Sep 30, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) collides with Minnesota Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford (33) and is unable to complete the pass during the second quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-US PRESSWIRE
The Lions are returning from their much needed bye this week to face the Philadelphia Eagles with a 1-3 record and a 3 game losing streak. Many have asked how can a team with this much talent, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, struggle so mightily to start the season.
Fumbling the football in plus territory and dropped passes certainly contributed. So did giving up 5 non-defensive scores (two punt returns, 2 kickoff returns, 1 fumble return for touchdowns) over the last two games. As damaging as those special teams blunders were, the team still only lost both games by a combined 10 points. What hurts more is the team’s inability to score touchdowns in or near the red zone.
I took the time over the bye week to study and compare key categories from the first quarters of the 2011 and 2012 seasons and the numbers tell the tale. After going through my notes from this season and last season, I noticed that the total red zone or near red zone (between 20 & 25 yard line) touchdowns were not far off from one another. In 2011, the Lions scored 10 touchdowns in or near the red zone through the first four games. In 2012, the Lions have scored 8 touchdowns through the first four games in the same part of the field. The key number to look at is the big difference in actual red zone or near red zone plays. The Lions had 53 plays in or near the red zone in 2011 through the first quarter, compared to 74 in 2012! That’s 21 more opportunities to score touchdowns that this team has to able to take advantage of.
I took a look at other key offensive categories through the team’s first quarter of the last two seasons and compared them. The most glaring difference is Calvin Johnson’s touchdown production and first half touchdown to field goal ratio. Every other category is within range of one another:
Calvin Johnson In or Near Red Zone Production:
Calvin Johnson Target-Reception-Touchdown Production:
First Four Games
Lions 1st Down Production Through First Four Games:
Field Goal Production In or Near Red Zone Through First Four Games:
Field Goals Made
1st Half Touchdowns and Field Goals Through First Four Games
The Lions have to do a better job of taking advantage of their red zone opportunities over the remainder of the season. Opposing defenses are going to continue to force them to dink and dunk their way down the field. They key is to make sure they score touchdowns down in that red area. I love Jason Hanson, but if we continue to see him nail 25 and 30 yarders, tensions will surely mount.