Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
Never in my tryptophan-induced dreams did I envision the complete devastation of the Packers on Thanksgiving. Detroit walloped the NFC North rivals 40-10 to take control of the division.
Here are my leftovers from a second helping that I watched on Black Friday morning instead of shopping. You can check out my initial takeaways over at Bleacher Report here.
–Dominic Raiola might have played his best game in his 200th start for the Lions. His agility and ability to engage linebackers in space was a big key to the running game. Raiola is a bit of an anomaly with the Lions offensive line in that he’s not a guy with brute power right off the snap. Larry Warford and Riley Reiff can forklift opponents right off the snap, but Raiola is more of a grinding tactician than a bruiser. AJ Hawk and Brad Jones are going to have nightmares when they watch the film of how easily Raiola engaged them and locked them up in the run game.
Lions fans have a love/hate relationship with the veteran center. He’s been on the lower end of average for most of his lengthy career, but he’s going out with a bang. 2013 is almost certainly his last–he was told early in the offseason that he was being waived–but you would never know it by his strong play. He bulked up but also emerged in the locker room as a more positive and unifying voice. He saw the young tackles and the budding star at right guard next to him, and he evolved.
–Nate Burleson did not catch a single pass. Stafford only threw one ball in his general direction, and he wasn’t really open at any point. It didn’t matter on this day because the game was a blowout, but this Lions offense will need more efforts like his 7-catch, 77-yard effort against Tampa Bay. At least he rocked Sam Shields with a block on one of Joique Bell’s many effective run.
–Jeremy Ross extracted payback on the Packers, but methinks this was more of a one shot deal than anything that will carry forward with any significance. His punt return skills are legit, and that should spell the end of Micheal Spurlock.
But when I looked at Ross’ long run, it was a lot more about Green Bay’s defensive ineptitude than anything great by the Lions wideout. A.J. Hawk had him dead to rights in the backfield but was juked by one of the slowest cuts you’ll ever see. The corner in edge contain fell down initially and then was solidly blocked. Ross did make a nice move in jumping over another Packer though.
As a receiver, he remains pretty rudimentary. The touchdown was nice, but that was all about play design and truly awful coverage by one of the worst linebacking corps the Lions have ever faced. That play could very easily have been to Burleson, or even Kevin Ogletree. I didn’t see Ross on the field for any other offensive plays even in a blowout win.
–His day will get lost in the wash, but Joique Bell really played well. He finished with 94 yards on 19 carries. A great deal of that yardage came after contact; by my count he broke 6 tackles with his hard-nosed running and refusal to go down without a fight.
This was an interesting game because Bell carries some stylistic similarities to Eddie Lacy. Both are powerful runners, hard to tackle with one man and excellent at making subtle cuts right off the blockers. What made Bell effective in this game was his ability to quickly identify short cutback lanes and hit them. He can veer away from the flow and isolate himself on one defender.
Eddie Lacy needs to learn that skill for the Packers. He never cuts back, not before he gets to the line anyways. He had a couple of opportunities to break an outside run back inside, but he never even considered getting away from the designed flow of the play. I like Lacy a lot, but the Alabama rookie has a lot of room for improvement…which is scary, because he’s already pretty good. He didn’t stand a chance in this one.
–Darius Slay was an injury fill-in as a starter over Chris Houston at corner, which was cause for some panic for Lions faithful. The second-round pick has not played well in his rookie season.
He rose to the occasion against the Packers:
Darius Slay with the clean tackle on third down. Again, he's playing super well today.
— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) November 28, 2013
Other than a garbage-time long completion surrendered to James Jones, Slay was very good. Even on that play, he was in solid position and even got his hand on the ball; Jones made a great contested catch. This has to be a confidence builder for the young corner, and that’s exactly what his game needs: confidence. He’s shown the physical tools are there, but his head is not. On this day he looked instinctive and naturally sticky in coverage. Baby steps…
–As a collective group, we Lions fans give our coaching staff an incredibly critical barrage of frustration. Yet from Jim Schwartz to Scott Linehan to Gunther Cunningham, the Detroit staff so thoroughly overmatched its Green Bay counterparts that Packers fans were openly calling for heads to roll by halftime.
Linehan really deserves kudos for identifying weaknesses in the Green Bay defense and designing a game plan that exploited them beautifully. The Packers linebackers–Clay Matthews included–are horrific in coverage, and Linehan ran plays that forced them to make choices in space. Running crosses and slants to create constant movement and counterflows was an ideal plan of attack.
It helped that the offensive line was great and the running game forced the safeties’ hands quite a bit. Yet that run game was also cleverly designed. Linehan correctly divined that his tackles could lock up the outside linebackers without any help, and that allowed tight end Brandon Pettigrew freedom to attack the inside backers and safeties. Alternating Bush and Bell with their contrasting styles further kept the porous defense even more off balance.
–Anyone have Kickalicious on speed dial? Missing a 31-yard field goal is cause for at least having to compete to keep the kicking job, David Akers.
–Scott Tolzien must really stink, because Matt Flynn was clearly in over his head. Packers fans were screaming on message boards and social media for Mike McCarthy to yank him, but the coach steadfastly stuck with Flynn. I’ll say this with supreme confidence: they will not win a game that Aaron Rodgers doesn’t play start to finish at any point this year.
–Hey Josh Sitton, how’d that taste? Even though some of what the Packers guard said is fair criticism–the Lions D-line does commit a lot of stupid penalties and lacks discipline–calling the coaches out like that took it to a different level. Those guys love Gunther Cunningham and Kris Kocurek, and their pride showed.
–Devin Taylor was phenomenal. But here’s what really makes me giddy–the Lions don’t have to start him. He’s ideal as a third end in the rotation right now, but he can start down the line if needed. Much like Sammie Hill was as the third defensive tackle, Taylor will play a solid, situational role in his early years in Detroit before some other team signs him as a free agent for a lot more money than expected. I suspect he’ll earn every penny.
–Sam Martin’s bad day was just that, a single bad day. I’m not worried, not even a little.
–Tramon Williams definitively threw a punch and kicked at Joseph Fauria, though neither connected. The punch did nearly strike an official, however. That needs to be taken into account when the league evaluates Williams’ later act of malfeasance, when he intentionally pushed another official. He deserves a one-game suspension. They’ll miss him in coverage, but his absence can only help their run support, where he is apathetic and wildly ineffective.
–All this good feeling goes away if the Lions cannot handle the Eagles, who are about as different of a team on offense as the Lions could draw after the Packers. Be thankful but not overconfident.