Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Ballad Of Ol' Plucky (Oh, And Some Other Bullshit Too)

Instead of making predictions, I am just going to grow my beard out like this and move into a shack deep in the woods where I will spend all day scaring the shit out of normal folk and chasing rabbits. And then at night, I will get piss drunk and wander into town and panhandle for money outside of the local bar because I figure that people will be more generous at two in the morning when they are also piss drunk. In life, it's important to have a plan.

As usual, when it comes to these infernal predictions, I was sorta right and sorta wrong, but hey let’s face it, mostly wrong. Blah. Anyway, let’s just get on with it.

PREDICTION THE FIRST: Stanton will complete 20 of 38 passes for 215 yards, 1 touchdown . . . and 3 interceptions.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: Stanton completed 16 of 24 passed for 178 yards, 1 touchdown, and . . . drumroll please . . . 0 interceptions!

It was a quietly efficient day from Stanton, which is about the best we can hope for out of him. The problem is, is that the Lions needed Stanton to do more than that if they were going to win the game. And therein lies the issue with Drew Stanton. Even if he has progressed to the point where he is no longer an outright embarrassment – the Jets rollout to oblivion notwithstanding – he is so limited that the best you can really hope for is that he can lead you to a four point loss rather than a horrible fiasco loss. Which . . . meh, you know?

The game plan against the Bears had to be carefully laid out in order to account for Stanton’s obvious limitations and I give all the credit in the world to Scott Linehan for figuring out a way to make it work – for the most part. But the rigidity of the game plan made it imperative that the Lions playmakers make plays in order to compensate for Stanton’s inability to throw the ball more than 15 yards down the field without it exploding into a cloud of Grit and the trapped souls of 50 years’ worth of shitty Lions quarterbacks. Fortunately for the Lions – and for Stanton – they did. St. Calvin turned a simple pitch and catch over the middle of the field into a Beast Run into the endzone. Jahvid Best’s toes were distracted by - uh . . . what’s the toe version of porn? Wait, don’t answer that – and he responded by ripping off a couple of nice runs which both forced the Bears defense to account for him and allowed Stanton to work with a shorter field. Meanwhile, the defense was doing just enough to keep the Bears off the scoreboard, which further lessened the pressure on Stanton to have to make plays. And let’s not forget Stefan Logan, who managed to give the Lions good field position a couple of times with nice returns. Essentially, everything had to go right in just about every phase of the game in order for Stanton to not look terrible. I mean, hey, good for him that he didn’t, but . . . yeah.

Let me put it another way: the Lions did everything they reasonably could to mask Stanton’s deficiencies and they still lost by four. Hey, it was great that they managed to get it that close and it’s great that they hung on for as long as they did and it was great that Stanton never really hurt them. But there came a point where they just couldn’t hold on any longer and when that point came they needed their quarterback to be able to make a play and he couldn’t do it. That’s harsh as hell, but that is the reality of the situation. It’s great that Stanton isn’t embarrassing himself out there, but I don’t think he’s an NFL caliber quarterback either. Safe and careful can only take you so far and then you’re down by four in the 4th quarter and what are you gonna do? What are you gonna do? That’s the question and the answer is that Stanton wasn’t really going to do much of anything. And there you have it.

Look, I get that people want to see Stanton succeed. I do. I don’t hate the guy. I just think he’s a shitty quarterback. It was encouraging to me that he didn’t shit the bed because it means that I might be able to watch these last few games with at least a modicum of hope. Maybe we can actually win one. Who knows? But let’s be realistic here. I mean, come on, if that’s the best we can hope for from Stanton then what’s the point? If the best we can hope for is that in a perfect world we lose by four points, then we should probably just move on from the Drew Stanton era, whatever the fuck it was, you know? (By the way, I have noticed that I use “you know?” a staggering amount in each post, which will drive you nuts now that I’ve mentioned it - if you hadn’t noticed it before anyway, in which case you are already probably sick of seeing it. But I just wanted to make it clear that I am aware of this, you know?)

I guess for me what it all comes down to are three questions. Number one: Is Drew Stanton capable of being a starting NFL quarterback? Well, I would hope by now that even his biggest boosters would realize that this is never going to happen for Ol’ Plucky. He simply lacks the requisite ability to handle the job. Has he improved? Certainly – especially in the last year or so – but there are limits to that improvement. I think the mental part has started to clear up for Stanton but the physical . . . well, the physical part is just never gonna be there.

Question two: Is Drew Stanton capable of being a backup NFL quarterback a la Shaun Hill? No. This is where some people might disagree with me, but again, the Lions needed to do everything they could to mask Stanton’s deficiencies and accentuate his positives and they still lost the game. They didn’t lose because of Stanton but they didn’t win either. Your backup quarterback by nature isn’t going to be as talented or as capable of your starting quarterback, but he still needs to give you a reasonable chance to win the game. And that’s the key phrase here: a reasonable chance to win the game. Stanton doesn’t provide that. He just doesn’t. That game against the Bears was basically an A+ performance for Drew Stanton. For any other quarterback, it was an unremarkable C. Stanton can’t reasonably be expected to do better than that. And it wasn’t enough. Let’s not forget that his biggest play of the game came on his touchdown pass to St. Calvin, which was pretty much all St. Calvin beasting his way to the end zone. Take that away and Stanton’s game looks generally ineffective. Sure, he didn’t make any real big mistakes, but he didn’t do anything either. And again, that’s the best you can hope for from Stanton. You need more than that from your backup quarterback. Sure, you might need to tweak the game plan a bit to account for what he does and doesn’t do well, but you need to be able to expect him to go out there and execute well enough to make enough plays to give you a reasonable chance to win. You’re not going to get that from Stanton. You’re just not.

Question three: Is Drew Stanton a viable candidate to be a third string NFL quarterback? Sure. At least on the surface. I mean, if you are judging on a purely linear basis, the kind that says “Okay, my starting quarterback is very good, my backup is okay and my third string quarterback is kinda shaky” then sure, why not Stanton? But the reality is far different. The reality is that teams want their third string quarterback to be a guy who they can develop for the future. They want a guy who they think can be a diamond in the rough, a turd that they can polish into a ruby. Stanton is what he is. He’s not going to get better at this point. He’s just . . . Ol’ Plucky and he’s probably doomed to be perpetually caught in between that backup quarterback and third string quarterback role for the rest of his career. Which leaves him . . . in the UFL.

Perhaps I’m not being fair here. I’m sure that Stanton boosters would say that I’m not. But I think that I am. I mean, again, I think Stanton played well on Sunday. For him. He didn’t embarrass himself. But shouldn’t a fourth year quarterback be capable of more than that? If he isn’t then what’s the point? I suppose that’s probably where someone like me and a Stanton booster would differ. They probably think that what he did against the Bears is somehow indicative of an average performance. They see it as a baseline upon which Stanton can build. But I see it as the peak. As long as we disagree on something as fundamental as that, we’ll continue to disagree about Stanton’s viability as an NFL quarterback, no matter the role.

PREDICTION THE SECOND: Jahvid Best won’t play much and again Maurice Morris will prove to be the most effective running back the Lions have left. The Lions will try to lean on the run more to take some of the pressure off of Stanton, but it won’t matter, as the Lions will struggle to run the ball. Morris will run for 50 yards on 12 carries while Aaron Brown will gain only 20 yards on 10 carries.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: Well . . . Best played and played the best he’s played in several weeks, running for 65 yards on only 9 carries, including a 40+ yard scamper near the end of the first half which allowed St. Calvin to go into Beast Mode and give the Lions a 17-14 lead going into the half. It was an especially critical run because it seemed like the Lions were content – thanks to the presence of Ol’ Plucky at quarterback – to just sit on the ball and run out the clock without making a critical mistake and go into the half down 14-10. Best’s run changed the math and suddenly the Lions had a very real opportunity to put at least three points on the board before the half. The next play saw St. Calvin catch a simple pass over the middle and then eat the bones of the Bears defenders on his way to six.

That run by Best was the biggest play in the game for the Lions, at least in my opinion, which, well . . . fuck, is kind of the point of a blog, you know? (There it is again . . .) It showed just how valuable a healthy Best is to this offense. Without a healthy Best, the terrified coaches make Stanton hand off 3 times to Maurice Morris and then go into the half down four. With Jahvid Best, Stanton’s impact on the game is minimized and the Lions are able to take a shot at taking the lead just before the half.

The question then becomes why did Best only get the ball 9 times? Well, I think he’s still too banged up to be anything more than a once in a while home run threat. That’s probably the best way to use him for the remainder of the season. Anything more than that and his toes will once again betray him and he’ll just become another body slamming into the line for 1 yard a carry. The Lions have to pick their spots with Best and hope that on a couple of them he breaks it big. That’s what happened against the Bears and it made a pretty damn big impact.

I was also encouraged by how Best broke the run. Usually, he is just looking for the big play and he’s almost too willing to bounce it outside and hope for the best. That usually results in a loss or no gain and, well, we’ve become pretty damn used to seeing that, right? Right. But on that particular run, Best actually hit the hole first and then when there was no room to run, he bounced it to the outside where he found room because all those dudes were busy plugging the initial hole. You have to actually respect the first option if you want the second option to work. (Also, I should note that I am always uncomfortable whenever I have to use the phrase “plugging the hole.” Well, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable so much as it makes me access my inner Beavis, and then I have to stop myself from making a ton - a ton - of crude and terrible jokes, but really this is my own personal cross to bear and not yours and I apologize for dragging you into it.)

Aside from Best, it was the usual for the Lions. Morris ran the ball 10 times for 37 yards, which . . . eh, okay sure. It would appear that Best’s presence made Aaron Brown redundant as he was missing for most of the game. I’m not even sure if he played. I do know that he never touched the ball. In all, the Lions have run the ball slightly better the last couple of weeks. That’s because Maurice Morris is what he is – a dude who is going to give you anywhere from 3.5 to 5 yards per carry every game, which is an upgrade from what the Lions had been getting, and because they rested Best last week against the Patriots, which meant that without him in the game the Lions were able to get the ball in the hands of some healthy dudes like Morris and Brown who could actually do more than limp towards the line and then ineptly bounce it out. But perhaps more importantly, it gave Best time to rest his poor, poor toes. Not only did he not have to overstress them by playing on them against the Patriots, he then got 10 full days to rest and recuperate because the game was played on a Thursday. It almost had the effect of giving him two games off instead of just the one and so against the Bears, he was able to play better than he had since probably the Eagles game all the way back in week two.

It will be interesting to see if Best’s toes have really fallen to their knees and begged Best for forgiveness for their traitorous ways or whether this was just a mirage, an oasis born of the unusually long layoff that Best got before the game against the Bears. If it was the former, then the Lions might actually have a chance to steal a game or two in the coming month, Ol’ Plucky or no Ol’ Plucky. But if it was the latter, then sadly, the Lions are probably doomed. In that sense maybe Jahvid Best is the perfect avatar for these Lions: obvious potential that just has to wait until next year to truly be realized because the shell that houses it is just too flawed and fucked up right now to allow it to mean anything this season.

PREDICTION THE THIRD: St. Calvin will catch only 4 passes for 85 yards. He’ll have one big play, but for the most part he’ll be limited by Stanton throwing Grit balls in his direction.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: St. Calvin caught 3 passes for 66 yards and 1 beastly touchdown, which is almost exactly what I predicted.

I feel like I have been writing forever, and so I am going to keep this short(ish). Calvin Johnson showed on that one big play that he was the most talented player on that field. When he wants to, he can’t be stopped. Perhaps there is a whole thing that needs to be written with that phrase “when he wants to” at the heart of it, but today is not that day. Like I said, I’m trying to keep this short and I don’t want to get off on a huge tangent about St. Calvin’s state of mind or his willingness to bring it on every play. I just don’t and I’m having to fight like hell to stop myself from doing it. So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m just going to take a breath, cut that line of discussion off, abruptly and without segue and just end this paragraph. Okay?

Alright. St. Calvin’s numbers weren’t great, but that had everything to do with the other part of my prediction: Stanton throwing Grit balls. Like I discussed earlier, Stanton wasn’t bad against the Bears, but his limitations are such that they took St. Calvin out of the game for large portions of it. Stanton simply lacks the arm strength to get St. Calvin the ball with any sort of regularity and, well . . . there you have it.

There is something to be said for getting St. Calvin involved in other ways – shorter routes, reverses, etc. – but his job is to get open deep and to draw defenders away from the line of scrimmage. I have done almost a complete 180 on my view of how the coaches use St. Calvin. In my heart, I want to see him get the ball more, but my head has come around and now understands how he fits into the game plan. With Matthew Stafford in the lineup, he would see more passes thrown his way because he needs to operate in a part of the field where only Stafford can get him the ball with any sort of regularity. Hill can do it sometimes. Stanton needs to get lucky and hope that St. Calvin makes a play of his own on one of the few times he can hit him. St. Calvin has done that in both games Stanton has played – first against the Giants and then against the Bears – and I think it’s because he knows and understands that if he wants to visit the endzone with Stanton at quarterback then he’s going to have to do a lot of the work himself. But, ah, we are treading perilously close to that “when he wants to” phrase that I don’t want to visit in this post and so we’ll cut this off here.

I do think that I’m right about the way that St. Calvin fits into the offensive game plan. His job is to get open deep and draw defenders away from the line of scrimmage. If he has to run shorter routes, it’s going to compress the field and take away the passes to Pettigrew and company that the Lions offense thrives on. Take that away and Shaun Hill is a dead man. Take that away and Drew Stanton might not ever complete a pass. It’s not like the coaches are deliberately unwilling to get the ball in St. Calvin’s hands. Just look at when they get in the red zone. There, the field naturally compresses and brings St. Calvin closer to the play, and when it does the coaches target the hell out of him. His role changes because the circumstances and the field change. Even if he isn’t getting the ball, he’s affecting the play, and the numbers don’t show that. He’s a better player and a bigger part of the Lions offense than those numbers show.

PREDICTION THE FOURTH: Jay Cutler will complete 30 of 42 passes for 325 yards and 3 touchdowns and we’ll all continue to wonder what in the hell happened to the secondary and someone will go crazy and actually try to claim that C.C. Brown going down was the turning point in the season.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: Cutler completed 21 of 26 passes for 234 yards and 1 touchdown.

Okay, I overshot these numbers, but that’s because I underestimated two things. One, I didn’t realize just quite how brutally efficient Cutler would be, which meant he didn’t have to throw quite as much as I expected. I mean, the middle of the field was open all fucking day, so all he had to do was throw little 8-10 yard passes instead of hitting the big play deep. Second, I forgot that the Bears offensive line is a butt and that the Lions defensive line are . . . occasionally good. (You don’t know how badly I wanted to say “the Lions defensive line are buttfuckers” in order to neatly complete that sentence, but in the end, I decided that it was just too weird.) The result was that a lot of the Bears drives were killed by Cliff Avril appearing in the backfield as if by magic and then murdering Jay Cutler. Seriously, there were a couple of times where I was pretty sure the dude teleported. Maybe he got ahold of Mike Pereira’s Necronomicon.

It was a weird day for the defense. I mean, on the one hand, the defensive line put enough pressure on Cutler to destroy several drives and even forced a fumble which if the Lions had managed to convert into a touchdown instead of a field goal would have given the team a ten point lead. (By the way, the difference between 3 and 7 there ended up being the difference in the game, which all goes back to my point about Stanton not being capable of winning you the game.) On the other hand, the secondary has completely disappeared. Alphonso Smith once again appeared incapable of tackling a retarded quadriplegic pygmy and the middle of the field was, as I said, wide open all fucking game long. That last bit tells me that the linebackers weren’t getting good drops on their zone coverage and that the safeties weren’t coming up to take those plays away. The Bears ended up killing the Lions on those passes over the middle. It was frustrating as hell. I might be totally wrong about who’s to blame for the coverage breakdowns, but the important thing to take away is that they mean that someone on the defense wasn’t doing their job, and all it takes is one weak spot on a defense and a competent quarterback and offensive coordinator (and I suppose Cutler and Martz both qualify) will pick that shit apart every time.

There were some positives to take away from this game. There were some really encouraging signs, especially the play of Cliff Avril, which have me excited for the future. I was especially happy with how the defensive line played without Kyle Vanden Bosch. They weren’t perfect, but there really wasn’t that huge drop off that I feared either. And I think it’s because the Lions actually have depth along the line. No, Turk McBride and Lawrence Jackson aren’t Vanden Bosch, but they aren’t bad either. Both were reasonably high draft picks by other teams and you can get away with them in the lineup. The biggest issue now is getting Ndamukong Suh to a point where he can consistently beat the double teams that are going to come his way without Vanden Bosch in the lineup. Ideally, he won’t have to, as I think the Lions will put a premium on making sure he has a strong defensive end lined up next to him so that he’ll only have to beat single coverage inside. But, it would be nice if he could be a force even without that strong defensive end in the lineup. It would give the Lions a little more flexibility and would show that he is taking the steps needed to become a truly dominant player at the NFL level.

There were also some negatives. The rest of the defense seems to be regressing and I’m not sure why. Injuries? Maybe, but really, the guys who had been making plays and stepping up are still there. I mean, I don’t think you can honestly blame the drop-off in defensive production on the loss of C.C. fucking Brown. That would be crazy. But I don’t know. The beginning of the Lions decline in fortune in the secondary began at exactly the moment that Brown went down with an injury and Amari Spievey entered the lineup. But a closer look reveals that Brown’s injury came late in the game against the Jets, and I think that the Lions collapse in that game – and the subsequent loss of confidence and swagger that came with it – has played the biggest role in the secondary’s Flowers for Algernon like reversion and that has nothing to do with C.C. Brown and everything to do with the minds and hearts and souls of Alphonso Smith and Chris Houston.

PREDICTION THE FIFTH: Matt Forte will rush for 110 yards on only 17 carries, and he’ll catch 6 passes for another 85 yards. He’ll account for 2 touchdowns.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: Forte ran for 64 yards on only 13 carries. He only caught 2 passes for 36 yards and he scored 1 touchdown.

Again, I kind of overshot this one, but again, I think Forte’s final numbers are a result of the Lions schizophrenia on defense as much as anything. Forte really didn’t get the ball enough to pile up big numbers but that’s because on several drives the Lions defensive line killed the Bears offense dead. Like with Cutler, when they failed to do that, Forte was brutally efficient and I think the final numbers prove that, not only for him and Cutler but for just about anybody on the Bears offense.

In all, the Bears only ran the ball 28 times but they ran for 4.1 yards a carry. Neither offense really dominated but neither defense really dominated either. For the Lions, I think that was a result of Best and St. Calvin making a few big, big plays. For the Bears, I think that was a result of the Lions schizophrenic defense.

If the Lions can somehow regain some of the defensive swagger - particularly in the secondary - that they had earlier in the season, then maybe they can team with a mistake free Stanton and a healthy Best and a dominating St. Calvin to steal a couple of wins in the final month of the season. But that’s a lot of ifs and the whole thing kinda feels like a house of cards and as bad as it’s been, it seems like there’s a real possibility that it could collapse in even uglier ways that will leave me running on all fours, naked through the streets and howling at a moon that never comes because the air is too thick with the clouds of failure and despair. Lions Fever! Catch it!


UpHere said...

I seriously don't know how to comment anymore without it turning in to a desperate cry for help. This is just awful. Like an open sore in the inside of your mouth you can't stop sticking your tongue in. Hypothetically.

Neil said...

That is how I feel about every post I have done for the last several weeks. Like, what more is there to say? And yet, here we are. At least we are in this together.

Whiouxsie said...

Well, at least the silver lining is that after four years, the Lions are not as an organization PLANNING on Drew Stanton ever becoming more than he is right now. The plan involves finding a way to have Matt Stafford's shoulder not be as fragile as those little black rubber bands that held G.I. Joes together, and they're stuck with Stanton currently because Shaun Hill's arm resembles that little bit of plastic in between the legs on the hip-piece that has the misfortune of resembling and being in the same position as a penis, even on the Lady Jaye and The Baroness figures. And, well, in the meantime, you might as well root for Stanton to do the best he can within his limited powers because what the fuck else are you going to do when your 3rd string QB is playing?

Stafford was even drafted in 2009, which means the Lions only needed TWO years to look at Ol' Plucky and say "Um, No." SIX years and a lot of fumbles, game-killing interceptions, and running backwards for his life later, the 49ers are still looking at Alex Smith and saying "you know, he really hasn't gotten a fair chance to show what he can do, and..." GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. He's getting another second chance this Sunday, too. There's going to be a lot more screaming and ranting in my future this week.

Neil said...

Poor, poor Whiouxsie. Thoughts and prayers, friendo. Thoughts and prayers.

As for Stanton, I am contractually obligated to shit on him whenever possible.

L.B. said...

Wait, was Cliff Avril lining up against Frank Omiyale or J'Marcus Webb? Because that would... Well, actually that would work out the same either way. Never mind.

Neil said...

Man, there were a couple of times where it was like "Holy shit, how is he in the backfield already?" I know you have been saying all along that your dudes are a shitpile on the offensive line, but JESUS!

L.B. said...

We are literally starting a late 7th round rookie at right tackle because A: Our first round left tackle from 2008 is THAT bad, B: he's related to Richmond Webb, and you never know, right? but mainly C: He chipped one of Mike Tice's teeth before the draft. Seriously, that is the main reason.
There are not enough picks in the draft to fix this sort of thing in a year, and since Angelo is definitely not getting fired at this point, we'll probably just stockpile defensive ends AGAIN next time around.

Jonathan said...

Please forward to Ty @LionsInWinter RE: Ol' Plucky. This is the perfectly articulate explaination of why he is a third-string quarterback for the Detroit Lions.

Neil said...

Thank you, Jonathan. This is probably the biggest thing that Ty and I disagree on. But we are honorable men and . . . well, hell, he reweeted this post on twitter so I assume he at least respects my stance and my reasons as I respect his.

Ty just loves him some Drew Stanton. We all have our vices.