Keys To The Game: Dallas Blues

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In A Depressing Loss, The Detroit Lions Fell To The Dallas Cowboys On Monday.

In a disappointing and frustrating Monday night performance, the Detroit Lions were blown out by the Dallas Cowboys in the second half, resulting in a 42-21 loss to the NFC leading side. The first half was extremely exciting and upbeat, going back and forth with the teams trading touchdowns all throughout.

Dak Prescott threw a touchdown pass to Brice Butler on the opening drive and the Lions answered with a Zach Zenner touchdown run. Ezikiel Elliot broke away for a 53 yard touchdown immediately following, and the Lions followed that up with a long drive ending in a Matthew Stafford quarterback sneak. After stuffing Dallas on the next drive another Zach Zenner touchdown put the Lions up by a score. But before the end of the half Dez Bryant scored a controversial seven points over Johnson Bademosi to even things up.

The Cowboys never looked back from that point on, starting off the second half by picking off Stafford six plays in and immediately scoring a go ahead touchdown. They would go on to get touchdowns on both of their next two drives, quickly putting the game out of reach as the Lions offense failed to be able to keep up to their quick pace as the Cowboys defense stiffened.

The game wound down from there, as the Lions failed to protect Matthew Stafford time and time again and both sides let the clock run out with meaningless time remaining.

Key 1: The Product

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Getting this out of the way before an actual discussion of the performance of individual players, this was without question one of the worst produced NFL experiences I’ve ever had the displeasure of viewing on several levels.

ESPN failed royally in their efforts, missing plays on commercial breaks on numerous occasions and generally missing the action all over the field. This was highlighted by a spectacularly bad camera angle on Matt Prater‘s missed field goal attempt, where they flipped to a view of the entire stadium as opposed to the actual play itself.

The announcing wasn’t much better as Gruden and McDonough often didn’t know what exactly was going on and played with a heavy Dallas slant, restraining themselves clearly when they saw that the Lions had been wronged. This slant continued through the NFL’s side of things, as the league was clearly playing on the side of “America’s team” siding with the smart money option though every facet of their being, across every social platform.

The anti-Detroit bias aside, this was an embarrassing showing for a league that prides itself on producing a quality show every week, and Monday Night Football hasn’t been significantly better in other viewings over the past few years. If this kind of showing continues from ESPN then the league should ignore history and the powers that be over at ABC/Disney and put this wounded shadow of its former self tradition out of its misery.

There was of course one other aspect of the show that simply stunk and needs to be noted: the officiating. There has and will continue to be plenty of others on message boards and the media that will profile these instances in more depth but the fact of the matter remains. There is a blatantly obvious anti-Detroit bias amongst referees and Monday night might have been one of the more egregious examples of this in recent history.

From the Dez Bryant non pass interference, to the Ashawn Robinson “tackling penalty”, to the hold on “somebody from Detroit” questionable to obviously wrong decisions from officials time and time again extended Cowboys drives and gave them extra opportunities. While this did not win or lose anyone the game directly, it had the single largest role in drastically shifting the momentum of a close game and taking Detroit completely out of it.

Detroit has a lot to take responsibility for, namely their coach not being more forceful to point out this absurdly poor refereeing, and their lack of depth to make up for their injured stars. The fire Blandino movement has gained more then a few followers over the holiday season and should only continue to exponentially grow at this rate.

Key 2: The Zenner Explosion

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Zach Zenner has been a fan favorite and preseason darling in his time in Detroit, but he most certainly has never been what he was Monday night. Zenner looked like an absolute beast against the Cowboys league leading rushing defense, racking up 67 yards and two touchdowns while averaging over 5.5 yards per carry.

He simply bullied his opposition, pushing for extra yards and even forcing Dallas to take players they originally planned on resting and threw them in for more reps in hopes to stop him. On top of this however he developed a little patience and vision, finding holes and breaking runs outside when the opportunity allowed, a dynamic that has yet to be seen from him in recent history.

It is undeniable that Zenner’s effort was key to the offensive success early in the game, but perhaps the most interesting fact is that almost all those stats came in the first half. Zenner in fact only touched the ball twice in the second half, leading one to question offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter for not feeding his obviously hot hand.

While some could argue this was done for pass protection reasons as Zenner recieved a (phantom) holding penalty early in the third quarter. Dwayne Washington proved to contrinue to perform like hot garbage in that department and Stafford was simply abused by the opposition pass rush without him on the field.

Decisions like these are reasons that JBC is incredibly frustating despite all the success he has had working with Matthew Stafford. All in all however this was a phenomenal effort by Zenner and it bodes well for his position with the team in the future, if he gets more opportunities in an extended season going forward and keeps performing this way.

Key 3: Missing Pieces

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The biggest impact on what hurt the Lions game Monday though was without question missing pieces. The Lions were abused by Dez Bryant in the passing game without Darrius Slay, Laken Tomlinson was a laughing stock that was pulled for Joe Dahl midway through this game with Travis Swanson’s injury shuffling the o-line.

Theo Riddick‘s dynamic game breaking ability was sorely missed against a slower run stuffing Cowboys front. These three elements are crucial to Detroit’s potential success going forward, especially Sunday’s matchup. With more big performers joining the injury concern pile, namely Miles Killebrew sustaining an eye gouge from Lucky Whitehead, and Stefan Charles seeming to get a pretty severe knee injury on a blatant Travis Frederick hold. Key contributors need to start making their way back to the lineup. Otherwise this season may very well end far sooner then many would have hoped a mere few weeks ago.

Looking Forward

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Just like that, after everything that has happened this season, through all the highs and lows, the schedule has ended exactly as many thought it might. With the entire season resting on a week 17 matchup against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

While it’s quite true that a loss by Washington guarantees Detroit a playoff spot, none of that really matters right now. Make no mistake, this is the first playoff game. The key will be stopping Aaron Rodgers, a task that will be very difficult without Darius Slay in the lineup, and putting up enough points on a feisty Packers defense to stay ahead and pull out the win.

The biggest x-factor will be quite simple, crowd noise. In the most meaningful football game played by the Lions in Detroit since before many fans were even born, expect there to be one of the loudest NFL crowds on record. The national spotlight will shine on Michigan Sunday night and fans hope to rally their team to it’s first division title since Cheers and Saved by the Bell were on television. Buckle up folks and enjoy the culmination of this wild wild ride.

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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.