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

September 27, 2009

If you didn’t happen to catch the tone of my post-game recap, the Lions’ 67-34 win in its NJAC contest against Morrisville State wasn’t exactly describable in a few words. In fact, it was next to impossible–part of the reason why it topped 1,400 words in my post-game recap. There’s always plenty of action that can’t be explained by the box score alone. But when the stats themselves add to its convolution, there’s certainly room for further explanation.

Thankfully, that’s where I come in.

Reader beware: I’m probably going to offer otherwise conflicting assessments of certain group’s impact on Saturday’s win. It might even happen with regard to individual players. But hang in there, it’s not that puzzling.

THE GOOD

  • Chris James
Chris James ordering his team to maintain its aggression on the team's next possession. Said the senior QB, "Every time we touch the ball, we want to score."

Chris James ordering his team to maintain its aggression on the team's next possession. Said the senior QB, "Every time we touch the ball, we want to score."

You know about the stats, the rankings, and his leadership. I’m offering my apologies to the guy in advance, considering I’m about to make his head grow even more than I have already–likely complicating getting in and out of his house.

Still, when a career 55% passer continues his hot-streak of completing passes at alarming rates (75.8 at after Week Four) you’ve got to give give credit where its due. Madd daps, son.

There’s a lot of guys that can throw passes like bullets from a Gatling gun–large in number and velocity, but lacking in precision and ball-security. His interceptions per attempt ratio ranked best in the conference last season, but he only threw 12 touchdowns during his entire 2009 campaign–a la Kerry Collins. When the team took the conference in ’07, he threw a few more TDs (15) but he also threw 12 picks–sound like Tony Romo?

This year’s been different, though. He’s found the end zone plenty, largely thanks to a few guys I’ll be talking about in a sec. But he hasn’t been careless, egotistical or overestimating in his assessment of his abilities. In only three games he’s tossed for six scores and added two more with his legs.

Not bad, especially when he’s only thrown one pick (as opposed to “Pic”).

If it seems like coordinator Bobby Acosta is having a world of fun calling plays for this offense–it’s because he is. He has to be. And James has been a huge reason why.

Feel like taking a shot down the field on first-down? Why not? Find yourself in a hole on third and long and you can forget the draws, screens or other cop-out play calls designed to move your punter closer to the opposition’s goal-line. Go for it all. I would.

  • Penalties (quantity)

If once is a “mistake,” twice certainly isn’t a “jazz”–not when you’re talking about forfeiting over 100 yards by way of penalties–dumb ones at that.

And should it have happened again Saturday, for a third time, head coach Eric Hamliton wouldn’t wait for practice to sort out the issue. There’d be hell, and likely a few wind sprints to boot.

Fortunately for the team’s record–and the players’ stomachs–the Lions’ cut the unsightly figure in half during its second-straight victory against the Morrisville State Mustangs. Five flags is still a few more than you’d like, but it’s not ten (the team’s average entering the game) nor is 45 as bad as 107.5 (penalty yardage Saturday vs. season average).

But–you guessed it–it wasn’t entirely good news.

  • Third-down dominance–offensively

The Lions’ offense hasn’t had any issue moving the sticks so far this season, converting 48.1% of its third down tries (2nd in NJAC entering Saturday). It also doesn’t really need to, perpetuating its habit of wasting little time en route to pay dirt (Lions’ scoring drives–1 in three plays; 3 in four plays; 1 in five).

When the team converted five of its eight third-down conversions (62.5%), it improved upon an area it didn’t necessarily need to. To hell with complacency, eh?

  • Big-play Wheel-of-Fortune
Both Gardner (right) and Yetka (left) contributed to the Lions' second-straight appropriation of its place in history, each player posting six points on plays of 25+ yards

Both Gardner (right) and Yetka (left) contributed to the Lions' second-straight appropriation of its place in history, each player posting six points on plays of 25+ yards

Laugh if you’d like, but that’s what it feels like. Minus, of course, the bankrupts, lose-a-turns and cordially asking the lovely Vanna White for an “q”–after you’d just bought a vowel.

Every week, someone takes it upon himself to step up when the team needs it the most.

Last week–in the absence of the team’s stud receiver and blinding beacon of leadership, Cam Richardson–his position comrade Colin Weber seized the chance to steal some of James’ attention. And he didn’t squander his opportunity, hauling in six balls for a yard under 200.

Fate chose Gardner this week, who caught six of his own for 111 yards. Whether it was destiny or his defiant manipulation of it, Gardner filled what could have easily become a void in the Lions’ aerial attack when Richardson went down.

Picatagi and engineering whiz kid Erik Hendrickson (2nd team academic All-NJAC performer in 2008) have also helped carry the load.

On the other side of the ball, cornerback Derek Goreczny and linebacker Will Haduch have helped spackle the cracks remaining after free safety Ryan Flannery’s absence, not to mention the baller’s game offered by first-year starters Matt Kreider and Dean Misura.

Goreczny’s third-quarter interception, the DBs lone fulfillment of Matt Kreider’s prophecy, ultimately resulted in six points for the Lions–I know they had 67, but he delivered the play at a crucial point in the process. Ecstatic at his shot to play–even on special teams–Haduch blocked a punt in the first-quarter; scoop-and-score compliments of Shawn Brown.

Said Haduch after, “We had just put the package in this week. I saw an opening and just went with it. It felt great.”

Generally speaking, you can’t make plays without playmakers–offensively or defensively. And, more guys who can do it means a higher likelihood that it will (see “TCNJ Lions’ offense”). It seems like I’ve quoted a different defensive player every day this week–one after which the unit produced four turnovers.

I rest my case.

LB Dan DeCongelio (left) talking out the defense's confusion with coordinator Matt Hamilton (right) during a Mustang timeout

LB Dan DeCongelio (left) talking out the defense's confusion with coordinator Matt Hamilton (right) during a Mustang timeout

THE BAD

  • Third-down dominance–on the wrong end of the barrel

Defensively, the Lions’ identified third-down as a focal point of its overall woes. They even said so.

“We’ve gotta get off the field on third down,” Ryan Flannery said earlier in the week, still ailing from an ankle injury. “Third and long has been a problem all year. We’re giving up big plays. If we can get off the field on third and long, that’ll cut the numbers in half right there.”

Not bad, but the Lions allowed conversions on six of the Mustangs’ 16 attempts. Like James did yesterday (rather buoyantly, might I add), Matt Kreider didn’t have any trouble piecing together his thoughts after the game.

“It’s very frustrating—that’s probably the best way I can put it. I felt like there was about five or six times where we should have just shut them down, but you get a shovel pass here, a draw there. It’s just really frustrating.”

The team isn’t entering its next contest against Kean as a huge ‘dog–if the NJAC’s first-place team is at all. But if it doesn’t find a way to better hoist that much-needed chip, hanging so far away from its shoulder, it’s not going to look much differently come kickoff.

  • Penalties (quality)

Aside from a momentum-crucifying false start on the second half’s first play from scrimmage, the Lions couldn’t have picked worse times to commit its five penalties. Most of them weren’t what Coach Hamilton calls “lazy” penalties–holding, offsides, pass interference– but the team still dropped the ball far too many times when it could least afford to do so.

Perhaps worst of all–aside from its pampering of the next play’s end result–came on a crucial third-down conversion (see?) in the third-quarter.

After the offense sputtered, waiving the white flag after only four plays on the drive, the Lions’ defense forced the Mustangs into a long third-down attempt. Successfully drawing a poor through from ‘stangs QB Jamieson Crast, defensive end Craig Meyer also drew a roughing-the-passer penalty. It’s unclear whether Crast expressed this thanks sometime after, but he should have for the 15 free yards and redeeming its opponent’s get-out-of-jail-free card for moving the sticks.

Crest dropped an 18-yard goodie in Maurice Mitchelson’s comforting arms on the very next play for a Morrisville State touchdown.

Need I say more?

  • In spite of its mildly successful pass rush, the Lions' defense allowed Mustangs' QB Jamieson Crast (above) to pass for 335 yards, and his backup to complete 5 of the game's final 6 passes

    In spite of its mildly successful pass rush, the Lions' defense allowed Mustangs' QB Jamieson Crast (above) to pass for 335 yards, and his backup to complete 5 of the game's final 6 passes

    Defensive schizophrenia

Defensive backs’ coach Andy Larkin put it best.

“We don’t know who’s going to show up. Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde,” the 2007 co-captain said of the defense’s duality as a sometimes-savvy-sometimes-senseless reservoir of untapped talent. “Four weeks in you hope to have that, so we’re a little behind the eight-ball.”

In the first half, the team limited Morrisville State to 59 rushing yards on 18 attempts–nothing to frown upon, if not promising. The A-gaps were impenetrable early in the afternoon, and the team minimized damage on stretch and toss plays, allowing 23 of the period’s gains on one play.

But, for reasons no one quite understood, the Lions’ D softened, allowing 125 in the second half (5.0 ypc). Coordinator Matt Hamilton’s Ryan-esque man-blitzes wreaked havoc and disrupted Crast’s rhythm early, limiting him to completing 25 of his 40 balls, including the concentrated allocation of Goreczny’s “fifteen minutes.” Linebacker Dan DeCongelio talked about the team ridding its appointment as Robin to the team’s Batman–its touchdown-monger offense, but the team looked like satisfied on the Mustangs’ last drive. In the game’s closing moments, the Lions’ didn’t mind getting carved by backup Mike DiGirolamo (5/6, 36 yds). The game was out of reach, but it wasn’t over.

Simply, the defense shouldn’t have played like it was.

  • Three missed PATs

Marc Zucconi’s cannon of a right leg earned him the week’s honors as the NJAC’s top special team’s performer. His first two kickoffs sailed out of the end zone, and he averaged a silly 58.5 yards on his two punts–one downed inside the 1-yard line.

But his extra-point attempts looked like his best stab at replicating Charles Barkley’s golf game, as last year’s 2nd team All-NJAC performer shanked two extra points–one off of an upright–and had another blocked. He was perfect entering the game, and still ranks atop the conference in specials’ scoring per game (8.7 ppg kicking). But if there’s any player the team can afford to wane in his consistency, Zucconi is certainly not him.

THE UGLY

  •     "Profanity is the attempt of a lazy and feeble mind to express itself forcefully," someone once said. You fucking tell them granny (photo courtesy of "salon.com")

    "Profanity is the attempt of a lazy and feeble mind to express itself forcefully," someone once said. You fucking tell 'em granny (photo courtesy of "salon.com")

    Potty-mouth in the coaches’ booth

Largely the product of the 40 feet between us, considering we operate on opposite sides of the floor, but I can’t say I’ve ever heard one of the Lions’ coaches utter a naughty word while they’re working upstairs. The sideline might be a different story, but I can’t comment because I’m just not sure.

Not that I blame them, but an attentive ear caught a few priceless quotables–a few too good for TV. My personal favorite–at least among those I can discuss (somewhat) professionally–echoed throughout the press box during Mike Yetka’s run-like-Reggie YAC on the slip scree he turned into a 44-yard touchdown reception.

You need to tell them to get in his face, chop their (expletive) feet and just make the goddamn tackle” –unattributed Morrisville State Coach

Alright, I’ll admit–it was pretty funny.

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