Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I Know I Shouldn't Complain, But . . .

Here's a picture of a happy monkey to distract you from the unseemly bitching below. I know some of you are inexplicably prejudiced against sweet little monkeys and their old man hands but I refuse to be cowed by your vile anti-monkey agendas.

I’ve been a big supporter of Jim Schwartz and his coaching staff pretty much since the day he was hired. He and his dudes do all of those big picture things well – they understand how to put together a team, they know how to create a defense that is nasty and provides a ton of pressure, they understand how to move the ball without having to resort to clichéd three yards and a cloud of dust kind of Manball nonsense – but there has been one thing about Schwartz and his coaches that has bugged me almost from day one, and this one thing reared its ugly and mocking head once again in the game against the Buccaneers on Sunday, and that one thing is their clock management. More specifically, it’s their clock management philosophy, and even more specifically, it’s their philosophy when they’ve got the lead in the second half.

I’ve written about this before, several times. (One of the hidden dangers in writing about the Lions for long enough – and really, about anything long enough - is that, after a while, it feels like you’ve already addressed everything there is to address. At some point, it just kind of feels like you’re just repeating yourself and it’s kind of hard to get up for that shit, you know? But I digress.) But I think it bears repeating here, because it’s an issue that just refuses to go away and it’s an issue that I fear will cost us a few times this season. And really, it’s almost impossible to ignore because the way it played out against the Buccaneers was so exaggerated. I mean, it’s one thing to shut it down and start playing to run out the clock with four or five minutes left in the fourth quarter. It’s quite another to start moonwalking your way out of the stadium, nervously glancing at the clock when there are four or five minutes left to go in the third quarter.

I mean, come on . . . really? I said in my post-game gibber-fest that Matthew Stafford looked like he could have thrown for 500 yards in that game and while that is obviously hyperbolic as hell, he was easily headed for 400 and would have almost definitely gotten there had the playcalling not shrunk to “Hey, uh, let’s run the ball into the line and hopefully a wizard will open a wormhole in which time and space is distorted and on the other side the clock will have reached zero. That will work, right? Goddamn, I’ve got to stop dropping acid before games.” That may or may not be a completely accurate transcription of Scott Linehan’s internal monologue on Sunday. I don’t know. It all depends on whether that Creole mind-reader gave me good information. I paid him in beer and frog skins and he looked happy enough but goddammit, I had a hard time understanding him with that ridiculous accent of his.

Anyway, I bring up Matthew Stafford’s possible stats not to whine or bitch because he didn’t get them but to show just how unstoppable he and the offense were during the game up until the point Acid Wizard Run Fest 2011 started. Sure, sure, they weren’t successful on every drive but they were successful enough that it was clear that the Buccaneers couldn’t stop them enough to win. All the Lions needed to do was . . . well, to keep doing exactly what they had been doing up until that point. It wasn’t like they needed to chuck the ball fifty yards down field on every play. I’m not saying that, and it’s that kind of black or white thinking which always clouds the issue whenever this topic comes up. People tend to think that you either have to try a bunch of risky throws or you have to sit on the ball and run it like a frightened turtle. That’s bullshit. All you have to do is play your game, execute your offense and not get bogged down in clock watching. A few screen passes on first and second down would have had the same effect as a strong running game. They’re safe, they’re effective and most importantly, they don’t result in the offense staring down a third and nine after only taking 40 seconds off the clock.

You know what works best in a ball control offense? CONTROLLING THE GODDAMN BALL. That’s the whole point. That is the essence of that particular offensive philosophy. Still, some people get tricked into thinking it means running the ball in as predictable a way as possible. Which is funny, because when you do that, your offense becomes the exact opposite of a ball control offense. It just becomes a predictable, shitty offense which specializes in the oh so exciting three and out and whose most explosive play is the forty yard punt.

Look, I get that this is about identity. This is about Jim Schwartz wanting to be able to show that his team can exert its will late in games, that it can beat down a team to the point that they just lay down and let the Lions steamroll over them, but when your identity is predicated on an explosive passing offense and a mauling, pressure fueled defense, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to completely abandon that in favor of . . . of what, really? Some clichéd idea of identity? Some half-assed 50 year old Lombardiesque aesthetic? I mean, this isn’t 1961 anymore and this isn’t a grind it out, run the ball down their throats league anymore. It just isn’t. It’s a passing league and it has been for a while now.

All you need to do is look around at the rest of the league. The Packers, the Saints, the Patriots, the Colts before Peyton Manning’s neck decided it was sick of supporting his vile head . . . all of these teams are built around the pass. Their coaches might not admit it because coaches are prone to bullshit clichés, but it’s true. They understand, deep down, that the reason their teams win is because of the quarterback. It’s just the way it is now. The teams with the best quarterbacks win. It’s that simple. They don’t win because they play sound, fundamental football that would give ol’ Vince Lombardi a hard-on. No, they win because other teams can’t stop their passing attack when it matters the most.

All you have to do is look at what happened on Monday night. Did the Patriots win because they lined up and ran the ball down the Dolphins throats in the second half? Hell no. They won because Tom Brady threw for eight billion yards and the Dolphins couldn’t stop it. Did the Lions jump out to a two touchdown lead over the Buccaneers because they slammed the ball through the heart of the defense out of the Power-I? No, they took that lead because the Buccaneers couldn’t consistently stop Matthew Stafford and the Lions passing game. So why change that?

It’s maddening and you see it all around the league. You see teams do something that works and then when they jump out to a big enough lead, they quickly switch to that fetishized Lombardiesque bullshit and abandon everything that they had done to build that lead.

And therein lies the irony. The reason Jim Schwartz does this maddening bullshit is because he wants to exert his team’s collective will through the strength of their identity. But in doing so, he completely abandons the team’s actual identity and the result is a fourth quarter that looks like a French army furiously backpedaling in front of a gang of wild–eyed Nazis. The Lions were successful because they exerted their will. They had spent the whole game beating the shit out of the Buccaneers with their identity, both offensively and defensively. Jim Schwartz’s brain tricked him, just like it tricks so many other coaches at the end of games, into believing that Identity and Will are synonymous with Manball, and that everything that had happened up until that point was somehow unreliable and fluky and not to be trusted because it didn’t match that fetishized cliché burrowing in from the back of the brain, which is a cliché that we are brought up to revere, to worship, a cliché that we associate with the concept of good football. It is almost instinct, and I understand that it can be tough to overcome but the good ones eventually do.

But really, that’s only part of the issue. The real issue is that at some point in the third quarter, Jim Schwartz looked at the clock and his objective changed. Up until then, his objectives were to bludgeon the shit out of the Bucs and to not let up until the field was smeared with their blood. This philosophy was evident both offensively and defensively. The Lions attacked, attacked and then attacked some more. But as soon as he looked at that clock and wanted it to start running a little faster, everything changed. As soon as he communicated via the playcalling that his primary objective was now to get the hell out of town with a win, the team’s entire identity changed. They weren’t the Detroit Lions anymore. Now, they were just a collection of dudes watching the clock and trying to hang on. The team went from hyper-aggressive to passive, a nauseating 180 that made watching the fourth quarter a living nightmare.

All of a sudden it felt like watching the Jets game from last year. You remember that game, right? The Lions jumped out to a lead, then Matthew Stafford got hurt, the offense was neutered and the Lions – and all of us – spent the rest of the game just hanging on, hoping that the clock would run out before anything bad happened. That’s basically the same thing that happened against the Bucs. The Lions basically took Matthew Stafford out of the equation, the offense was neutered and the Lions – and all of us – spent the rest of the game just hanging on, hoping that the clock would run out before anything bad happened. It’s a philosophy of failure, a loser’s mentality, and that shit has to stop if we have any hope of taking the next step on this long journey out of hell and into paradise.

The one thing that I’m clinging to right now is that the Lions started their epic sphincter tightening almost immediately after Matthew Stafford limped off the field with cramps. It’s entirely possible that given young Matthew’s sordid injury history that the Lions freaked out and decided to play it as safely as possible and honestly, you can’t really blame them, you know? But shit, at some point you’re going to have to take the training wheels off and let the dude prove that he can take it. Then again, maybe Stafford’s cramps were precluding him from doing much more than handing the ball off on every play. Maybe he was effectively injured, in that purely temporary way that can only be caused by cramps, which effectively hampered the Lions offensive possibilities. I don’t know, but that’s kind of what I’m hoping. After all, when the Lions were forced to throw the ball following the failure of their running game, Stafford seemed gimpy and ill at ease. This is not something to worry about. It was just one of those freak things that happens (And isn’t it funny how those freak things always seem to happen to the Lions? And by funny, I of course mean horrible and awful and GODDAMMIT I’M AWARE THAT I JUST BROKE THIS CHAIR INTO A MILLION PIECES AND YES I UNDERSTAND IT IS FUTILE TO TRY TO STAB MY TV WITH THOSE PIECES BUT THIS AGGRESSION BY THE FAILURE DEMONS WON’T STAND) Hopefully, that’s all that was.

But even then, I think that probably just made Schwartz pack it in earlier than he wanted to. Had Stafford been able to outrun the tentacled grasp of the heat demons, the Lions probably would have pressed the issue for a little while longer. I think they probably would have still shrunk back with too much time left on the clock because that’s what Schwartz and his dudes have shown a tendency to do from almost their first preseason game. Go back if you can find it somewhere in this wonderland of insanity we call a blog. Watch me bitch about the Lions clock management and general conservatism after the very first preseason game. I have been on this shit since the start and it still feels like a weakness that can be – and very likely will be – exploited.

Look, two touchdowns is nothing in the NFL. The way the game is played today, a two touchdown lead can evaporate almost immediately. That was evident following the very first game of the season, that Thursday night game between the Packers and the Saints. The Packers were in control until – oops! – they weren’t, and the Saints were sitting on the one yard line with a chance to tie things up. Just like that. One long breath and that game had completely and radically changed. It was no different in the Lions game against the Buccaneers. The Lions had a two touchdown lead with only two minutes left to go and yet the last play of the game saw the Bucs doing the Benny Hill Yakety Sax special, and while that shit was hilarious, it was also made possible by the unsettling realization that had it been successful, the game would have been tied and we would have been dead men walking in overtime. Two minutes. That’s all it takes. And sometimes it’s even less than that. Just ask Notre Dame. Shit, just ask the Lions. I mean, all of that happened even though the Bucs failed to recover their onside kick. Sure, a big part of that was because Gosder Cherilus was possessed by a particularly troublesome Failure Demon which caused him to temporarily lose his goddamn mind, but the simple fact is this: the Lions left a window open for the Buccaneers to wriggle through and they almost did. That’s it. Shut the goddamn window. In the aftermath, people were blaming Cherilus and damn right, but the person who left that window open in the first place was named Jim Schwartz. I don’t like it either but there you have it.

I like Jim Schwartz – fuck that, I love Jim Schwartz – and like everyone else, I have smiled dreamily and scribbled his name on my Trapper Keeper, but that doesn’t mean that the dude is perfect. He’s not and, to me, this is the single biggest flaw he has as a coach and it’s a flaw that will very likely kill us dead at some point and that sucks. It’s a flaw that will cause me to write at least one outraged howl against the universe following a completely preventable loss and it’s a flaw that I fear won’t go away any time soon. But I’m hoping that I’m wrong. I’m hoping that all Schwartz needs is some experience with games like this to realize that you have to play to the end, that you can’t sit back and watch the clock and hope the game magically ends quicker than it should. My dude UpHere wrote this following the game:

“They were ACTING like a really good team, trying to run the clock down, playing soft D in the back, but almost gave it away.”

I agree with him in part. The Lions were ACTING like a really good team – or at least what Jim Schwartz imagines a really good team to act like according to some worn out hoary old cliché- but they weren’t acting like the Detroit Lions. They weren’t acting like the team that had gotten them to that point. And in doing so, they revealed a weakness. They revealed a team that wasn’t as confident as they were trying to portray. Really good teams don’t care how much time is left on the clock. They mash you until the clock strikes zero and it comes time for the EMTs to show up and scrape your corpse off the ground. They know who they are and they stick to it, no matter the circumstances. The Lions were playing like a team that was acting like it was lucky to be there, a team that had jumped out to a big lead and was just trying to hold on before midnight struck and they turned into a pumpkin. It’s all about attitude. The Lions have that attitude, but it’s almost like they don’t know how to act when that attitude gets them what they want. In that way, they’re just like the rest of us – confident but still frightened, sure and yet unsure at the same time – and I fear that it will be that way for a while. I think the biggest difference between 9-7 and 12-4 might just be the difference between being a good team and realizing that you’re a good team. And that’s what this season might be all about.


JP said...

This week should be very telling for all the questions that you raise. This is a classic trap game, Lions feeling good after a road win, Chiefs getting fucking powerbombed by the Bills, sold out home crowd. It's all there. This is when the old, old Lions(this is the Lions previous to the conventional "old Lions" of the Millen era, also known as "the good ole days)would be busy thinking about how fucking great they were on the sidelines, whilst some shit bird team whipped our fucking ass.

It's put up or shut up time, and I know that's cliche and all, but it's true. If this team doesn't want to be a laughingstock, then they need to come out and put the Chiefs down with no mercy. We have the talent, it's a sold out home game, and the Chiefs look like they're one (more) bad half from walking out on Haley. It's time for some killer instinct, time for the Lions to pin their opponent down and deuce on their collective faces.

Which goes with what you're sayin. There is no cramping excuses at Ford Field. No reason for the Lions to not slaughter their overmatched and out gunned opponent.

Should be a fun game.

P.S. I've been looking at some of the KC blogs, and their fanbase seems to be pretty knowledgeable, so I feel bad that their team is looking, well, like shit, but you know what? Those fucking whiny bitches in their front office cost us a draft pick, so fuck the Chiefs.

Whiouxsie said...

Related note: You see teams do this all the time with their pass rush. They'll be aggressive on first and second down (which of course are passing downs now, because like you said, the NFL has tweaked the rules of the game so as to better resemble the pass happy video game simulation of the game). They'll blitz. They'll knock the QB around and, with any luck, infect him with the paralyzing sense of trauma common in victims of severe abuse.

Then on 3rd and long they'll pull that 3 man 0 linebacker soft zone prevent no-rush bullshit (if you watch the film closely, you'll even see the linemen standing still and counting "1 Aligator, 2 Aligator, 3 Aligator..." before charging) that gives the QB 15 minutes to leisurely peruse the field with his eyes and note each section of the stadium seating which currently has a merchandise or food vendor working it before finally choosing a receiver, who catches the ball and naturally runs for a first down. Then they go back to blitzing and stunting on the next first down.

Even my embattled favorite, Alex Smith, or a grizzled grit farmer like Drew Stanton will eventually complete a pass in this situation. Top QBs like Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady will violate the entire anatomical set of orifices (with an un-lubed Wes Welker. It isn't pretty). And they do, and they have, and they have violated their way into the record books because coaching staffs repeatedly forget that 3rd and Long isn't as Long as it used to be.

Neil said...


Yeah, I'm interested to see if the Lions come out and actually play their brand of football or if they retreat into a shell because they somehow feel like they don't "need" to be aggressive in order to beat the Chiefs. If they come out and beat them to death with their own arms and the game ends with Todd Haley wandering around Ford Field naked like he just got strafed with Agent Orange then I think we'll be able to breathe a pretty big sigh of relief about this team. If not, well ...

Also, the angst which surrounds the Lions fanbase this season is incredible. People are fucking terrified, and it's all because we finally feel like we have something to lose.

Also, also ... man, I forgot all about that tampering shit. Fuck them.

Neil said...


Oh man, totally. TOTALLY. I hate that soft ass defense, mostly because it's based in an outdated way of looking at football. Like you said, these days even Grit Merchants like Drew Stanton can take advantage of that shit. It used to be that you could hang back and force the QB to fuck up, but QBs are just so much better in general these days that if you give even a mediocre one any time at all they will pick you apart. Pressure, pressure and more pressure. I think that's the only way to win these days. And that's also why I'm so glad the Lions have decided to build their defense around their front four.

Azbadger03 said...

Neil, you do realize that 3/4 of the people who read this post have NO idea what a "trapper keeper" is. Heck, even I had to think about it for a moment, and I'm a child of the '80's.
That being said, I was more and more convinced that the heat and the cramping had something to do with going too conservative ( all things in moderation, even conservative football play) and was glad to see you bring it up as well.

Neil said...

Yeah, I'm pretty sure the cramping played a factor but I still wanna see how they handle that sort of situation in the future before I exhale.

Also, I am now depressed because I realize the great truth you spoke about the Trapper Keeper and now I feel as old as the hills. Next time, I'll probably reference Hammer Pants or snap bracelets. Shit, depending on how much I have to drink, the next time I write something I might be WEARING Hammer Pants.

Anonymous said...

amen neil. lions played prevent D and O way to early in that game. we need to put points on the board at will for 4 qtrs to prevent jet like debacles and other sordid 4th qtr collapses in this franchises history in the past once and for all.

Anonymous said...


I was at the game on Sunday and unless you were there you can not understand how brutally oppressive the heat was. When they say it was 90 deg. with a heat index of 94 they aren't even coming close to describing the torment of that particular day in hell. The heat felt like it was clearly over 100 deg. I was in the upper deck and a slight breeze would come by every 45 min. or so. Other than that there was no relief from the heat. The real problem was the intensity of the sun. I can't imagine what it was like down on the field where very little breeze would be felt. Schwartz seemed to echo your conclusion that the fast pace of the game early caused Stafford to get worn out a little in the heat. Seems to me they went into slow down mode due to Stafford cramping up.

Kool Aid Man

Neil said...

"we need to put points on the board at will for 4 qtrs to prevent jet like debacles and other sordid 4th qtr collapses in this franchises history in the past once and for all."

Yeah, the best way to keep The Fear from eating us alive is to not give it any room to breathe.

Neil said...

Kool Aid Man,

That sort of thing actually makes me happy to hear because it makes me think that this was a one-off event and not something that will play out week after week after week. The only thing that seems weird to me is that Matthew Stafford was born in the South, grew up in the South and played his college ball in the South so you'd think he'd know how to play in the heat. Then again, there is heat and then there is what you describe which sounds more like a cauldron baked in the fires of hell, so ... yeah, you're right, maybe Stafford deserves a pass on this one.

Anonymous said...

regarding the people using heat as an excuse: i just don't buy it.

we had the bucs gassed by the 2nd qtr. they were playing in the same heat we were (here come the slappys telling us "but they live in TB".. lol). when you have your heel on your opponent's throat, you don't let up on it.

in sum, my issue is we haven't proven we can put away an opponent at will which means our lauded offense hasn't proven it can score at will. i think we're good but we need to prove b/c the likes or GB and chicago and NO will make us pay for being too conservative otherwise

Neil said...

I totally agree with the sentiment that it was a lost opportunity to prove that we could score at will/step on the throats of a weaker team. What that fourth quarter effectively did was leave that window of doubt open to let The Fear slither through in the dead of night. It's much easier for people to dismiss that victory as a fluke when it ended the way that it did than if the Lions beat the Bucs into a stain on the turf in the 4th quarter.

CJ said...

So I had this whole long theory on Jim Schwartz and his reliance on exhaustive preparation and planning vs. instinctive decision making, but it has now not posted twice, probably valiantly trying to save you from my bullshit. The gist was this: while there's definitely signs of the innate football conventional wisdom conservatism, it often seems to be more that Schwartz has planned out the game (and myriad eventualities) to the nth degree, and he will persistently try to hammer at the way he has decided they must play rather than reverse and do something else. It's like Jahvid Best up the middle every 3rd down early on last season. Once they had figured out a strategy that accomplished the same thing (some of the tight end stuff) as that play, there was much less dependence on not only that play, but that type of conservative play every third down, but until it got worked out, we saw a variation on it EVERY SINGLE TIME. I think his plan for greatness is worked out on terms of having schemes and personnel for every eventuality, so he and the team are never caught having to completely improvise or go with the gut instinct. I remember when he was first selected he responded to a question seemlingly with a total non sequitur about how he thought the guy that worked and prepared hard during the week was the better choice over the inspired gamecaller under made me go hmm at the time, even though I agree and I've seen it come up a few times since. I don't know, this probably made no sense, but rest easy knowing that it didn't probably make a lot more sense before but was a billion times longer. In any case, I think it might be more about him being less willing to give up on a plan until he sees that it can be executed, than just innate football conservatism.

Anyways, I love him now and forever, and want him ALWAYS ALWAYS to be our coach, so I am not a reliable observer and I freely admit that. Also, I know what a trapper keeper is.

Really thought provoking and so much fun to read Neil. I'm now going to be boring people I watch with trying to discern Schwartz's psychology, which will probably make a pleasant change for them from when I make up conspiracy theories about Roary.

Sorry I went on so long, just so you know...I'm a hater, yes, but someone primate diapers are easier to deal with than the monkey manicure pic.

Neil said...


That's some great stuff right there, and it's honestly thought provoking. It's kind of rare when I feel like I'm presented with a new angle that I hadn't really considered before (Damn, how arrogant does that sound?) but you just did it. This is something I will definitely have to think on. For now, I suspect that you may be right. Rest assured, I followed what you were saying. If nothing else, this will give me another prism to look through when these kinds of things happen.

Also, from now on, just for you, I will make sure all my monkeys are diaper-clad. I mean my monkey pictures. I don't actually have any monkeys of my own and if I did I wouldn't spend the money on diapers. Those little fuckers are smart enough to learn how to use the toilet and if they won't do that, well ... wait, how did I get started on talking about toilet training monkeys?

Anonymous said...

Schwartz said they had to go to the run game early i nth egamne because Stafford could only throw with oen leg and they had receivers that were banged up. He wanted to keep it aggressive but injuries left him only to run the ball. As for the prevent defense...well that's just stupid.

Neil said...

Pretty much what I expected. Thanks for the update.

Danny said...

Well said Neil. One thing we do have to remember though, is that just like our Lions, Schwartz himself isn't used to winning games, at least not as HC. I think Schwartz took into account how we blew the Jets game last year, and decided to play it as safe as possible. And we can only dispute so much, considering we did get the win. After all, crazier things have happened than a LB picking off a so-called 'safe' screen pass for 6 the other way.

As the Lions and Schwartz get more used to this winning thing, Id expect them to act like it, and learn to put teams away. Until then, I have to commend Schwartz and the staff.

Neil said...

You bring up a good point, Danny. For as awesome as The Schwartz is, he's still figuring this shit out too. That's why I threw in my comment about "the good ones eventually do [figure it out]." I believe that Schwartz will figure out how to best put teams away. I have faith in him. I'm just worried that we might see some growing pains on this front this season.

Anonymous said...

I listened to an interview with Schwartz yesterday where he was asked about going to the run mode too early. He said he thought it was absolutely the right thing to do because of the cramps. That Stafford was under tremendous pressure because his legs were having difficulty planting for throws with how tense they were. I'm just happy they were able to go run, even it wasn't great. If we'd not been able to run at all, that would've revealed a little too much.

Lawrance said...

Great Read. Perhaps a little long winded, but very entertaining. I agree 100% on everything you said. Here's may take on what Gym Shorts said regarding running because of the cramps... YOU PUT IN SHAUN HILL. You don't shut down your offense to run 3 and out with 20 minutes left on the clock.

Neil said...

Yeah, I think if it got to the point that Stafford couldn't even throw thanks to Crampgate, then ... yeah, I think they probably should have gone to Hill. Then again, that no doubt would have led to mass freakouts amongst all of us, wondering what was wrong with Stafford, so ... who knows?

Also, welcome to the blog - this goes to everyone just finding us. "Long winded" is kind of my thing, but so is "very entertaining". Or at least I like to think so. Don't be afraid to hunt around the site, but prepare your mind and your soul for they will never be the same again.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the North, but I now live in the South, and I own a construction company with employees. I pay serious attention to the heat. It can kill. That is a lot worse than an injury. You can feel when you hsve had too much heat. You also want to be in a prevent mode before it gets that bad.


Neil said...

Oh, absolutely. I understand needing to protect the guys from the heat. But tactically, I'm not sure how that affected the choice to go into a defensive shell with a full quarter left to go in the game. I understand how it affected their decision making offensively, but I'm not sure how it affected anything defensively.