Coming into the 2018 season under first year Head Coach Matt Patricia, The Detroit Lions, on paper, looked like a team that could both wreak havoc in the NFC North and compete for the conference title with all the talent on both sides of the football. That paper has now been shredded as the Lions sit dead last in their conference with a 3 and 6 record, and with very little positives after nine games to cling to.
Historically, those that have come from New England under the Bill Belichick coaching tree have not had much success as NFL head coaches. The Detroit Lions organization is notable for the amount of poor football put on display for many years. As the head coach, the blame gets puts on his shoulders for the team’s struggles. It is his job to put a staff around him that can both develop players and put them in spots to be successful each week with the team that he has. The Lions-win-right-now mantra is gone, with recent moves of trading Golden Tate to the Eagles for a third-round pick next year to help continue to build the ‘Patriot way’ mentality instead of letting him walk away next year for nothing in return. If the Lions do not win the division by Patricia’s third season, I would not be surprised if he gets fired.
Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter must figure out more ways to be successful offensively. What is happening Sunday afternoons is tough to watch. It all starts up front, and there is no offense in the world that works with an offensive line that can’t block anybody.
For the running game element, the Lions have had most of their success with outside zone and plays that get more hats to the football, like power and counter. Cooter needs to start getting his lineman on the move more outside to create windows for inside zone later. If they don’t find a way to run the football to sustain drives, the Lions will finish 6-10 on the year because teams will be able to make them one-dimensional, pin their ears back up front and make Stafford beat them throwing the ball 45 times.
LeGarette Blount should not be touching the football unless they are in the red zone, on their own goal line or in any short-yardage plays to get a first down to extend the drive or close out a game. Other than that, the load is Kerryon Johnson or Zach Zenner, moving forward. He is too slow to hit any type of hole that is available.
Pass Protection has been putrid these past two games. Though I blame Stafford for six of the 16 sacks over the past two games by hanging on to the football too long, 10 is still unacceptable. Moving the pocket with half and full sprint-outs for Stafford will help the issue some, as well as establishing a good outside running attack to allow Stafford to bootleg off of it later.
Theo Riddick, Brandon Powell and new add-on Bruce Ellington are now in Golden Tate’s position. Riddick is the most dynamic player on the offense with his ability to make people miss in the open field. Screens, option routes out of the backfield or in the slot, underneath routes like drags and motioning him to create more of a natural separation from defenders need to be incorporated to give Stafford the ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
Cooter needs to find as many ways possible to get Kenny Golladay the football. Jet sweeps, lining him up outside, inside and motioning him around to create miss matches against defenses. He can run any route in the game. Middle-of-the-field routes like digs, overs, curls and slants, and underneath routes like drags, outs and whips will allow him to get yards after the catch. He was targeted 13 times last week, but was only able to get 6 of those passes completed his way. By creating miss matches for him, Marvin Jones will become a better receiver, as he will be able to use his speed on over the top routes like fades, posts and corner routes. Jones is the Lions’ best receiver that can track the deep ball.
Matthew Stafford is clearly frustrated with how the offense is performing. He is part of the problem, too. He is not recognizing blitzes very well to get the ball to his hot receiver, not reading zone coverage consistently enough and not making good decisions when to throw or scramble to get the first down. He is not himself, and a lot has to do with the fact his offensive line is not providing a strong pocket to throw out of. Stafford is a top 15 talent quarterback. With that said, he is not good enough to throw the ball 40 to 50 times a game and be successful every week. He is not Tom Brady or Drew Brees, and he never will be.
If the Lions cannot address their issues offensively quickly, Jim Bob Cooter will be finding another job when the season is over.
There is not a team in the NFL right now that this defense could keep from scoring 21 or more points. Just like there is no offense that works with an offensive line that doesn’t block, there is no defense that is successful when they can’t get a pass rush or control the line of scrimmage in the run game.
Football is a team game. If an offense is struggling to move the football, forcing the defense to be on the field more, it statistically puts the team in a harder place to win the football game. If the defense can’t stop anybody, it changes the dynamic of the offense of having to score quickly or keep the ball as long as possible to help their struggling defense.
What the Lions are going through is a mixture of both, which is the worst combination. It’s truly embarrassing to watch for four quarters on television. Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who is playing at a very high level this season, did whatever he wanted to the Lions’ defense in the air through fades, digs, drags and over routes. Though the Lions were banged up in the secondary with no Darius Slay, it’s still on Matt Patricia and his defensive coordinator to put who he has on the field in the best spots to be successful.
With a bad secondary, creating chaos in the pocket for the quarterback is what has to happen. The Lions are not good enough to rush four. Bringing a second-level defender, twisting, slanting and pre-snap stemming all have to be implemented to confuse an offensive line and their quarterback without a solid pass rush.
The same concept goes toward the run game. Though a defense cannot slant every down due to potentially guessing wrong and giving a huge play, the Lions don’t do it enough to begin with as a change-up on the defensive front. More creativity needs to come forth if they want to start getting stops, especially with a dynamic quarterback like Cam Newton coming to town this weekend.
Only time will tell how the remainder of this season will unfold. It is not looking good in Detroit with still half of the season left in front of them.
Featured image courtesy of Windy City Gridiron
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