Falcons 34, Lions 21: Good, Bad and Ugly

Considering just how poorly they performed in the season opener at Atlanta, the Lions probably are deserving of a "Very Ugly" category -- still, we provide the good, the bad, and the ugly (in reverse order, however, as it's only fitting) in Sunday's deflating 34-21 loss to the Falcons.

The Ugly

What to choose? You could play musical chairs with so many atrocious parts of Sunday's game that you would still get the same melody, and the same result: the Detroit Lions aren't anywhere near ready to compete on a professional level in the 2008 regular season.

If first looks are what we're judging on, anyway.

Atlanta walked into the game not necessarily a laughing stock, but certainly among the presumed bottom-feeders. And while today's professional sports arena has proven that any team can win (especially on any given Sunday), the Falcons have the recipe for a disastrous season. They have a brand-new coaching staff, a rookie quarterback, two inexperienced cornerbacks and a patch-work offensive line consisting of unproven talent.

Yet ...

  • The Falcons coaching staff thoroughly outcoached the Lions (to the point of absurdity). The Lions could not muster an answer to Atlanta's running game beginning with Michael Turner's 66-yard touchdown romp early in the first quarter. The highly touted "Tampa 2," which now consists of a handful of veterans that supposedly added invaluable experience and talent, was laughed off the field. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry should hang his head in shame, and Rod Marinelli should be right behind him. Falcons' offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey dialed up plays like they were on speed dial, and the Lions rotary responses defensively were painfully ineffective. Turner tallied 220 yards on 22 carries -- basically, he averaged a first-down per carry. This isn't even acceptable on the Division III collegiate level.
  • Facing a rookie quarterback, the process should be simple: stack the box and force Matt Ryan, a rookie, to beat you. The Lions instead relied on their Tampa-2 laurels and the result (four consecutive quarters worth) was disastrously predictable.
  • The Lions defensive line was at the core of the problem, and Shaun Rogers absence was noticeably exposed. Atlanta's inexperienced, unproven offensive line punched holes through Detroit's interior all day, and the Lions never swung back.

    The scary part? The Lions still play Adrian Peterson (Minnesota) twice. Heck, every team they play has a running back, which should be enough to put a lump in the throat of every Lions fan. The blue print to beating the Lions couldn't be more obvious: run the ball. And if that fails? Well, it won't, but test a secondary that struggled against a green rookie quarterback.

  • Offensively (and, perhaps, even more worrisome) was the complete and total lack of cohesiveness on the field and in the booth. The play-calling duo of offensive coordinator Jim Colletto and Kippy Brown was a failure. The offense, outside of a few series (and even sporadically within those scoring drives), seemed out-of-sync, unsure of direction, and extremely frustrated. Colletto took almost three quarters before developing a gameplan to respond to Atlanta's zone defense (you can file those two first half scoring drives under "pure talent" -- as Colletto's playcalling had little to nothing to do with the team's ability to move the football).

    Colletto's refusal to expose Atlanta's cornerbacks on almost every down is inexcusable.

    Essentially, Detroit offense in its season opener suffered from a personality crisis. Raise your hand if you saw this coming in the preseason when Detroit's defense even tried running the football.

    With 10 minutes to play in the game, and a reasonable chance to put up a score and get the ball back, Lions players trudged around, using almost the entire play clock with no regard to the game clock. It was horrific game management by Detroit's coaching staff, and that falls at the feet of Marinelli.

  • Among statistics yet to be tallied: missed tackles -- although it's probably pretty accurate to assume that the team suffered at least one missed tackle per running play. Even the usual reliable Ernie Sims whiffed on occasion, while question surrounding whether or not Paris Lenon can play the mike linebacker position was answered: he can't. This again reflects Marinelli. Detroit's 60 minute fundamental breakdown was as excruciating as the offense's abysmal performance, because this team was supposedly built on fundamentals; it comprised of "Marinelli guys." And it was an embarrassment of epic proportions.

    The Bad

  • Jon Kitna was outplayed by the more effective and mistake-free play of Matt Ryan. Kitna's second-quarter tantrum was as inspiring as a Tatum Bell Tell-All. While the Lions offense hit meltdown mode in the first half, Kitna never pulled the team out of it. He tossed a costly second-half interception, came up short on a critical third-down (sliding just a half-yard shy of a first down), took unforgiveable sacks, and never developed a rythym with any of his receivers. His misleading stats (24 of 33, 262 yards, 2 touchowns) were not representative of his inability to lead the team like any veteran should. Ryan, meanwhile, was a calm, cool, and collected 9-of-13, taking what the Lions defense gave him and capitalizing on a devastating running game.
  • Atlanta's offensive line beat up -- no, they flat-out abused -- Detroit's defensive line and its linebackers. We already documented the d-line's porous play, but it wasn't as if they played world beaters. Other than center Todd McClure, the Falcons offensive line has a combined seven years of NFL experience.
  • Touching on the team's anemic offensive performance, Roy Williams showed again that he can sometimes come and go as he pleases. Williams had a spectacular touchdown reception, but disappeared for the rest of the game. He never took advantage of Falcons' rookie cornerback Brent Grimes. As a veteran receiver, especially in a contract-year, this wasn't the 'Houdini' act by Williams that Detroit envisioned as it opened the season to much fanfair.
  • The Lions offense completed just 22 percent (2 of 9) of their third down opportunities.
  • Detroit was 1-7 on the road last year, which ultimately determined (and undermined) the course of its regular season. Good teams find a way to win on the road, and if the opening game against a team most experts consider terrible is any indication, it might be more of the same for Detroit in 2008.

    The Good

    Very little to go on, but we'll try ...

  • Rookie Kevin Smith touched the ball 20 times and produced 80 yards, including a touchdown in the red zone. He ripped off a few nice runs, and even showed some savy by catching the ball out of the backfield and turn upfield. He will be an asset to the offense as the passing game takes its time to gel.
  • Calvin Johnson collected seven grabs for 107 yards, and abused Falcons' cornerback Chris Houston throughout the game. If he can ever get the same effort from Roy Williams (and the two can stay on the same page with quarterback Jon Kitna), the Lions offense might actually become somewhat formidable.
  • The Lions controlled time of possession (30:53 to 29:07), but part of this was due to Atlanta's quick scores. The Lions are hellbent on becoming a balanced offense, but the defense gave up too many big plays against the Falcons.
  • Red zone efficiency: 2/2. Detroit struggled in the red zone, but took advantage of its opportunities in the second half. Kitna's playaction touchdown to Casey FitzSimmons was brilliantly designed and executed and would not have worked in 2007.
  • It's only week one.

    By week 8, this might be the understatement of the year, but Detroit needs to iron out the kinks, and Atlanta gave them an entire game film of areas where they need improvement.

    The offense learned that, regardless of talent, it won't work unless the unit operates cohesively. You can also bet that Marinelli will take a 'back to the basics' line with his defense on Monday, beginning with Tackling 101.

    Whether the Lions bought into their own hype (ESPN's Tom Jackson picked them to win the division before kick-off), or Atlanta simply shell-shocked them from the very beginning and the game simply got away from them (21 first quarter points can be deflating to any opponent), the Lions need to go home and look at their collective selves in the mirror, and go back to work. This includes the coaching staff.


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