The Detroit Lions came out and upset the Carolina Panthers at home to move to a 4-6 record as they try to claw themselves out of last place in the NFC North. Inconsistency is the story of the Lions 2018 season. They have wins against teams they shouldn’t have beat like New England, Green Bay and Carolina, but then lay an egg against the Jets, 49ers and Cowboys.
Six games remain on the Lions’ schedule where half of them are round two matchups of NFC North rivals. Detroit gets to host the Bears, Rams and Vikings at home where they have played their best football, but have to go on the road against the Cardinals, Bills, which are very winnable games, and then into Lambeau to close out the regular season. The Lions have to win the rest of their conference games, win two out of three outside of conference play and get some help from the rest of the NFL to beat Green Bay, Chicago and Minnesota to even have a chance to compete for the NFC North title and a shot at the playoffs. The Lions faithful have no idea what team they are going to get every Sunday afternoon at this point.
The injury plague has hit Detroit hard: Kerryon Johnson hurt his knee against Carolina, wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. also had a knee injury and did not dress on Sunday, tight end, Michael Roberts has a shoulder injury, new receiver, Bruce Ellington’s back and right guard, T.J. Lang is now out for the year with an injury to his neck that happened against Minnesota. A short week does not bode well, either, as the Bears are coming to town after embarrassing a healthier Lions’ team two weeks ago at home.
It’s simple: the offense in Detroit is as only good as their offensive line plays. The offensive line gave offensive coordinator, Jim Bob Cooter and Matthew Stafford the ability to be balanced with the explosive, down-hill style of an upcoming star, Kerryon Johnson, in the backfield. There is a trend when the Lions are successful on offense. It’s when Johnson is able to get rolling off of inside and outside zone. When teams have to add an extra hat to the box to stop the run, it opens up passing lanes for Stafford off of play-action and straight drop back passes.
If Johnson is able to play on Thursday and the offensive line can establish the line of scrimmage, the chances of a W sky-rocket. If Johnson is unable to go, Theo Riddick and Zack Zenner will have to lead the way for them in the run game to provide just enough balance for Stafford and company.
Quarterback, Matthew Stafford, looked comfortable on Sunday against Carolina. He was 23 of 37, for 220 yards and one touchdown. Stafford is at his best when he can throw the ball less than 40 times in a ball game. Stafford and Cooter will have to get very creative on offense if Johnson is unable to play against the Bears. Fakes and more offensive linemen to the point of attack off of plays like counter, power and pulling sweep concepts to allow Zenner and Riddick to get to the edge will be crucial to the offense’s success.
Wide receiver, Kenny Golladay, needs to continue to be targeted as much as he is. He is an absolute matchup nightmare for defenses. He’s too fast for safeties and too big for corners to be able to be physical with him. He has a great opportunity to solidify himself as one of the NFC North’s best wide receivers over the course of the next six games.
An area of concern that can’t happen against the Bears is the inability to convert on third down. The Lions were 4 for 12 against Carolina who have struggled on defense the past few weeks. The Lions have to stay ahead of the sticks, control the time of possession and convert on at least half of their third down conversions to hold a chance against Chicago.
The Lions’ front seven played their most complete game in the run game all season. They did not give up any big chunk plays against a stud of a running back, Christian McCaffrey, who can change the dynamic of a game in a matter of plays. His longest run was 10 yards on 13 carries for 53 yards. Their inability to get the run game going early forced Cam Newton and the Panthers’ offense to go to the air quicker than they normally do.
Unlike in weeks past, the Lions consistently constricted the pocket, making it tougher for Newton in the pocket to get comfortable in the pocket. The overall heat from the front seven from quarterback hurries and hits as well as three sacks throughout the game, made Newton rush throws, which ultimately messed up the timing of any intermediate to long routes the Panthers tried to convert.
The secondary is still a cause for concern in Detroit. Giving up almost more than 350 yards passing is traditionally not a formula for victory. With that said, there were not many throws that were uncontested on Sunday. Sometimes great defense is beat by better offense. A prime example of that was D.J. Moore’s 82-yard reception where he made a phenomenal catch near the sideline that was contested all the way by defensive back, Mike Ford, stayed in bounds and took off down the middle of the field until he was finally caught from behind.
Man-to-man, pressuring defense is when the Lions are at their best. They will need every ounce of that against the Bears to even think about coming away with a win. If they do not get to Trubisky, it will get out of hand early as it did two weeks ago.
Each game is as important as the next in the NFL. Go 1-0 every week, and the rest will take care of itself.