Keys To The Game: Not Quite The Same Old Lions

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There Were Several Keys To Victory Against The Indianapolis Colts In Week One

Welcome to “Keys to the Game”. In this post-game series we’ll go in-depth to analyze a couple of important points from the previous night’s match-up. With that, here’s a quick recap:

It wasn’t the prettiest way to start off the season for Detroit, but they managed to pull it out. The Lions got off to a quick start, forcing the Colts to a quick series before marching down the field and ending their drive with a Theo Riddick touchdown, the team’s first of 2016. They then proceeded to shut down the Colts throughout the opening half, scoring two more TD’s (a Dwayne Washington pound-in on the goal line, and a beautiful toss from 15 yards out to Eric Ebron) along the way. The Colts mounted some pressure to end the half however, putting together a quick scoring drive as Andrew Luck threw all over the Lions defense culminating in a Donte Moncrief touchdown.

In the second half the Colts continued to put up a strong fight, taking the ball back from the Lions and going on another long drive, following that up with a two point conversion, both scores attributed to Dwayne Allen. This brought them within three points of a tie, triggering Lions fans everywhere with flashbacks to the 2015 season opener against San Diego. Things did not improve much through most of the third quarter as the Lions offense failed to respond on several occasions before finally producing an Ameer Abdullah touchdown just before quarter’s end. The fourth quarter simply put turned into an unsettling, hair raising, emotional roller coaster as Stafford and Luck waged a phenomenal quarterback battle, exchanging scores on nearly every drive, culminating in a beautiful three play, fifty yard drive by Stafford and a game-clinching forty-three yard field goal by Matt Prater.

Defining moment: The last minute field goal

While there were several classic “Lionsy” moments that could have defined this game, it’s very promising that Prater’s field goal was the defining moment. In the Mayhew era, this monumental collapse from a seemingly safe lead would have been far too much to overcome. Morale would have been shot, all hope would have been lost long ago. Not now though, not this year. With a mere 37 seconds left on the clock Mathew Stafford rallied the troops and led a charge down the field (with plenty of timeouts in tow thanks to solid clock management by Jim Caldwell) and willed the ball fifty yards in three plays to set up Prater for the game winning forty-three yard field goal. Despite all the negatives, the points allowed, the stalled drives, and the silly penalties, the Lions found a way to win. While the circumstances surrounding the position they were put in were definitely calling back to the Lions we all know and begrudgingly accept, the result was a sign of change and new, happier horizons.

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Stafford continues to build on 2015

Entering this season, a lot of people were wondering just which version of Mathew Stafford from the previous year would appear; the first half version that was inefficient and flailing, or the second half version that took the league by storm with the up tempo, opened up, Cooter-Rooter offense. Today’s game seemed to put those questions to rest. Stafford finished with a near 80% completion percentage, throwing for 340 yards, three touchdowns, and no turnovers, good for an obscene passer rating of 128.6. That performance came in spite of inconsistent blocking that went from awesome to borderline-nonexistent drive to drive (occasionally even play to play) and a lack of help from receivers in several crucial moments. He was just fine without help on the offensive line, without Calvin Johnson, and without consistent help on defense. If he can continue this level of performance throughout the season, he will without question be considered a top ten quarterback in the league.

Most importantly however, Stafford proved he is and will be the leader of this team. Throughout the game players rallied around him, the o-line fought for him, and he held players to account when they messed up: exactly what the team needed, and a role Stafford has grown into incredibly well. This leadership position proved essential on the final drive of the game, as he put the team on his back and got them exactly to where they needed to be to win the game in the final seconds. There are only a handful of quarterbacks in this league that have the talent and presence among their teammates that can accomplish that task, and it is an unparalleled advantage to have. Make no mistake, Andrew Luck was outplayed by Mathew Stafford on Sunday and others should take notice.

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The Running Backs Are The Keys To Ongoing Success

One of the team’s largest weaknesses last season was the run game. The o-line did it no favors and the runners failed to capitalize on their opportunities when they got them. In the offseason, this issue was focused on significantly with the additions of Taylor Decker and Dwayne Washington most notably, and clearly the changes paid off. First and foremost the run blocking looked a fair bit better, although facing similar but less pervasive inconsistency issues that the pass game saw, with holes regularly being opened up between the tackles. Ameer Abdullah also showed continued improvement with several big plays, going over a hundred yards on the day, while Dwayne Washington looked very powerful in two goal line runs, he should continue to see opportunities going forward. The biggest story of the day however was without question, Theo Riddick. People scoffed at the $4.25 million contract he was given a few days ago and then he submitted this stunning performance. Riddick changed from key slot receiver to Barry Sanders-esque shifty backfield speed threat at will, turning three yard losses into five yard gains on a regular basis. He proved without question he can be a runner if given enough room to work and if he can capture at least some of this performance going forward, he has made this offense that much more dynamic. Is it realistic to expect him to be this effective on a regular basis? No, the Colts defense is not good. But it certainly shows he has the capability, and now he can build off of this showing.

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Angry Jim Caldwell

While it seems like a minor, if not humorous thing, Angry Jim Caldwell might just save normal Jim Caldwell’s job. Caldwell was effective in his role, attentive and ready to question the refs at any inconsistency. He wasn’t going to take crap from anybody and he made that known, loud and clear. It’s as if your fun, dorky step-dad went to an assertiveness seminar at the airport Marriott and came back with a renewed sense of purpose. It shows a person that the players see and want to play for and I can see why, I’m a big fan of the change. On top of this, the moves to help take responsibilities like clock and challenge management off of his shoulders have clearly paid dividends as they were dealt with far better throughout the game then any other time during Caldwell’s tenure in the past.

The main improvement needed: D-E-F-E-N-S-E, find out why it is one of the keys to success…. quickly

After an impressive opening to the game, holding the Colts to only 31 yards on the first three drives, the flood gates burst open. On back-to-back drives to end the first half, the Indianapolis Colts had scoring drives starting from their own 21 and 25 yard lines, resulting in ten points seemingly in the blink of an eye. Then in the second half the Lions allowed 316 yards of total offense and 25 points IN ONE HALF. I’m aware I have readers here that are relatively new to football so to explain, that’s really, really bad. The one glimmering light in this awful performance was that the run defense, for the most part, was pretty solid. The problem however was once they got the Colts to abandon the run they never had to go back to it because Indianapolis absolutely torched Detroit through the air, and every position group was responsible. The d-line managed to get sporadic pressure, mainly via another great Kerry Hyder performance. But against a shaky Colts offensive line that did not play up to expectations, much more was expected across the board. The linebackers were limited in their exposure due to the team playing a significant amount of nickel defense, mainly due to depth concerns, but key players failed to step up in their positions. Tahir Whitehead looked lost in coverage regularly to the point that if he was in position to make a play on a ball still in the air, it was a happy surprise. DeAndre Levy looked solid for the most part, but made what could only be termed “rookie mistakes” that he’s never made before. The most egregious example was taunting the opposing bench after a borderline hit on Andrew Luck. This turned a fourth and one on the Lions forty into three points for the Colts, making it a one score game. Last but certainly not least, the secondary was horrendous. Every single player, from Slay allowing fifty yard bombs to Phillip Dorsett, to the turnstile at strong safety between Wilson and Bush, should be held accountable. To give the players at least some credit, they were certainly not assisted by their defensive coordinator. The Colts regularly found ways to take advantage of match-ups absurdly in their favor and Teryl Austin seemed to be completely incapable of stopping it. On several occurrences Tavon Wilson was stuck in single coverage against TY Hilton and in one magical circumstance 5’8″ Nevin Lawson was stuck in zone coverage on an island against 6’6″ Jack Doyle which resulted in a fourth quarter game tying touchdown. I would go into greater detail but that performance was not even worth the effort to do so. I get that Andrew Luck is a good quarterback and the Colts have a good offense, but the defensive unit was embarrassed tonight. Teryl Austin will need to go back to the drawing board for next week and reevaluate both his scheme and his defensive roster.

Statistics corner:

  • Detroit had three different running backs score touchdowns with only one other going to a non running back (Eric Ebron)
  • The defense in this game allowed the most total yards against since the first game of 2015, over double the yards allowed in weeks eleven and twelve of 2015 combined.
  • Mathew Stafford is now tied for the longest streak without a turnover of his career at four games, we will see if he can extend to five against the Titans.
  • The Lions have extended their streak (an NFL record) of seasons with a safety being scored in a game to thirteen
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Drink of the game: English Bay Pale Ale By Granville Island Brewing

Mentioned briefly in the sub but a really nice pale ale from Vancouver. It’s sweet with a mild flavor, perfect for sipping and toasting others while enjoying a blowout in the first half, yet easy to guzzle down out of desperation while watching the second half.

Final Thoughts:

As previously mentioned, this was not a pretty game. There were a lot of things that could have been done better, and the win should have been far more secure than it ended up being. In the end though, as cliche as it may seem, a win is a win. The Lions are presently 1-0, keeping stride with the rest of the division contenders, and beat a team many less informed folk from around the league thought would handle them quite easily. Now they can head on to week two with an eye to remediating their problems against a rebuilding Titans team and get prepared for week three’s huge match-up against Green Bay in Lambeau.

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About the Author

Chris is the founder of everything you see here. A former radio presenter and Detroit native, he now resides in sunny California – and like so many of us, he found himself marooned on an island devoid of other Lions fans. After spending a few years in the Detroit Lions Reddit community he decided to start the Detroit Lions Podcast. Its become the #1 Detroit Lions podcast, and regularly ranks with the top podcasts in Detroit. With a mixture of pre-recorded shows, live & recorded phone-ins, and live post-game broadcasts - this is his slice of Honolulu Blue heaven.