DETROIT – The Detroit Lions are 0-2 after two bad losses to start the season. Lions fans did not expect the season to start like this, with Matthew Stafford coming back and a third year under Matt Patricia looking to be the one where the Lions would be playoff contenders.
While it’s been a rough start, there have been moments when things have looked good for the Lions before the all-too-familiar collapses took over.
Here’s what the Lions can do to turn their season around.
Get Matthew Stafford going
Matthew Stafford has not gotten off to a great start this year. He’s thrown a couple of bad interceptions and taken two bad sacks.
Comparing the first two games of this year to last season show Stafford’s stats have dropped off.
Stafford is not throwing the ball as deep this season. After leading the league in intended air yards and completed air yards last year, Stafford is near the middle of NFL QBs in those stats this year. His completion percentage is also down from last season.
So what’s the difference and what should the Lions do?
Simply: Stafford isn’t executing enough or playing up to his level. But besides eliminating big mistakes, Stafford and the Lions offense should stick to what they’re doing.
Detroit should keep running the ball and maybe even run it more as the Lions average 4.5 yards per carry - good for one of the higher averages in the NFL.
Then, keep throwing play-action passes. We’ve seen Stafford find open receivers often thanks to play fakes.
Lastly, throw the ball down the field more. The Lions are still running deeper patterns, Stafford just isn’t throwing the ball deep as much as last year.
It can’t be an excuse, but there’s no question injuries have impacted what the Lions want to do.
It’s clear the Lions are missing Kenny Golladay. Golladay led the NFL in receiving touchdowns last year and the Lions have struggled to replace him, even with a lot of capable weapons on offense. When Golladay can come back, he adds a different dimension to the offense.
On defense, corners Desmond Trufant and Justin Coleman and defensive lineman Nick Williams missed the Packers game.
Those injuries were apparent as Green Bay had no problem running the ball or throwing it.
The Lions – especially on defense – need everyone healthy. With those key players out, you’re basically looking at the same defense as last year, which was one of the worst in the NFL.
Adjust on defense
We know the Lions want to play a lot of man coverage on defense. But with 2 top corners out, that might not be the most effective approach.
That’s in part because the Lions aren’t getting pressure on opposing QBs. That hangs the secondary playing in man coverage out to dry.
The NFL’s Next Gen Stats shows the Lions are below average in blitz rate and pressure rate.
The #Steelers defense has been generating pressure with a blitz-heavy scheme — the unit ranks first in the NFL in pressure rate (45.6%) and blitz rate (57.8%).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 21, 2020
X-Axis = Blitz Rate
Y-Axis = Pressure Rate
The rest of the league through Week 2 (entering MNF): pic.twitter.com/Soa5qSaqqL
To try and fix their defensive issues the Lions should increase how much they blitz, even if it’s only to match the league average.
They should also play more zone defense to help their defensive backs in coverage.
The Lions have made some costly mistakes this year with turnovers and penalties. We saw that in the Green Bay game. Lineman Oday Aboushi got a personal foul penalty that killed a Lions drive. Will Harris got two personal foul penalties on back-to-back plays, helping the Packers move down the field on a scoring drive.
Finally, Jamal Agnew lost the Lions 20 yards of field position when he committed a personal foul on a punt return. The Lions should have started on their 25-yard line as the ball went into the endzone for a touchback, but Agnew’s penalty placed the ball on the 5. The next play, Matthew Stafford threw a pick-six to effectively put the game out of reach.
Looking back at Week 1, Matthew Stafford threw a bad interception in the 4th quarter of that game. D’Andre Swift dropped the game-winning touchdown.
There is a lot of work to do. If the Lions could stay out of their own way they would be 1-1. Getting rid of those mistakes is a good start to helping the Lions try to avoid starting 0-3 this year.