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Matty’s Monday Morning Mailbag: C-Web drops knowledge, why the Lions’ 1st loss is “acceptable” and how the D earned my patience

October 5, 2009

Every Monday, I’ll take a minute to respond to you — Lions’ Nation — answering questions and offering my predictions and insight surrounding the team’s 2009 campaign. Here’s this week’s installment of Matty’s Monday Morning Mailbag.

Well, it happened. The Lions’ suffered their first loss of an otherwise untainted regular season Friday night, dropping its first conference game against a bitter perennial rival. But looking around, strange as it sounds, the sky isn’t falling. There’s no fire raining from the heavens, and no, the apocalypse isn’t among us–nor the Lions’ 2009 campaign. That should come as a comfort to many of you, based on this week’s batch of questions.

  • Matty, 28-7 isn’t the way ANYONE wants to lose a football game, especially a conference game in college football. How’d the team take it?

The scene on the team’s Greyhound for the first 20 miles of the bus ride home looked exactly like you’d expect–pitch black and dead silent. The sporadic flicker of overhead lights–guiding players who sifted through their belongings–and sudden, incomplete outbursts–the team’s futile efforts to reverberate its frustrations–represented the only brief interruptions in each.

The atmosphere may have appeared devoid of emotion, as if Kean had stripped the team of its spirit, but it wasn’t. There was still plenty of electricity churning in the bus’ generator, and, still in progress, there wasn’t a shortage of fruitless attempts to rationalize what had just happened, minutes before.

The Lions sat in anger, not anguish–dejected, not desensitized.

Even the numbest of the numb (or dumb) could have sensed the indelible tension strung in a taught web of anxiety as the rain started to fall on US Route 1–arguably the most miserable medium between any two places in the state.

Peering his head out into the aisle, wide receiver Colin Weber saw his teammates’ expressions–adding a visual element to his perception of the resounding discomfort. Slicing said tension like a Miracle Blade–and about as timely, in agreement with late-night infomercials’ insistent pleas to convince us our kitchens (and lives) are incomplete without it–the game’s honorary co-captain dared to break the silence.

“Hey guys? Nine-and-one ain’t that bad.”

It could have been a scene from a movie–and if not, I enjoyed recreating it like it was screenplay-worthy. But I can say with absolute certainty, only one musical snippet could adequately complete the scene that followed.

Bring it! What? We right here. We’re not going anywhere. We right here.

-“We Right Here” –DMX

Hope that answers your question.

  • The Lions fell pretty far from the top of the conference, what are the chances they make it back?

Just a preemptive note–there’s no such thing as a losable game. Not in the pros, not in Pop Warner, and certainly not in college. I don’t feel that way, nor does the team. However…

If the Lions’ had to blow one game this season, what better timing?

Aside from its out-of-conference showdown with FDU-Florham (doesn’t affect conference standings/tiebreakers) dropping an early decision to Buffalo or Morrisville State could have proved an early dagger. No dice.

Down the road–when the team welcomes Montclair State to Lions’ Stadium before its road trips to Rowan and upstate New York to face Cortland State–there’s just no time to recover from a big, fat “L” that late in the game. Residual let-down splatter against Pitt knocked West Virginia out of contention for the Big East–and a golden ticket to a BCS bowl bid. Could easily do the same for one of these one-loss teams in the NJAC down the road.

No conference title, no playoff berth.

Ouch.

The team has the opportunity to start rebuilding at home this weekend against The College at Brockport. Should the team win–which it can and should–defensive tackle Chris Flynn can toss his Gillette again, at least for a week. But if he’s got any hopes of achieving Tom Hanks’ status…

  • What’s the deal with this Lions’ D? Every week you say “this is going to be the week,” and every week there’s always an excuse? What gives?

There are few instances that it’s okay to supplying a reason without shoveling an excuse. This is one of them. Cutting a class to get a head-start on your weekend isn’t. So don’t try it with your Friday afternoon professor–he won’t appreciate it.

Problem is you’re already perfectly aware of the reason–the team’s young. The team is sorely missing the on-field leadership of ailing co-captain Ryan Flannery, still hampered by undisclosed injuries (though I milked out of head coach Eric Hamilton that he’s “trying to do some things”). I’ve spent plenty of time on that already, so there’s no sense in beating a bludgeoned horse.

Fortunately for credibility of everyone involved–myself included–free safety Matt Kreider and Co. have limited the “uh-ohs” and expanded upon the “oh yeahs” (2 INT, fum. rec) that shared equal face time earlier in the year.

Its generally a sign of porous pass defense or an obliteration of a team’s rush defense when a defensive back–let alone a free safety–leads the team in tackles. Considering linebackers Joe Spahn (11 total, 9 solo) and Dan DeCongelio (6 total, 5 solo), and defensive end/co-captain Craig Meyer (4 total, 3 solo)–all box players–rounded out the team’s tackle leaders–I’ll have to give Kreider a pass (11 total, 9 solo) for his uninhibited instincts.

Flying toward the point of attack all night long during his defense’s best statistical outing to date (forfeited 424 total yards; 117 pass) Kreider didn’t play tentatively, but he didn’t play recklessly either–when he guessed, he guessed right. And the rest of the secondary followed suit.

Cornerback Scott Mathurin, arguably the team’s most physically gifted athlete, came up big on a number of D’Ambrisi‘s attempts to stretch the field. Aside from providing blanketing one-on-one coverage on two separate occasions–both of 30 yards or more–he didn’t draw any flags. What more can you ask for?

Oh? You say you want a Toucan Sam in the defensive backfield, following the sweet scent of processed sugary pigskin that’s just begging to be snatched away? Well have I got an insulin spike for you–Shawn Brown.

The junior strong safety is just opportunistic–its really the best word to describe how he plays. Brown perpetuated his early trend (FF, rec. blkd punt for TD vs. Morrisville St.) of flocking toward those oft-elusive “right places” at precisely the “right times,” evidenced Friday by a potentially pivotal second-quarter fumble recovery.

I’m an optimist, and there’s certainly grounds for plenty of it. That said, however, this team is going to live and die by the play of its oft-flaky defense once the team hits the bulk of its schedule (Montclair St., Rowan, Cortland St.). Considering it ranked first in just about every statistical category in 2007–the last time it captured the NJAC crown–the defense had better get its act together soon.

Should it fail, expect the conversation to shift abruptly from “next week” to the nails-on-chalkboard wail of “next year.”

But I just don’t see that happening. What I do see in the foreseeable future, this weekend against The College at Brockport, is a Baltimorian defensive effort from the Lions–maybe even a few points.

  • Offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta said after the game that those two fourth-down conversions killed his game plan early on. How so?

Remember when your mother told you years ago, “everything in moderation?” No, no–you can eat the cookie. I’m referring to its undeniable application to offensive philosophy.

Let’s look at the numbers from the team’s first three victories–most of which were about over in the first half, so we’ll start there.

In the team’s opener, all the way back on Sept. 5 against Buffalo State, the Lions ran 32 plays from scrimmage, good for 285 yards and 35 points. In the first 30 minutes the team converted two of its three third-down attempts, punted only once, and reached pay dirt during its two red-zone chances.

Sounds a hell of a lot like limitless success right? It should, because the team had its way with the Bengals early. And they did it running the football.

Lions’ ball-carriers rushed for 209 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 9.08 yards per carry on a well-fed 22 attempts. The team split carries about evenly between each dagger on its three-pronged trident of tailbacks (Donoloski-4; Misura-8; Yetka-6), not to mention the quietly capable Chris James, who added 31 yards on his three tries.

And, like it so often does, this commitment to pounding the rock early–successfully, might I add–kicked a gaping hole in the fortress wall of the Bengals’ pass defense. James shelled out seven of his nine first-half completions to three different receivers, worth a mildly sizable 76 yards.

In its record-smashing first half a week later, the Lions’ 48-7 portrait of Devil deconstruction yielded 545 total yards of offense on 38 plays. Same brush, same picture–the team rushed 22 times for 227 yards. This time, though, the running back’s stout, incessant grinding made way for 318 pass yards on James’ 12 completions (16 att.) and three lengthy receiving touchdowns (Weber-71, 44 yds; Gardner-66 yds).

Again–three of five on third-down (1/1 on 4th DN), a perfect three-for-three in the red-zone, all at the expense of Marc Zucconi’s enjoyment (no punts in 1st half).

You can look up the Morrisville St. stats. Same story.

Aside from an obvious manifestation of a good night’s sleep and a ton of early-morning caffeine, those numbers should tell you plenty. First that the team is winning games when it can run the football–both statistically and situationally.

Friday night’s game was close in the first quarter, dominated by Lion ball-carriers, specifically Chase Misura (3 rush, 23 yds, 7.7 avg; 3 rec., 15 yds). Acosta’s fusion of zone runs, screens, read option–his entire offensive arsenal–worked like a charm early on, even for James, who completed nine of his 12 first-quarter attempts for 89 yards.

But after Donoloski was dropped on fourth-and-two (averages 8.8 yards per carry to date), and a reprehensible exchange later in the half on fourth-and-goal from the one, the strategy changed gears. It had to.

And don’t for a minute think that James’ gaudy early-season totals are but a side-effect of his run-support. You try and operate under the conditions of a one-dimensional offense. Why do you think Marino retired with naked fingers?

Kid’s a stud and a game-breaker. So are his horde of receivers. Expect all of them to bounce back–with vengeance–this weekend.

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