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Lions’ post-game analysis: The good, the bad, and the ugly

August 30, 2009

In yesterday’s post — a pretty dry, hard-news synopsis of the team’s visit to Reading, PA to face Albright college — I wrote about what happened (at 4am). Today, and every day following TCNJ’s 10 gamedays for the entire regular season, I’ll tell you what it all means.

THE GOOD

Depth and versatility at the running back position

The Lions featured about a hundred different backfield combos yesterday — all of which enjoyed some degree of success — starting with Chase Misura at fullback and Justin Donoloski at tailback in an I-formation. The offense broke the huddle and got set in a number of other looks during the evening’s earlier period, designated for each team’s starting-22. Among those included probably the most dangerous of them all — which I’ve dubbed the Chris James’ sandwich — when the two lined up on each side of their quarterback who stood four-and-a-half yards deep in the shotgun.

Donoloski made the start, likely in the absence of last year’s seventh-best returning back in the NJAC — Michael Yetka — who’s been a little banged up of late. Donoloski certainly didn’t doll up the stat sheet (one that, mind you, I had to compile myself), averaging only 2.6 YPC. But, he did prove he could find alternative holes when the point of attack was clogged up — a frequent occurence on his carries yesterday. Though he doesn’t run as smoothly as Misura — who looks a lot like a newer, beefier version of former Lions’ great (Cory Schoonover) — he can certainly get the job done, nonetheless.

The guys entering the game later in the evening also showed that they could hang with the big dogs, as both Erik Smithman — a transfer from New York City’s Wagner College and graduate of South Jersey powerhouse Barnegat High — and Kevin Brown — who, for some reason, wasn’t wearing the jersey number that’s listed on the team’s website — performed well coming off the bench.

The two couldn’t be any different. Smithman, the more compact of the two (whose been given a generous listing at 5’9) could certainly benefit the Lions via the passing game, especially on screens and swings out of the backfield. Should he feel like it, offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta could serve himself well by sending his “shiftier” back on a wheel down the sideline on play-action or when James is in the shotgun.

Hey, it worked for Leon Washington the other night against Baltimore.

Brown on the other hand, ran a lot like Dolphins’ running back Ronnie Brown, attacking the line-of-scrimmage with power, though he’s agile enough to make a few cuts if he needs to. I’d be willing to bet that if he’s performing in blitz-pickup drills in practice like I think he eventually will, you might see him enter the field on obvious passing situations as a blocker alongside Misura, who’s already proven he’s more than capable of handling a pass rush.

Even when Yetka’s back at 100% — who did make an appearance last night, rushing once for a yard — Acosta’s got enough pieces to keep defensive coordinators guessing. And that’s never something to complain about.

THE BAD

The Lions’ pass rush

Let me make myself clear:  the defensive line played well, particularly against the run — a major concern entering the contest. It also consistently pressured the quarterback, therein revealing one of the unit’s biggest weaknesses.

The same exaggeratedly high paths that the Lion defensive ends took yesterday toward Albright’s thicker passer in Tanner Kelly, allowed his backup — a much more athletic Patrick Subers — free reign of the field. That’s proven to be a problem, specifically against this week’s opponent.

During last year’s contest, the Lions’ pass rushers and cover men owned Buffalo State‘s quarterback, Mark Boswell, earlier in the game, allowing only seven total yards on the Bengals’ two first possessions (0-2, o yds, INT). It didn’t take long, though, for the Bengals’ coordinators to stumble upon the Lions’ Achilles heel. I’ll discuss in more detail what happened later this week, but know that the entirety of the team’s success in last years game stemmed from drives during which Buffalo State’s quarterbacks tucked the ball and ran.

Though it managed to squeak by an anemic Buffalo State — finished 1-9 in ’08 (1-8 in NJAC) — in spite of allowing its quarterback to rush for 85 yards on 15 carries, they’ll have difficulty overcoming the same struggles against other quarterbacks in the conference notorious for their ground games.

Looking down the road, they’ll have to stay disciplined against some of the league’s bona fide running threats at the position, specifically Kean‘s Tom D’Ambrisi (scored four rushing touchdowns in ’08) and RowansFrank Wilcynzski (who led his NJAC championship team with 803 yds and 11 TDs a year ago).

Considering the night-to-day transformation the defense seems to have made in all facets of its game — in the face of pretty widespread injury and inexperience at a number of positions — the defense should be much better in 2009. The ho-hum defense of a year ago seems to have made leaps and bounds in its second year under defensive coordinator Matt Hamilton.

Ultimately, I’m not worried. Other teams should be.

THE UGLY

Mistakes

Penalties, blown coverages, mental network-connection shortages — all of these are bad, bad news to a football team’s win column, and we saw errors of all shapes in sizes yesterday.

I’m not going to beat a dead horse, considering that the 21 points-off-turnovers that Albright scored — accounting for more than 67% of its point-total on the evening — made the story’s headline and about 400 words worth of emphasis. I get it. You get it.

Believe it or not, the fact that the team screwed up from time to time isn’t actually bad. It’s not bad at all.

The preseason — aside from learning schemes and getting in “football shape” — is all about finding kinks and painstakingly ironing them out. Hamilton (both of them) found plenty of kinks yesterday and both of them (Coach “Big” Hamilton is entering his 33rd season as head coach) are experienced enough to make them go “bye-bye.”

Consider it a blessing in disguise that the team struggled mentally in this fashion and in this venue. It would be a whole hell of a lot worse had they been handled physically and as a result of inferior talent later in the year– neither of which can be fixed in the film room and in fear of being reemed out while in said room, especially if its too late.

If there’s two questions that the scrimmage answered yesterday, I’ll tell you before you ask. Yes they’re big, and yes they’re good.

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