Detroit Lions: 4 Things We Learned vs. Tennessee Titans
The Detroit Lions' 41-44 loss to the Tennessee Titans turned into a toss-up game by the fourth quarter. The game featured the second coming of the Music City Miracle, a SportsCenter play by Nate Washington, a Hail Mary by Shaun Hill and plenty of other unforgettable moments.
The Lions stayed alive until the end of overtime, but ultimately fell short. Neither team took a hold of the game until the clock expired. This wasn't a must-win game for the Lions, but it was a victory they should have went home with.
This was a tough loss for Detroit to deal with, especially in the fashion it resulted in. Here are four key points to take away from today's loss.
1. Mikel Leshoure Is the Real Deal
The Lions' offensive game-plan was very clear from the start of the first quarter. Head coach Jim Schwartz wanted to give running back Mikel Leshoure a decent workload in his first regular season game of his career. Not only did Leshoure receive more work than expected, he surpassed plenty of expectations.
Leshoure carried the ball 26 times for 100 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee. The second-year back also made a receiving difference catching four passes for 34 yards out the backfield.
Detroit has been in dying need of a work-horse running back on offense. With Jahvid Best hurt and the other running backs serving as backups, the Lions needed Leshoure to step up. He did just that in his debut today.
Leshoure showed a good dose of variety in his abilities. Not only did he fight for tough yards between the tackles, Leshoure showed he can be elusive and find the open hole with his vision and impressive footwork. It's only one game so far, but the Lions should be very hopeful of Leshoure's future.
2. Chris Houston's Absence Was Huge
The Detroit Lions secondary has never struck fear into the heart of their opponents, especially considering their health. Safety Louis Delmas is still gone with a hurt knee, rookie cornerback Bill Bentley suffered a concussion in Week 1 and veteran Chris Houston hurt his ankle during preseason.
Houston got his first taste of the Lions' 2012 regular season today and certainly made his presence felt. He came up big with plenty of pass breakups and a clutch strip on receiver Kendall Wright.
Playing in his contract season, Houston has plenty to prove this year with the Lions. He's without question the best and most experienced cornerback on Detroit's roster. When Houston is on the field, the Lions secondary is faster and better.
Quarterback Jake Locker wanted to take advantage of the size difference between his receivers and the Lions secondary. Houston came up big when the Lions needed them and must stay healthy to help save this secondary.
3. Brandon Pettigrew Has Been Disappointing
It would be too soon to call tight end Brandon Pettigrew a "bust." After a career year in 2011 with 83 catches and 777 yards, the potential and capability to perform is clearly there for the go-to tight end.
However, Pettigrew, this year and in other moments in his career, has performed way under the expectations of a first-round selection. With plenty of penalties and dropped passes on his resumé, fans have a right to be frustrated with Pettigrew.
The Lions started their first offensive sequence with a pass and drop by Pettigrew, serving as a bad sign offensively. Tight ends are supposed to play as reliable security blankets for quarterbacks. The Lions like to throw dink-and-dunk passes to their tight ends to pick up chunk yards. If Pettigrew is constantly dropping passes, it only serves as a detriment to the offensive flow.
It's too premature to pull the plug on Pettigrew, but he's been shameful to watch so far this season. Before the fourth quarter Hail Mary, Pettigrew was a sure lock as the goat of the loss after being stripped by Titan Alterraun Verner for a touchdown. Detroit must get more out of Pettigrew if it plans to keep him as a feature part of its offense.
4. Offensive Play Calling Has Been a Mystery
The Detroit Lions feature one of the deeper cores of explosive talent on offense. However, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and Jim Schwartz far too often play the first half at a conservative tempo. They attempt to establish the run game and settle for chunk yard pass plays instead of playing their strength of stretching the field.
Example, receiver Calvin Johnson caught one pass in the first half for only six yards and was seldom targeted again until the second half. The Lions focused more on getting Mikel Leshoure his touches in the run game instead of sticking to their identity of spreading the ball around through the pass.
This style has left the Lions behind on the scoreboard playing catch up with their opponent. The Lions have been outscored 47-25 in the first halves of every game this season. Not a glaring statistic, but it's unacceptable with the Lions' weapons offensively.
The Lions made another puzzling decision of a quarterback sneak on their last play of the game with Shaun Hill. Schwartz said he was looking to draw the Titans offsides and call a timeout if that didn't work. That didn't seem to be the case with Hill's quick sneak.
Now, there's nothing wrong with going for it on fourth down with only a yard to go. But with so much emphasis on the run game early, why not go back to it at a critical moment in the game? Leshoure found plenty of success against the Titans, and backup Joique Bell was on a hot streak late in the game. If the Lions were to go for the first down, why not stick with the run game?
Schwartz and Linehan need to establish a sense of urgency early instead of playing from behind. The Lions defense gives up too many big plays and points to start conservative. Detroit must start fast to give itself a better chance of winning.