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Those Stumbling Lions

   by Bryan Leonard - 11/25/2007

The times that try men’s souls! Late season football brings pressures on teams that weren’t there early in the season. This might not be a concern for veteran teams that have had some success. But for veteran teams that have a recent history of failure or young teams, it can be an extra handicapping dimension to consider.

Anyone who saw the Lions on Thanksgiving Day could see this. It was not as close as the final 37-26 score indicates, a Green Bay victory. The Packers went from being down 6-0 early to lead 34-12. The story isn’t about the Packers, it’s about a young Detroit team that started 6-2 and had visions of the postseason. Starting QB Jon Kitna even predicted 10 wins back in August. It was a great story in the first half of the season, a potential worst to first scenario, but it’s beginning to unravel.

What is going on? Partly it’s the late season pressure, and part of it is a team with a lot of holes. This offensive line is terrible, which is why the running game has gone in the tank. Folks in Detroit have been screaming at offensive coordinator Mike Martz to run the football more, blaming him for the erratic offense. The Lions have the NFL's worst rushing attack and had gained 7 yards combined in the previous two games before facing the Packers. They ran the ball for 134 yards, but Detroit is 29th in rushing.

They are below 30% on third down completions, one of the worst marks in the league. They were 5-of-15 against the Packers. An NFL scout recently talked about the Lions offensive line and how poor it was in talent and blocking fundamentals.

And this defense is terrible, particularly in the secondary, a huge problem last season. During their 6-2 start many just ignored that 56-21 loss to the Eagles, but their poor downfield coverage and tackling was evident all game. In the Turkey Day loss to Green Bay, Brett Favre threw for 381 yards. Favre carved up the secondary like a turkey, completing 20 straight passes at one point!

On offense, the idea was to throw the ball more to rookie receiver Calvin Johnson. But Johnson was terrible, dropping too many throws and appearing to run poor routes as one of Kitna’s passes was off the mark. Of course, that could also have been just a terrible Kitna pass. Whatever the case, this team with a winning record still has numerous problems.

Perhaps most telling was the post game locker room, with players dejected. The Lions sounded bewildered: “I just run the plays that are called," Kitna said. "I love Coach Martz. There's never been a time that I'd question his play-calling, ever. I'm just a player."

"Three losses in a row, especially winnable games -- it's a blow," RB Kevin Jones said. "It's hard right now. It's slipping, but we gotta grab it and hold on."

So never mind 10 wins, will the Lions win a GAME the rest of the season? That may sound like overkill, but take a look at their remaining schedule: road games at Minnesota, Green Bay and San Diego, home games against the Chiefs and Cowboys. This is a huge test for Rod Marinelli and the team leaders because of a potentially serious struggle to reach the playoffs after a 6-2 start.

"You've got to grit your teeth and look at your teammates and say, 'Hey, let's not give up, let's not pack in the tents and call it a season,'" defensive tackle Cory Redding said. "No, no, we need to knuckle down and just go out there and find a way to win. Period. We can't dwell on this and be all sad and down." That’s the right attitude, but it’s also just talk. You have to get it done on the field.

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