Keys to the Game Week 11: Cardiac Cats Strike Again vs. Lowly Jags

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The label Cardiac Cats Is Not Just A Catchy Nickname, Its A Lifestyle.

Fans expecting a blowout at home against a struggling Jacksonville team were left grabbing for Tums and Pepto-bismol on Sunday as Mathew Stafford and the Detroit Lions led yet another 4th quarter comeback, winning 26-19. The first quarter of this game was nothing short of sloppy and uninspired ending with a combined total of 57 yards of offense in the first 15 minutes.

The two sides traded punts, with only a muffed Andre Roberts punt return resulting in three easy points for the Jags breaking up the monotony. In the second quarter things heated up slightly, but mainly due to strong defensive play from both sides. Glover Quinn had a crushing hit on Chris Ivory in the open field to force a fumble recovered by Antwione Williams, but the Lions were unable to capitalize after some great coverage from Jacksonville and a well timed Gus Bradley challenge.

At the tail end of the game’s SEVENTH three and out by the 11:30 mark of the second quarter, Andre Roberts redeemed himself with a punt return touchdown and the first trip to the end zone of the day. Followed of course by a blocked extra point. Jacksonville would later respond with a nice red-zone catch by Allen Robinson and the teams would leave at half tied 9-9.

The second half started off with a bang when Rafael Bush picked off Blake Bortles and made a “play of the year candidate” return for a pick six touchdown, putting the Lions up seven points early. Jacksonville started to get slightly warmer through the rest of the third quarter on the back of some beautiful catches from Marquise Lee. Producing ten points unanswered while the Lions offense continued to struggle to get anything going.

It took until the mid fourth quarter for any signs of offensive life for Detroit once Eric Ebron took over on a solid offensive drive and capped things off with a jet sweep rushing touchdown. After that play the life seemed to be zapped from the Jaguars. With a quick four and out, a long time wasted by the Lions ending in a Prater field goal, and a Tavon Wilson interception, the game was over. The Cardiac Cats strike again. Detroit moved to 6-4 and Jacksonville continued to mire in their nightmare scenario.

Keys this Week:

O-line Regression

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I don’t think anyone really knows what happened to the Lions offensive line this week. Maybe they lost some of that aggression they had earlier before the bye week. Maybe Jacksonville’s highly touted defensive line finally showed up. Maybe the lack of a run game threat let the Jags sell out on blitz’s putting too much pressure on the line, but they simply weren’t good enough on Sunday.

After having some great games and consistent improvement throughout the season, every member of the O-line had less then expected performances. The tackles were up and down, with Taylor Decker making a few rookie mistakes and taking penalties. Reily Reiff looked somewhat winded throughout the game, potentially suffering some after effects of his recent illness. The biggest issues though were out of the middle of the defense, namely the guards.

Larry Warford was the source of a lot of the pressure Stafford felt, struggling throughout the game to the point that he was replaced by Laken Tomlinson just prior to the Ebron touchdown in the 4th quarter. Whether this was due to performance or some sort of equipment issue remains to be seen but to single him out would be unfair. Glasgow was a little better but on more then one occasion got picked up and tossed by Jaguars defensive tackles. He’s clearly got technique and the ability, but he needs more time to fill out and bulk up to go from pretty good to rock steady.

If any of you are interested in the prospect of bringing in Tomlinson to mix things up, don’t bother with that thought. He was directly responsible for the blocked PAT getting picked up and carried back toward Matt Prater as if he was a balloon character a few day’s early for the Macy’s parade.

Defensive Improvement

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Lets all enter this with an understanding: Blake Bortles is a really bad quarterback right now. I understand that this would make someone believe that there’s nothing impressive about what the Lions did on Sunday, but that is not the case.

For the first time this season they were able to generate multiple turnovers, making big plays on the run and against the pass. If this trend can continue it will be a huge addition to the overall team. On top of this the defensive line had a much improved outing with Tyrunn Walker out of the lineup. Stefan Charles and Khyri Thornton have quietly taken over the second and third spots in the rotation with Ashawn Robinson putting in meaningful minutes as well, and they’re making some big waves.

Runs up the middle with those three and Ngata in the game have quickly dried up for opposing offences, and they’re making significant penetration resulting in batted passes and a couple tackles for loss. They along with Ansah’s health improvement each week, combined with the huge surprise Kerry Hyder, are starting to provide some sort of identity for this defense. With Levy’s return imminent, a unit that has struggled desperately against the pass and barely eked by against the run is slowly starting to round into something on the home stretch. If they can be even an average unit, this Lions team becomes a lot harder to beat.

Wanted: A Power Back

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I get why people look at the Lions and say that defense should be the first and only priority when draft time comes around. To those people who still say that though, after the Jacksonville game, I say you are clearly and undeniably wrong.

There is a clear and obvious deficiency with the Lions offense and it is something they desperately need if they want to be a truly elite unit: a power back. Despite having a typically good quality o-line and a very good fullback, Detroit is simply incapable of picking up tough yards on the ground and closing out games without putting the ball in the air. No this is not because Ameer Abdullah isn’t in the lineup, its because they have no power element in the backfield.

For those of you who point to Dwayne Washington I would present the image above. Sure he’s a quality #4 back to hold onto and see how he progresses but he is most certainly not a true power runner. He ended the game with 6 yards on 13 attempts with numerous negative or no gain carries, and on top of that he almost got Stafford killed through his inability to pass block and pick up a blitz.

While it’s not as obvious now because the Lions haven’t been able to play with leads but a good power runner takes tons of pressure off your quarterback. They extend drives taking tons of pressure off a weaker defense, and takes reps off the rapidly falling apart Ameer Abdullah to hopefully extend his career past Jhavid Best territory. The Lions should invest a 3rd (maybe 2nd) round pick in this position this upcoming draft with oodles of power talent looking to be available around that range. If you watch college football Nick Chubb, Royce Freeman, Samaje Perine, and Devon Smith are all worth a look because they will all be in the discussion come April.

The Road Ahead

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With that we have reached Thanksgiving at a solid 6-4. I’ve tried to temper the meaning of this upcoming game as much as possible, as I generally don’t believe in the overhyping and giving games false importance like many reporters love to attempt to do. This week however is undeniably different. The Vikings come to Detroit in game two of their divisional doubleheader and this time the division is on the line.

After a five game losing skid Minnesota finally pulled out a win against also struggling Arizona, primarily based on a resurgence of their defense and special teams. They are slowly but surely getting healthier on that side of the ball, with Eric Kendricks and Captain Munnerlyn returning to the lineup last game and will be that much harder to beat come Thursday.

This is an absolute must win game for both teams. If the Lions win they take complete control of the NFC North, taking a two game lead on Minnesota (one in the standings plus an additional game for the head to head tie breaker) as well as at least a two game lead on Green Bay. On top of this they move to 2-2 in divisional record, which provides some additional security should the Packers come on late with tie breakers. Another win which is always valuable if anything happens down the road and the Lions end up fighting for a wild card spot in a very tight NFC.

If Minnesota wins however, they move comfortably into the top spot in the division with a relatively easy end to the season giving them a relative strangle-hold on the NFC North. Detroit on the other hand would fall to 6-5, 1-3 in division, and potentially go from third seed to 8th in the NFC. With five games remaining at that point, it would turn two difficult road games against New Orleans, and the New York Giants into absolute must wins. Along with the already needed game against Chicago and probably one of their last two games, at Dallas or vs. Green Bay into needs as well. I do not see a way the Cardiac Cats can make the playoffs without this game, leaving them in an awful situation: a mid-late round draft pick without even a playoff appearance to show for it.

So do whatever it takes. Make a pilgrimage to the land of Cars and Motown, do any ritual or voodoo rain dance you prefer. Mix a giant bubbling cauldron of Honolulu Blue Kool-aid, or get in that stadium and be the most insane riled up fan at Ford Field because the season is on the line Thursday.

Hopes of a Lions playoff appearance don’t just ride on this game, the prospect of something so much more is at stake, something Detroit fans have been clamouring for since 1993 and something many worried might never come again. I get why some fans are still skeptical, the rug has been pulled out from underneath them so many times before and let downs have become so much of a regularity but I am here to tell you its ok to get excited this time. Watch out football world, the Lions are playing for a shot at a home playoff game.

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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.