Sunday, September 14, 2014

My thoughts and column on the Lions' 24-7 loss to Carolina Sunday

Thoughts halftime Lions, Panthers

- The Lions should be leading this game 13-6 instead of trailing 6-0. The Lions very much in this game, but that fact is profoundly disappointing. The defense deserves better.
- Calvin Johnson needs to catch and secure that football. He was open. The ball was delivered on time and on target. And he missed it. That's on him, and similar to three catches he dropped at key times last season.
- Nate Freese has turned from question mark into disaster very quickly. He has been a differencemaker so far, but for all the wrong reasons. Evidently not a good draft evaluation by the Lions' staff.
- We've just seen a glimpse of what Eric Ebron is capable of accomplishing. His size-speed equation is off the charts. The Lions need to take more advantage of it. He is going to be open with all the attention given the Lions' other so-called weapons.
- Panthers' linebacker Luke Kuechly is anything but overrated. What a terrific player.

My column. Despite the victory, the big block "M" stands for "mistakes" these days:

Thoughts after 1st quarter Lions, Panthers

- The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Lions aren't having any problem hanging with the Panthers on the road. The problem remains a lack of fundamental football. A lost fumble. Missed field goal. Yuck.
- I like everything about Joique Bell as an NFL running back except for his ball security. That fumble was not a good sign.
- The missed field goal try by Nate Freese was awful. A dependable kicker is a must in the NFL. It's like every team has one, except, evidently, the Lions. The good part from the Lions' stand point is the defense stood up on the ensuing series. It could have been a very early turning point to the game, but wasn't. It was costly, though, in regard to field position.
- There is a big difference for the Lions on third down if for no other reason than Golden Tate not only has excellent hands, but he able to get some yards after the catch.
- That was classic Calvin Johnson on the back shoulder catch for a first down. Too bad it went for naught.
- The Lions' secondary may be considered undermanned, but it has performed very well so far today.

My column. Despite the victory, the big block "M" stands for "mistakes" these days:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My thoughts as the Tigers head down the stretch of the AL Central race vs. Royals

Thoughts after 8 innings Royals, Tigers Wednesday night

- This is classic Kansas City Royals baseball, both good and bad. They have played very good defensively (especially two plays by third baseman Mike Moustakas) and pitched well by starter (James Shields was very good). But the Royals can't come up with the big hit to break game open (all singles). Why it is still close.
- Good pitching beats good hitting. Shields was outstanding in his most recent two starts. Royals are going to beat you some nights simply because they pitch so well. Their team ERA is a half-a-run per game less than Tigers.
- Great work by Al Alburguerque in the eighth. Another reason the Tigers are still in this game..
- It was a very good outing by Rick Porcello. He did what he does, get ground balls. A couple got through that's all. He did his job.

For the Lions, the test really begins in earnest this week

Everything that could go right, went right for the Lions during their season opener vs. the New York Giants Monday Night at Ford Field.
But was it because the Lions were that good or the Giants that bad? Obviously, the Lions, with more weapons offensively and healthy, were better prepared for this game than late last season when they suffered an epic collapse in a loss to the Giants. However, offensively the Giants are just terrible. Their revamped defense is not outstanding, either. It's been awhile since their Super Bowl titles for the Giants.
The Carolina Panthers on the road this week present a much more difficult challenge for the Lions. The Panthers won 12 of their final 13 regular season games last season, finished 12-4 and made the playoffs.
Calvin Johnson, Lions: Schedule gets much tougher
They won a division road game last Sunday at Tampa Bay without multi-dimensional QB Cam Newton, who will be back this week. The Panthers led the NFL in sacks last season with 60. Their defensive ends, Greg Hardy (15) and Charles Johnson (11) both hit double digits in sacks last season. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is genuinely great player. He was in on nine tackles, had a sack and forced a fumble on Tampa Bay's late drive to try to tie the game last week. Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin from Florida State, the Panthers' first round draft pick from Florida State, is a top candidate for Rookie of the Year.
This also a road game, on natural grass, in a very hostile environment. The forecast is suggesting rain. If the Lions were to win this week, it would be a more genuine sign they are turning the corner. Also, Green Bay at home the following week is another pivotal game.
Given the Lions end this season with road trips to Chicago and Green Bay, getting off to a fast start is of paramount importance.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

My thoughts on the Tigers' 4-2 victory over Kansas City Tuesday

Thoughts after 5 innings Royals, Tigers Tuesday

- I think the Tigers got a break on the apparent home run by Alex Gordon. If that ball was hit lower, my guess it would hit the right field foul pole. But give Max Scherzer credit. He doesn't have his best control, he was still in a nasty jam, and he got out of that jam. Excellent way to react in a tough situation. Great pitch to fan Eric Hosmer.
- Rajai Davis can be frustrating at times, but can you imagine where the Tigers would be without him? He doesn't always play effectively, but he grinds it out well. He has a very good season under the circumstances. That was a massively huge home run.
- This is not Jason Vargas at his best. The Tigers are taking advantage of it. By the way, can we finally quit holding our breath waiting for J.D. Martinez to slow down. It's unlikely to happen.

Monday, September 08, 2014

My thoughts on the Lions' 35-14 victory over the Giants Monday night

My column. Why Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions were so impressive in their season-opening victory over the Giants Monday:

Thoughts after 3 quarters Giants, Lions Monday Night Football

- When the Lions made progress in 2011 and actually made the playoffs, forcing turnovers was a big, big factor. Of all the good things that have happened so far for the Lions tonight, probably the best has been the interceptions by DeAndre Levy and Glover Quin. Eli Manning has become a turnover machine for the Giants. Actually, it's been ridiculous.
- It's difficult to find too many things to pick at about Matthew Stafford tonight. He has played an excellent game. His ability to scramble has been huge, his TD run impressive.
- Big Joe Fauria showed surprising ability to gain yards after the catch on that one reception.

Thoughts halftime Giants, Lions Monday Night Football

- There were a lot of things about the Lions in the first half that were very, very impressive. Calvin Johnson was brilliant. They did a lot of good things defensively. Matthew Stafford threw for a zillion yards. The Lions have the lead. It's just the Lions are still displaying a propensity for shooting themselves in the foot figuratively with mistakes. This is an obviously talented team, but it is not going to make the desired headway until it starts playing sound fundamental football consistently.
- That was best kind of sack young Lions' defensive ends Ziggy Ansah and George Johnson shared during the second quarter. It was the oldest defensive play call in football, "Lets meet at the quarterback." Johnson has been an unexpected surprise and apparent find for the Lions. He is proving his excellent preseason was no fluke, as he literally played himself onto the squad. He had 1 1-2 sacks in the first of his first game with the Lions. On Monday Night Football, yet. That definitely falls under the category of "unexpected."
- The Giants are clearly going after Lions' cornerback Darius Slay, but he's held up pretty well.
- Ah, kicker is a huge concern for the Lions. That FG miss by Nate Freese couldn't have been more disappointing.

Calvin Johnson: Big-time 1st half

Thoughts after 1st quarter Giants, Lions Monday Night Football

Matthew Stafford vs. Giants
Matthew Stafford carries a reputation for not being athletic. It isn't true. He does have good straight line speed. He ran a 4.81 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. It was third-fastest among QBs that year. Yet, he has never been a very good runner. Actually, when he was a rookie, he seemed uncomfortable running the football. It just hasn't been a part of what he is expected to do going back to high school. I think it was one of the reasons he got injured early in his career. One of the times was on a relatively routine tackle, while he was scrambling. But as time has moved on, Stafford has developed better pocket presence and he can make a defensive lineman or linebacker miss in space. It was the key on his 67-yard TD strike to Calvin Johnson to open the scoring. He also moved well on the Lions' second TD, as well. To say the least, Stafford displayed excellent athleticism on both plays.
- Horrible penalty by the Lions to end the quarter.
- Johnson has been remarkably open in the first quarter of this game. I think it has a lot to do with the number of different personnel groups the Lions are deploying. I know the Giants' defense expected it given new Lions' offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's background with the Saints (they run a zillions personal groups), but it has still put them more back on their heels.
- The Lions' secondary is already depleted. Safeties James Ihedigbo and Don Carey didn't dress. Cornerback Bill Bentley injured his knee during the first quarter. It is alarming. Defensive back is obviously the Lions' biggest weakness and their least position of depth. I don't think the Lions really wanted rookie fourth-round pick Nevin Lawson on the field this quickly.
- Quarterback Eli Manning looked extremely uncomfortable in the Giants new West Coast Offense during the preseason. He still does. It wasn't until the Giants' went into their hurry-up offense that Manning got untracked.
- Big sack by George Johnson. Maybe the Lions have really found something in this kid. He was the surprise of the preseason.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

MSU, Michigan losses present two very different tales

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Thoughts halftime Michigan, Notre Dame

Well, lets see, Michigan has allowed pass interference penalties, missed a couple field goals and their offense has been decidedly bland. And they are getting drilled at halftime at Notre Dame because of it. Brady Hoke's teams just don't travel well. I'm not sure they ever will.
- Never has a college football program ever recruited so many highly-regarded defensive backs, and still presented as bad a secondary as the Michigan Wolverines. It's unreal.
- Come on. Who has the better quarterback in this game, if you are really honest about it?
 Everett Golson is widely outplaying Devin Gardner, and he has lesser weapons working with him offensively. Oh, I know, Gardner has a very good completion percentage. But where are the big plays? The Wolverines haven't converted on third down.
- Michigan's offensive line doesn't look any better this year than last year to me. How about you>

My column. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions have run out of excuses:

Thoughts end of 1st quarter Michigan, Notre Dame

Not a promising start for Michigan. The pass interference penalties were killers on Notre Dame's scoring drive.
- The short passes to Devin Funchess are a good thing. He is impressive running with the ball after the catch. Notre Dame's secondary is vulnerable. So is its defense overall. The Wolverines should be exploiting it more..
- The Wolverines need to play quicker. They are playing a very slow pace offensively.A track meet against Notre Dame isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Thoughts halftime MSU, Oregon

 What a terrific second quarter by the Spartans. But I don't think the Ducks will roll over, though. This has the makings of a classic. Connor Cook is starting to roll.
MSU QB Connor Cook
- It's simpler said than done, but the Spartans needed to avoid allowing turnovers and big plays today. So far, they have not. A turnover and two big plays turned the course of this game against MSU. But they hung in there very well vs. the Ducks. A turning point was the Spartans' defense imposing their will at the end of the second quarter, which led to their second TD. Also, the Spartans have avoided penalties, another good thing.
- Spartans' defensive lineman Marcus Rush is one of the most underrated players in the nation. He often plays at the level of All-American. He is so far today.
- An underrated aspect of Mark Dantonio's coaching has been in-game adjustments. His staff already made a big one with the Spartans switching to a hurry up offense. It was a big factor in the Spartans improvement offensively during the second quarter.

My column. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions have run out of excuses:

Thoughts after 1st quarter MSU, Oregon

The Spartans have a genuine chance in this game, but it is not going to happen if they turn the ball over. You saw how quickly Oregon turned the tables on MSU after Connor Cook threw his interception. The Ducks can turn this game into a rout quickly. The dam is always on the brink of breaking against these guys. It's disappointing the Spartans didn't get the lead. It was a key factor.
- Nick Hill looked terrific for the Spartans in their season opener vs. Jacksonville State. It wouldn't surprise me if he becomes a factor in this game.
- The Spartans looked clueless on the two-point conversion. That extra point could mean the difference in a close game.
- The Spartans are matching up well with the Ducks athletically. They have been closing very well while tackling in space. If anything, they are more athletic upfront on both sides of the ball.
- I thought that pass down the sideline to wide receiver Aaron Burbridge was interesting. He is MSU's most talented receiver when it comes to size, speed and athleticism combination. The Spartans should make an effort to get him the ball.

Tigers continue to find inventive new ways to lose

The Tigers' season has morphed into a collection of heartbreaking defeats, which suggest they somehow, some way find a way to lose.
It hasn't really been true. Despite Saturday's 5-4 loss to the San Francisco Giants, the Tigers have played above .500 baseball so far in August and September (19-18). They have not become the mounting disaster that is the Oakland Athletics. While they haven't exactly surged, they haven't collapsed, either.
It just feels like it.
Two things are very true:
1. The Tigers' losses have been so individually painful they have not been nearly been negated by their wins, which have often been ugly in regard to style.

David Price: Another tough outing
The latest example of the losses was Saturday. You'd think if the Tigers would get 10 hits off one of the top left-handers in MLB, the Giants' superb Madison Bumgarner, they'd be in terrific shape. That'd be especially true with David Price on the mound. Add in the fact, Miguel Cabrera hit two home runs, and Victor Martinez his 30th homer of the year, and you'd think the Tigers would win.Yet, somehow they lost. It was a terrible fate in a bounce-back attempt following Rick Porcello's disappointing outing in the defeat to the Giants Friday.
2, The Royals have been exceptionally hot. The Tigers haven't collapsed as much as the Royals, who visit Comerica Park this week, are taking it away from them. Yet, it's not like the Tigers have been standing up to the challenge, at least not yet.
"We have another chance to win tomorrow," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "This race is far from over."What you see as danger, we see as opportunity."
Yeah. There is still a lot of baseball left to be played for the Tigers. But eventually these goofy-type of losses will catch up to them.
Especially if they continue next week when the Royals visit Comerica Park.

My column. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions have run out of excuses:

Thoughts after 7 innings Giants, Tigers Saturday

- David Price has done an excellent job settling down and giving the Tigers a fighting chance in this game. His pitch count is still manageable. It hasn't been a good outing by any means, but it hasn't been the disaster it appeared to be after the first inning, either.
- The Tigers got a lot of good swings off Madison Bumgarner today. He's one of the top left-handers in the game, but have 10 hits and two home runs, and still just three runs, is kind of odd and disappointing. It speaks volumes of the Tigers' problems lately coming up with timely hits.
- You can help but looking at this series so far and being reminded about what happened to the Tigers during the 2012 World Series.

My column: There are no more excuses for Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions:

Thoughts on David Price and Giants, Tigers after an inning Saturday

- A banged up Miguel Cabrera has been having trouble catching up with top-end fastballs this season, but Giants' lefty Madison Bumgarner fed him a cookie with that 88 mph low, cut fastball during the first inning. To his credit, Cabrera didn't miss it. That thing was out of the park in an instant. Cabrera has been hitting much better since resting his ankle, but it would be naïve to believe he is "back" yet
- The Giants had a smart approach against David Price in the first inning. They have mostly been taking the ball up the middle and not trying to pull the unnecessarily, using his control against him by swinging early in the count. But still, Price is making too many pitches cutting the middle of the plate. None of the Giants hits were cheap. There is a certain tone to this game, which is similar to the start Pirce had at Comerica Park in which he allowed nine straight hits vs. the Yankees. The first inning pushed Price's ERA as a Tiger above four, and this is seventh start with the club. It's not what the Tigers expected when they traded for him, obviously. Rick Porcello's start last night was also disappointing. The Tigers will go nowhere if those two don't pitch more effectively.
- An underrated fact: Kansas City's team ERA is more than a half-a-run per game less than the Tigers.

My column. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions have run out of excuses:

Friday, September 05, 2014

My thoughts on the Tigers' 11-4 victory over Cleveland Thursday

My column. High risk, high reward weekend finally arrives for MSU Spartans and Michigan Wolverines: