I was right! I was right! I kinda feel like just writing that a bunch of times and calling it a day, but I am a gentleman and you expect more from me, like tales of half-naked werewolves wrestling with monkeys or of depressed vampires shotgunning giant bottles of Antifreeze. But while it is true that most werewolves eschew pants, and for some reason I feel compelled to tell you things like this on a regular basis, it is the Holiday season and that means that I am a busy man, whipping elves and putting the fear of The Great Willie Young into renegade reindeer and fucking Mrs. Claus before her drunkard husband, that fat fuck Santa, comes staggering through the door, reeking of cheap whiskey and grunting unintelligible nonsense as he lurches towards his horrified wife while his giant red clown pants slide down around his ankles and his fat fingers paw at the tiny red penis hidden in his vast folds of . . . Jesus! I’m so sorry. The point is, is that time is not on my side – it rarely is, and I generally work exceptionally fast since the gibberish just tends to pour out of me, but it’s even more of a pressing issue than normal – and therefore, well, this post may be a little abbreviated. For me anyway. Which of course means that it will still be loaded with nonsense, just not as much as it normally is. Some of you will be disappointed by this and some of you will be delighted but this is just the way of things, I’m afraid. We live in strange and terrible times and these things happen. Also, yes, I recognize the inherent absurdity of promising a Spartan (and not the Stanton Spartan or the Leonidas Spartan, although the term “Spartan” meaning ascetic and self-denying does come from the Leonidas Spartan, so . . . oh shit, I just heard a mighty voice bellow GET ON WITH IT.) post only to hit you with this avalanche of dumb gibberish, but it cannot be helped. Well, I suppose it could if I went back and actually edited and was a touch more thoughtful, but that is the way of the coward. We are on a motorcycle made of titanium and fire, fueled by plutonium, rocketing straight towards the sun and our faces are rippling thanks to the wind and G-Forces and so looking back is simply not an option. There is only forward, forward, forward and, well, here we go . . .
PREDICTION THE FIRST: Stanton will bounce back – for him anyway – and complete 15-28 passes for 195 yards, with 1 touchdown and 1 interception.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: Stanton completed 23-37 passes for 252 yards, with 1 touchdown and 0 interceptions. He did indeed bounce back and not just for him. I mean those numbers are pretty decent for just about any quarterback, which, honestly, is about as high a compliment as I can pay to Ol’ Plucky.
Stanton was good against the Buccaneers. He wasn’t great, but he was good. That’s a fine distinction that I think is kind of getting lost in the shuffle by overly enthusiastic fans but that’s a subject that I am saving for tomorrow. For now, let’s just all agree that Stanton played the best game that he played as a Detroit Lion. Cool? Cool.
Why did he play so well? That’s the question. It’s obvious that he has finally made some sort of progress as a player after rotting in the bowels of backup hell for the last few seasons and hey, that’s great. He’s more willing to just play within himself which means that he isn’t taking stupid risks or making dumb throws which lead to a whole bunch of Yakety Sax. Don’t get me wrong, that stuff is still there – witness most of the Packers game and that ugly ass play against the Buccaneers that saw Stanton hold the ball too long before he tried to do some sort of shitty underhanded thing that almost resulted in a terrible, terrible fumble – but these are coming further and further apart. When he accepts that he is just Drew Stanton, Backup Quarterback and not Ol’ Plucky, Grit King of the Midwest, he can actually be a functional football player.
But, he still can’t do it all on his own. Asking him to go out there and make plays is a recipe for a Hindenburg like disaster. Lots of Germans will die in flames while a radio announcer screams “Oh, the humanity!” and no one will ever trust that version of air travel ever again. Of course, no one cares about the Germans – they would have all probably turned out to be Nazis anyway, you know? – but still, no one trusts travel via a giant gas balloon and wow, this is just spinning in a pointless, asinine direction, isn’t it? I guess what I’m trying to say, in a ridiculous, ridiculous way, is that no one would ever trust Stanton’s arm again if it were turned loose and allowed to crash and burn on its own. Jesus. So much for this post being abbreviated, eh?
Anyway, what all that ridiculous nonsense was meant to lead up to is this: Stanton has found some measure of success this season because Scott Linehan has understood how to use him. He hasn’t just thrown Stanton out there and asked him to make plays that would end in wild, hilarious tragedy. Instead, he has called a safe – but varied – game that has allowed Stanton to get into a rhythm. Easy, safe throws. That’s all the coaches are asking Stanton to make and on Sunday, he largely came through. We didn’t see any deep bombs, no complicated routes, no over the shoulder catches that required pinpoint accuracy, just nice, safe ten yard pitches and catches. Receiver runs out, breaks off his route at the sticks, squares up, Stanton throws the ball, receiver catches it. Simple, easy, safe, effective. Keep the offense in rhythm, give Stanton manageable throws, hold your breath and hope that today, he is accurate enough to make them. That is the formula and Scott Linehan has done a heroic job the last couple of weeks making sure the team sticks to it.
Like I said, I’ll talk more about Stanton tomorrow (That vow I made last week sure didn’t last long, did it? Jesus. But like I said, the narrative has changed, and some people have gotten, uh, a little carried away. At this point, I kinda feel like Stanton is like Jason Vorhees. No matter how many times I think I’m done with him, he pops up wielding a machete and I have to fight him off again. And yes, you have no idea how badly I want to yammer on about how if you took Stanton’s facemask off, you’d find nothing but maggots, and man, I am having to try really, really hard to not take this in a really weird and wild direction. You have no idea. Okay, and . . . stop.) Okay, yeah, I will talk more about Stanton tomorrow, but for now, I think this will suffice: Stanton played well. I can’t take that away from him. I have to give him credit. But a lot of the credit also has to go to Scott Linehan and to the Lions offense as a whole. Without the running game working like it has been and without St. Calvin there to bail Ol’ Plucky out when he needed it the most, Stanton probably would have been forced to take a few risks, and then chances are good that we’d be talking about something completely different right now. Still, Stanton was good. Stanton was . . . good? Yes. There, I said it.
PREDICTION THE SECOND: No one player will run the ball more than 15 times for the Lions, but the Lions rushing attack as a whole will be effective, racking up 175 yards. Maurice Morris will be the team’s leading rusher with 45 yards.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: Well, no one player ran the ball more than 15 times for the Lions – Morris ran it 15 times on the nose – and the Lions rushing attack as a whole was effective, as the team ran for 181 yards. So as far as that goes, I was almost dead on with this prediction. I was wildly off on the second part though, since Morris ended up rushing for 109 yards, which just goes to show that I should always just quit while I’m ahead. But again, I’m on a motorcycle made of titanium and fire and all that ridiculous gibberish and well, I’ll ride that fucker straight into the sun if you let me. I’m sorry, I’m not making any damn sense. I mean, I’m making even less than usual, aren’t I? Fuck it. Let’s just all shake our heads and move on. Deal? Deal.
Anyway, Morris’ performance was the key to the game for the Lions offense. Not only did he have several key runs – especially in overtime – which gave the Lions the chance to actually win the damn game, his effectiveness allowed Linehan to call those manageable throws for Stanton. Had Morris been getting stuffed at the line or gotten thrown back for a loss, then Stanton would have been forced to press and the whole damn thing would have broken down and there would be chaos and blood in the streets and some crazed Lions fan, out of his mind on a cocktail of losing and spiced rum, would have commandeered that stupid cannon they have down there in Tampa and then shit really would have gotten out of hand. But it didn’t and therefore such things only exist in the strange corners of my brain that would probably make even Freud go mad and start fondling cigars and whimpering about his mother and, fuck, I am completely out of control today, aren’t I?
The point, I guess, is that none of that even had a chance of happening (Just humor me and pretend that it would have had things gone differently, okay?) because Maurice Morris did his job and did it well. That shouldn’t be that surprising. I mean, Morris has done an effective job in the past doing exactly what he did against Tampa Bay on Sunday. When he was with Seattle, he filled in admirably for Shaun Alexander and showed that he could get it done when given the chance. And since he has been in Detroit, he has always run well when given the ball. You can go back and look at what I wrote last year. After the season was over, I talked about how much I liked Morris. Nothing has really changed this year. For some weird reason, Morris was hardly used early in the season. The team has turned to him now that they really don’t have much of a choice and he has been very, very solid. It’s no coincidence that the increase in his playing time coincides with the Lions running game rising from the dead.
Of course, that has also led to a lot of hand wringing over Jahvid Best. I mean, the dude only rushed for 12 yards on 6 carries, numbers which look even worse when you realize that he had one 14 yard run, which means that his other 5 carries went for -2 yards. That’s appalling. But sadly, those are the kinds of numbers we have kinda come to expect from Best this season. I think most people were willing to live with it and weren’t that worried because no one was running the ball well, and hey, it’s always easy to shit on the Lions offensive line. But Morris’ surge has made Best’s numbers look even worse by comparison. The difference just in the stats is both vast and stark. But even more troubling was watching Morris and Best run the exact same plays and then seeing Morris break them for 4 or 5 yards while Best gets destroyed for 1 or 2 yard losses.
It would be ridiculous to say that Morris is a better running back than Best, but . . . well, right now, Morris is a better running back than Best. He’s not more talented, but for whatever reason, he’s a better runner right now. But what is that reason? Well, for starters, there is the dreaded Turf Toe, which has plagued Best on both feet almost the entire season. The Turf Toe has robbed him of much of his explosiveness, which, let’s face it, is the biggest thing he brings to the table. Without that, he’s just a smallish dude who doesn’t run through tackles. Not so good. But even more than that, I think that Best has become just a touch tentative. If you watch him run, he doesn’t hit the hole with much conviction and there is just an ever so slight delay, a delay which is enough for whatever hole may have been there to close up and for defenders to pounce on him at or behind the line of scrimmage. I think that tentativeness is a mental thing that was born because of two things: one, because of his injuries and two, because he’s a rookie. Ty of The Lions in Winter wrote a piece after interviewing Best that was enlightening. In it, Best admits to having hit a rookie wall, which sapped him mentally and which he believed caused him to slow down. But more than that rookie wall, I think that Best has become tentative because he doesn’t have an identity right now. Without his explosiveness, what is he? He’s not exactly sure how to run and it’s obvious whenever he has the ball. Watch Morris run. He hits the hole and he doesn’t stop. He just goes. There’s no thought, no delay, just action. Watch Best. He hits the hole, stutter steps and then he’s tackled. You can see him thinking. You can see him processing. And that’s what always ends up betraying him.
In the end, I think that Best will be fine. His Turf Toe injuries are just one of those things, you know? Give him an offseason to heal and his explosiveness will be back. In retrospect, he probably should have sat out a couple of games early in the season, but that’s a tough decision to make and he went a different way, which is something else he talks about in Ty’s piece. He’s still the future at running back for the Lions. The key for him is to just get healthy and to run with confidence. I think once he gets healthy, the confidence will follow and then we’ll see the running back we saw against the Eagles more and more, which means that the offense as a whole will have a chance to be damn near unstoppable.
PREDICTION THE THIRD: St. Calvin will catch only 4 passes for 85 yards because Stanton will struggle to get him the ball. He will have one huge catch which will be crucial to the outcome of the game.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: St. Calvin caught 10 passes for 152 yards. Obviously, I was wrong. Stanton did get St. Calvin the ball and he did so regularly. This was because Stanton was, for once, accurate. If you’ll remember last week, against the Packers, the Lions tried to get St. Calvin the ball early, but Stanton turfed a couple of passes and it became quickly clear that the GET CALVIN THE DAMN BALL strategy was a recipe for disaster. This week, Stanton put the ball on the money and really, that was the difference.
I know it sounds simple, but it’s true. That was the difference. It wasn’t the game plan, which is what most people want to attribute it to. They want to blame Linehan for not getting Calvin the ball last week, but really, like I said, they tried. Stanton just couldn’t do it. This week he could and that was the difference. I have said that several times already but I want to hammer it home. That was the difference.
Obviously, in a perfect world, St. Calvin would get the ball just like he did against the Buccaneers. I’m fine with that. That’s great. But that requires a quarterback who can actually get him the damn ball. The problem has not been a lack of St. Calvin in the game plan. No, no, no. Just, no. I’ve talked about this a lot this season and so I won’t rehash the same old bullshit this time around, mostly because I have already hilariously failed in keeping this post reasonably short, but I will say this: You can’t force things. Not in the NFL. You have to let everything unfold within the game itself. And by that, I mean that if the opportunity is there, you have to take it. That’s what good teams do. You can’t get desperate and try to force it. Otherwise, you end up with Ol’ Plucky staggering off the field after his 18th interception of the game. Last week against the Packers, it wasn’t there, mostly because Stanton was a rancid pile of butts. This week, against Tampa Bay, it was there and the Lions milked that shit for all it was worth.
For the most part, the Lions have had success this season working underneath while St. Calvin draws the coverage deeper down field and then targeting St. Calvin in the red zone when the field becomes compressed and St. Calvin’s size, strength and hands become enormous weapons. St. Calvin has been an integral part of the game plan – really, he’s been the most important part of the game plan – all season. People don’t understand this. Even when he’s not getting the ball, he’s the dude around whom the whole thing is built. Again, I have talked about this a million times this season and I touched on it at the beginning of this paragraph and so I won’t hammer it home again even though I kind of want to. The Lions have used St. Calvin very effectively this season and I believe this very strongly. I know I am in the vast, vast minority here and some of you will call me an idiot, if only in your own brains, but that’s cool. We can discuss this all later. For now, let’s just all be happy that the Lions took advantage of the opportunities that were there against the Bucs and accordingly, St. Calvin had a monster day.
If anything, the numbers, great as they are, don’t even reflect how important St. Calvin was against Tampa Bay. If he doesn’t play out of his mind, the Lions don’t win that game. He was called upon over and over again to make a big catch for the Lions and the Bucs just couldn’t stop him. He was always there when Stanton needed him and to his credit, Stanton managed to get the ball to him. Sure, some of those grit balls took an agonizingly long time to get to St. Calvin, but our man always pulled them in and saved Stanton’s ass in the process. But even more than that, St. Calvin made the huge plays that inferior receivers just don’t make, plays which were the difference in the outcome of the game. As the 4th quarter was winding down and the Lions were driving for the game tying field goal, St. Calvin made a huge catch along the sideline on an overthrown ball, got his feet down and gave the Lions a chance to not only tie the game, but go for the win. Sure, they had to settle for the field goal, but that was enough to get them to overtime. St. Calvin made that possible. And then in overtime, St. Calvin made a ridiculous catch, a twisting grab on the sideline that saw him come down on his tiptoes inbounds like Michael fucking Jackson. It was a catch which clinched the game, as a few plays later, Dave Rayner jogged onto the field and kicked the field goal that exploded the past and made Matt Millen irrelevant from now on. St. Calvin made that happen. ST. CALVIN MADE THAT HAPPEN. Let’s never forget that.
PREDICTION THE FOURTH: Josh Freeman will throw for 265 yards on 22-36 passing with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. He will be sacked 6 times.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: Freeman threw for 251 yards on 21-32 passing with 1 touchdown. Again, I should have quit while I was ahead because Freeman threw 0 interceptions. He was sacked 3 times and probably would have been sacked at least 6 times if he wasn’t the size of a mutant water buffalo, but he is and that’s what almost cost the Lions the game.
At one point, when it looked like the same ol’ bullshit was about to play out, I considered titling my postgame piece “I Hate You, Josh Freeman”, and that was because over and over and over again, the Lions killed the play dead only to see Freeman muscle his way out of the grasp of a defender and blindly throw up a prayer that was answered again and again and again. It was ridiculous. On every scoring drive the Bucs had, the Lions had killed them dead. But Freeman would always manage to make a miraculous play to keep the drive going. It was incredibly, incredibly frustrating to watch. I think those drives may have been the most frustrating things I have watched as a Lions fan all season. I’m serious. They were drives that just utterly destroyed my patience. I was left quaking with stupid rage and gibbering like a lunatic. It’s one thing to watch your team get beat because they are simply inept. It is quite another to see your team kill a play only to see it ripped away from them because the other team’s quarterback keeps doing something ridiculous.
I was impressed with Freeman. Very impressed. He just has that Favreian playmaker streak in him, you know? Yeah, yeah, I apologize for bringing up He Who Shall Not Be Named, but damn, that’s what kept popping into my head while I was watching Freeman Houdini his way out of one hopeless situation after another.
But take Freeman out of that equation and the Lions defensive line was once again pretty damn dominant against the Bucs. They ended up with 3 sacks, and like I said, they should have had several more. Against just about any other quarterback, they would have. And again, those sacks came from the entire line, and not just one dude. Cliff Avril, Turk McBride and Lawrence Jackson just embarrassed the Tampa Bay tackles, particularly Donald Penn, who pretty much melted down on the field after getting beaten a million different times. And in the middle, Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams and Sammie Hill all raised hell. These dudes are playing at a ridiculously high level right now, and they are just going to eat quarterbacks alive for a long time. Chad Henne is probably watching game film right now, as I write this, and he is probably shaking his head, burying that head in his hands and then just groaning “No, no, no!” over and over and over again while Jake Long pats him on the shoulder and whispers in his ear “Hush, now, everything’s gonna be alright.” And then their eyes meet, and . . . okay, I’ll stop. The point is, is that the Lions pass rush is devastating and it’s for real and I think everyone knows it now. This is the obvious strength of the defense. We’ve known that all along, but as the season goes on, it just seems to get stronger and stronger and more and more players keep getting added to the mix. At the beginning of the season, it was Suh and Vanden Bosch. Now it’s everybody. Even the backups are dominant. Lawrence Jackson and Turk McBride have been killing dudes the last couple of weeks and they are the B team! And shit, The Great Willie Young still hasn’t even gotten in on the act. These dudes are ridiculous in all the best ways and I love them dearly. I love them so much that I would [redacted due to gross indecency.] You may think I should be embarrassed by that, but fuck that, I am not afraid or ashamed because I am a gentleman and a warrior of light and that kind of man on man love is cool because I say it is.
PREDICTION THE FIFTH: The Bucs will struggle to run the ball and after the game Ndamukong Suh will ceremonially eat LeGarrette Blount’s heart at midfield.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: Uh, well, the Bucs ran for 176 yards on 28 carries for an average of 6.3 yards per carry, so . . . fuck. Yes. So fuck. I was wrong about this one. The Bucs ran the ball very well and very effectively, mirroring the Lions own success on the ground. In fact, the final numbers were almost identical. Both teams ran the ball 28 times. The only difference was the Lions gained 5 more yards. What’s even odder is that the two quarterbacks had nearly identical games – at least statistically – which means that in both phases of the game offensively, the two teams were almost exactly the same.
Of course, stats can lie. They often do and this week was no exception. How the teams arrived at those staggeringly similar numbers was completely different. Stanton made a lot of safe, easy throws. Freeman scrambled and broke free of monster pass rushers and made a lot of circus plays. The Buccaneers defensive line failed to put decent pressure on Stanton and the Lions picked the Bucs defense apart. The Lions defensive line ate up the Bucs offensive line and forced Freeman to make plays. To say that these two defenses played roughly the same on Sunday would be just ridiculously wrong.
This is how it played out in the running game too. Maurice Morris continually sliced through the Bucs defensive line before being dropped by safeties and linebackers. LeGarrette Blount on the other hand was frequently stonewalled only to break shitty tackles by the Lions linebackers and safeties, particularly on his touchdown run towards the end of the second half, an uber-frustrating 39 yard run that saw almost every Lions defender in the back 7 whiff on a tackle. It was awful.
That explains the incongruity between the Lions dominance rushing the passer and their general shittyness against the run. One would think that if a defense was able to chew up the offensive line and get to the passer every damn play then they should also be able to stuff the run. The only problem is that stuffing the run requires your linebackers and safeties to actually finish the play. The Lions linebacker and safeties really, really struggled to do this. Too many times, Blount was hit at the line only to crawl forward for several more yards because the Lions linebackers and safeties couldn’t bring him down. And too many times, the Lions let Blount turn a 7-8 yard run into a 20+ yarder. In fact, of Blount’s 110 yards rushing, over half of them came on two runs – the 39 yarder late in the first half and on another long run which saw the Lions miss a billion tackles in the 4th quarter. That is not the story of a defensive line failing to control the line of scrimmage. It is a story of a defensive line doing its job and the linebackers and safeties behind them fucking up.
All year long, people have expressed their disappointment with Louis Delmas. He just hasn’t been the playmaking machine he looked like he was last year as a rookie. The problem, of course, is that Delmas has been playing injured this entire season and will probably need surgery on his groin after the season. You try running with even a slightly pulled groin. It is painful and frustrating as hell. All you can do is sort of grit your teeth and limp as fast as you can. That’s what Delmas has had to do all season long.
That explains his lack of explosive plays this season. But on Sunday, we got a valuable reminder that even though he hasn’t been able to be a playmaking machine this season, he is still absolutely vital to the Lions defense. When Delmas couldn’t gut it out anymore and had to leave the game, that’s when the Lions run defense started to shit the bed. John Wendling is a great special teams player, but he just simply doesn’t have the athleticism or explosiveness of even a half-injured Delmas and it was obvious whenever Blount managed to drag a tackler for a few extra yards or on those couple of plays where he broke free and made the secondary look like shit. Louis Delmas keeps those plays at 7-8 yards. Without him, they turn into 39 yard touchdowns.
Next season, Delmas should be 100% and I think we’re all going to see him develop into an absolute beast at safety. Not only will he be the ultimate weapon against the run, he’ll also add those big, explosive plays back into his game. This game against the Bucs was a stark reminder of just how good Louis Delmas is, even if he isn’t making those big, explosive plays this season. Sometimes, you only realize what you’ve got when it’s gone. That is a terrible cliché, hackneyed and deplorable, but fuck it, it’s also very, very true in this case and this post has ended up being even longer than usual and so I guess a cliché is as good a way as any to close such a sorry debacle. What is wrong with me? I said this would be short and I guess to Tolstoy it is, but 5,000 words later, I’m not sure what happened. Fuck it, maybe this means I’m destined to write the American version of Anna Karenina. Who knows? Wait, Anna Karenina had werewolves and time traveling immortals, right? RIGHT???
WHAT I SAID FOR THE PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: LIONS 17, BUCCANEERS 14. THE STREAK ENDS IN TAMPA, BECAUSE THIS IS THE WAY THINGS LIKE THIS HAPPEN – RANDOMLY AND WITHOUT REASON. THE FUTURE MAY NOT HAVE BEGUN BUT ON SUNDAY, THE PAST DIES, ONCE AND FOR ALL.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: LIONS 23, BUCCANEERS 20. The streak ended and “We are the Champions” by Queen is playing in my head because I fucking nailed this shit. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to headbang with Freddie Mercury and no, that’s not a euphemism. Or is it??? I hope not, because Freddie is dead and despite what you might think, I am not a necrophiliac. Also, I don’t want to get AIDS. Somehow, that feels like the only appropriate way to end this clusterfuck of a post and so all that’s left to say is Vaya con Dios, Freddie, Vaya con Dios, friendos, and Vaya con Dios, Neil’s sanity. We will all meet again one day.