Like most Lions fans, I don’t really know where to begin after Week 4 of the NFL season. The first quarter of this year has been a waste and has left the Lions in a hole that will be hard to climb out of. If you are a Lions fan on Sundays and a Michigan or Michigan State fan on Saturdays, this has not been a fun month of football watching.
With the schedule only getting harder – four of the next five games are on the road – the Lions need a serious jolt. I am not sure this column can get into the depth of issues that suddenly face this team, but I will give it a try.
Offense: By now most Lions fans and players are realizing how the majority of NFL defenses are going to play our team this year – with two Safeties about 20 yards deep off the ball. The defenses are playing this way to prevent the big pass play to Calvin Johnson. It is a scheme that invites a team to run the football and “dump off” short passes to underneath receivers and tight ends. It requires smart decision-making, an ability to catch and secure the football, and a good offensive line to run block.
After four games, we have to jump to a few conclusions. The Lions continue to be a subpar running team. Mikel Leshoure ran for 100 yards in his first game against the Titans but had 26 yards and a fumble against the Vikings. The offensive line continues to struggle with run blocking – even with rookie Riley Reiff seeing some time as a sixth offensive lineman against the Vikings.
I would not be surprised to see some changes along the offensive line, but the depth there is not great enough to make a huge impact this season. The Lions should continue to try to establish the run – if for no other reason than to keep teams somewhat honest. But I would be shocked if they became a consistent run team this year.
The Lions will have to rely on their passing game. Matthew Stafford has been inconsistent at best. His receivers and tight ends are letting him down, leading the league in dropped passes. Titus Young and Brandon Pettigrew have to step up their games. The Lions have to start faster on offense – more touchdowns as opposed to field goals. While the Lions have been praised by television announcers for taking what the defense gives them, there must be a greater sense of urgency to force the issue early in games.
Defense: Through four games, the defense has been pretty much what I expected it to be. The defensive line needs to put more pressure on the quarterback and help the linebackers stop the run better. The linebackers have played better than I expected individually, but need to play better as a unit. It seems like each week a different linebacker steps up and has a big game (Durant against the Rams, Levy against the Vikings). They need to all have productive games together.
The defense stopped the run against the Rams and Titans while allowing great running performances from the 49ers and Vikings. I can’t tell you if they are a great run-stopping defense or a horrible run-stopping defense. I can tell you that they are an inconsistent run-stopping defense.
This brings us to the secondary. Lions fans are hoping that Safety Louis Delmas will return on October 14th to face the Eagles. He is the leader of the secondary and should provide a boost. With that being said, I still expect this defense to struggle against great passing teams. The Titans Jake Locker passed for 380 yards against the Lions. Rookie Bill Bentley is a pass interference penalty waiting to happen. Similar to the running game on offense, I expect the pass defense to be a continual problem all season.
Special Teams: This part should usually be one or two sentences long. The fact that it isn’t represents a major problem for the Lions. As everyone is aware, the Lions have now given up a record-setting four special teams touchdowns in the last two games. This unprecedented display has aided in two losses to less talented teams, but should not totally excuse the offense or defense of responsibility.
Other than the kicker, punter and long snapper, Special Teams is made up largely of backup, depth filling players on your roster. Going into the season I thought that the Lions had quality backup depth on this team. As a player, you have to “want to” play special teams and I don’t see these Lions running down there eager to make a play on the ball carrier. Until that gets turned around, the Lions special teams may give up some of the more exciting and interesting plays of the NFL season.
I still believe that the Lions have the talent to turn this season into a quality year. I haven’t even peeked at any of Mel Kiper’s Top Ten NFL Draft prospect lists – yet. Hopefully this down start will bring a greater sense of urgency in the coming games. I can guarantee one thing - the Lions will not give up a special teams touchdown this weekend. Enjoy the bye week.
I have been a die hard Lions fan since 1991. I played football in high school and began a college playing career at Wayne State before hanging up the cleats. I will try to provide a perspective on my favorite NFL team as the season progresses for the Patch.