Why the Detroit Lions Should Be 4-0... and Why They're Actually 0-4

Dean Holden@@Dean_HoldenAnalyst IOctober 5, 2010

Fun fact: Shaun Hill had as many rushing yards on one play against the Packers as Mike Vick had in a game against Detroit.
Fun fact: Shaun Hill had as many rushing yards on one play against the Packers as Mike Vick had in a game against Detroit.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

After watching four games of Detroit Lions football, a very important fact has dawned on me.

The Lions, after so many years of losing, are allergic to leads.

Seriously, think about it. They seem to avoid taking the lead in any football game, and when they do have them, they have a violent reaction that gets it away from them in the most efficient way possible.

The Lions lead by a touchdown, the Vikings will be forced to punt...two plays later, the score is 7-7.

The Lions lead by 11, it's almost halftime...90 seconds later, that lead is one point, and their starting quarterback is out indefinitely.

The Lions dominate the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, moving the ball at will and winning the turnover battle. After holding the Packers' offense scoreless the entire second half, they drive into Green Bay territory with a two-point deficit, punt, and never get the ball back.

See, if it's not a lethal allergy to leads, how do you explain the Lions being 0-4 after playing at or above the level of their competition each game?

Believe it or not, there's a good reason for every game, why the Lions should have won, and why they didn't. And no, it's not really an allergy.

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Let's take it game-by-game.

Week 1 at Chicago Bears

Why the Lions Should Have Won

Everybody expects me to go sour grapes on Calvin Johnson's non-TD, and while it's true that the Lions could have won on that play, that's not where the Lions played their best football that day.

Detroit's defense was dominant all day, especially in the second half. Of Chicago's seven drives in the second half, five started closer than Chicago's 35-yard line. Two started in Lions' territory. One started a yard away from a touchdown.

Only the last one, which started at the Chicago 44-yard line, resulted in any points. Had the Lions gotten anything going offensively in the second half, the game would have been much different.

Why the Lions Lost

No, I'm not blaming the refs. We're past that.

I'm blaming the offense for the first 28 minutes of the second half. Granted, I know it's hard to rally after your leader and supposed franchise savior gets sidelined after playing 1/32 of a season, but all they needed was one.

With the way the defense was playing—and on basically zero rest between shifts, I might add—one scoring drive would have been enough to put the game away. Sure, they almost got it in the closing seconds, but what about the two whole quarters prior to that?

Week 2 vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Why the Lions Should Have Won

For all the talk about Michael Vick's kilowatt-hour consumption, it's easy to overlook how the Eagles were nearly beaten by the Lions, and that Vick was sacked six times in that game, coughing up a fumble on one.

In large part, the defense played well, if you subtract the major mistakes and the big plays.

Which, of course, is a ridiculous assessment, like saying the Detroit Tigers would have won if you subtract all Tiger errors and opponents' home runs. But the point is that the Lions didn't lack the talent to stop the Eagles, they lacked the consistency.

Oh, it's probably also worth noting that the Lions had the leading passer (Shaun Hill), receiver (Jahvid Best), and all-around offensive player (Best) in the game, and that they out-gained the Eagles in the game.

Why the Lions Lost

It wasn't so much that the Eagles just drove the ball at will, though. It's that they would gain a yard, lose four, then gain 30. Too many mistakes.

But more importantly, the offense stood dormant for most of the game, especially in the second half when the defense was making stops. The Lions failed to take advantage of numerous opportunities to come back in the game.

That is, of course, until they dug an 18-point deficit, then the offense woke up with five minutes to go and scored two touchdowns. Then, after recovering an onside kick, and with just under two minutes to go and a timeout, the Lions needed about 25 yards to be in range for a game-tying field goal.

Somebody forgot to tell Scott Linehan and/or Shaun Hill, because that game situation was apparently interpreted as "time to throw up some easily knocked-away passes down the sidelines and just see what happens." Despite Best's stellar performance on passes to the middle of the field to that point, the entire area inside the hash marks was ignored, and the result was four incomplete passes.

In other words, the defense was weak early, they stepped it up late. The offense was weak in the middle, but strong early and VERY late. The play-calling on the potential game-winning/tying drive? Abysmal.

Week 3 at Minnesota Vikings

Why the Lions Should Have Won

Brett Favre was made to look like a 40-year-old grandfather in this game. Which is impressive, since Favre is actually not a...wait a second...

Anyway, Favre's final stat line of 23/34 for 201 yards looks fine, but doesn't tell the story of how poorly Favre played in the game. The zip is gone from his passes, he looks unsure in the pocket, and he's obviously out of sync with his offense.

If only there were a multiple-week period of time before the season starts for teammates to work on things like offensive sets and timing and chemistry and what color are our jerseys again? They could even make it like camp. Ooh, they could call it that, too!

Despite playing without their starting quarterback, two top running backs, No. 2 wide receiver, and one of their tight ends for several plays, the Lions offense was able to move down the field, once again, mounting a late comeback bid.

In the fourth quarter, the Lions had as many drives in the red zone as they needed touchdowns to tie the game.

Why the Lions Lost

Problem is, both of those late drives ended in end zone interceptions.

Disappointing, since the Lions had previously been uncharacteristically good in the red zone this year.

Bottom line, though. Two passes caught in the end zone by Vikings players. If they're caught by Lions players, the game is tied. And the Vikings were unable to get any offense going in the fourth quarter.

The Lions jumped out to an early lead and then earned a defensive stop, but held onto that momentum with exactly the same ability that Stefan Logan held onto the ensuing punt. And it went pretty much downhill from there.

Also, it tends to be easier to win against the Vikings when Adrian Peterson doesn't set a personal best in something.

Against the Lions, it's usually fumbles. This time, he completed his longest professional run from scrimmage with a 80-yard dash to the end zone, capping off a 160-yard day.

Week 4 at Green Bay Packers

Why the Lions Should Have Won

Why not? I taped that game, I've watched it a couple of times, and I've come to a revelation.

Over that 60-minute period, the Detroit Lions were a better team than the Green Bay Packers.

Why? Let me count the ways.

Exactly 170 more yards from scrimmage. Better turnover ratio. A quarterback with more yards on one scramble than any Packer running back had the whole game. More first downs. Better third down efficiency. A 15-minute advantage in time of possession. And a 40-year-old kicker who's still got it.

This was the first game this season in which the Lions mostly dominated both sides of the ball in the second half, but then got worse in the closing minutes, instead of better. The Lions needed one more drive to win, but never got it.

Why the Lions Lost

Penalties, penalties, and some more penalties.

Last year, the Packers tripped over themselves several times, notching 13 penalties for 130 yards. The offense still put up 26 points, but the defense held Detroit to zero.

This year, the Lions committed 13 penalties for 102 yards, and the offense put up 26 points. Problem is, the defense allowed 28.

Partly because of penalties, the Lions were forced to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. That's a big deal in a game where the margin of victory is two points, especially when one of those drives starts on the Packer 18-yard line.

More than anything, though, the Lions once again failed to realize that "close" isn't close enough. After swinging the momentum completely in their favor, they stalled on the go-ahead drive in Packer territory, punted with over 6 minutes on the clock, and never bothered getting the ball back.

Give credit to Mike McCarthy for calling a masterful game-ending drive, with a perfect blend of pass and run that kept the clock running on nearly every down.

But also take some away from the Lions, who found a way to avoid that lead once again, as has been their trend so far this year.