If Sunday’s game vs. the Atlanta Falcons wasn’t the biggest test for an up-and-coming Lions squad, this coming weekend’s trip to Denver takes that title without a doubt. Suddenly sitting just one win ahead of the surging Chicago Bears, the Lions might need to reconsider their offensive strategy and get back to the mindset they displayed in the first few weeks of the season.
So what went wrong against the Falcons? Why, for the second week in a row, can’t these same Lions that dazzled us with second half comebacks in the first weeks, make the plays that they should be? Are they not as hungry now that they’ve gotten their national attention and aren’t being looked at as the team that was 0-16 anymore?
In short, I still don’t believe there’s anything to worry about. We’ve trusted Jim Schwartz to take us to the next level, and he hasn’t let us down. There are undeniable leaders this year in that locker room. For what I saw Sunday, it has nothing to do with commitment or will-power, but rather unfamiliarity. Teams are gunning for them now, whereas last year, Atlanta wouldn’t have thought twice about being tested in this game.
What is most frustrating is that, in my eyes, this loss can only really be pinned down to one dimension of the team. That’s the quarterback. Again, I think the defense kept them in the game and made most of the plays there were expected to. Still not seeing that dynamic pass-rush we’re hoping they’re capable of, but it’s getting there. Without Jahvid Best, the run game was actually pretty solid. Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams combined for 94 yards on 18 carries (5.3 YPC). The O-Line wasn’t bad, only allowing three sacks, and two of those came on the opening drive. Backus let another one through, but think about it: how many times did you hear the name of any of the other linemen in that game? Not many, if at all. They did their job. So, this really fell on Matthew Stafford, who, again looked uncomfortable in the pocket. Sure, he can sling from time-to-time, but in the past two weeks he has been largely unimpressive and inaccurate. From here on out, 15-32 passing won’t cut it. Once Stafford can learn to trust his line (which at times can be understandably difficult), he’ll get that edge back and look like a Pro-Bowler once again. That was really the difference on Sunday.
And let’s face it, this game against the Atlanta Falcons did not get the attention it deserved. They are no push-over.
Entering at 3-3, this is a team that was already written off by the media and thus convinced everyone to believe that the Lions wouldn’t have any problem picking them apart for a decided victory. Did we all forget that just one short season ago (though the lockout has made it seem ages), basically this same team went 13-3 and sent NINE players to the Pro-Bowl? Perhaps they were slowed early, but make no mistake, this team is just as dangerous as that 2010 playoff team. They didn’t appear to be playing at that high of a level against the Lions, but that’s what happens when two good, explosive teams clash.
In any event, next week’s trip to Denver will make or break this team. They can limp into their bye-week on a three-game skid at 5-3, or they can get that swagger back and look like playoff contenders again at 6-2. Denver only has two wins on the season, but now led by full-time quarterback Tim Tebow, they, unlike the Falcons, should not be overlooked.