This week’s predictions were, naturally, fairly horrifying. I was actually surprised by one of them, but it wasn’t so much a pleasant surprise as it was a rage inducing “That’s fucking bullshit, how dare you lie to me like that,” surprise. The heart of my prediction, which was a throbbing Lions victory that would pump life giving blood back into our lifeless and rapidly desiccating bodies, was terribly, terribly wrong and instead of a heart, beating strongly inside of our chests, it was more like a giant, festering turd, just sort of slowly running down the inside of our ribcage. So . . . how was your weekend?
PREDICTION THE FIRST: Shaun Hill will be a little rusty thanks to his layoff, but he will recover well enough to complete 22 of 38 passes for 215 yards and 2 touchdowns to go with 1 interception.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: Hill completed 29 of 50 passes for 323 yards and 1 touchdown to go with one interception.
I refuse to believe these numbers. I hadn’t looked at the stats in the time between when that putrid game came to its horrifying close and when I sat down to write this ode to depression, but I assumed that I would see something like 19 of 40 for 175 yards and then a bunch of crudely drawn hieroglyphics portraying a man being eaten by a bear or a Nazi werewolf or being tortured by a vampire ape. 323 yards? Really?
On the surface those numbers look like those of a valiant gunslinger, a one armed desperado who did all he could to keep his team in the game. And that’s why they’re so surprising, because Hill, well, Hill kinda looked like shit.
I’m not going to say that it’s all his fault and curse him to hell because, really, come on, this is a dude who hadn’t thrown a football in a month and who was still playing with a broken arm. Of course he was going to suck. We were all idiots for believing anything else would happen. But that is what Hope will do to a man. It will turn him into a gibbering lunatic, a painfully naïve little boy who just wants to play with his army men in the sandbox and make up a bunch of fanciful shit involving dragons being slayed by wounded knights and one armed quarterbacks saving the day and that kick-ass Dukes of Hazzard car with the doors that opened and the miniature Bo and Luke Duke figures and Voltron – remember that shit? – and . . . and . . . what the fuck was I talking about? Oh yeah, Hope. Hope turns a man into a gibbering fool. Hope turns our brains into mush and takes us back to a time when we were little more than animals, unreasonable little beasts who only cared about toys and our damn fool wild flights of fancy. Hope made me thrash around in the sandbox and pretend I was an army man and only good things happen and that this world is fun and special and not just a doomed march towards the cold embrace of Lady Death. Hey, Lions Fever, Catch it!!!
Anyway, we should have known better. I guess Hill did the best he could considering the situation, but it was obvious that he was a man playing with a broken arm if that makes any sense. He looked tentative and afraid, and shit, who can blame him? I have broken some bones before. I have a surgically repaired ankle as the result of a freak golfing incident (Don’t ask.) If someone would have told me after four weeks that I had to take the cast off and then compete at a level that only .001% of the population can compete at (shit, it’s probably even less than that but you get the point) all while avoiding a bunch of rampaging 300 pound super beasts with hate in the hearts and bloodlust in their souls, I would have just laughed at you, popped another vicodin and tried to forget the memory of having a catheter stuck up my dick hole while I was stuck in the hospital. (Oh God . . .) So yeah, we should probably cut Hill some slack.
Hill’s biggest problem was his accuracy, which, uh, is kind of a problem when you’re limited to mostly short, safe throws like he was against the Bills. Unlike a lot of people, I don’t have that big a problem with the play selection. If those throws were accurate, then we’re talking Hill up like we did after the games against the Packers and Rams. But they weren’t, and so it made everyone from Hill to his receivers to the coaches look like shit. Everyone is getting horsewhipped by an angry fanbase right now and fair or not, that’s just the way it is. Make plays, yo.
The biggest problem I have with the play calling – and the thing that ultimately doomed both Hill and the Lions offense – was the decision to stick to the running game even after it became woefully apparent that the Lions couldn’t run on a gang of wheelchair bound kids with Downs Syndrome. It led to a lot of 2nd and 12s and 3rd and 9s that Hill simply couldn’t throw his way out of. The Lions needed to look for the pass on first down in order to set up a makeable conversion for Hill on 2nd or 3rd down. The Lions did finally start doing this a bit more in the second half, and the team ended up with a couple of drives that ended in points, which hey, that’s not that great, but all we needed were three more points and we would have won that ugly ass game, so it probably would have helped to try this sooner, you know?
Still, I can’t fault the Lions coaches for their initial game plan. I just can’t. I know that’s not a popular opinion, but here’s why I’m sticking to it: Not only was Shaun Hill still obviously hurt, which meant that he wasn’t going to be as effective as they needed him to be, but the Bills were dead last in the league against the run coming into the game. It would have been insane not to try to run the ball given those variables. The announcers kept talking all damn game long about how the Lions were trying to establish the run and about how they were trying to take pressure off of Hill and all the conventional wisdom bullshit gibberish that drives me nuts. No. Just . . . no. Never once did they mention that the Lions were trying to run the ball because everyone has run the ball on the Bills. It only made sense that the Lions would be able to too.
Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realize that this probably doomed the Lions right from the start. Running the ball obviously isn’t a team strength (that’s kinda like saying Hitler wouldn’t really be a big Woody Allen fan as far as understatements go), but human nature being what it is, the Lions saw a weakness in the Bills’ defense and decided to try to exploit it. I mean, you can’t really blame them that much for that, right? The only problem is that the Lions were forced to get away from what they do well, which is throwing the ball, in order to attack that weakness. Good teams don’t do this. Good teams force the other team to account for their strengths, for what they do well. They don’t tailor their game plans around what the other team does or doesn’t do well. That’s just a recipe for disaster and constant failure. It leads to incoherence, and instead of doing one thing really well, you end up doing nothing well. You’re constantly chasing an invisible dragon in the vain hopes that if you run hard enough and long enough you will find the pile of gold he’s been sitting on. You can’t play week to week. You have to have confidence in what you do best and you have to trust that the other team won’t be able to stop it. Of course, you should be malleable enough to make adjustments as the game goes on, but figure out your own identity and then go into each game with that as your base offense.
I know, I know, I am contradicting myself here, but I am allowed to think and change my mind as I write, you know? More people should do it. Rigidity of thought is the sign of a weak and lazy mind. Anyway, the Lions were probably dead before they even took the field against the Bills, and one of the reasons why is because they threw away their own identity in order to chase an invisible dragon to a pile of gold that doesn’t exist. That just reeks of desperation and I could go on and on and on about how this inevitably destroys the confidence of your players and leads to your team being stillborn the moment they take the field – which is essentially what happened against the Bills – but I have already strayed far, far from the point and that is that Shaun Hill was no damn good against the Bills.
But one of the reasons he was no damn good was because of the failure of the running game and the team’s continued adherence to a failed game plan. It’s hard for any quarterback to succeed given those conditions and it’s almost impossible for a backup quarterback with a broken arm to succeed given those conditions. With all that said, it seems insane that the Lions threw Hill out there for that game. But his presence in the lineup just goes to show the misguided faith that the coaches had in the running game. They weren’t expecting Hill to have to make plays. They were anticipating running the ball down the Bills throat and up their asses and everywhere else they could gain entrance to their battered, winless body. (Jesus, that just sounds horrible.) They, uh, were unable to do this, Hill was forced to try to make plays, and, well, 14-12, dudes and lady dudes.
That all seems to point to a fatal error on the part of the coaches. They should never have assumed that the running game would spring to life for the first time all season and that Hill would just merely have to be a dude who didn’t make the big mistake. They should have never assumed that they could get away with doing just enough to eke out an ugly win. They aren’t good enough for that shit yet. And besides, from a confidence standpoint, that wasn’t what was needed. The Lions needed to come out in that game with Hiroshima like thoughts in their heads. They needed to believe that they were going to rain fire and death and hell upon the heads of the hapless Bills. Instead, they came out believing that they just needed to cover their heads and hold their breath until the final gun and hope that they could escape with their lives. No wonder they fucking lost.
It was a fatal miscalculation on the part of the coaches. But the thing is, is I’m not sure if they could have come out and bombed anyone given the circumstances. I put too much faith in Hill and his health. I already talked about how naïve that was. But the coaches knew where he was, they knew he was still broken and they knew that he would be limited. So, what then? Do you just say fuck it and come out with guns blazing anyway and hope that Hill holds up? Or do you do what they did and just cover your head and hope for the best? I would have just said fuck it and come out guns blazing but that’s just me. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that, and going into the game they obviously thought differently. I think they misjudged the strength and mental fortitude of their own team and it ended up costing them.
But, ah, there is yet another option. What about Ol’ Plucky? My man Ty, who you all know and love, is pretty much the only dude left alive beating the drum for Drew Stanton and God bless him, you know? On twitter, during and after the game, he was asking how Stanton could have done any worse, the idea being that surely a healthy Stanton would have been better than an injured Hill, which . . . uh, sorry, my friend, but I just can’t travel down that road with you. A healthy Stanton’s ceiling is what he managed to eke out in the game against the Giants – one big play made by Calvin Johnson sandwiched by a lot of bad throws and marginal plays. That’s the dude’s ceiling. And it’s pretty much what we got out of Hill against the Bills. The point being that Hill on his worst day was pretty much the equivalent of Stanton on his best day. And sure, sure, there are caveats there about the quality of opponent – I mean, yeah, Giants > Bills – but somehow, I can’t envision, no matter how hard I try, Ol’ Plucky coming out and playing any better than Hill did against the Bills. Sure, Hill was a butt in that game. But Stanton is a butt by nature. It doesn’t make sense to me to replace a dude who might play like ass with a dude who you know will play like ass.
I recognize that the difference in opinion here probably lies with our respective assumptions of Ol’ Plucky’s ability. If I felt like he had the sort of potential that Ty thinks he does, then I would no doubt agree with Ty’s assessment. And if Ty thought that our favorite grit merchant was as rancid as I do, then he would no doubt agree with my position. This is not a matter of logic, but of opinion, and I suspect neither one of us is going to change our minds because we are so diametrically opposed on the basic positions and assumptions upon which everything else in this argument are built. But hey, these things happen, you know? I respect completely how Ty got from A to Z. I just disagree with him on what and where A actually is. That’s all.
And that, really, is the heart of this whole damn longwinded thing. I feel like the coaches were kind of damned no matter what. It was either put the game in the hands of an obviously injured backup quarterback, or hope that you can finally run against the team ranked last in the NFL against the run. Or, scrap both of those ideas and put the game in the hands of the third string quarterback who has made a career out of fucking up at the worst possible times and whose apparent best quality is that he was born in suburban Detroit and played football at one of the local colleges and hands out grit to needy children during the week. With those as the options, it soon becomes blindingly clear the best quarterback who gave the Lions a chance to win on Sunday was Ryan Fitzpatrick and the hope that he would somehow fuck up and throw an obscene number of interceptions. He didn’t, we didn’t have anyone who was capable of making plays, and well, there you go.
PREDICTION THE SECOND (OH MY GOD, I’M ALMOST 3,000 WORDS INTO THIS THING ALREADY AND WE’RE ONLY ON HUMBER TWO? SHIIIIIIIIIT.): Jahvid Best will explode for 155 yards on 24 carries and 2 touchdowns.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: Best ran for 35 yards (35!) on 17 carries. He failed to score.
That’s right. Against the worst run defense in the league, Jahvid Best, the anointed successor to St. Barry ran for 35 yards, averaged 2.1 yards per carry and managed a long run of 9 fucking yards. If you’ll excuse me, I have to find out how this gun tastes.
Jesus! Well, so much for there being any hope at all that this run game will eventually get on track. Those numbers are abominable, and are the biggest reason why the Lions offense completely shit the bed against the Bills. You can scream about Hill all you want, but the Lions game plan on Sunday was built around Best and the running game and . . . 35 yards! 2.1 yards per carry! Goddamn!
So we know it was horrible, but why? I mean, why couldn’t the Lions run on the worst run defense in the league, a defense that also happened to be missing one of its starting inside linebackers? Well, I think there are two reasons. One, I think that Best isn’t healthy. I think his turf toe problems are bothering him just enough to take away that little extra that makes him special. Without that, he’s just an average back running behind a line made up of shit, failure, and the tears of the dead. And that’s the second and biggest reason why the running game is struggling so much.
Against the Bills, there were countless times that Best cut outside only to be dragged down for a two yard loss. This drove people nuts. Why in the hell didn’t he just plant his foot and go? Well, I’ll tell you. If he planted his foot and drove forward, he would have just run into a brick wall wearing a Buffalo Bills jersey because almost as soon as the ball was snapped, the Lions offensive linemen were just getting their asses kicked. It felt like Kyle Williams had some sort of Star Trekian teleportation device that allowed him to magically appear behind Dominic Raiola in the Lions backfield throughout the game. It was awful. Of course Best was going to try to cut away from that, and of course he was going to fail miserably, because that is the one thing his injury robs him of, that burst, that ability to cut on a dime and blast off into a future of rainbows and blowjobs. And it doesn’t help that the dudes he was cutting behind – the law firm from hell known as Backus, Cherilus, Peterman and Sims – were too busy allowing their clients, the Failure Demons, to rush through unimpeded, their teeth dripping with blood, their hearts made of black fire and their tongues flicking cackles of pure evil in every direction.
Best’s death, in retrospect, was stunningly obvious. My dude, UpHere – who, by the way, has just joined Armchair Linebacker as a blogger (congrats?) – sent me an e-mail after the game, which I have already mentioned he had attended, and he told me that from his seats, only a few rows behind the Lions bench, that it was startlingly obvious that the Lions offensive line coach needed to go. He said that not only did the linemen completely ignore their own coach, they wouldn’t even look the dude in the eye. This is a situation that is straight fucked and it’s not going to get any better until wholesale changes are made. I think it’s a cultural thing at this point. There is no position group on the team that is more tainted by the failures of the past – specifically by 0-16 – than the offensive line. They are just too broken, too wrecked as a unit, to move forward. You can talk up their individual talent all you want – scouts routinely pump up Jeff Backus and after the game Paul Posluszny (fuck spelling that name, ya’ll) inexplicably talked up Dominic Raiola as a great player – but the reality is that offensive line play is about how the parts work together, about cohesion, about everyone doing their job and doing it well, and these dudes, well, they aren’t anything close to a unit. They are a collection of mediocre talents who don’t give a fuck about what the other dudes are supposed to be doing. They just try to do their own thing and hope for the best. Shit, they won’t even look their position coach in the eye. That is just staggeringly ridiculous when you consider that both Backus and Raiola have been starting for a decade and are considered team leaders. Fuck that. They are living, breathing reminders of 0-16, and not just because they were there and are still here, but because that shit infected them so thoroughly that they play like 0-16, if that makes any damn sense at all. The offensive line is just a nuclear wasteland right now and it has nothing to do with individual talent and everything to do with a complete lack of cohesion and an attitude of utter failure. And until that is fixed – and by fixed, I mean some serious demons need to be exorcized and the only way to do that is to, sadly, get rid of the hosts – the running game will continue to be mired in shit and failure.
PREDICTION THE THIRD: St. Calvin will have a relatively modest day, catching 5 passes for 65 yards and 1 touchdown.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: St. Calvin caught 10 passes for 128 yards and 1 touchdown.
I actually undersold St. Calvin here – for once – but it didn’t really feel like he had a 10 catch sort of game, did it? Much like with Hill, I expected the numbers here to be much more depressed. And sure, he caught the one touchdown pass which gave us a chance at the end of the game - and really, that drive was his to win or lose, which only highlights both his ridiculous talent and how important he is to the team - but he also dropped a couple of passes on that drive and it never really seemed like he dominated like he could have, you know? (Again, I’ll refer to that e-mail from UpHere, who said that from his sideline seats, it was obvious that Calvin alligator armed those two dropped passes, which, uh, if you’re a franchise wide receiver playing in the 4th quarter with your team down by 8, you just can’t do that shit.)
Maybe I’m being a little unfair to St. Calvin, but again, that is how absurdly talented he is. The scope of his talent means that people will expect greatness from him all the time. It’s awesome that he made a big play when the team needed it the most, but if we’re being honest here the team needed that big play throughout the game and didn’t get it until the end. I’ll refer back to something I discussed earlier in the year – is this a flaw in the game plan or is Calvin failing to step up? This is all vaguely ridiculous in the wake of a 10 catch performance, but still, so many of those catches came on 3rd and long “Well, I guess we’ve got no other choice” throws, and I’m not sure why that is happening. It’s weird. Does Calvin just have a sense of the moment, a theatricality that makes him step it up in do or die moments? Does he just coast the rest of the time? Fuck, I don’t know what’s going on, and again, the dude did have 10 catches so what the hell else do we want from him? All I know is that it doesn’t feel right. I know that is just some senseless blather, even from me, but it’s all I can say here, you know? Maybe our expectations are just unreasonably high. I’m sure that’s part of it, but Goddamn, that just seemed like the quietest, shakiest 10 catch performance I can remember seeing. When he caught that touchdown, I remember thinking “Finally!” There was a little bit of exasperation in that thought, and I guess that’s the whole problem – you shouldn’t have to feel like that so much when it comes to a franchise receiver.
I am arguing with myself in my own fucked up head right now. One side of me – the rational side – is telling me to look at the numbers and reminding me that the dude scored 7 fucking touchdowns in October. The other side of me – the side that responds to intuition and feel – is telling me that there still is something missing here, that this situation isn’t quite right. I don’t know which side to listen to. I have no idea which one is correct. I feel like I should listen to the rational, numbers based side because I am a man of reason, but my intuition and perception is the heart of my being and, I don’t usually like to brag like this, but my being is pretty damn special. I am a perceptive and intuitive son of a bitch and I often freak people out with my ability to cut through all the bullshit and see to the heart of just about any situation. Which is odd, I know, given the amount of bullshit to which I subject all of you. The point I’m trying to make, I guess, is that although I simply cannot argue against the numbers and that although I will agree with anyone who says I am being absurdly unfair here, there is a part of me – a part that I have learned to listen to and trust above anything and everything else – that is telling me that there is an issue here.
I know I just made no damn sense at all and you are probably backing away from your keyboard – if you have survived this epic marathon of a post to this point, that is – and that’s fine. I have been driven insane by the Lions and I do not hide this fact. Maybe someday, we can all laugh about these dark and terrible days, but for now, my psyche is still being torn apart like the flesh of that dude in Hellraiser and well, what the fuck am I gonna do about it? Am I still typing? What is happening? Who am I talking to? Where am I? No, I will not put these crayons down. Don’t you stick me with that needle, you hell bitch! Nurse! Nurse!
PREDICTION THE FOURTH: The streets of Buffalo will run red with the blood of the wicked and The Great Willie Young will stalk his victims through these streets, naked and without pity, and 100 years from now, the great, great grandchildren of his victims will only be able to whisper his name in their own hearts and they will shudder and this will radiate back through time to provide our own wounded souls with nourishment.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: It would seem that for the first time all season, The Great Willie Young was activated before the game. Obviously, it is then the fault of the coaches for not allowing him to destroy those heathen Bills on the field, and because he was no doubt stuck warming up footballs on the sideline and massaging Gunther Cunningham’s [redacted for gross indecency] he was unable to lend all of his spirit towards the protection of our souls. Thus, we were left defenseless and lost in a Willie Youngless world, which I don’t have to tell you, is no world at all. Although it may be heretical of me to suggest that The Great Willie Young is incapable of serving as Gunther’s ball warmer, sideline cheerleader and protector of our souls all at the same time, I can only go by what happened, which is that our souls were bombarded and ruined by the terrible events of Sunday. Perhaps The Great Willie Young’s spirit was otherwise engaged wrestling with Thor or fighting ancient Chinese monks or wrestling with fat Nazi colonels. Who knows? I am not questioning his greatness. I only wonder what we did wrong to lose his favor and his love. Please, oh Great One, accept my feeble love and tend to my soul’s withered existence. I can do better. I promise. Please. Please? I am on my knees, oh Great One. Well, no, not for that reason, but . . . what the hell, if it brings about your favor, I guess I can swallow my pride and, uh, something else . . .
PREDICTION THE FIFTH: I will be secretly dosed with large amounts of lithium immediately after I am finished writing this.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: Lollipop lollipop , oh lolli lolli lolli Lollipop lollipop oh lolli lolli lolli lollipop lollipop oh lolli lolli lolli lollipop! Ba boom boom boom *Pop!*