Falcons vs. Lions: 6 Things We Learned About the Detroit Lions 23-16 Loss
Will the real Detroit Lions please stand up?
This team certainly shares some similarities with the scrappy bunch that started the season 5-0, but for the past two weeks, the game has not turned out the same.
The last two games haven't quite been a flashback to "Same Old Lions," but they haven't been the same team that refused to lose over the first five weeks of the season.
Maybe a road trip to the comical Broncos and a bye week will help them get on track for the second half of the season.
For now, let's focus on what the Lions (and their fans) can take away from a second consecutive disappointment at home.
The Lions Specialize in Ugly Football
I'm starting to think the biggest difference between these Detroit Lions and the Lions of the past is their ability to get opponents to play as ugly as they do.
These Detroit Lions are not a finesse team. Even though they're a pass-first offense, they play ugly football.
Even the effective passing plays tend to take place because Calvin Johnson or Brandon Pettigrew has out-muscled his cover man.
But more than that, they make mistakes. And their opponents make mistakes. It's ugly, hard-nosed, flag-ridden football on both sides.
Even the San Francisco 49ers, who had made a name for themselves with mistake-free football, committed 15 penalties for 120 yards last week at Ford Field.
This week, both teams were penalized at least 10 times for at least 80 yards each.
Ugly football. The Lions need to clean it up, and fast, because playing mutually mistake-ridden football is clearly not going to get them to the promised land.
Keiland Williams Might Be the Answer at Running Back
With the Ronnie Brown trade falling through, the Lions were down to Keiland Williams, Maurice Morris, and new guy Eldra Buckley.
Jerome Harrison (get well soon) is out for the season on IR, and Jahvid Best is out with yet another concussion.
It looked like lots of doom, frankly. But what actually happened is perhaps the Detroit Lions most effective rushing attack of the year.
Yeah, maybe they didn't have the home runs they had against Chicago, but it was a more effective and more consistent rushing attack from start to finish.
Maurice Morris was consistent as ever. Everybody knows what to expect out of him, but Williams was a bit of an unknown quantity.
Williams didn't get a lot of carries, and Morris is still clearly ahead of him on the depth chart, but what I saw out of Williams was perhaps the closest thing to a power running game they've had all season.
Williams was taking straight handoffs up the middle for 5-10 yards, and I certainly wouldn't mind seeing a whole lot more of that going forward.
The Lions Are a Terrible Two-Minute Team
I don't know what it is—considering how the Lions are supposed to be a passing and a comeback team.
I don't know why they have such a hard time getting the offense going in time-sensitive situations.
It happened last week against San Francisco with the game on the line, and it has been an issue all season.
The Lions just don't seem to be able to finish halves strong. That's particularly worrisome since the Lions have made a habit of playing from behind.
In most games this season, the Lions have either allowed points before the half, or failed to get anything of their own. In many cases, they've run such a poor two-minute drill that they give the opponent time and field position to get points instead.
Good teams finish halves strong. Right now, the Lions are putting themselves in bad situations because of their inability to run the two-minute drill on either offense or defense.
A lot of that shortcoming falls on the right shoulder of my next subject.
Matthew Stafford Is Who (I Thought) He Was
This is perhaps a bit misleading. I have thought very different things about Matthew Stafford as time has gone on.
Once upon a time, I thought Stafford was not only wrong for Detroit, but also that Detroit was wrong for Stafford.
Don't worry, though. That was shortsighted and just plain wrong. I'm referring to a different projection.
Namely, that Stafford, in his third year but lacking game experience, would still have some rookie moments to work out.
I figured that would mean more interceptions, and I give the kid credit for playing more within himself. He hasn't been a turnover machine, the way he looked like he might in his first season.
If anything, Stafford's mistakes fall on the other end of the spectrum. He has been conservative, uncertain, and seemingly rattled in the last couple games.
When the Lions were winning, it was because Stafford was trusting his arm and his receivers, and he was right.
But he seems a little more timid every time he takes a hit (which is a lot, lately).
You can blame the offensive line for that, because great pocket passers play the game knowing they can stand in and let the play develop (have you seen how statue-like Tom Brady can be in the pocket?).
Now, don't mistake this for me calling Stafford out. He's still the future of the franchise, but it's way, WAY too early to put him on that Brees/Brady/Rodgers level. The kid is still 23 years old. Give him time.
The Defense Actually Feeds the Offense
Going into this season, there was lots of talk that the Detroit Lions' defense would benefit from the sheer volume of points the offense would put up on the board.
Nearly half the season has gone by. To this point, it seems that the defense is the unit picking up most of the slack.
Oh sure, they have some problems with stopping the run, particularly where it comes to bottling up big plays.
But they've made games closer than they would otherwise be. They force opportunistic turnovers, give up three when the offense could get seven, and zero when they could get three.
In short, the defense keeps the team in the game while the offense tries to find itself.
And speaking of the offense finding itself, there's one particular area I wouldn't mind seeing a little more consistency.
The Lions' Biggest Weakness? Red Zone Offense
What happened here? I thought the Detroit Lions were the most dangerous red zone team in football, because nobody can cover Calvin Johnson's 11-foot range in the end zone?
I suppose the best way for opponents to cover Calvin Johnson in the red zone is for Stafford to never throw him the ball.
Now, I give Stafford some credit here. He's trying to spread the ball around and make smart reads. Johnson is seeing two guys in coverage on almost every play, especially in the red zone.
My question is: So what? He had three on him in Dallas when Stafford bombed up a 30-yard pass that may as well have been a Hail Mary.
He came down with that, so why not give him at least a shot on a fade route from the 10?
It has to be better than a no-yard gain and a couple of incompletes, right? Getting field goals instead of touchdowns in the red zone has been the difference between winning and losing the last two games.