As the Detroit Lions gave up one sack after another to the Minnesota Vikings, it became clear that the ultimate chicken or the egg scenario is officially starting to play out in Detroit.
Is Matthew Stafford more to blame for the offense’s struggles given his inability to make key throws in big spots, or is his suddenly porous offensive line the reason for trouble, given they rarely provide him time to pass the pigskin accurately and make good decisions?
At times Sunday, arguments could be made for both. However, when Stafford would take a five step drop and be running for his life nearly immediately, the spotlight began to shine more brightly on the big eaters up front. It had to with every third-and-a-mile Detroit would face.
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How can a group revered in recent years take such a step backwards one year later? How could Stafford go from having plenty of time to no time? Things have certainly trended in the wrong direction this season, injuries to Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush aside.
“Offensively, obviously we got work to do,” Jim Caldwell said Monday during the opening statement of his weekly media address. “We ran the ball better, not quite where we’d like to be, but we had our moments.”
While the rushing game was good (100 yards, one touchdown), the passing game was not (155, one touchdown) once again, and Caldwell didn’t shy away from casting a tiny bit of blame towards the leaky line as a reasoning for some of the trouble.
“One sack is too many in my estimation, so we gotta continue to work in that area,” he said, noting the line’s role in the offensive stagnation. “I think we hurt ourselves, we had three successive drives where we had holding penalties, a sack. . .it left us with a situation where it was third down (and long). We didn’t overcome those. The last couple weeks we had some struggles.”
That’s precisely the reason why the offense may continue to struggle. The entire team can’t operate efficiently if the quarterback is going down, throwing the ball away prematurely or losing yardage on early downs. It creates a nasty situation where third and long is the common down and distance. In those instances, forget about getting a consistent running game going, as well. That leads to losses.
Stafford’s personal role, though, is starting to seem a bit clearer. Caldwell praised the quarterback for not turning the ball over despite the onslaught of bodies always coming his way, and gave him credit for leading in a unique win Sunday afternoon.
“He threw the ball away four times, and overall, sack fumbles occur. It should go without saying he did a good job holding the ball,” Caldwell said.
“My goal was to change (Stafford), I came in with the idea that this team was more about winning than about statistical milestones,” Caldwell added regarding the quarterback’s development. “Teams win in different ways. Do I expect eventually you’ll see the offense explode? Yes I do, but the most important thing is to win.”
Winning, though, might be harder to do with line troubles as stakes get higher. Detroit’s defense has stepped up against everyone this year, but at some point, the team is going to need to score more than 20 points in a game to get a shootout win. To do that, the line needs to give Stafford more than 10 seconds to make his key decisions. If the quarterback has time and still makes mistakes, then it’s all on him.
At some point, the team is going to need to score more than 20 points in a game to get a shootout win. To do that, the line needs to give Stafford more than 10 seconds to make his key decisions. If the quarterback has time and still makes mistakes, then it’s all on him.
Somehow, in the weeks ahead, everyone on the line will have to find a way to take accountability, step up and be better. It’s the only way the Lions will be able to string together consecutive victories, something this franchise desperately needs to do at mid-season to avoid a usual nose dive.
“Good teams win different ways,” Caldwell said, sounding satisfied with the effort against the Vikings. It’s true. Detroit’s not used to seeing winning football behind a stingy defense and an offense that manages just enough in the end. They’re not used to seeing winning football, period.
But will just enough on offense behind a leaky line continue to be good enough to achieve the team’s ultimate goals?
Forgive anyone who’s currently a bit skeptical.