One of my co-workers (Paul, a diehard Lions fan) made a few comments to me on Monday. I showed up at work and did my usual Monday football whining and pouting. My friend Paul sympathized and pointed out a few things about his 2010 Lions team and what they have in common with the 2011 Panthers:
1. Keeping games close. 6 of the Lions 10 losses were within 7 points or less. The 6-10 Lions were a few painful plays away from having a 10-6 record. Our 4 losses have all been within 7 points or less. Every loss is painful as we've been close enough to smell a win. With our shocking, Cam-era offense, I think we'll stick in more games than the Lions did last year. Maybe not win every game, but these Panthers are will fight to the end against any team.
2. Playmakers. The 2010 Lions had mainly Calvin Johnson (minus Matthew Stafford) and Ndamukong Suh for their respective units. Our 2011 Panthers have the beautiful surprise of the cool-under-pressure Cam Newton, Steve Smith re-emerging with a vengeance, very capable RB's and an O-Line that is doing a decent job. Now, we have some great defensive players, some of them though get caught out of place. Overall, I think there is more talent on our 2011 Panthers roster than there was on the 2010 Lions roster. (In short, we have playmakers in place. I could name names but would look like a subjective fanboy in the process.) We've got more from Swank after the jump...
3. Concerns on Defense. The Lions defense finished in the latter half of the league in 2010, mainly from a gouged run defense. This is our obvious weakness. The loss of Beason, Davis and Edwards are huge contributing factors. Still, the collective of new starters has to execute; be in the right place at the right time, run smart and finish tackles. We're on pace to give up 51 passes of 20+ yards and 13 passes of 40+ yards, 26 runs of 20+ yards and 10 runs of 40+ yards. It's impossible to keep momentum and pull off wins when this is happening. I don't think it's over-coaching. I think our guys are still getting use to what they're suppose to be doing and where they should be at a given point of time. Too much worrying about technicalities and not enough worrying about application.
Panthers and Lions defenses compared:
2010 Lions (16th vs. pass, 218 yds/game) had given up 43 pass plays for 20+ yards, and 9 pass plays for 40+ yards.
*2011 Panthers (15th vs. pass, 231 yds/game) have given up 16 pass plays for 20+ yards, and 4 pass plays for 40+ yards.
2010 Lions (24th vs. run, 124.9 yds/game) had given up 11 runs for 20+ yards, and 3 runs for 40+ yards.
*2011 Panthers (27th vs. run, 135.2 yds/game) have given up 8 runs for 20+ yards, and 3 runs for 40+ yards.
4. Penalties. The 2010 Lions were #8 in most penalties (106 for 854 yards) in the NFL and the 2011 Panthers are following suit this season, sitting at #8 in most penalties (*35 for 305 yards) in the NFL. As we've witnessed, we've had a pile of penalties (most of them deserving). Many of these bringing back a score, a first down on a crucial drive or and all out game changing play. Our current penalty rate puts us on pace for 112 penalties resulting in over 970 yards. Too many to pull off close games. (I do realize we live in a penalty-happy league marred by questionable calls, but still, we do commit a good share and we have to clean it up.)
* Through 5 regular season games.
In the end, there are some striking similarities between these two teams. At this point in the 2010 season, the Lions were 1-4, a cheeky stat at this point, but worth a fun mention. The Lions finished the 2010 season aggressively en route to a great start in 2011. Are they for real? Some say no and others point to all the progress made throughout the course of last season; being so close, nearly having all the pieces put together; stopping that last drive, executing that 2-minute drill or getting those keys players back from injury. Could the 2011 Panthers show signs of turning that corner? Can they turn those close losses into wins? The puzzle pieces are scrambled across the table. With time, I know it'll be a picture that will justify our hope and belief.
Cats > Dirty Birds