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Lions’ postgame analysis: The good, the bad, and the ugly

September 6, 2009

Yesterday’s season opener included far too many story lines to detail in 1,000 words or fewer. I’ll offer a closer look at the fuel behind yesterday’s victory against conference rival Buffalo State, as well as cite its implications moving forward.

THE GOOD

In case you hadn’t guessed, there’s going to be a few bullets under this one…

  • Justin Donoloski

His impact is felt by this Lions’ offense by far more than the stat sheet. That’s quite a compliment, considering he averaged over 10 yards per carry (seven car, 74 yds).

The Lions’ two key contributors at the position last year, Chase Misura and Michael Yetka, couldn’t be any different. Chase is a larger body and a more powerful runner, making one or two distinct cuts and squaring his shoulder pads to the line of scrimmage. He’s by no means a robot, but he’s just not that kind of athlete. Nor is that the way he plays the game.

Yetka is a much more explosive, compact ball carrier–a nice change of pace from the downhill running an opponent gets used to with Misura.

Donoloski seems to be a unique fusion of both running styles. He runs with about the same toughness that Misura does, though he’s got the first-step quickness of a Mike Yetka. Aside from what he’s able to do when he has the ball, his versatility allows offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta all kinds of play with his personnel packages. Yesterday we saw Donoloski and Misura swap between tailback and fullback in the I-formation–a few times even on the same drive. Donoloski entered the game as a lead blocker for Yetka, as did Misura. If you’re a defensive coordinator this is a gameplanning nightmare.

Not only does this keep all three backs fresh throughout the entirety of the contest, but because Acosta gets all of them the ball so frequently, they’re always hungry–and always productive.

  • Dominance in spite of injury

If I told you–a head football coach coming off of a 4-6 finish a year ago–that you’d have to open your season in front of your home fans against a team you know very little about AND you weren’t going to be able to rely on the services of two of your team captains, you’d likely have concerns–if not outright worries.

Undisclosed injuries to both free safety Ryan Flannery and wide receiver Cam Richardson sidelined two of the Lions’ biggest impact players on their respective sides of the ball.

Flannery’s presence as a field general from deep in the defensive backfield is invaluable–and difficult to replace. Fortunately, Matt Kreider had himself a game later in the afternoon after defensive coordinator Matt Hamilton made adjustments to his defense’s zone coverage responsibilities as well as its option rules. He’s a fiery competitor–a lunatic like the rest of his defense–and he loves to hit (sometimes too much, evidenced on a questionable unnecessary roughness call for leveling Bengals’ quarterback Kenny Murphy on the sidelines). Most comforting about his performance is that he was able to learn as the game progressed. It’s one thing to make mental mistakes. It’s an entirely different issue if you’re just not good enough. His issue was the former, and it didn’t linger for long.

On the other side of the ball, Cam Richardson is a dynamic asset to the team’s passing game, and contributes on occasion on slot option (variation of triple option). The passing game didn’t struggle yesterday, in fact Chris James (11/16, 109 yds, INT) flashed glimpses of the accuracy and efficiency that people have been expecting from him. Colin Weber’s number wasn’t called often (three catches, 54 yds), but he made it count when it was, coming up with big catches both down the field and on high-percentage passes. Reiterating his dependability yesterday only bodes well for this Lions’ offense moving forward.

  • Pass protection

I said Friday that if the Lions’ offensive line couldn’t protect its quarterback, the team would be in for a world of trouble on its 2009 debut.

The unit forfeited one sack. The offense scored a bunch of points. See?

  • Third-down defense

The Lions’ defense only allowed Buffalo State to convert four of its 15 third down tries yesterday. Especially in the second half, this allowed the offense to feed off of its own momentum for a longer period since there was such a short time between offensive possessions.

THE BAD

  • Penalties

Any time you give up a football field’s worth of penalty yardage, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Though the Lions managed to overcome these potentially costly mistakes, that won’t always be the case. This is especially true for yardage on drive-extending flags and dead ball fouls–both of which the team surrendered Saturday.

THE UGLY

  • Chris Jones’ post game interview

As a reporter, you figure out pretty quickly who’s going to give you the can’t-miss quotables.

Though he was great between the lines (led team with eight total tackles), Chris Jones is not one of those players.

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