They say bad news is best delivered through poetry. Actually, I just made that up. But pretending it is true, allow me to wax poetic after the Lions’ depressing loss Sunday to the suddenly brown Tampa Bay Bucs.
Barry, oh, Barry, oh,
Wherefore art thou, Barry-o?
We are now two weeks into the Lions’ season, the season that was supposed to be the liberation of the Greatest-Halfback-Never-To-Have-A-Fullback, the season of the “organized” coaching staff, the season Sanders’ awesome talent would be unleashed in its rightful power.
Well, as they say on Wall Street, here are the numbers:
Week 1: 33 yards rushing.
Week 2: 20 yards rushing.
That’s the worst consecutive two-game total since Barry pulled on a Lions uniform eight years ago. It’s the worst start he’s had as a pro. And he’s healthy.
“Yeah, I’m fine, there’s nothing wrong,” he said after Sunday’s game, in which he was handed the ball only 10 times.
“Is it the number of carries?” I said.
“No, not really,” he said.
“Is it the new blocking scheme?”
“No, not really.”
“Is it the teams you’re playing?”
“No, not really. We’re just lacking something. We’re not playing with the same fire we had before.”
He looked at me as if to say, “Do you understand?”
No, not really.
Doesn’t look like the same old No. 20
Now, we need to point out that Barry, by virtue of his talent and his quiet personality, gets the benefit of the doubt most of the time. Things are rarely his fault. When defenses swallowed him last year, we blamed the Lions’ blocking. When his yardage was low, we said the coach didn’t give him the ball, or didn’t know how.
In most cases, the reasons were legitimate. And I am not about to start pointing fingers at No. 20 after two subpar weeks. He’s earned more respect than that.
Besides, all anyone had to see was the last-minute dump pass from Scott Mitchell that Barry took 66 yards for a meaningless touchdown. He juked through two defenders’ grasps — they grabbed at air — and he stopped to let another go flying by before dashing into the end zone. So Barry can still run. That’s not the problem.
But the running game is the problem. This offense — any offense with Sanders
— must first strike fear with the rush, before making teams worry about the pass.
And if part of Barry’s appeal is that he is “just one of the guys,” then it’s fair to hold him to “just one of the guys” standards. He does not look like the old Barry, not against the Bucs, not against the Falcons last week. He was taken down by one man several times, and one man never used to be enough to capture this talent.
“Our running game is frustrating,” Bobby Ross admitted. “There is no question
(Barry’s numbers) are a low output. We’ve gotta get a whole lot better.
“Some of the stuff we did was little league. It was playground. It was embarrassing. I’ll tell you this. Nobody is exempt from blame in this one. Nobody. Starting with me.”
I must say, I was very impressed with the way Ross handled his first loss as Lions coach. He began by apologizing, moved right into vowing improvement and ended by blaming himself. None of that “pointing out the positives.”
I guess a loss is a loss to Ross to Ross.
Oops, I’m doing that poetry thing.
Sanders not the only problem
Here’s a possibility: Barry’s low output Sunday was due to Tony Dungy’s defensive plan. Dungy knows how to stop Sanders. Before taking over the Bucs, he was defensive coordinator for the Vikings for four years. And Sanders had some of his lowest-output games against Dungy’s defenses, including rushing totals of 66, 52, 64, 35 and 16 yards.
But that doesn’t explain Week 1, against a lousy Atlanta team. That doesn’t explain the “fire” that Sanders says is missing from the offense, something that shouldn’t be absent in a season of such promise.
“It’s not the plays or the scheme,” Herman Moore said. “Any team you go to, Dallas, Green Bay, San Francisco, they all have a ‘go’ route, they all have a draw play, they all have a ‘boot’ play — everyone has the same plays. People make the plays work. And we’re not doing it.
“It’s like we’re running on regular when we should be using super. Maybe we need new gas.”
Well, if that’s the problem, Herman, just ask the fans. After Sunday’s loss, they have plenty of gas.
And here’s why. This offense has too much talent to be scoring four touchdowns in two weeks. All but two of the Lions’ first-half possessions Sunday were three plays and out. Every time they started to something going, someone was holding, or offside, or out of bounds. Eight penalties on the offense? And I haven’t even mentioned the times Scott Mitchell lapsed into his Slingin’ Sammy mode and sidearmed the ball into someone’s helmet.
(Honest to goodness, the man is 6-feet-6. Why doesn’t he just throw over people?)
Well, the good news is the Chicago Bears, next week’s opponent, aren’t exactly the jaws of death. The bad news is the Lions will not win if this offense — and especially Sanders — doesn’t get uncorked.
Weird, huh? Who’d have thunk, after two weeks, that getting Barry the ball, the blocks and the yards would be a problem?
I mean besides Wayne Fontes.
Mitch Albom will sign copies of his new book, “Tuesdays With Morrie,” 7-8 p.m. Tuesday at Barnes & Noble, Orchard Lake Road, West Bloomfield.
To leave a message for Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.