Friday, October 21, 2011

Balancing on the Edge of Hope

The duality between Human Hope and the Demon Fear which lives inside of every Lions fan.

People aren’t worried. Not yet, anyway. I suppose, though, in my own little egocentric kingdom of madness, when I say people, I mean me. And so I guess that’s my idiot way of saying that I’m still feeling pretty confident even after the Lions gave away the game against the 49ers on Sunday. But it’s a conditional sort of confidence too, you know? I mean, we have been through so much for so long (I don’t even know if I could dredge up an appropriate metaphor to accurately hammer home just how much and just how long.) that it’s almost impossible not to have at least a small part of my brain gibbering like a whiskey soaked lunatic, trying to burrow its way to the front of my consciousness with a litany of fears and concerns born not just from last week’s performance but from this whole crazy train of a season.

And it’s that part of my brain that needs to see the Lions come out and smash the Falcons. If the Lions lose to the Falcons, the rational side of me will get pissed but will then squeeze a stress ball or bite the head off of a squirrel or something, calm down and realize that the Lions are still 5-2. But that terrified little maniac who’s constantly working away at my brain with a pickaxe made of Fear and Panic will start furiously swinging away and he won’t calm down. He’ll start envisioning a collapse and will remember the pain – oh the pain – that’s been there for an entire lifetime of fandom. That tiny part of my brain, that irrational crazy man part, will try to shoot lasers out of my eyeballs, lasers that project giant movies of soldiers getting bayonetted and dying in blood soaked trenches or homeless dudes getting run over by trains or . . . look, what I’m saying is that there is a part of me that will always be so terrified of the Lions that it causes me to go to some really dark, fucked up places. I don’t like it either but if the Lions lose to the Falcons, I’m probably going to be envisioning shit last seen in a Faces of Death video.

But fuck all that. That is The Fear talking and I don’t actually feel that way. Not really. I just wanted to access it for a minute in order to give you all a peak at that terrible place that so far this season has lain dormant behind a steel curtain of Hope and Precious Optimism. It’s there. It’s always there. I would be lying to you if I said that it didn’t, and I will not have any of you call me a filthy liar.

The Lions don’t need this win so much as my own fragile confidence needs this win. If they lose, they’re still in good shape overall. But I won’t be because I’m not sure if I’ll be able to keep that little degenerate with a pickaxe at bay. And as fun as Apocalypse Now Neil can be, it also hurts my poor, sweet soul and I just don’t need that shit, you know?

But this is all vaguely unbecoming and I am starting to wallow in the What Ifs, which is an incredibly dangerous thing for a fan to do, a slippery slope that doesn’t end until you’re careening into a hell of your own making, so I’m going to slap myself in the face a few times and force myself back into reality, into the here and now where the Lions are still 5-1 and the world is so goddamn bright that my shades have to wear shades.

Okay. The good news is that I think this game sets up reasonably well for the Lions. They are at home, they should be hungry and ready to party like rock stars again after suffering through last week’s terrible hangover and they’re facing a Falcons team that so far this season has been a colossal disappointment. I think the Lions should win. The questions is, of course, as it always is, will they? Well, let’s find out, shall we?

The biggest concern for most Lions fans right now seems to be Matthew Stafford and the offense, which is kind of a weird thing to say given that his numbers are pretty fucking ridiculous – 1,729 passing yards, 15 TD vs. only 4 INT – but the reality, almost shocking given the sheer Boss Man nature of those numbers, is that Stafford has looked sort of, well . . . off for much of the season. Again, the numbers tell me that I am either full of shit or completely delusional and maybe a bit of both but the thing is, is that my eyes tell me that he and this offense still haven’t really put it all together. There have been obvious glimpses of it, stretches where he and the O have looked unstoppable, but it has been far too inconsistent and when that inconsistency stretches out for almost the length of an entire game, like it did against the 49ers, things don’t go so well. I think we’re all waiting for Stafford to have that game where he truly does look like that T-Rex flying a fighter jet that we want him to be. We know it’s there and that’s why we’re still complacent even given how shockingly good those numbers are. Terrifyingly, we know he’s capable of better, of more, and we’re anxiously waiting for him to get there, to snap out of this . . . funk is too strong a word, but for the Lions to truly take off he needs to be that T-Rex flying a fighter jet and not just some lesser dinosaur (I don’t know, like an Allosaurus or something) flying a fighter jet. That distinction is tiny and utterly ridiculous and I recognize this but it’s also crucial to the Lions success.

The good news, I think, is that the Falcons are the perfect opponent for young Matthew to evolve from that Allosaurus into a T-Rex. (Goddamn, this is getting nerdy and weird. Hey, can you tell I liked dinosaurs when I was a kid? For real, I told my parents when I was 4 that I wanted to be a paleontologist. Neither one knew what the fuck I was talking about, which I guess, given the amount of nonsensical gibberish I spew today, was prescient.) Their pass defense is only ranked 27th in the league, they’re dead last in terms of getting off the field on 3rd down and, well . . . hey that looks pretty good to me right about now, you know? They don’t really have anyone capable of stopping Calvin Johnson which means that even though the Lions running back depth chart looks like this right now: 1. Maurice Morris, 2. Roary, 3. Prayer, they should be fine on offense.

Perhaps I am underselling the loss of Jahvid Best (and every other Lions running back who has been hunted Final Destination style following the tragic departure of the Martyr Sanders) but I don’t think it will be that catastrophic. I mean, the Lions haven’t been able to run the ball anyway – outside of those explosive few plays against the Bears – and the offense is built around the pass. At worst, I think it just takes away a weapon rather than a foundational piece of the offense if that makes any sense. They’ll miss Best, but just because he’s someone who can break one at any time, not because he’s someone they rely upon to consistently move the ball.

Meanwhile, the Falcons have started to get their shit together on offense after Benny Hill Yakety Saxing it around for the first few weeks of the season. In those first few weeks, Matt Ryan was ragdolled all over the field. Seriously, it was like the Falcons offensive line was trying to make a snuff film or something. Since then, though, the Falcons have only given up 2 sacks in their last 3 games, but that’s not so much because their protection has improved as it is that they changed the entire framework of the offense – never a good thing during the regular season – abandoning 5 and 7 step drops in favor of quick passes and designed quarterback roll outs. Then again, they haven’t had to deal with the rabid werewolves the Lions call a defensive line either during those 3 games. And to make matters worse, their starting left tackle, Sam Baker, might not play and the dude they’re throwing up against Ndamukong Suh, Garrett Reynolds, is a rookie. So . . . yeah, Matt Ryan might very well die for the sins of all of Atlanta against the Lions.

It doesn’t help the Falcons that Julio Jones is still banged up or that the Lions defense is likely to be hungry and pissed off after the 49ers game. Of course, the Falcons do have Michael Turner and teams have figured out that the one flaw of this Lions defense is that they can be had in the running game from time to time. And, hey, I still have terrible post-traumatic flashbacks to that game when Turner ran for 220 yards on the Lions in the Year of Unnumbered Tears but that was a different time and last week kind of showed that even if Turner does tear them apart on the ground, it shouldn’t mean that much as long as the Lions can stop Matt Ryan when it comes time for him to make a play. Let’s not forget that even with all the breakdowns against the 49ers, had Matthew Stafford and the offense gotten their shit together none of that would have really mattered. In the end, I figure there’s a good chance that Turner goes for over 100 yards but I also think there’s a distinct possibility that opposing teams will now overplay their hand and try to run, run, run down the Lions throat, which on a down to down basis just isn’t going to work. The Lions can be had for a few big plays in the running game every week, but if your gameplan is to run it down their throat every first down you’re going to be staring down a lot of 2nd and 11’s which plays right into what the Lions want to do. Because then you have to pass and then you’re going to die.

Like the Lions (hopefully anyway) I’m going into this game against the Falcons believing that the Lions will win, but respecting the possibility that they could lose. That balance, which I talked about in my last post, has hopefully been restored in the wake of the loss to the 49ers. I’m not afraid, but that little fiend with his pickaxe is back there, digging away and so I suppose I am holding my breath a little with this one. If everything works out the way that I think it should, I’ll exhale and then drink myself into a happy stupor. If all of my fears are realized, then I’ll swallow that breath and, well, drink myself into a miserable stupor. In the end, I just hope that when people find me, I’ll be drooling with a dumb smile on my face instead of drooling out of a mouth twisted by agony and despair, the drool mixed with my bitter tears. Okay, this is getting out of hand again. I’ve begun gibbering about Happy Drool vs. Sad Drool which means that I should probably put this shit to bed before things get really weird.

And with that, I’ll just finish by telling you that right now that little degenerate with the pickaxe is still safely hidden away and I think that everything will play out the way that it is supposed to, and that – and how bizarre is it that this is what normal means now – means one thing: Lions win.

Predicted Final Score: Lions 27, Falcons 17


Raven Mack said...

I thought you promised me you wouldn't use pictures from your visit to my compound on the site.

Neil said...

But I thought you said I could use that one after one of your pigs bit my pinky finger off. A picture for a pinky as it says in the Bible. Man, that was a weird weekend. I'll never try to fight a gang of pygmy goats ever again.

Interloper said...

I admit it - I have horrible visions of Michael The Speedy Fire Hydrant Turner rushing for 458 yards. I will be even more tense than usual tomorrow if the Lions start slow. The Falcons can salt things away with run game.

Bubbalouuey said...

I'm glad Neil survived that visit. Stafford has had a "Different" sort of look in his eyes the last couple, a far cry from the KC game, and seems to have lost a little attitude somewhere. Hope Turner trips over some dinosaur poop and the Great Willie Young eats him.

Neil said...

"I will be even more tense than usual tomorrow if the Lions start slow."

Yeah, my mental state could unravel in a hurry if things go ... poorly.

Neil said...


Yeah, I've been saying for the last few weeks that I think he was rattled in the Minnesota game and ever since then something's just been ... off.

Whiouxsie said...

Stafford may be looking off because teams play more guys back and aren't as worried about the Lions running the ball. The threat of Best's home run potential is valuable in that regard. He makes at least one less guy trying to cover Burleson or, perhaps more to the point, Pettigrew (since I recall the Lions running that short TE pass over the middle about 34 times during last week's game). When everyone's covered, everyone's covered, you know?

They don't necessarily need to be "balanced" in play selection or yard production (since everyone's pass-heavy nowadays) nor should they be, when you have Calvin Johnson you OUGHT to be a pass-first team. But diversity of threats makes each one stronger.

Looks like I get this game locally today! I'll be able to comment when you recap this in a few hours.

Neil said...

Sure, but he's struggling to even get screen passes completed.

I've talked a lot about the balance issues in the past and different ways the Lions can overcome this. And I think the problem isn't so much that teams are taking away the pass - although that's definitely part of it - it's that Stafford can't even execute a screen pass correctly right now, which is kind of a problem because in order for the offense to work, that needs to work.

KDawg said...

Hey Neil. I'm a big fan of your blog, and I just wanted to say what the fuck was that? The Lions should have, and could have won that game. What in the blue fuck was going on with the play calling? Some people are saying that Stafford might be changing 30-40% of the plays at the line. I am seriously pissed off about the conservative nature of the play calls we have seen, not to mention the overall lack of Stafford utilizing all of his weapons. I was at this game, in person, and I witnessed I don't even know how many slants by the Falcons. Why don't the Lions do that shit? Christ, Atlanta played a base 4-3 cover 2 for most of the game, and while the middle of the field, behind the linebackers, was WIDE open for a vast majority of the game, the Lions NEVER threw the ball to Burleson or Young in space! Yes, Calvin Johnson is a beast. Yes, he is our best player on offense. But really? If the ball doesn't go to CJ, does it ALWAYS have to go to Pettigrew? The Lions need to watch some fucking Packer games, and start spreading the ball around, especially given the fact that their run game is mediocre at best. I hate to say it, but if they keep running so conservatively, and they keep forcing balls at Megatron instead of using the rest of their weapons, we could be in for much more losing this year.