Monday, September 22, 2014

My thoughts on the Tigers' 2-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox Monday

Thoughts after innings 5 1-2 innings White Sox, Tigers Monday

- Kyle Lobstein has been better than anybody could have possibly expected, He doesn't have great so-called "stuff," but he doesn't beat himself, either. He had a WHIP of nearly 1.5 at Toledo this season, and count me among those who didn't think it was  going to work with him getting this many starts at the MLB level, but it clearly is. As a lefty, he might have a decent MLB career as an at the end of the rotation starter or long reliever. Don't see him as a setup man, certainly not closer or even as a situational lefty, although he has gotten left-handed hitters out consistently.
- The Tigers have no walks against Chris Bassitt. They just aren't working the count during their at bats, especially with runners on base. The pop up by Miguel Cabrera to end the fifth inning on the first pitch was particularly telling.
- Great throw by Alex Avila to nail Avisail Garcia trying to steal second base in the sixth inning. He has been excellent with his throwing this season, and very solid defensively overall. His detractors get tired of hiring that, but it's true.
My column. The sea parted, the earth moved and, finally, the Lions played great defense Sunday:

My column. For Brady Hoke and Michigan, the handwriting is on the wall:

Sunday, September 21, 2014

My thoughts and column on the Lions' 19-7 victory over Green Bay Sunday

Thoughts after 3 quarters Packers, Lions

- This game reminds me of the Lions' 7-3 victory over the Packers at Ford Field for some reason. Detroit's defense is playing unexpectedly exceptional football. The difference is, of course, Packers' QB Aaron Rodgers missed much of that game with a concussion, and Drew Stanton was the Lions' QB that day. Matthew Stafford was injured.
- The Lions got burned badly because of a blocking scheme with backup right tackle Garrett Reynolds, forced into action because of injuries, one-on-one against Julius Peppers. If you going to do that, the ball must come out quickly. The fact Peppers made a big play (forced fumble, recovery in the red zone after a long Lions' drive) should not come of much of a surprise. It's not like he hasn't done it before. Or if the Lions blocking set was a good one. It was more like a recipe for disaster when you think about it.
- Undoubtedly, this town has its collective fingers crossed with the hope it doesn't come down to rookie kicker Nate Freese having to make a field goal to decide the Lions' fate.

My column. For Brady Hoke and Michigan, the handwriting is on the wall:

Thoughts halftime Packers, Lions

- Nate Freese equals disaster for Lions. Period.
- The Lions' defense has been outstanding so far. They've contained Aaron Rodgers with the exception of one play, forced two turnovers, scored eight points and have shutdown the Packers' running game. The Lions offense has been the lesser of the two units the last two games.
- I've got news for you all: DeAndre Levy, not Ndamukong Suh, is the Lions' best defensive player. Levy was brilliant last season. If anything, he's been even better this season. It was yet another terrific play by Levy when he garnered a safety early in the second half. It changed the course of this game dramatically.
- I take back what I wrote about Corey Fuller. That was a outstanding play on the 52-yard reception near the end of the half. Maybe it was a good evaluation by the Lions' coaching staff after all.
- I don't see the need for Matthew Stafford to try to force the ball deep to Calvin Johnson in double coverage. The idea was to get more weapons surrounding Stafford and Johnson so that would no longer be necessary. Yet, for the second straight week what did we have in the first half Sunday? Stafford picked off throwing deep to a well-covered and double-teamed Megatron It's nonsensical.
- Loved the crossing route out of a tight formation to Calvin Johnson early in the second quarter. It was a creative way to get Johnson the ball in space and take advantage of his under-utilized ability to run after the catch.
- Lions' fans everywhere were holding their breath when Nate Freese lined up for a mere 30-yard field goal. They had a sigh of relief when he made it. Not very comforting, is it?
- The Lions got little creative on defense, too, looping Suh and Nick Fairly on third-and-long for the Packers late in the second quarter. The result. A sack for Suh, his first of the season.

My column. The handwriting is on the wall for Brady Hoke and Michigan:

Thoughts after first quarter Packers, Lions

- That touchdown drive by the Packers to end the first quarter was on Aaron Rodgers. What a terrific job he did scrambling to buy time and hit Jordy Nelson on third-and-long for a first down. There are many terrific QBs currently in the NFL, but I'm not sure if Rodgers isn't the best.
- My initial impression of Lions' safety Don Carey as a player was not very good. But he played very well last season in a couple late games. His tackling became sure. And that was a huge play he made, picking up a loose ball and rolling in for a touchdown, in the first quarter. There is something to be said for a player who works hard and improves. Carey is one of those players. Good thing for the Lions, too. With their secondary so injury-depleted, the Lions desperately need Carey to be a player for them. The fact Carey is out of the game right now with an apparent leg injury is not a good thing.
- The Packers got the one-on-one matchup they wanted with Lions cornerback Danny Gorrer on Randall Cobb. Aaron Rodgers made a terrific throw, but Cobb dropped what likely would have a been a TD pass. Good break for the Lions, but they can't hide the many holes in their secondary for long.
- One very noticeable difference between the Lions' defense this year compared to their previous regime is they blitz a lot more. They simply did not blitz their inside linebackers in the past. Today, middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch has a sack.
- Matthew Stafford didn't make a good throw. That's understood. OK, the interception is on him. But what is Corey Fuller doing on the field. He did nothing to help Stafford on that play. I don't understand why the Lions would release Kevin Ogletree. I thought he was a good route runner, who made some plays. I have seen nothing from Fuller.

My column. Handwriting is on the wall for Brady Hoke and Michigan:

Saturday, September 20, 2014

My thoughts on the Michigan football program and Brady Hoke following the Wolverines' 26-10 loss to Utah

Thoughts after 3 quarters Utah, Michigan

- That fourth and three play that didn't work for Wolverines near the end of the third quarter summed Michigan football as it stands these days. Devin Gardner, running aimlessly and without and blocking and getting crush. This game is danger of turning ugly.
- Michigan's only hope may have been that Utah starting QB Travis Wilson didn't return to this game, but he did. It was also just a matter of time until wide receiver Dres Anderson, who may be a first-team All-Pac 12 selection, made a play. He is remindful of Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, who is playing so well for New Orleans in the NFL as a rookie, after being taken in the first round of last spring's draft. You can't give a player like Anderson the ball in space like that. His catch-and-run quickly turned the course of this game.
- Anderson was a three-star recruit. Wilson was a three-star recruit. Utah does recruit well, especially in California, but not to the same level as Michigan. That's why it is puzzling they look much more athletic than the Wolverines. That's especially true of the skill personnel on the offensive side of the ball.
- Michigan's defensive line is playing a pretty well for the most part. The offensive line, typically, hasn't been so good.

Thoughts halftime Utah, Michigan

- Obviously, it wasn't a wise move by 6-foot-7 Utah QB Travis Wilson to try to hurdle a defender. It wasn't near the goal line. It wasn't for a big first down. It's understood backup Utes' QB Kendal Thompson is a one-time blue chip recruit, who transferred from Oklahoma, yet the Utes' offense was rolling pretty well with Wilson at the controls. Give Michigan credit for a big hit, but Wilson essentially took himself out of the game. And for what? It's doubtful big lineman Willie Henry makes a pick and returns it for a TD for Michigan if Wilson is in the game. Michigan's chances are now better of winning this game. Having stated that, it was a pretty play by Clay. And very much needed by the floundering Wolverines.
- Look, the turnover was more on wide receiver Devin Funchess than Devin Gardner. But it does seem like a costly turnover is always about to happen under Gardner's watch, doesn't it?
- Utah has great special teams. Tremendous return for a TD by wide receiver Kaelin Clay. The Wolverines better reel that part of their game in, or they will lose this game.

Thoughts after 1st quarter Utah, Michigan

Time of possession, which Michigan is winning by a wide margin so far, is a huge in this game. If it turns into a track meet, the Wolverines will lose. Utah seems kind of loose with the ball. The opportunities are there for UM to create turnovers.
Devin Gardner vs. Utah
- Devin Gardner's 18-yard scramble on Michigan's first drive was a good sign. They need him to make plays with his legs. He is an excellent runner with a knack for picking his way through space. That had been missing in the last couple games. Having stated that, though, Gardner must take good care of the ball when running. In the past, fumbles on those scrambles have been part of his downfall.
- There is a noticeable section of empty seats in one corner of the end zone at Michigan Stadium. I have never seen that to the same degree in all the years I have been covering games here, including the first two this season.
- Michigan's Matt Wile is going to have to make his field goals today. Andy Phillips of the Utes is one of the best in the nation.
- It's amazing how much more threatening the Wolverines are offensively with Devin Funchess in there. But it remains like he is their only weapon. They really need to get Jake Butt involved.

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.