Yeah The Refs Sucked, But Playcalling Is What Ended the Lions’ Season

Dec 11, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin looks on before the game against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Lions win 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The refs sucked in the Lions loss. That’s fair to say, and even neutral fans noticed. The missed calls were a plenty – Paul Richardson’s facemask, TJ Jones being tackled before the ball, Stafford being thrown like a wrestling dummy – but it’s not all the refs’ fault.

Against Seattle, the Lions weren’t in a close game. Refs can’t affect a game by 20 points, and if the last Lion’s game was a seven-point differential, that is the refs’ fault. But it wasn’t so it isn’t.

Instead, blame the play calling for the Lions’ defeat. From the offense to the defense, the Lions were collectively out-coached repeatedly in the playoffs blowout. It was a messy game for the Lions bosses, and that isn’t great.

Jim Caldwell, left with nothing to play for after being told he would be back next season, allowed the Lions to fail. Saying this before the game was Bob Quinn’s mistake, as Caldwell then had nothing to prove.


Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

A blowout like the Lions were faced with should be a fireable offense for an NFL team, but Quinn must either look bad, going back on his word, or let the team continue to fail next year.

That isn’t exactly fair to say about a Lions coach that took the team to two playoff appearances in three years. Especially when Caldwell had numerous injuries on the roster, including both of the Lions’ starting running backs.

But it is fair to say about a coach who blew four straight games. Who didn’t make any second half adjustments when it mattered most, and who’s defense, because let us not forget, Caldwell was marketed as a defensive presence, was abysmal all season.

Instances of the Lions awful play calling in the last game of the 2016-17 season:

  1. The screen pass on 3rd and long, that effectively gave up on a drive that stalled out in Lions territory in the first half
  2. Not stacking the box early, allowing Seattle’s bad running game to get (and keep) momentum
  3. Not going for it on fourth down when it mattered most


Oct 29, 2015; Chandler

That’s a few of numerous situations in which Caldwell and his staff didn’t make appropriate decisions. The lack of second half adjustments is what truly troubles me, because it’s been happening all season.

There is one true solution to this problem: somebody has to go. I now understand if it’s not Caldwell, and I think Cooter should be given a pass for a few reasons:

  1. It was his first playoff game, so he didn’t know what to expect
  2. This game, he kept giving the ball to Zenner well into the second-half, meaning that Cooter has begun learning from his mistakes
  3. The running back deficit especially impacts Cooter
  4. The wide receivers and Ebron continually dropped balls
  5. It’s the Seattle Seahawks defense. Yes, they’re missing pieces, but the Seahawks are in the playoffs because of their defense

That means that Teryl Austin must go. The defense has been lacking since 2015, and in both playoff games Austin has coached in, the defense got squashed. This time, by a bad offense. The defense gave up against a bad Giants offense, and gave up 42 points to the Dallas Cowboys as well.

Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

There are few options that can replace Austin available this offseason, including former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Yes, he didn’t work out as a head coach, but the Lions won’t ask him to be head coach, and he won the Lombardi trophy as a defensive coordinator.

An improved Lions defense will give the Lions a much better chance at winning next season, and Cooter needs another year to see how he works out, because this was his first full year and the Lions reached the playoffs on the back of his offense.