Calvin Johnson can run after thye catch and make things happen but today that hurt the Lions badly. Calvin fumbled two times and killed drives. He had 7 receptions for 96 yards but had no TD receptions. He also had 2 carries for 32 yards on end arounds in the first drive. The Lions quickly got away from that play. Linehan has used that early in games several times this season with good success but for some reason starts running up the middle on first down for little to no gain as soon as possible. If I am a defensive coordinator playing the Lions I know exactly what to look for on first down.
The offense has had no balance all season. The QB is throwing the ball 40 times or the Lions are running the ball way too much. The Lions rushed 31 times for 114 yards , a 3.7 yards per carry average. That isn't horrible , right? Take away 2 rushes and 32 yards by Calvin Johnson and that becomes 29 rushes for 82 yards and an average yards per carry of 2.8. That is how ineffective the running backs were for the Lions , but because Linehan wanted to put the kid gloves on the offense with Drew Stanton in his first NFL start , the Lions kept running the ball. It was comical watching Aaron Brown on his one and only carry try to run up the middle for one yard. I just knew he was going to get crushed , and he did. Maurice Morris didn't run the ball very well today either. Maybe fixing that offensive line would help. Lets look at Aaron Brown and that run up the middle here to see what I mean. Brown has a receiver build with narrow hips. He runs a little high off the ground , a total speed guy that needs to run outside the tackles. He just isn't a downhill runner. Kevin Smith spent much of the off season adding size and strenght to his legs and lower body , but that didn't help him much. Smith couldn't run up the middle and now is on the injured reserve list with a knee injury.
Truth be told , the Lions haven't been able to run the ball up the middle since Dominic Raiola was drafted in the second round , #50 overall , in 2001. The Lions seem to want to refuse to believe that Raiola is a bad center. Kevin Jones was the last good Lions running back , gaining over 1,200 yards in his rookie year. Most of that yardage was gained by getting outside the tackles. After Jones sustained a knee injury he lost the ability to do that and had to go.
Ok , so now onto the main topic around Detroit Lion territory , Drew Stanton and his first NFL start. That's exactly what it was and his inexperience showed. With under 2 minutes remaining in the first half Stanton and the Lions had the ball. I looked at the person I was watching the game with and said 'this is where we might see him overthrow one'. On the very next play Stanton overthrew the ball and it was picked off. The line gave up some pressure and he fumbled. Calvin was catching the ball and dropping it. I knew that if the offense didn't settle down in the second half things would go south. Enter TE Will Heller. A nice pass to Dennis Northcutt over the middle for a first down gets called back because of offensive pass interference - on Heller. Heller also dropped several passes today. Don't get me wrong , seeing Calvin open near the end zone and watching Stanton throw late and behind him was bad. I think most Lions fans know what Daunte Culpepper brings to the field as a Lions starting QB by now and still think we need to see more of Drew Stanton. He has more to prove than most QBs do in this league , he must also prove he can play and stay healthy. Today he did at least that.
On defense the Lions only allowed 20 points defending a short field all day and despite 6 turnovers by the Lions offense. Rookie DeAndre Levy started at middle linebacker for the injured Larry Foote and lead the team in tackles with 8. Rookie safety Louis Delmas had 7 tackles. Cliff Avril played very well against the run and got pressure on Alex Smith. Jason Hunter also had a good game at defensive end for the Lions , recording one sack and batting down a pass. Here is the best part about the defense - the 49ers didn't score any points off the 6 Lion turnovers.
Six turnovers will still destroy any offensive continuity , so the Lions turned this game over to the 49ers.