Coming off a 10-6 record and a trip to the playoffs, the Lions’ future looked bright with a franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford at the helm of the offense and a plethora of talent surrounding him. The defensive line looked solid, while the secondary was the only glaring weakness on the team.
Since then, the Lions have taken a few steps backwards, and it started in the offseason where six Lions found themselves arrested or suspended from the Lions’ facility due to tumultuous behavior. Although the secondary hasn’t improved much since last season, the front office has done a nice job of supplying the coaches with talent to succeed, regardless of the lack of funds the team had available to upgrade the secondary in free agency.
It would be easy to question the front office for not drafting a corner or safety in the first two rounds of the draft, and the overall lack of improvement in that area, as to why the Lions have struggled so far this season, but given the impact of first round pick Riley Reiff and second round pick Ryan Broyles, I’d say the front office’s philosophy of drafting the best player available is working. Let’s not forget that this front office took an 0-16 team and turned them into playoff contenders in just three years.
If the front office is doing their job then why has the team taken a step back?
For starters, the team suffered a rough patch on special teams that is inexcusable and no doubt played a significant role in the Lions’ losses against the Titans and Vikings, however I don’t think it was a schematics issue, but rather a personnel issue. The Lions have improved on special teams since giving up two touchdown returns in two games, but there is still much work to be done in the offseason in improving the talent level of the unit.
The next unit that needs to be examined is the defense. The Lions’ defense hasn’t started the same four players in the secondary all season due to injuries, yet the defense as a whole remains a top ten unit. In other words, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham is doing a great job.
That leaves one direction to point fingers at, the offense. Is there a talent issue on offense?
Absolutely not, the Lions have one of the brightest young stars in Matthew Stafford at quarterback and the most dominant receiver in football, Calvin Johnson. Outside of those two dynamic talents, the Lions have wide receivers in Titus Young and Ryan Broyles, who could start on just about any team in the NFL. In addition, the Lions’ offensive lineman have done an adequate job blocking so far this season, and the tight end production is getting better each week.
Could Matthew Stafford have played better in the first four weeks of the season? Yes. Did the receivers drop very catchable balls this season that could have helped the offense when it became stagnant? Yes, but that’s not the reason this offense hasn’t been as successful as it should have been. The problem plaguing this offense is play calling.
The entire season the Lions has had a problem scoring in the red zone and in the first half. In fact, the Lions have only led at the end of the first half one time this season, and it was against the Jaquars who have only won one game this season. Another interesting statistic is the Lions lead the league in fourth quarter points. Also, Calvin Johnson has seen most of his receiving yards this season in the second half.
Why is there such a discrepancy between the Lions offense in the first half and in the second half? Answer: Scott Linehan.
All season long the Lions have been trying to incorporate the run game into their offense and it has been a complete disaster in most games. I’m all for adding the run game to the Lions’ offense, but I don’t feel as if it’s being done correctly. The Lions have tried to run the ball to open their pass game up, and they have tried pass the ball to open up their run game, yet the results are all the same- a very lackluster running game and an inconsistent passing attack.
This is a result of Linehan’s desire to throw short passes the entire first half, without taking shots down field with perhaps the strongest arm in football in Matthew Stafford, and then run the ball when the defense is expecting it.
In the second half when the Lions find themselves down, Linehan opens up the playbook and unleashes Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson to opposing secondarys, which has been very effective. It’s mind boggling as to why Linehan refuses to take shots at defenses early in the game, and as a result of his refusal, the offense has suffered and the team finds itself in a hole almost every game.
I like Linehan’s creativity on offense, but he hasn’t shown it enough and a potentially potent offense has looked very mediocre most of the season. It’s too late in the season to make a coaching change, and Linehan’s offense is very good when he’s calling plays aggressively.
If I’m Jim Schwartz I’m having a meeting with Linehan and asking him to take a few more shots down the field throughout the game. If things don’t turn around on offense this season, then the Lions should seriously consider replacing Linehan at the end of the season.