The title of this week's column comes courtesy of my Dad, who sent me the above rhyme by e-mail last Sunday night. My old man, whom I assure you is in good mental and physical health (despite his e-mails), is a long suffering Lions fan (75 years-old last August) who weaned me as a youngster with tales of Bobby Layne, Joe Schmidt and the rest of the Leo stars of the team's Golden Age of the 1950's.
Needless to say I, like many of you, share similar stories of indoctrination and, as a result, have suffered from recurring episodes of Lions' Fever ever since.
Avoid Lions' Fever
With last Sunday's win, there have been reports of the dreaded Lions Fever breaking out in isolated areas of Michigan over the last few days. If Detroit can manage to defeat the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field this coming Sunday, bank on Lions Fever spreading quicker than Paris Hilton with a video camera.
However, those of you who are beginning to feel any Fever-like symptoms, such as the overwhelming urge to call your favorite sports radio station and predict that the Lions are this year's Carolina Panthers, or going to your nearest urban hair salon and requesting a "Billy Sims Jeri Curl," please take a cold shower and realize that there are still 12 games left on the schedule.
For those of you who have already tried cold showers and rational thinking to no avail, here are a few more suggestions:
Combating Lions' Fever
Simply take a few moments to conjure up images of:
- Lion QB Milt Plum throwing to Packer CB Herb Adderley in 1962
- Tom Dempsey's 63-yard Howitzer boot for the Saints in 1970
- The Bears' Dave Williams going up the left sideline for 95-yards in overtime on Turkey Day 1980
- Eddie Murray kicking wide in 1983 Divisional Playoff at Candlestick Park
- Jeff Rutledge leading the Redskins back from a 17-point 4th quarter deficit in 1990
- Brett Favre hitting Sterling Sharpe for a 40-yard game-winning TD in the 1993 Wildcard Game
- Scott Mitchell throwing five picks in the 1995 Wildcard Playoff at Veterans Stadium
- Scott Mitchell heaving the pigskin into the flat versus the Bengals in 1998
- Chicago's Paul Edinger booting it through the uprights in 2000
I could go on, but you get my point. . . . It is way too early for Dre' Bly and Brock Marion to emulate Jimmy "Spiderman" Allen and James "Hound Dog" Hunter in a 2004 remake of the sports music classic "Another One Bites The Dust."
With one-quarter of the 2004 season now complete, and Lions' Fever threatening to scramble the brains of Honolulu-Blue-and-Silver clad Detroit fans everywhere, let's take a step back and get some perspective on the 2004 Motown Lions.
Kudos to Jauron
I don't know how many frequent flyer miles Defensive Coordinator Dick Jauron racked up on his bye-week trip to the Land of Oz for a dose of courage; but it was obvious that he has, at least for one game, decided to allow his talented front seven to utilize their speed and athleticism by attacking the opposing team's offense instead of staying with the passive, bend-but-don't-break philosophy that was demolished by the Philadelphia Eagles back on September 26th. Six-sacks, four turnovers (3 fumble recoveries and an INT) and three forced-fumbles highlighted the Detroit's best defensive performance since last year's season finale against the St. Louis Rams.
Keep attacking Coach. It's working . . . and a lot of fun to watch.
D-Fence is Setting the Tone
The Lions defense continues to be the biggest factor in the team's current resurgence. DE's James Hall (the NFL's reigning Defensive Player-of-the-Week) and Jared DeVries are playing the best football of their careers. I think it's now safe to say that DT's Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson are the Lions' best inside duo since the days of Doug English and William Gay. LB's Teddy Lehman, Alex Lewis and James Davis are the team's most exciting group of young linebackers since the days of Chris Spielman, George Jamison and Dennis Gibson; while rookie CB Keith Smith and second-year DE Cory Redding had their best games as pros versus Atlanta.
This group of youngsters and grizzled vets is becoming a real force. They should only get better once the unit's two best players, CB Dre' Bly and SLB Boss Bailey, return to full form.
Offensive Line Must Improve Play
The offensive line has been at times just that, offensive. QB Joey Harrington has already been sacked 12 times this season, one more than all of last season. While some of that can be attributed to Harrington being more patient with his progressions downfield, it is also clear that many of that sacks have come before Harrington even has time to set up in the pocket.
RT Stockar McDougal had his best game of the year Sunday, but that's not saying a whole lot considering his pre-bye week performances. He is overweight (367 pounds), which explains why he has had trouble all season against quick edge rushers. In addition, McDougal has not nearly been the dominate run blocker that a player his size (6'6" 367) should be.
Another disappointment has been C Dominic Raiola. He has yet to become a solid force in the running game and remains prone to the bull rush, as well as the occasional dumb penalty. Although, I must note that the holding call he was flagged for in the fourth quarter against Atlanta last Sunday was a joke. How a lineman can be called for holding for having his hands inside a guy's shoulder pads while driving him into the ground is beyond me.
RG Damien Woody is overweight and sluggish, likely due to the fact that he was unable to maintain his regular offseason workout regimen due to last season's knee injury while with the New England Patriots. At this point, it will be tough for him to shed that extra weight. As a result, he is at times having problems completing trap blocks and pulling out wide to lead on screen plays. LG David Laverne is solid at times, and horrible at others, which is probably right where he should be. LT Jeff Backus remains the best performer of the group in both the running and passing games.
Unlike their defensive teammates who have, at times, dominated the trenches, the Lions' O-line must improve their play if Detroit is to make a serious challenge for the NFC North Crown and/or a post-season berth.
To Decline or Not to Decline, Remains a Question
Once again last Sunday, Steve Mariucci made a questionable accept-or-decline decision on a penalty call. The latest episode came during the 2nd period when Atlanta faced a 3rd-and-4 from the Detroit 32 yard line. On 3rd down, Atlanta QB Michael Vick was sacked by Alex Lewis for a 1-yard loss; however, Falcons' RT Todd Weiner was called for holding. Now Mariucci was faced with two choices. One, accept the penalty, giving Atlanta a 3rd-and-14 from the Detroit 42; or two, decline the penalty and give the Falcons a 4th-and-5 from the Lion 33.
Note that just three plays earlier, Atlanta had went for it on 4th-and-6 when P Chris Mohr faked a punt and connected on a pass to Brian Finneran for 26-yards and a first down to the Detroit 38. While that earlier decision didn't make it certain that the Falcons would go for it once again on 4th down, declining the Weiner holding call would at the very least allow Atlanta kicker Jay Feely to attempt a 50-yard field goal. While Feely will never be mistaken for Morten Anderson he, like most NFL kickers, is certainly capable of hitting a 50-yarder indoors on turf.
Conversely, if Detroit accepted the penalty, a FG try would be out of the question and the Lions' defense would be faced with a more manageable 3rd-and-14 situation. To that point in the game, Atlanta had gone 1-for-4 on 3rd down conversions, so it wasn't like they had the Detroit defense in full retreat. Clearly, the soundest decision would have been to accept the penalty and force Atlanta into a 3rd-and-14 play call.
However, Mariucci, as has become his custom in these types of situations, chose to defy logic by declining the penalty and giving Atlanta more options instead of fewer with 4th-and-5 situation. Atlanta chose to go-for-it straight-up, and Michael Vick connected on a pass to Finneran, good for 10-yards and a first down on the Detroit 23. Four plays, and two Lion penalties later, Atlanta scored to take a 7-0 lead.
Now maybe some of you think I'm making a mountain out of a molehill with this penalty thing. On the other hand, it's clear that this is becoming a pattern with the Lions' Head Coach. Last Sunday, his decision helped lead to Atlanta's first touchdown. If Joey Harrington and Az Hakim hadn't bailed Mariucci out on the Lions' ensuing possession with a brilliant 39-yard touchdown play on 4th-and-5, Detroit could have faced a much tougher situation in the second half, either in a tie-game or trying to come from behind late on the road. Mariucci's pattern of questionable game management decisions could one day very well cost his team a football game. It would be a shame if it ever does.
When Can Lions' Fever Be Embraced?
Anytime you want to. While I cannot endorse it at this point, I have no authority to quell its spread. As for myself, I am going to do my best to hold off until after Halloween, which is after Detroit faces Dallas in Texas Stadium.
If the Lions are still on top of the NFC North at that point, I just might have to go out a pick up some Soul Glow myself.