Kent Lee Platte, DLD Writer
The first half of the Lions home game against the Cowboys saw the Lions Offensive line bullying the Boys all over the field. Calvin Johnson dominated Brandon Carr. Dez Bryant was a non factor for almost the entire first half. The Lions Defensive Line was getting consistent pressure on Tony Romo. The Lions DBs were getting into the backfield with regularity, blowing any chance for the Cowboys to get a run game going. And yet, the Lions headed into the half down by 3 points after Matthew Stafford threw two back-breaking interceptions, one of which was returned for a TD. The second half was more of the same.
For close to 59 minutes, the Lions just couldn’t catch a break. They would drive down the field and score, bringing the deficit to three only to break down in coverage and allow a long TD. Then again. Finally, with barely over a minute left in the game, Matthew Stafford got the ball with two time outs left. Magic ensued.
Johnson vs. Carr
This battle ended fairly quickly as Calvin Johnson broke off an 87 yard reception early in the game, and four plays later opened up the scoring for the game with a 4th down TD. It didn’t get any easier for Carr as the Lions continued to target Calvin often and won nearly every battle. One play that he surely wants back was an easy pass right into his numbers that he let bounce off his chest into the waiting arms of Sean Lee.
At the end of the day, Johnson would rank second all time for receiving yards in a single game. He was targeted 16 times and responded with 14 catches for 329 yards and a TD. Unfortunately, he also had two turnovers as he fumbled once and Stafford’s first interception was a result of a pass that Johnson should have caught but let bounce off of him. I’m willing to forgive both of those gaffes, if only because of the record setting day (his yardage was obviously a franchise record) and the win.
The Good Reggie, The Bad Reggie
The Lions were able to get their running game moving again with Reggie Bush showing some of the attributes that made his offseason signing important. His burst and field vision were fantastic at times, and he helped Calvin Johnson face one on one coverages throughout the game. There were also some plays that Bush decided to try to dance around, resulting in losses. Each time can be attributed in part to poor play calling and worse blocking (Joseph Fauria and Brandon Pettigrew both miffed on blocks that resulted in losses), but Bush needs to know that you can’t get big plays every time. Sometimes you just need to minimize the loss. Bush would end the day with 92 yards on the ground and 4.4 YPC, but he left a lot of yardage on the field trying to do more than he should have.
Battered and Bruised
Before the half, the Lions saw their starting Nickelback Bill Bentley leave the game. Three of their four starting D-linemen left with injury (Suh, Fairley, Ansah). Fairley and Suh would return later in the game, only to have Fairley injure himself once again in the 3rd Quarter. Ryan Broyles would injure his Achilles on a return in the second half, putting him out for the season for sure and possibly out of the NFL permanently.
The Lions have remained relatively healthy in a season with more IR trips than usual, and have done so in a division wracked with injury. Games like today are the ones that could break a season, though, and while we didn’t lose a QB it is never good to have a large amount of injuries all at once even if they’re temporary. All of these injuries were to starters (Except Broyles), and any of them could limit these players’ effectiveness long term.
We all saw against the Bengals how a player (Houston) can be limited by an injury they play through. Midway through the 4th Quarter, the Lions would also lose their biggest weapon in the running game, Reggie Bush with an apparent shoulder or neck injury. For those keeping count, that’s three starting D-linemen, a starting RB, a slot receiver, and a slot corner. At least one of those (Broyles) is a long term injury, and the fewer of those you have the better off you are. We are still waiting for word on Ansah and Bentley’s injuries, but if either is long term it will be difficult to replace them.
Oh the Toxic
Matthew Stafford’s first turnover can be attributed to Calvin Johnson, who bobbled a catch right into Sean Lee’s hands. The second one was unforgiveable, a simplified slant route with one read that Stafford completely lost Lee on, who ran it back to set up a TD. Reggie Bush would continue the trend of shooting the Lions in the foot when he coughed up a fumble after making a good play in the run game. If the Lions had played mistake free, they would have been leading by a margin coming into the half and would be up comfortably in the 3rd quarter.
Instead, they were behind and relying on their strong defense to hold the Cowboys. Again, the Lions would get the ball and start moving it with a long pass to Calvin Johnson, but he would fumble leading to a Brandon Carr return to midfield with a Joseph Fauria penalty to put the Boys at the 35. It was a disaster in ball control for the day.
It wasn’t just turnovers; Lions lost any real chance at a comeback when Darius Slay got lost on a simple route by Terrance Williams who busted off a 60 yard TD reception. Then again, on the next drive, Reshean Mathis and Louis Delmas both gave up a huge 50 yard TD pass to Dez Bryant. Big plays killed the Lions, who should have dominated the game. Oh but those last, precious seconds of the game. Talk about purely toxic plays.
Matthew Stafford with a huge pass down the sideline, a perfect touch pass to Kris Durham in stride, followed up by another huge pass to Calvin Johnson who was downed at the 1. Those are the plays that make games and the Lions made JUST enough of them to win. Can they cut it this close every week? God I hope not.
So I think we can all agree that Larry Warford was a good draft pick. He continued his stellar rookie campaign today, so it was par the course for him. Added into the mix was Undrafted Free Agent LaAdrian Waddle who would make his first start at RT against the Cowboys. I’ve been a believer that Waddle needs to be brought along slowly considering how many bad habits the Texas Tech offense burns into their O-linemens’ heads. Those concerns seemed unfounded after Waddle’s display today. While there were moments he clearly looked like a UDFA, there were others particularly in the run game where he looked just as good as the other W did.
Warford and Waddle played off of each other well, and looked like they’d been playing together forever. It’s a position I’ll be keeping a close eye on (RT was one of my top needs for the Lions in the 2014 draft), but our one game sample size as a starter is very promising.
The Lions are Cheaters
Calvin Johnson is not a man. He’s a machine. I’m pretty sure they’re cheating just by having him on the field. Johnson had a career day against the Cowboys, and that’s saying something considering how good his career has been up until now. Johnson set a franchise record for yardage in a single game along with that 2nd all time NFL mark. There’s also that small note about the most 200+ yard games ever. Oh, and Matthew Stafford getting to 15,000 yards quicker than any QB ever. The Lions are cheaters. However, if you want to get in good with our eventual robot overlords, it’s probably a good idea to be a fan of the Lions since Megatron is obviously their chosen representative to showcase their power. Also of note, Johnson now has 22 Receptions for 425 yards and 3 TDs against Cowboys teams that run their mouth leading into the game. Note to Jerry Jones.