I was at the final home preseason game, although thanks to the Eminem/Rihanna concert at neighboring Comerica Park and the ensuing traffic/parking nightmare having two events at the exact same time created, I missed most of the first quarter. For those familiar with Detroit, I was at the Lodge Freeway and MLK intersection at 6:20. I parked on Grand River Ave west of Cass at 7:45. That’s about 4.5 miles.
My focus in person, from the vantage point in the above picture, was one three primary areas:
–the offensive line
–the pass rush
I’ve since watched the game a couple of times to get a better all-around feel. Here are a few things I took away from the 13-12 win.
Matthew Stafford blew whatever trust he earned with his masterful performance in Oakland. This was his first throw of the night:
I was advised by an associate who was behind that play in Ford Field that Reggie Bush was open on a wheel-and-go route up the right sideline and Golden Tate had a step on his man flowing in the opposite direction a few yards behind this Pettigrew triple-coverage.
His final two dropbacks were a bad misfire to an open Corey Fuller on a deep cross and a deserved intentional grounding penalty. On that play, for the third time in the game Stafford shuffled into more pressure instead of stepping up and taking refuge inside the pocket. Riley Reiff was beaten around the edge but he gave Stafford an escape route sliding forward. Instead, Staff popped backwards and right into the pressure, which forced the ridiculous desperate throwaway.
C.J. Mosley clearly deserves to start over Nick Fairley at defensive tackle. Neither did much on the stat sheet, but Mosley did draw two holding penalties in the game. He also made a play in the first quarter that we never see Fairley make, peeling off a block at the line and working his way down the field a few steps to make a tackle against the run. It’s not just the effort of keeping his eye on the ball and trying to shed a block, but Mosley actually did something constructive with his effort. When was the last time anyone said that about Nick Fairley?
Fairley did have one great rep, and it should have been a huge play. Blake Bortles got away with intentional grounding in the end zone as the rotund one chased him up the gut. The alleged receiver in the vicinity was engaged as a blocker at the 4-yard line, and the ball bounced shy of the goal line with two other Jaguars between it and the receiver. Great play by Fairley squandered by poor officiating.
Speaking of officiating, there were a plethora of flags. Detroit committed 15 penalties. Only one of them, a ridiculous personal foul on Jerome Couplin for making a perfect shoulder-to-midsection hit on a receiver, was questionable.
The Lions were undisciplined and sloppy throughout the night. The holding calls, both offensive and defensive, were justified. George Johnson was offsides twice, though one went unnoticed somehow. The illegal contact went uncalled more than it drew the hankies, notably later in the game with Chris Greenwood and Aaron Hester in the game. If this was a case of the Lions trying to ascertain where that fine line is between playing on the edge and drawing the flag, let’s hope they learn from their repeated trampling over that line.
I watched Jerome Couplin intently while at the game. The young undrafted safety continues to improve before my eyes. From the first week of training camp to now, it’s really remarkable how quickly he’s picking up the nuances.
The most notable aspect of his development is in his presnap recognition. Out in Allen Park in those first few practices, he was often frozen pizza at the snap. He didn’t see what the play might be or how the routes would develop. In this game, he was quite active in making small adjustments to better position himself before the snap.
There was a play in the third quarter that illustrates this perfectly. It’s 3rd and 11 and Couplin starts out playing 15 yards off the line near the middle of the field. He slides up about 3 yards and shifts over towards the left slot, mirroring his responsibility on the play–the running back in the flat.
As soon as the ball is snapped, Couplin takes one cheat step that way while staring at Blake Bortles, making sure he’s not looking at the outside receiver on which Couplin has deep inside help responsibility. Bortles stares out at his intention and Couplin explodes to the play, striking Jordan Todman. He misses his first tackle attempt but quickly recovers and gets his man to the ground (with help), forcing a field goal attempt which got blocked by the giant Xavier Proctor.
That’s a play that Couplin doesn’t see in July. It’s a play he’s late to make in the Cleveland game. But against the Jaguars, he’s on it with confidence and authority.
Of course his quest to make the team probably got easier when Don Carey pulled up on a special teams play with a bum hamstring. He hobbled off the field slowly. After the game I saw Carey and he was limping noticeably, walking almost like Redd Foxx playing Fred Sanford. With DeJon Gomes already wounded with his neck injury, Couplin could wind up being the third safety almost by default.
He and Isa Abdul Quddus (IAQ) deserve those reserve safety spots. IAQ was near the ball a lot in this game, including two dropped potential INTs. Both were tough plays but could have been made, though it shows his instincts that he was close enough to be in position to potentially make them. IAQ did matador a tackle on special teams, however.
–George Johnson continues to prove he not only deserves to make the team, but he should probably be the 3rd DE ahead of Devin Taylor. He’s not as speedy turning the corner or crafty, but watching him play calls to mind the young Jared Allen. Seriously.
–I don’t know what has happened with LaAdrian Waddle, but he’s not the same player he was last year. Corey Hilliard is the better option at right tackle right now. Waddle isn’t getting the arm extension he needs, and he’s not sinking his hips to generate power as well as he did a year ago as an undrafted rookie sensation. Hilliard did a good job sealing the edge on the two long Bush runs, one of which was called back by a (deserved) Pettigrew hold.
–Travis Swanson played better. He still had one bad shotgun snap, which Dan Orlovsky (impressive once again) stabbed with one hand below his knees, but he held up much better against Jacksonville than he did in Oakland.
–My lovely wife Julie will verify this: I said just before the attempt that if Giorgio Tavecchio nails the 52-yard FG he wins the kicking job right there. Instead he badly missed it, and that has to weigh heavily in the other direction now. Nate Freese offers a significantly more likely chance to make that range of kick. Also in Freese’s favor: after the game in the player/family reception area, he was very nice to my wide-eyed son, impressed that he was recognized by a young fan.
–George Winn probably fumbled away his chance to make the final 53-man roster, though when Mikel Leshoure did the same in the red zone it breathed life back in the Winn camp. One conclusion I’m more than willing to declare: both are well ahead of Montell Owens in the quest for that final one backfield spot. Yes, I do believe it’s just one of the three that makes it…because the team is going to keep an extra DE and six WRs instead of the projected five.
–Cassius Vaughn quietly had a nice game. He’s the only Lions corner who seems to have mastered the illegal contact rules, in part because he’s excellent at attacking the receiver within the first two steps and then releasing and reacting instead of continuing to try and manipulate.
–As I mentioned above, I got to take my family to the player reception area after the game. It’s a very unique and different way to see the players. For my kids, it was the thrill of the summer. My 9-year old son got to meet several players, including Ziggy Ansah and Glover Quin. He was so happy to meet Quin, a former Houston Texan, as my boy remains loyal to the Texans after spending three years there.
My daughter thought it was pretty cool to see the players’ kids, most of whom were in a sleepy daze and more than ready to see daddy and go home. My wife marveled at the size of some of the players; we are volleyball players so the tall people we encounter (including ourselves) are typically slim, but the players are so much thicker and bulkier in comparison. We both marveled at Kyle Van Noy’s girlfriend, who was dressed like it was a red carpet event.