Thursday, December 10, 2009
If A Lousy Football Team Is Beaten In The Woods and Nobody Sees or Hears It, Did It Really Happen?
I've hit the point where I just want the season to be over with and for next season to get here already. Really, this is kind of how I have felt all season long. I knew that the Lions would still be terrible, but at least I would get to see the progress. I took some solace in that, and I suppose I have been grasping onto that, week after week, game after game, telling myself and you that the games were worthwhile, that even though the Lions would probably lose, at least it would mean that we were one step closer to finally being better. On some level, this has probably been a massive defense mechanism, one that has allowed me to keep going on with this nonsense. You have to trick yourself into this kind of shit sometimes when your team is this bad. It's okay though, Lions fans are experts at this sort of thing. On another level, I really, really believe that each game has been important, that with every one, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson and DeAndre Levy and Jim Schwartz and Ernie Sims' monkey have been able to learn and grow and get ready to actually be a competent football team.
It has been terribly frustrating though to watch them stumble and fall, one by one, never healthy, never able to go out there and have the chance to really put it all together. There have been flashes - isolated plays here and there, the Cleveland game - but thanks to all the injuries, specifically to Stafford and St. Calvin, these guys haven't gotten a real chance to get together on the same page for very long. It has stunted the development of both Stafford and the team as a whole, and has made this entire season seem like somewhat of a lost one. Not entirely, but kind of, if that makes any sense at all. It probably doesn't, but fuck it, since when has sense been my specialty?
Anyway, lost season or not, each week has at least been interesting, if only because we have gotten a chance to see how this team is growing, no matter how slowly or fitfully. Unfortunately, this week, there will be even less growth than usual, and even less of a reason to be interested at all in what happens. The Lions are terrible, their final record will be terrible, and even if they somehow manage to eke out a win against the Ravens on Sunday, it will just be an isolated blip that is essentially meaningless. And why is that? Because Matthew Stafford's dickhead of a shoulder refuses to behave himself, meaning that, yes, it's time once again for Daunte Culpepper to step forward and drive us all to tears and razor blades.
Of course, the reason we know now, rather than Sunday, that Culpepper will get the start is because Jim Schwartz made sure that the decision was made and known by all sooner rather than later despite the fact that he would have liked to have waited until Sunday to make the official call. And why is this? Because Daunte Culpepper carried on like a damn fool on Thanksgiving.
Yes, you all remember that fine scene, one that will surely be remembered fondly as one of the more glorious moments in our proud franchises' history, a moment that saw Daunte Culpepper stomp around the sidelines, hollering at Martin Mayhew because Matthew Stafford got the start that he apparently felt he so richly deserved based on the sterling body of work he had done up until that point in a Lions uniform.
Rather than go through that again, the Lions have apparently decided to forego whatever tactical advantage they could have gained by waiting until the last moment to decide. This allows the Ravens to come up with a game plan specifically tailored to stop Culpepper. And since all you have to do to stop Culpepper is blitz the hell out of him, well . . . I think we can all see where this is heading. So, thank you, Daunte. Your inspiring professionalism has been an inspiration and a blessing in this wonderful joyous season.
Indeed. If the Ravens have anyone with even a half functioning brainstem, they will immediately flash back to the end of the Steelers game, where Culpepper was sacked three times in a row on the final drive, thus destroying any chance the Lions had to win the game, and to the entire Packers game, where Culpepper was harassed and beaten into the turf in a woeful performance. And then their eyes will get really, really big, and they will send blitzers in all day long like a swarm of rabid methed up werewolves. It, uh, it won't be pretty.
One tiny reason for hope is that Ed Reed is unlikely to start for the Ravens, and since his replacement, Tom Zbikowski, is most famous for being a boxing David Eckstein grit merchant at Notre Dame and not for being a, you know, good football player, there is a chance that the Lions and Culpepper will be able to take advantage of this. Unfortunately, the Ravens are probably getting Terrell Suggs back from injury and so it will be difficult for Culpepper to take advantage of Zbikowski since he will likely be getting crushed by the Ravens pass rush all day long.
I guess that leaves most of our hope for victory - absurdly slim as it may be - in the hands of Kevin Smith and the Lions running game. Smith was actually pretty decent against the Bengals, running for 75 yards and averaging over 4 yards per carry against one of the better rush defenses in the league. Unfortunately, he has looked kinda shitty for most of this season, and this week he gets to play against a team that only gives up 3.5 yards per carry, the best in the NFL. Well, so much for that.
With the offense unlikely to generate anything worth getting excited about - or hell, even marginally hopeful about - I suppose it falls on the Lions defense to take control of the game. Excuse me while I chug from this gas can and then swallow this flaming sword.
Yeah. The Lions defense has been terrible this season. Even against the Browns, who at one point this season were dubbed by some the worst offensive team in NFL history, the Lions defense was beaten, left for dead, and then pissed on and eaten by wild wolves. It was a sorry performance, one that completely exposed the depth of the Lions utter incompetence defending the pass. Up until that point, the Browns passing game was a national joke. Had Matthew Stafford not decided to channel the Terminator, everyone would have been comparing Brady Quinn after the game to Joe Montana. It was awful, it really was.
Of course, last week, against the Bengals, the Lions managed to keep Carson Palmer mostly in check, and even forced a couple of interceptions and a fumble following a cornerback blitz. It was probably the pass defense's best performance of the season. Then again, that is kind of like being the world's tallest midget, or, I suppose, the world's happiest Lions fan. Besides, Cincinnati's relatively quiet performance through the air is likely more a function of how conservatively they chose to play rather than anything the Lions really did to stop them.
On the other hand, the Lions did do a good job of disguising their coverage and baiting Carson Palmer into making some bad throws. Perhaps this is a sign of progress, or perhaps this was just a weird anomaly more emblematic of Palmer and the Bengals struggles than anything else. I don't know. The good news is that the Ravens quarterback, Joe Flacco, has been struggling the last several weeks. He was pretty fucking bad against the Packers on Monday night, and if the Lions can bait him - a second year quarterback - as well as they did a veteran like Palmer, maybe, just maybe, they can make something happen.
This is unlikely to happen, though. I mean, the Bengals game right now is just an outlier that really can't be used to definitively say that the Lions can shut down Baltimore's - or anyone else's - passing attack. In general, the Lions have been terrible against the pass and if there is a cure for what ails a young and struggling quarterback, it is looking across the field at the collection of stiffs in Honolulu Blue who make up the Lions secondary.
Even if the Lions somehow manage to stop Flacco cold - and really, if they have any hope at all in this game, they will need to do this - they will still have Ray Rice to deal with. Rice has emerged as a big time playmaker for the Ravens, giving them an actual offensive weapon to go along with their perennially tough defense. The Lions have actually been relatively competent against the run this year - well, relative to the pass defense anyway, but that invites all the tallest midget jokes, etc. and so we won't devolve into that nonsense again, although I suppose I just did. Never mind. Anyway, the Lions have shown an ability to keep an opposing running back in check - an actual, tangible sign of progress this season - and if they can somehow stuff Rice and somehow force Flacco into making a few bad throws, maybe, just maybe, they can give the Lions offense a chance to get into the game.
Of course, then we are brought back around to Daunte Culpepper and his track record of excellence in the last five years, and, well . . . Jesus, I just can't do it. It would take a miracle for the Lions to completely stop the Ravens offense. The defense just isn't good enough, and really, they have to stop them cold. They can't even contain them like they did against the Bengals, because just like against the Bengals, they will end up losing 23-13 or 17-7 instead of 35-13 or 27-7. Right now, the offense is too sloppy and too inconsistent to be able to provide the defense with any margin for error. Take away Stafford and add in Culpepper, and suddenly that margin for error is not even a margin any more. The margin has shrunk and begun creeping up the other side, to the point where not only can the Lions defense not make any mistakes, but they must also make things happen. Basically, the Lions are fucked. Neither the offense nor the defense are any good.
Okay, so there it is. The Lions are screwed, the Ravens will almost definitely win this game, and huzzah for December football. There is a month of football left to be played, and after that we can start talking ourselves into being hopeful for 2010. But for now, all we can do is . . . is . . . you know what? I've got nothing. Fuck it.
FIVE PREDICTIONS EVEN THOUGH I NEVER FOLLOW UP ON THESE ANYMORE
1. Culpepper will struggle against the Ravens pass rush, and will end up throwing for only 150 yards or so and three interceptions. He'll throw one touchdown, a jump ball that Calvin Johnson somehow comes down with and then he will do that stupid dance of his and I will try to swallow my remote in order to choke away all the pain.
2. Kevin Smith will be bottled up. He'll see a lot of work thanks to Culpepper's struggles, but he'll only gain 65 yards on 25 carries.
3. Calvin Johnson will catch 5 passes for 110 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. His hamstrings will then explode as he runs to the sideline and he will be partially eaten by a cheetah, leaving him doubtful for next week. He will only survive due to Zach Follett breaking free of his choke chain and mauling the cheetah. The two will engage in a thrilling duel at midfield but the Cheetah will tire and Follett will skin the poor beast alive and wear his pelt for the remainder of the season. Why there will be a cheetah just hanging out on the sidelines in Baltimore is a mystery, but remember, there are chimps driving cars down in Florida, so who knows? It is a strange world.
4. Flacco will get back on track, completing 25 of 37 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns. He will also throw one interception.
5. Rice rushes for 80 yards on 15 carries and adds another 80 yards on 6 catches. He scores two touchdowns, and then after the game he returns to his day job, playing one of the munchkins in the Baltimore Community Center's revival of the Wizard of Oz. After all, he can't play forever, and a man must think of his future. Hopefully he doesn't hang himself like that one poor son of a bitch munchkin apparently did on the original Wizard of Oz set. I know you have no idea what I am even talking about anymore, but that's okay, neither do I. We are in this together.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Ravens 31, Lions 10