Lions-Colts Instant Aftermath

December 2nd, 2012

Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor

The Colts pulled off the 35-33 comeback victory, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on the final play as Andrew Luck found Donnie Avery for a quick dump pass and they scampered unencumbered into the end zone together for the win. The Lions had lead since late in the first quarter and held a double-digit lead with under three minutes to play. The soul-crushing loss leaves the Lions at 4-8 while the Colts move to 8-4. My early reaction:

–Justin Durant nearly picks off Andrew Luck on 3rd and 7 just before the end of the first quarter. On the ensuing drive, Matt Stafford was absolutely on fire. He whipped a sidearm strike to Brandon Pettigrew to move the chains, then connected with Calvin Johnson on a deep sideline throw that oozed perfection and set up 1st and goal. Leshoure capped off the drive with a 6-yard TD run right up the gut to put the Lions up 17-7. It was as vibrant of a series of events as the Lions have exhibited all season.

–Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan added some wrinkles that really paid off. They trotted out an I-formation with Joique Bell as the upback that produced positive results. On Leshoure’s TD run the line took wider splits than normal and the outside receivers both made their initial moves out, giving Leshoure lots of room and keeping the secondary too far outside to stop him. On Johnson’s TD at the end of the 3rd quarter, Linehan motioned Johnson inside to increase the cushion and ran Megatron across the formation to give him space to get open deep. There were several instances of excellent play conception in this game.

–Calvin Johnson continues to amaze. He set a career high with 8 first half receptions despite near-constant double teams and shaded coverage. Johnson was brilliant when the Lions needed him most, hauling in a 46-yard TD pass on the last play of the third quarter to put the Lions up 30-21. 13 receptions on 20 targets, 171 yards and a touchdown put Johnson on pace to break Jerry Rice’s receiving yardage record. If the Lions had a better record he would be a legitimate MVP candidate.

–Third down defense. The Lions had 3rd down conversion issues of their own on offense, but three times in this game the defense answered by forcing a 3-and-out after a Lions missed 3rd down. The defensive line largely controlled Luck and didn’t give him clear throwing lanes to complete passes, and both Drayton Florence and Don Carey made plays to prevent conversions.

–Don Carey picked off Luck twice, and Drayton Florence added another pick. Making plays in the secondary has been an ongoing issue but the Lions showed some life here, albeit inconsistently. Florence (with some help) did a pretty solid job on Reggie Wayne, while Carey made a game-saving (temporarily) breakup on Wayne on a post in the end zone where Luck perfectly placed the ball in Wayne’s hands.

–Pass protection was excellent. Stafford did not get sacked and often had ample time to run through his progressions. Jeff Backus was very good in his return from missing last week’s loss. Stafford had been sacked 8 time in the prior two games but was really only threatened a handful of times in this one. Joique Bell made a couple of nice blocks in pass protection, a welcome development.

–The inability to seal the deal. The final two drives lacked energy and impetus, and it cost the Lions a win. Nine plays produced 40 yards, over half of which came on a pass interference penalty. The two incompletions on the penultimate drive on 2nd and 3rd down took exactly six seconds off the clock at a time where the Colts desperately needed every second more than they needed yards and field position. This was not the first time the Lions have yakked in clock management, but this might be the most painful.

–Ball awareness in pass coverage remains an anathema. On the Luck-to-Fleener TD pass that cut the lead to 17-14, Deandre Levy was in position to make a play on the ball, but he never realized the ball was in the air. It would have been a difficult play on the well-throw ball from Luck, but Levy never gave himself a chance with poor awareness. On a 3rd & long near midfield in the 4th, Drayton Florence never saw a ball he could have made a play on, and the Colts converted.

–Kick returns are consistently worthless. Stefan Logan has little vision and goes down on first contact far too readily. The blockers in front of him seldom gave Logan a clear lane.

–The run game. Other than Joique Bell’s 67 yard scamper thanks to a great block from Rob Sims, the Lions running game was inept. Take that run out and the Lions got 71 yards on 28 carries. Leshoure continues to fail to make the first tackler miss, and Dominic Raiola did not have a strong game at center.

–Mike Thomas proved he is not a slot receiver. He dropped a potential TD pass that was behind him but catchable, and he failed to present himself as a good target on a couple of quick-hit patterns. On a 3rd down quick screen early in the 3rd quarter, Thomas got no depth and was flattened immediately. The Lions sorely missed Ryan Broyles when he left with an early injury.

–Defensive penalties. An offsides penalty on Kyle VandenBosch wiped out a Cliff Avril INT, though Drayton Florence picked off Luck on the very next play. Florence had an egregious holding penalty to set up a Colts touchdown by keeping a stalled drive alive. Suh was flagged for an early offsides that was a case of him just guessing, not being drawn. Nick Fairley committed a poor horse collar penalty on Luck as the Colts were in desperation mode late.

General observations:
–For all the hype on Andrew Luck, he largely failed to live up to expectations. I know that seems trite when you see he finished with almost 400 yards and led his team to a stirring comeback, but for most of the game he very much looked like a floundering rookie. Luck made several throws that good NFL starters never attempt, and he was consistently off target when forced to move from his mark. He absolutely made some very nice throws, and when he has time to set up in the pocket his mechanics are picture perfect, but once again his overall play didn’t come close to the magnanimous greatness the national media would have you believe he’s doing as a rookie. Of course the final drive is probably all anyone will remember from this game, perhaps rightly so. Luck was brilliant when his team needed him to be, Matt Stafford was not.

–I like the salt-and-pepper light goatee look on Jim Schwartz. Makes him look less menacing and more mature.

–I rarely get to say this, but the game was well-officiated for the most part. There were a few missed calls and an iffy pass interference call on Cassius Vaughn of the Colts, but neither fan base can spout off about the officiating in this one.

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