Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Resistible Force against a Moveable Object: The Sportsball Chic watches the Lions Preseason Win over Cleveland

Can the Lions faithful party like it's 1953? Don't bet on it just yet.
I don't want to get ahead of myself here, but I think it's only fair to warn you all now that the Detroit Lions are definitely going to win the Superbowl this season. That's right folks, the Chic is fresh off watching her beloved Lions work their bottom of the roster comeback mojo on the mighty Cleveland Browns and it's safe to say I'm pretty fired up about what I saw.  Wow, that game was exciting wasn't it? We saw a little bit of everything from both teams, including fumbles, nondescript field goals and players you've never heard of generally failing to make plays! Of course, we didn't get to see Calvin Johnson, Ziggy Anseh or anything except the tiniest glimpse of Matt Stafford, but by the glory of Pete Rozelle it was honest to goodness, actual NFL football! More importantly, the Lions pulled out the big win when beloved 3rd string Quarterback Kellen Moore tossed a beautiful 21 yard fade into the corner of the endzone and it was miraculously caught by a guy who'll be bagging groceries in a month! With just over a minute left, "Komeback Kellen" trotted to the sidelines and Detroit's collection of future delivery drivers, real estate agents and fitness instructors managed to keep the Browns out of the end zone to close out the game. Final score 13-12 Lions; restore the roar indeed folks.

Jokes aside, the Lions preseason began on a positive note tonight as one of the longest offseasons in franchise history finally drew to a close. New coaches, big draw rookies and some sloppy play on both sides lead to a wild and entertaining contest that provided more drama than you'd typically expect out of a 13-12 match featuring six field goals. Of course, in the grand scheme of things this win means precisely bupkis to the Lions because preseason games don't count and in fact what you see on the screen barely qualifies as football. Experienced NFL coaches tend to treat preseason games like a form of live practice that their team is begrudgingly obliged to perform by NFL mandate. Locked in starters will rarely play for more than a series or two before they are pulled to avoid injury, and most of the players who actually decide the contest won't even make their respective teams when the preseason is over. So if the best players don't play, the coaches don't take it seriously and the results don't matter - the question then becomes "Sportsball Chic, why do you even watch preseason football?"     

What are we talking about? Preseason? How silly is that?
The answer is at least partially that I'm so addicted to the NFL that I simply cannot resist the allure of the football-like substance these glorified scrimmages provide. After seven long months without the sport, my resolve has been sorely tested - I won't lie, I might have even watched a CFL game or two in its entirety just to make it through the barren season. The other reason I watch preaseason games however is that I'm a part-time sportswriter and while these games don't mean anything in terms of standings, they do provide some useful insights into how a team will perform when the lights go on and the games really count. The key is to understand what to look for - the score may not count but most of the players are out there fighting for their NFL lives and the right to be next man up in the inevitable case of failure or injury. While the games themselves are disjointed and lack a larger narrative, there are no shortage of young athletes desperately attempting to rise beyond the mire of camp bodies and practice squad players. When I watch a preseason game, I'm looking for players who stand out; guys who make (or fail to make) the big play when pressure is on and demonstrate at least one NFL-level skill to build on for the future. These are the types of players who not only make the final roster but find their way into actual NFL football games over the course of a sixteen week season. Presumably they also sometimes play in the playoffs but as a lifelong Lions fan, I can't really say I know much about that. With an eye towards the players, coaches and trends that stood out on television tonight, here are my observations from the Lions 13-12 win over the Browns:

"I'm all heart muthafucka!"
Coaching:  To be completely honest with you, I do not have a particularly high opinion of new Lions coach Jim Caldwell and I was fully prepared to write several Weekend at Bernie's jokes in this space. Surprisingly however, Caldwell was just about as effective as a head coach can be in a meaningless preseason football game. The Lions play calling was fairly balanced, the team played solid situational football and the coach's expert clock management at the end of the 4th quarter gave Kellen Moore enough time to lead the comeback charge to victory.  Additionally, while the cameras were hardly focused on capturing his reactions, Caldwell appeared both animated and engaged on the sidelines whenever we did see him. He frequently consulted his assistants and remained largely out of the way, but never so far out of the way that you'd be tempted to check him for a pulse. For a coach who's known as a blank slate in the most unflattering way possible, the evening could only be described as wildly successful. After five years of watching Jim Schwartz lose his cool on a daily basis, Lions fans are fine with a man who exhibits self control, but when the going gets rough Jim Caldwell is going to have to prove to us that he cares at least as much as we do. If tonight is any indication, that won't be a problem going forward - I even swear I saw him crack a brief smile during the halftime runoff interview.

Offensively, we got a taste of what new coordinator Joe Lombardi brings to the table and the results were acceptable; albeit with what was likely a rather vanilla game plan. As I alluded to the photo above, Calvin Johnson didn't play at all and Mathew Stafford only stuck around for one series, but for the rest of the night the Lions backups ran plays that you will no doubt see on Sunday this fall. From a play calling standpoint, Lombardi may well end up being a breath of fresh air. While it's hard to get a read on an offense based on one preaseason game, I'd say overall you can probably expect slightly less shotgun formations and more, or at least more consistent running. This isn't to suggest that the Lions are going to stop being a passing team, but you could definitely tell that Lombardi was more dedicated to mix in runs throughout the game than his predecessor Scott Linehan had been. It is fair to suggest that this might have been a product of trying to find evaluation time for as many as eight backs and a lack of production at QB (more on this later). Regardless, the run pass mix in the Lions offense felt more natural and organic than it has in years, with Lombardi calling runs on all three downs and continuing to mix in runs even when someone got stuffed early in a drive. As someone who's always felt that the Lions tend to abandon the run as soon as the going gets even slightly difficult, this was a welcome change.

2nd times the charm? Miller hopes so.
The other star coaching performance on the evening comes shockingly from holdover special teams coordinator John Bonamego. At this point, I suspect most Lions fans are used to the special teams unit serving up play that at its best is almost league average and at its worst can be described as a hot flaming mess. Last year was no different and therefore it was pretty surprising to watch the Lions excel in virtually every special teams situation during this game. Our kick and punt returns were solid on both sides of the ball and aside from generating more pressure on Cleveland's four field goals, it would be hard to ask Bonamego's unit to improve on tonight's performance. Detroit did give up one long kickoff return in the 3rd quarter but the defense managed to keep Johnny Manziel and company out of the endzone and hold them to a 41 yard field goal. Finally, depth halfback Steven Miller left a ball on the turf after foolishly diving for extra yards on a second quarter kickoff return. It was a dumb play but for reasons that were never entirely clear, the refs let Miller off the hook by awarding the ball to the Lions despite a Browns player clearly having the ball at the end of the play. Whether they were lucky or good, the Lions weren't plagued by systemic errors as they have been in years past. Overall, the Lions special teams seemed vastly improved and they frequently outplayed what will likely be a poor unit in Cleveland this season.

Defensively however, things weren't quite as awesome. With all of the upheaval this past season in the Lions secondary, I watched this game with two major questions in mind:
  • What type of coverage would the Lions secondary play with corners who specialize in man or zone but nobody who excels at both?
  • Would new strong safety James Ihedigbo and incumbent corner Rashean Mathis be fast enough to hold up in coverage or would the Lions have to protect them with other players to avoid big plays in the passing game?

What's man coverage coach? That sounds like a lot of running
Unfortunately, this game really didn't answer either of those questions definitively. Early on, when both Mathis and Ihedigbo were playing, the Lions were running zone and combination (man/zone but not Cover 2) coverages. Frankly, this wasn't hugely effective and Brian Hoyer shredded them on a couple of passes in the first quarter as a result. One play that stands out in particular involved Darrius Slay laying in a shallow zone 8-10 yards off a Browns receiver on 3rd and five. Predictably Slay was not able to cover enough ground when Hoyer hit the receiver on a 5 yard quick slant and the Browns picked up an easy first down. You have to wonder if Mathis would have adjusted his lineup to account for down and distance, but this is one of the problems I expect the Lions to run into so long as their personnel remains a mixture of strictly man or zone corners.  At this point in his career Mathis is simply way too slow to be trusted in man coverage and like most zone specialists he needs a pass rush to be effective at all. That was a problem tonight for the Lions starters as the Browns used a variety of traps, draws and QB roll outs designed to fluster Detroit's pass rush. The end result was lots of time for Brian Hoyer to find receivers underneath and make our corners in particular look suspect. Fortunately for the Lions however, failure also lives inside Cleveland's genes and the Browns squandered these chances in a haze of penalties, checkdown throws and field goals. As the game drifted towards a battle of backups and hopefuls, the Lions appeared to shift into more and more man coverage and while Cleveland broke off a few decent runs against Detroit's defense, their passing game grew less effective as the game wore on. Individually, Mathis was beat for a couple of short gains and frankly I didn't notice Ihedigbo at all unless Cleveland was running - which is probably what you're hoping for from your run stopping strong safety.

As noted above, the Lions (mostly) starting front seven was not particularly effective at generating pressure on Cleveland's Qbs tonight. While last year's epic defensive collapse makes this a worrying sign, it's important to note that the Browns scheme had a lot to do with stalling the Lions pass rush and its certainly fair to suggest that the Lions weren't trying all that hard to get to Hoyer early. Detroit didn't blitz much with it's starters, but once the Lions did start sending extra backups after the QB they easily disrupted the timing of a Cleveland offense still littered with first string players. Unsurprisngly the increase in blitzing coincided almost exactly with the shift towards man to man coverage - which probably doesn't spell good news for the Lions corners on the bubble who specialize in zone.

Wide Nine? Oh hell no son, we care about stopping the run
Formation wise, new Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin threw a lot of different looks at Cleveland, including some five man defensive lines, some nickle formations with extra safeties and even a few 4-4 fronts on short yardage downs. One of their more interesting formations involved coming out in a nickle package with a safety and the extra defensive back lined up shallow and tight to the defensive line. This formation strongly suggested a blitz or press coverage, but as far as I could tell the Lions dropped off into normal man as often or more often than not. For the most part, Detroit ignored Hoyer as a runner but they appeared to spy rookie Johnny Manziel with a linebacker a few times in the third quarter out of a variety of formations. When Detroit did play zone, they didn't bother with the spy and Manziel was able to rip off one fairly impressive 16 yard run against that coverage. Thankfully, I did not observe a single "Wide Nine" formation the entire night; as a result Cleveland runners were actually required to earn their yardage and my monitor does not require immediate replacement this evening.

Overall, Detroit was surprisngly the more disciplined team, although it wouldn't be unfair to suggest that wasn't hard against a Cleveland squad that took 11 penalties for 60 yards. The Lions had five penalties of their own, but many of them seemed related to a lack of familiarity more than anything else. For once, the other team took the stupid penalties late and lo and behold - the Lions won! Detroit's coaches remained calm throughout the game, methodically rotating through the roster at all the times you'd expect them to, while Cleveland kept high profile players in longer, trying to jump-start their performance. While it's only a preaseason game, the bottom line is that the Lions looked disciplined, well-coached, even smart on a couple of occasions and that alone suggests that Caldwell and his staff have made significant progress with this team.

The Battle at Corner: As previously mentioned, neither Mathis or Slay played particularly well in limited time tonight but the simple truth is they are definitely making the roster at this point and barring a complete collapse, likely to start. Furthermore, it looks like incumbent Bill Bentley will open the season as the slot nickle corner as he stayed in just long enough to register 2 tackles and left with the rest of the starters. The battle that Lions fans have been focusing on this summer is at the bottom of the roster where the Lions will keep at most three additional corners and may keep only two. Without access to coaches film, it's hard to evaluate the play of individual corners throughout the game and sometimes not being noticed by the camera means that a corner is doing a great job because his man is never open. With that having been noted, here are my thoughts on the Lions hopefuls I saw play tonight:
Jonte Green? Are you serious?
  • I don't know how terrible Chris Greenwood is at practice but he must be pretty awful because the Lions rarely seem to have anything good to say about him. During training camp the word out of Detroit has been that Greenwood looked lost again and he very much appeared to be on his way out of the Lions organization for the second time. Those stories are pretty hard to reconcile with tonight's contest however because Greenwood was by and large the best corner Detroit had in this game. Although the official stats sheet only credits him with one tackle and one pass breakup, he actually disrupted two Cleveland passes and consistently found ways to influence runs to his side. It wasn't exactly a Primetime performance, but Greenwood certainly looked like a guy with great instincts and quickness. This is an ongoing theme in Greenwood's career and he's often amongst Lions fan favorites when he's on the field - he just rarely gets any playing time because the coaches don't like his game.
  • On the other side of the coin, camp favorite Jonte Green didn't have a particularly good game; failing to register a positive statistic, collecting a dumb pass interference penalty and giving up a couple of stoppable passes in the second half. In complete contrast to Greenwood, Green didn't look instinctual at all and always seemed a half second late in man coverage. In retrospect, it's fair to point out that Greenwood was running with the Lions second stringers and Green was playing mostly with third stringers and hopefuls. Perhaps all of the bluster out of Lions camp has been designed to motivate both players and Lions brass sees what the rest of us see after all. 
  • Cassius Vaughn didn't play as much as I'd hoped for and when he did, things were mostly pretty quiet. Unlike Green however, this was a good thing as Vaughn wasn't getting burnt while failing to compile many stats. With 1 tackle and 1 pass defended, I felt Vaughn's performance was competent which is pretty much all you can hope for out of your 5th or 6th corner frankly.
  • Tonight was hopefully something of a learning experience for Nevin Lawson because after a single preseason game he's probably already gained himself a reputation for clutching opposing jerseys. While this only lead to a single defensive holding penalty tonight, the simple truth is that he was clutching and grabbing virtually every time the camera found him. People are going to watch tape of this game and before long refs will be warned that the rookie corner from Detroit is probably holding and that is the kind of rumor that can end a career before it starts. Whether it's simply a bad habit from college or because he's not quite fast enough is largely irrelevant, Lawson will not last in the NFL if he doesn't learn to be more subtle with his hands. I'd love to offer you a review on his play aside from the holding, but since he was holding on every play I saw that is impossible. If the Lions truly are going to forge their roster based on merit alone, Nevin Lawson may have seriously damaged his chances of making the team between tonight and training camp - already.
  • While Mo Seisay probably has very little chance of actually making Detroit's final roster, nothing he did tonight is going to hurt his chances. Seisay was one of the game's late stars, breaking up two passes in crunch time as the Browns attempted to drive for what would have been clinching points. Aside from the two pass breakups, you barely saw him - which as mentioned already is probably a good thing.
  • If Aaron Hester or Drayton Florence played tonight, I didn't notice them at all
What? I only missed by *this* much coach
Dan Orlovsky: Neither words nor statistics can accurately describe how poorly Orlovsky's second stint with the Lions began tonight. Playing early and staying into the game until near the end of the 3rd quarter, Orlovsky managed to drop back 23 times and produce a mere 12 completions. Even this doesn't really tell the story because he only managed 89 yards in passing, producing a staggeringly bad 3.9 yards per pass attempt. Most frighteningly off all however, Orlovsky spent most of the evening looking confused and terrified, which is basically never something you want to see out of a guy who's one Stafford blindside hit away from being handed the keys to the Lions entire offense. In roughly the first twenty minutes he was out there, Dan manged to:
  • Go down to avoid a pass rush with a lane directly in front of him. Literally right in front of Orlovsky is the open space he needs to make the play on a wide open reciever about 12 yards up field, but instead he falls and takes an easy sack. 
  • Throw the single worst screen pass/lob ball I have ever seen in my life. It was not only too slow for an NFL level pass but somehow the ball actually grew wings and flew well over 10 yards in the air, ensuring the target was completely surrounded by the time it arrived. 
  • Throw directly into coverage 3 times. In not one instance was the intended receiver open at all, Dan just threw it anyways.
  • Somehow manage to throw behind a halfback on a 5 yard dump off. While we all know Orlovsky's arm strength isn't impressive, it's hard to understand what value he has if dump off plays to a runner can't be performed accurately.
Unfortunately, everything about last night's game suggests that the Lions are intending to go into the season with Orlovsky as their backup and perhaps not even keep a 3rd quarterback on the main roster. Despite his obvious struggles, Dan played until the very end of the 3rd quarter and 3rd QB hopeful James Franklin didn't even get into the game. Furthermore, Detroit gradully shifted to quicker, shorter passes clearly designed to help Orlovsky find his rhythm. For the most part it didn't work, but during the two minute drill at the end of the second quarter Dan did manage to put together a 12 play, 71 yard scoring drive that ate up 5 minutes and ended in a game tying field goal. Aside from that drive however, it was exceptionally hard to see what Lions coaches see in Orlovsky at all. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in praying very, very hard tonight that nothing bad happens to Matt Stafford this season or Dan Orlovsky improves mightly. If the quarterback I saw tonight starts any games for the Lions this year, that won't be good news at all. At one point in the third quarter, Orlovsky threw a WR bubble screen under minimal pressure that was so awful the refs felt the need to clarify that it was indeed a pass and not a fumbled lateral - pray hard folks.

This man has never run out of the endzone for a safety
On the other hand, last season's third string QB Kellen Moore simply went out and did what Lions fans have become used to seeing him do in the preseason: play like a guy who belongs on an NFL roster despite his lack of size and arm strength. Moore was calm, composed, accurate and most off all fearless in the quarter of play Lions coaches gave him to work with. Typically, when someone says that Kellen Moore looks like Matt Stafford, they're referring to his prominent jowls and schoolboy haircut. Tonight however, Moore's quick release and decisive play was eerily reminiscent of the Lions starter. While he's still about as tall as the average lawn gnome, it appeared as though he was throwing the ball with more velocity and it was Moore's pinpoint accuracy that got him an opportunity in the NFL originally. Frankly, the 21 yard fade pass to Corey Fuller that won the game for Detroit is a throw that Moore probably didn't have the arm strength to make even a season ago. Late in the 4th quarter, he was involved in a fumbled shotgun snap, but as far as I could tell, the center simply put the ball off his knee and Moore wasn't prepared to adjust before it bounced towards the Browns. Otherwise, Kellen was sharp, effective and showed notable improvement since the last time Lions supporters saw him. I have no doubt that if you survey fans who watched the game, they'd tell you Kellen Moore should be the Lions backup quarterback based on that performance. Unfortunately, the fans won't get to make that decision and for now you can expect Orlovsky to continue to get every opportunity to lock down the backup quarterback position. If the Lions are serious about keeping the best player for the team  regardless of draft position or contract however, then Kellen Moore is already up 1-0 after tonight's game.

"They look like big, strong hands...don't they?"
Eric Ebron: What I'm about to say will probably not be a popular opinion and I can almost hear the cries about how it's only "one preseason game" already. With that having been noted, I am beginning to think the Lions may live to regret drafting Eric Ebron so highly in the very near future. All summer there have been reports that Ebron was dropping catchable balls in practice due to a lack of concentration, but what I saw tonight was even more terrifying than a pass catching Tight End with a case of the dropsies. Tonight I saw a player who I know is tremendously athletically gifted get completely taken out of a football game by a pretty mediocre defense and a severe lack of confidence. Just reading the statline will tell you that Ebron only caught 1 pass for 2 yards on 4 targets, but that doesn't begin to tell the whole story. Ebron stayed in the game for quite a while and the Lions repeatedly schemed to get him involved in the offense but he simply could not get open, even against single man coverage from a linebacker. He wasn't open on any one of the 4 plays where he was targeted and nothing about his play suggested he was going to get open anytime soon. He didn't look fast and it seemed like literally any defender who tried to bump him could easily put him off his route. You can chalk the drops in practice up to a lack of experience but there is simply no excuse for a player as gifted as Ebron failing to pressure second string defenders on any play whatsoever in more than a quarter's worth of work. It's easy to say that Ebron simply got lost in the moment but it wasn't as though he were loafing out there so much as he seemed to lack the strength and leverage to get open inside. When Cleveland defenders stayed above and outside on him, he simply couldn't create any space and the Browns had effectively removed him from the game. Without putting too fine a point on it, there will be bigger, stronger and more aggressive defenses than Cleveland's second string unit on the schedule this year. If Ebron doesn't figure something out quick, you might see a whole lot more of Joseph Faruia this season than anyone had previously imagined. Speaking of Faruia, he looked pretty good tonight - catching all 3 passes thrown his way and laying down a couple of surprisingly nasty blocks in the run game. As for Ebron, he still has time to adjust of course, but an outsider watching tonight's game would have a real hard time guessing the Eric was a top-10 draft pick a few months ago.

Trench Warfare:  Evaluating individual line play in real time with the aid of only a television broadcast is in my mind one of the most difficult tasks known to mankind. Not only are the plays moving too fast, but the cameraman is actively working to help casual fans avoid looking at chubby, sweaty linemen at all. With that in mind, I thought Detroit's line play as a whole was excellent with the possible exception of our (mostly) starters on defense failing to generate an effective pass rush. Offensively, Detroit QBs were only sacked once the entire game and as previously mentioned even that play is suspect. Protection had broken down a little bit, but in my opinion the QB ate the ball in a moment of panic when there was a play still to be made. Frankly, even Detroit's deep backups had their way with the Brown's front seven and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the guys the Lions end up cutting at the end of this process land on other NFL rosters or practice squads. The backup defensive line was even more impressive, consistently beating blocks in the running game and helping to generate pressure on Brown's quarterbacks. George Johnson impressed but the Lions most active defender at any position tonight was defensive tackle Jimmy Saddler-McQueen. Although he only registered 1 tackle, the 300 pound wrecking ball was a constant force of disruption against both the pass and rush. If the Lions can't find room for him, Saddler-McQueen certainly used tonight to create some impressive game film to show other teams. Overall, Detroit won the battle of the lines going away and that's something they probably need to do on defense just to protect their potentially horrible secondary.

One of these things is not like the others
The Running Back Puzzle: In tonight's game, the Lions got a look at a total of 8 different running backs over the course of the game and it's hard to say that any of them played particularly poorly. Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick each played long enough to pick up a touch or two and were immediately removed. Based on how the Lions treated their other starters, it's fairly safe to say all three of these guys will be significant parts of the offense. After that however the picture becomes murkier because we don't know how many additional halfbacks or fullbacks the Lions intend to keep. If I had to guess, I would say there's only one fullback slot open and Detroit will probably keep an additional halfback. This of course assumes the Lions don't just keep hybrid halfback/fullback Montell Owens and cut everyone else for roster space. Although it sounds radical, Theo Riddick looked at least 5 lbs heavier tonight than at any point last season and it's entirely possible the Lions see him as more than just a gadget player at this new weight. If the Lions do keep a 4th halfback the common assumption is that they'll keep Mikel Leshoure, who had a decent if largely unspectacular night. Early in the game he was dancing behind the line too much for a guy his size, but once he settled down and starting hitting the hole with authority he was effective. Effective however might not be enough to earn Leshoure a roster spot this year as the Lions try to shift towards a staggering number of offensive formations. Remember folks, extra tight ends and fullbacks take up roster spots too. Speaking of the fullback position, both Jed Collins and Montell Owens were strong in the backfield but Owens was by far the more dynamic player overall. Between surprisingly effective blocking and at least one headhunter hit on special teams, I think Owens did as much as he possibly could tonight to convince the Lions to keep him. The award for most impressive Lions back on the night however has to go to halfback George Winn who absolutely exploded off the screen every time he touched the ball. Running like a bowling ball on amphetamines; Winn gashed the Browns for 39 yards rushing on only 6 carries and caught all 3 passes that were thrown at him for another 23 yards. Unfortunately, in the middle of announcing his presence to the Lions brass he also gave up a very sloppy fumble but otherwise Winn was a revelation in the latter stages of the game. Fellow halfback hopeful Steven Miller was less inspiring however, adding -6 yards rushing on 2 carries to his fumble on the earlier kick return. Miller did show some promise as a 3rd down back by catching 2 passes out of the backfield for 39 yards; although he also dropped another pass he probably should have had while doing so. Despite the miscues, Miller is an explosive player with decent hands who actually looked pretty good on kick returns when he wasn't causing himself to fumble in mid-air. He's talented enough to be on an NFL roster or practice squad, I'm just not sure Detroit has the room for him this year however.

"Oh man, I hope my mom was taping tonight's game"
The "Who are You" Crew: Let's face it, by the time any given NFL team takes the field for a preseason game the coaches already have a pretty good idea of who they want to keep and who's probably just holding down a roster spot until cut down day. Undrafted free agents, aging vets and holdovers from the previous regime know that there's only so many roster spots available - they may well be playing these games simply to accrue film and get noticed by another team. Here are some brief notes on the Lions who gave themselves the best chance to be noticed by NFL general managers in my opinion:
  • Ryan Broyles - caught all 3 passes thrown at him, looked extremely sharp. His routes were very crisp and he certainly didn't go in and out of cuts like a guy who's had multiple knee surgeries. It's been a long year for Broyles but tonight he outplayed Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree and Patrick Edwards by a significant margin
  • Jerome Couplin - laid the lumber out of the strong safety spot for the Lions in the latter half of the game. While he only registered two tackles officially, Couplin was in on several stops in the second half and played safety like a throwback linebacker. This guy is not afraid to throw his body weight around and he seemed reasonably fast to my untrained eye.
  • George Winn - as previously mentioned he carved Cleveland up on the ground and in the air tonight. Winn looked too strong and fast to be a fringe roster guy but he's already been cut by 5 NFL teams and the Lions might not even need a 4th halfback if Owens makes the team.
  • Jimmy Saddler-McQueen, Kristopher Redding and George Johnson - playing on a line that gave the Browns 2nd and 3rd stringers fits all night, these three guys seemed to cause the most havoc as the game wore on. It isn't really reflected in the stats of course, but there's no stat for blowing up your opposite man and forced the offense to go in a less desirable direction either.
  • Andrew Peacock - started off poorly with a drop and some sloppy routes but came on strong as the game ground forward. Peacock is listed at 5'10" and 190lbs but after watching him tonight I don't believe that for a second. The guy is tiny looking in that number one jersey and early on I found myself wondering why the Lions were letting the third string punter play WR. Once he settled down however Peacock displayed impressive agility and enough quickness to simply beat pressing Browns corners off the line of scrimmage. With 4 catches for 43 yards on 6 targets, Peacock finished as the Lions leading receiver tonight - even if he probably won't make Sportscenter like our next guy.
  • Corey Fuller - when you catch the game winning touchdown in the corner of the endzone during the final minute of a comeback victory, you deserve at least a small mention. Unfortunately that was the only pass Fuller caught all game and prior to catching it, I don't actually remember seeing him accomplish anything special on the field. With roster spots getting tight, it's hard to say if that catch is enough to keep the 2013 6th rounder on the squad.

How does a guy this big vanish on game night?
Kyle Van Noy: I saved the Lions rookie linebacker for last because after tonight's game I'm still struggling to get a read on how he fits into the team overall. For a guy as big and quick as he is, Van Noy really only stood out on three plays in this game; but he displayed explosive athleticism on all three of them. He broke up a pass, forced a runner going wide back inside and came tantalizingly close to pasting Johnny Football on a blitz in front of a national audience. Unfortunately on that same blitz he lost contain on Manziel and the end result was actually the Cleveland QB's longest run of the night. Overall, it wasn't hard to see why the Lions thought Kyle could be an impact player on the NFL level but shouldn't a guy that dynamic and aggressive register at least one tackle in the time allotted? Van Noy's performance tonight was less concerning than Eric Ebron's play but also a clear indicator that he still has a long way to go before he can harness all of his athletic abilities in an NFL game. I'm still pretty sure Kyle will do just that, but it would have been nice to see him affect the game more tonight as he works towards a starting spot on opening day. 

The Browns: Oh yeah, there was another team playing tonight! For the most part the Cleveland Browns were pretty terrible. Hoyer looked very much like a backup QB promoted into a starting spot; he wasn't awful by any stretch but most of his completions were pretty short and he struggled to sustain drives or challenge the Lions defense. Manziel seemed like a credible pro quarterback for most of the time he played and even managed to look better taking snaps under center than he did from the pistol. His command of the huddle could use some work however as Cleveland took at least one delay of game penalty while constantly snapping the ball with a mere second left on the play clock. Brian Hoyer got more playing time, but it was also impossible not to notice how many roll out plays, traps and draws the Browns were running. The offense was clearly designed to take advantage of a QB with some mobility (like Johnny Football) and not an average athlete like Hoyer. The Browns may say it's Hoyer's job to lose, but the plays they were calling last night make it clear they're hoping Manziel can take the controls away from him sometime this season. Aside from the Browns quarterbacks; halfback Terrance West, tight end MarQueis Gray and receiver Charles Johnson stood out the most amongst the guys fighting for a roster spot - although each of them made at least one glaring mistake as the game wound down. Finally Josh Gordon played an awful long time for a starter who's probably going to be suspended for the season and Miles Austin started at the other wide receiver slot but looked terrible.

And now, if you'll excuse me; I think I have just enough time to get a Lions 2014-15 Superbowl tattoo before everyone else jumps on the bandwagon.

- Sportsball Chic

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Longest Season...

Hey, you there reading this blog right now - remember me?

A little over a year ago I started blogging about sports right here on this very website. To be honest, I really didn't have a clue what I was doing at the time or how long I'd be able to keep doing it. What I did know is that I had a passion for writing, a non-miniscule amount of talent for the task and a desire to tell the stories that it seemed to me nobody was telling anymore. Log on to any sporting news website and you can find reams of digital paper about stats breakdowns and the business of professional sports. What you can't seem to find increasingly are stories and articles about the people who create these fantastic moments we as sports fans collectively enjoy. The long form sports essay that gives real, meaningful insight into the lives, careers and achievements of the athletes we pay good money to watch appears to be dying folks. To me, that's a sad thing and I created this blog in some small way to help fight off the inevitable extinction of well written, long form sports journalism. For two solid months, I wrote as often and as honestly as I could and I think that anyone who reads this blog will have trouble arguing that I didn't succeed. I'm proud of the writing I shared on The Sportsball Chic and I'm genuinely sorry I had to stop.

So what happened? Real life basically. After years of living alone with my boyfriend, my mother contacted me out of the blue to tell me that my father had died. We had not spoken in over 12 years, so as you can imagine this announcement threw my life into total chaos. At the same time, I started to experience numerous problems at work. Because I'm not a professional sportswriter (yet), I still manage a small retail store to pay the bills and while it's not the most difficult job in the world when things are running smoothly - it can be sheer hell when they aren't. Work got complicated, with subordinates under me clearly needing to be fired but management above me refusing to pull the trigger. Eventually it exploded into a rainstorm of bad noise and hurt feelings, which in turn forced me into spending more time and energy cleaning up the mess once the undesirable employees had proven to my boss that they simply had to go. Between arguing with my boss, trying to stop my subordinates from running amok and trying to rebuild a relationship with my grieving mother - there just wasn't a lot of time to write about sports. Heck, in some cases there wasn't a lot of time to watch sports! I thank God almighty that Youtube exists because without it I honestly wouldn't have a clue how the last 8 weeks of the NFL season and the entire NBA season went. I was simply too busy to watch - though curiously I always found time for hockey.

To be honest with you, during that time I didn't think about The Sportsball Chic much - my life was moving pretty fast and despite the blog having gone over 1000 regular viewers before I left, it was still a pretty minor concern compared to still having a place to work and trying to have a relationship with my mother. Sometimes, late at night however - I'd log on to read my old articles and the few, but cherished comments to remind myself that there was something to go back to when the struggle was over. I missed this blog, and I missed writing about the Detroit Sports scene for the few regular viewers who cared to visit. In my darkest moments, this space represented a very real reminder that there were still things worth getting out of bed for in the morning - even if I simply couldn't do those things right now.

In one regard, this experience has improved me as a writer - I now understand that time is a precious commodity so I'll get straight to the point. I want to write again and more specifically I want to write about sports. Most of the problems that kept me away from this blog have resolved themselves and as I've found more free time, my Twitter feed and Facebook page have become a sort of "mini sports update" newscast. I love doing this but I also think it's time to move beyond my circle of friends and get back to putting out work for other people to read on a regular basis. Unfortunately I can't promise that I'll publish as often or that my work will be as polished as it was last year. Time, sadly is money and so long as I'm not getting paid to write about sports - there's only so much time I can afford to devote to it. I think part of what drove me away from the blog last time is the sheer amount of time I spent editing and re-editing each article until they were perfect. Even if I were working for a big sports Magazine like SI or ESPN, that would be two jobs and trying to perform both at a professional level, while still working at the game store was just not a reasonable proposition for more than a month or two. As the bad news and awkward situations piled on, I simply lost the ability to invest ten or twelve hours into an individual article and that made me sad enough that I simply didn't want to write anymore.

Things are better now, but they aren't perfect. Frankly, I'm still looking for a job in the sportswriting world and if anyone reading this wants to hire me - I'm available, but no start ups and no pay for clicks scams please. I've talked to a few friends about putting up a Paypal donation button on this blog but I have no idea if those things actually work - I can't lie, I've never donated to one of those myself for example. Right now, all I want to do is write and since they didn't delete this blog I guess I still have a place to do that. I have so many things to share with you guys, including my thoughts on the four major Detroit teams, the NFL/NHL in general and my burgeoning love of English Premier League Soccer. With any luck, we'll even get around to talking about those things before my life falls apart and I have to stop writing again. I'm not saying I'm begging for a job doing this full time... okay that's exactly what I'm saying.

Welcome back folks, I missed you more than I can ever say...

- The Sportsball Chic

PS - for those of you wondering I can be found on social media as follows:

@NinaDontPlayMtG is my Twitter Account is my Facebook Page

I'm reasonably friendly, but I will snap block trolls on either service - you have been warned.