentum that comes from a home game.
The Lions’ passing offense is finally clicking on all cylinders and that will give them a chance in the playoffs. The running game will have to improve to help neutralize the home field advantage they will face all the way through the playoffs. The defense will benefit from getting Corey Williams and Louis Delmas back, but the pass rush has to improve so opposing quarterbacks don’t have so much time to throw.
It was disappointing that the Lions couldn’t exorcise their last demon in Green Bay today and lock up the 5th seed. However, this loss will provide another necessary kick to a young and inexperienced team. The Lions are the least battle tested playoff team in the NFC and they have the toughest road to the Super Bowl of any of the 12 teams that will start their journey next week.
The one thing the Lions have going for them that nobody else has is the huge leap they took this year. No other team has built themselves up as far and as fast as the Lions. This team went from 0-16 to the playoffs in three seasons. There are leaders on this team like Jason Hanson and Dominic Raiola that have been through it all and will take charge in the locker room. The Lions are inexperienced in big games and they don’t have the best track record in them. They are 1 and 5 (0 and 5 if the Giants make it) against the NFC playoff field. They are also the most penalized of the six teams as well. As dire as that seems, they are also the only team that set NFL comeback records this season and in all but one of those losses against the playoff teams were one play away from winning.
The Lions are young enough to not get too psyched out by the playoffs, but they have experienced far more highs and lows than several veteran teams. They are the only team that has made the playoffs despite heavily underachieving in proportion to their talent. The Lions are truly a Wild Card and as we’ve seen the last several years, those are the teams that are the most dangerous.