Who's Really to Blame for Detroit Lions' Late-Season Collapse?
Things aren't exactly going according to the plan the Detroit Lions laid out when they were 6-3.
It's almost time to turn all focus to the middle of the first round of next May's NFL draft.
The Lions need the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers to each lose a game over the next two weeks to have a chance. And that chance is still contingent on them ending their current 1-4 swoon with a 2-0 finish.
But we can't concern ourselves with the future right now. No, we need to know who (or what) is to blame for yet another likely lost Lions season.
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Stay with me here. I'm aware that "small-level focus" isn't a "who."
So what the heck is "small-level focus?"
It's running crisp and proper routes. On Matthew Stafford's interception on 3rd-and-2 against Baltimore, Joique Bell and Kris Durham ran into each other, allowing the ball (which was thrown to the right spot) to hit an awaiting linebacker in the chest.
It's not committing numerous offsides and neutral-zone infractions. Somebody really needs to communicate to Nick Fairley that jumping offside on third down is just as bad as dropping a pass.
Speaking of which, small-level focus is looking the ball in as a receiver. The Lions lead the league with 54 dropped balls.
Which leads right into holding onto the ball once you have it. Detroit is second in the league with 14 fumbles this season. Bell was holding the ball like Tiki Barber used to after his turnover issues hit a crescendo, but this should have been addressed sooner.
The Lions have a ton of talent, but the gap between them and other teams isn't big enough to overcome all of the mistakes. And the only way to minimize the mistakes is to focus on the small things.
Or, if you want to shorten that down, they need small-level focus.
Head Coach Jim Schwartz
Hold your gasps. I know you're shocked—that it took until the second slide to name head coach Jim Schwartz.
But, if you think about it, the first slide was actually about him too. He's the guy who has to get his players focused on the small things. It's in his job description.
Schwartz has to be hammering Fairley for not being disciplined when it comes to penalties. He, along with the gentleman on the next slide, have to be in Stafford's ear about getting his feet set when he has the chance.
And he is certainly the guy who should have called a timeout when the Ravens were "duping" him.
The Ravens curiously ran the ball on third down with under a minute and a half left. They were then faced with either going for it or kicking a 61-yard field goal. Meanwhile, the clock ticked off 30 seconds before Harbaugh called timeout and trotted out kicker Justin Tucker for the winning score.
Why Schwartz didn't call timeout is a mystery and an inexcusable blunder. Regardless of what happened on the play, the Lions could have used that time. Had they stopped the Ravens, who only had one timeout, the extra 30 seconds would have been irrelevant.
Of course, it didn't matter since Matthew Stafford threw a pick on the first play of the next drive, but that doesn't change the the fact that an immediate timeout was the proper call.
Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan
I'm not as on board with getting rid of Scott Linehan as others. For the most part, he's done pretty well.
Seriously. Don't forget this team is averaging 25.9 points a game, which is good enough for ninth in the league, and that's after factoring in the horrendous Baltimore game.
But Linehan has gotten too cute too often.
Instead of trusting his offensive line and running back Reggie Bush, Linehan twice called for passes on short 3rd-and-short situations. Neither worked out.
It's easy to pick apart those calls now, but the fact remains that Bush is the NFL's fourth-most productive back when rushing between the tackles. Yes, this isn't the same as running it on 1st-and-10, but the idea that Bush can't get it done inside might be an antiquated one.
Additionally, Linehan turned away from Bush on Monday night altogether. Bush was the only offensive player that was humming. He was averaging 5.1 yards per carry but was given only 17 rushes and targeted four times in the passing game.
That's simply not good enough.
Cornerback Chris Houston
Detroit's defense hasn't been that horrible. It has climbed to fourth in the NFL against the run and is middle of the pack in terms of points allowed (24.2).
But, aside from the turnovers on offense, the secondary has been the biggest negative factor this season.
Chris Houston has been a model of ineptitude. In fact, he's set the bar. The Lions' supposed No. 1 cornerback has graded out as the 95th-rated cornerback. That's out of 109 corners that qualified.
He's whiffed on more than a quarter of his tackle attempts. And if you want to excuse that as a defensive back who is better defending against the pass than in run support, I invite you to explain away the 107.3 quarterback rating on passes thrown against his coverage.
The damage is only compounded when you remember he signed a five-year, $25-million contract. Again, as is the theme of this slideshow, that's simply not good enough.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford
As is often the case, the Lions have gone as far as their quarterback has taken them.
According to Tim Twentyman and Mike O'Hara, two guys who know their stuff, Stafford threw 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions with a 94.7 quarterback rating until halftime of the Pittsburgh Steelers game. Since then, he's completed just over half of his attempts, thrown for eight touchdowns against 10 picks and posted a measly 62.6 rating.
If you'll remember, Detroit was 6-3 prior to that trip to Pittsburgh. The Lions are 1-4 since.
Stafford has missed too many opportunities this year because of overthrown passes, usually due to throwing off of his back. Other times, he's made reckless decisions and forced some throws.
It all starts with the quarterback, something any Lions fan has known for years. If Detroit is going to win their next two games to give them a shot at the NFC North, it all starts with their talented young signal-caller.
Brandon Alisoglu has been covering the Detroit Lions for two years. He has been published at Yahoo!, Bleacher Report, CNN and other websites. He also co-hosts a podcast called Lions Central Radio with Nick Kostora that can be found on ITunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter for more football talk.