How the Detroit Lions Can Still Save Their Season
After all these years, fans of the Detroit Lions sure have put up with a lot of losing.
So after last season's roaring success, why are so many of them ready to give up on their team? It's obvious they're not the Lions from a year ago. They've gotten off to an awful start but fear not, they can still save their season.
Currently fan despair has reached a pinnacle, but it's understandable. Watching the Lions fumble their way to a 13-7 loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football was agonizing.
Especially given the high hopes everyone had. The truth is the Lions overachieved last year. They're a good team, but not good enough to overcome the types of mistakes that have plagued them so far.
That doesn't mean they can't turn things around and be successful. They could still make the playoffs, but their margin for error is minuscule.
Focusing on the playoffs won't help anyone though. For the Lions to be successful they need to approach the season one opponent at a time—and of course fix all those glaring mistakes.
Here are the most impactful things the Lions can do to save their season.
*All stats courtesy of ESPN
5. Discipline, Discipline, Discipline
It's true, maintaining on-field discipline—not committing penalties—doesn't necessarily correlate with winning. Just look at the Lions last season. They were one of the most penalized teams in the NFL and had their best season in over a decade.
For that matter, look at the Lions of Week 6. They committed 16 penalties—most in the NFL—but still beat the Eagles.
Discipline might not guarantee wins, but it sure doesn't hurt.
The Bears game was a great example. The Lions lost, but turnovers were the cause of that. Just imagine if they gave up 132 yards in penalties like they did against the Eagles. The Bears would have blown them out.
Instead, Detroit was in the game until the very end. Four turnovers and they still had a great chance to win. That's because they didn't give yardage away. They played with discipline and the Bears—a very disciplined team—were penalized more often.
The Lions are at their best when they play with an edge, but it's a balancing act: They can't let their emotions run amok, but they don't want to sacrifice their edge in order to avoid whistles.
The Lions need to master that balancing act. Discipline alone won't turn their season around, but without it the Lions will certainly have a harder time improving.
4. Don't Change a Thing with the Defense
Despite being maligned for most of the year, the Lions defense is finally putting together some good performances. The Tennessee Titans loss in Week 3 was its low point, but since then it has allowed an average of only 19 points per game.
It is also the NFL's sixth-best defense against the pass, and 16th-best against the run. That's impressive given how banged up the Lions secondary is and the top-tier rushers the Lions faced.
Most of the credit lies with the improved play of the defensive line. Many will still say it's not playing up to its potential, but in the last two games the DL has done more than enough for its team to win.
The pass rush has gotten to the last two quarterbacks the Lions have faced—Michael Vick and Jay Cutler—and racked up six sacks and 13 quarterback hits. The line's play has also given the Lions depleted secondary a break. Quarterbacks haven't been given an opportunity to pick them apart.
If the Lions are going to improve, their defense must continue to play at a high level. Right now it's the reason why Detroit remains in games.
3. Handover the Slot to Ryan Broyles
Nate Burleson was lost for the year when he broke his right leg in the second half of the Lions loss to the Bears on Monday.
According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Burleson will be replaced in the slot by tight end Tony Scheffler and rookie wideout Ryan Broyles.
Scheffler is a very good player, but Broyles has potential to do great things. This is the position he was drafted to play.
Burleson was off to a very good start, but there was one part of his game that was lacking. He couldn't tack on many yards after the catch. In fact he only averaged 8.9 yards per catch. That's good for 115th in the NFL.
Broyles has the speed and quickness to do much better. Although he lacks the elite level speed, he has the skills to turn short gains into big ones.
From ESPN's scouting report:
Catches the ball effortlessly on the run and quickly turns up field. An elusive and slippery runner when hitting the open field. Does a nice job of finding and sitting down in soft spot. Can create and turn a short throw into a long gain.
Defenses have been playing the Lions deep and taking away the big play. This makes a player like Broyles very important. He can excel in the short- and underneath-passing game. Defenses are giving it to the Lions so why not take advantage?
It's the same reason Burleson was off to a great start. He just couldn't make plays.
Broyles can. He's got younger legs, and defenses don't know how to play him yet. He could be a huge weapon, particularly on third down, for the Lions.
Fans have been waiting and now is the time for the Lions to give Broyles the slot and let him run with it.
2. Shore Up Their Red Zone Efficiency
Against the Bears the Lions made four trips to the red zone and only came away with one score. Turnovers were the culprit Monday night, but Detroit has struggled to punch it in the end zone all year.
To many it seems unfathomable that the Lions would struggle so mightily to score. They dominated the red zone last year and have the same offensive weapons.
Calvin Johnson is as dangerous as they come in the red zone. Yet he's failed to make plays. Matthew Stafford is a great quarterback, yet he's been inconsistent.
A great example came in the third quarter of the Bears game. It was 1st-and-goal on the Bears' 2-yard line and Stafford threw a lob to Johnson in the corner of the end zone. Johnson had single coverage, and it should've been an automatic touchdown.
Not so. Stafford's pass was flat and Bears corner Charles Tillman was able to knock the ball out of Johnson's hands.
If Stafford's pass was three feet higher Tillman would've had no chance. That play was a microcosm of Detroit's struggles this season. In the red zone the Lions are just a little off.
The solutions to the problem are elusive. If I knew the answers I'd be a rich man. If the Lions knew they'd have fixed the problem already.
Nevertheless, success will not come until the Lions find a way to score with consistency in the red zone.
1. Matthew Stafford: Do What You Do Best
Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell have been welcome additions to the Lions offense. Both have performed admirably and will continue to have a key role.
However, it seems the Lions have fooled themselves into believing they can run a balanced offense. They can't. Neither rusher is a game-changer, and while the Lions have been busy trying to establish the run, teams have outscored them by 40 points in the first half.
It's time to get back to what made them successful last year. Let Matthew Stafford, the gunslinger, take over. Establish the pass, then work the run in.
That won't happen unless the Lions make adjustments, though. Simply firing the football 25 yards downfield isn't working. That doesn't mean they can't be successful. Anyone who has watched them play should be dumbfounded that the offense has struggled so mightily.
Everyone knows the Green Bay Packers are going to pass the ball, yet no one can stop them—even though they don't have a running game and their best receiver is injured.
The Lions aren't the Packers, but there's no excuse for their offense to struggle this much. They have too much talent.
There is huge gap of open field between the deep safeties and the linebackers that Stafford and the Lions have repeatedly failed to take advantage of. Titus Young, Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler and both running backs should be having field days catching balls thrown to that area of the field.
They're not, and everyone is to blame for that failure.
If Stafford is able to consistently hit receivers in this area of the field, it will open up the big play, and he'll start completing those deeper throws.