The Detroit Lions removed Jim Schwartz as the head coach after the calamitous collapse in 2013. Unfortunately, it's proving harder to remove his legacy of sloppy, undisciplined and self-defeating play. Those characteristics were on full display in Sunday's 24-7 loss in Carolina to the host Panthers.
Sure, the Jim in charge has changed from Schwartz to Caldwell. The problems plaguing the Lions apparently extend beyond any quick fix a coaching overhaul can produce.
One of the biggest issues last year was the turnover margin. Detroit's plunge from 6-3 to 7-9 came courtesy of the inability to both protect the ball on offense and take away the ball on defense.
Just as under Schwartz, the new-look defense was seldom in position to make dramatic plays. Injuries to the secondary certainly played a factor here to be sure, but in this game there was a decided lack of aggression with the ball in the air.
Then there is the flippant regard for ball security by the offense.
Golden Tate fumbled on the first drive, but at least that one got recovered by the Honolulu Blue:
Jed Collins recovered a Golden Tate fumble. #Lions lost a first down in the process.— Pride Of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) September 14, 2014
A few plays later, running back Joique Bell couldn't hang onto a third-down pass. Again, good fortune prevailed as it initially looked like a fumble recovered by Carolina.
Bell's butter fingers busted out again on the very next drive. This time he wasn't so lucky:
Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) September 14, 2014
Jeremy Ross later fumbled on a kickoff return, effectively quashing any comeback hopes.
Matthew Stafford did throw an interception, though many defended his decision to try and strike paydirt with Calvin Johnson deep down the field:
Stafford takes a shot to Calvin deep and it's intercepted. Returned to 30. Nice play by the defender on tip. Don't mind the throw. #DETvsCAR— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) September 14, 2014
Given the kicking woes, the downfield shot was probably a good choice.
Nate Freese won the kicking job in preseason, but the seventh-round rookie might not have the job much longer. He was the reason the Lions trailed at halftime.
Panthers have not allowed a first-half point this season (thanks to Nate Freese), lead Lions 6-0 at the half.— Mike Persinger (@mikepersinger) September 14, 2014
Freese missed a pair of 49-yard attempts, a week after missing a 43-yard effort in the win over the Giants.
Missed opportunities lose football games. Kicking was a problem last year with over-the-hill David Akers. The team has yet to adequately replace legendary Jason Hanson. Freese's misses altered the timbre of the game. Instead of the Lions turning good drives into points, the Panthers escaped the claws of a deficit.
One Lions beat writer found sardonic glee in Detroit's failure to turn strong offensive production into actual points. MLive's Kyle Meinke noted late in the first half:
The Lions are averaging 5.9 yards per play, and getting shut out. That's actually pretty impressive— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) September 14, 2014
Lions fans know this refrain all too well. The team looks so impressive for extended stretches but fails to capitalize.
Stafford was phenomenal in last week's victory, but could not summon the same effort in Charlotte. There were more forced throws to Johnson in coverage. He was lucky to throw just one pick.
#Lions went three-and-out and dodged two interceptions in the process. Yikes.— Pride Of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) September 14, 2014
Just when you thought it might be safe to believe in Stafford taking the proverbial next step, he has an underwhelming effort like this one. Now the questions and criticisms of Stafford become a louder part of the talk radio cacophony once again.
As it often did with Scott Linehan as offensive coordinator, run/pass balance once again went out the window.
|Lions Run/Pass Balance|
|Runs per Game||Passes Per Game|
|Week 2 vs. CAR||18||48|
Playing under heavy duress behind a whipped offensive line featuring the third- and fourth-string right tackles, Stafford threw 48 times. 62 of his 291 yards (253 with sacks included) came on a meaningless final drive.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Here's Detroit throwing the ball significantly more than it runs, all the while wondering why the pass rush is destroying the offensive line.
Then there is the ultimate in NFL self-immolation: Penalties.
Looking at the box score, Detroit appeared to do a good job on the penalty front. They were guilty of just five infractions for 55 yards, both below the 2013 averages.
A deeper look reveals they were much more of a problem, however. Three of the five gave the Panthers first downs to extend drives. The other two accepted flags wiped out first-down achievements by the Detroit offense.
All the goodwill from the opening domination of New York is gone. Lions fans have lost the bounce in their step. Watching a team make the same old mistakes after getting rid of the alleged source of those problems is incredibly discouraging.
There is no worse feeling than watching your team beat itself.— SandmanLions (@Sandman7773) September 14, 2014
I would add a coda to that one: There is no worse feeling than watching your team beat itself again and again.
The Panthers deserve a great deal of credit. They were clearly the better team in this game. But it sure would have been nice if the Lions could have done more to make them earn it.
That is another familiar refrain for Lions fans, one which crushes the optimistic spirit. Detroit was hoping Jim Caldwell would wash away the stain of Jim Schwartz's negative legacy. It's going to take longer than two regular-season games to cure what ills the Detroit Lions.