DETROIT— The Detroit Lions had a golden opportunity last Sunday in the NFC showdown against the Arizona Cardinals. The battle for first place in the conference was a possible playoff preview, but the Lions could not hold on in a 14-6 defeat.
The Lions defense, for 11 weeks in a row, has supported the offense and created countless opportunities for the team to win. Not only to win, but to win big. No opponent has taken advantage of this Lions defense, which is why it has continued to stay ranked in the top of the league.
The No. 1 defense in the league is carrying a 31st ranked rushing attack and a 12th ranked passing attack. How could these numbers be true for the talent bursting Lions offense? Let us dissect.
Matthew Stafford has been a little bit above average, posting a 61 percent completion percentage with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Stafford has also been sacked 31 times in the first 11 weeks of the season; only one sack behind Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick for most beat up quarterback in the league. Stafford is a top ten quarterback in every category except for QBR, interceptions, and completion percentage. There is still bewilderment at how the offense is not exploding with the amount of talent surrounding the gunslinger.
Calvin Johnson has returned and there was an expectation that alongside Golden Tate the Lions should score a minimum of 14 points per game, accounting a score from each star wide out. Both receivers have undeniable talent and Megatron is already forging a Hall of Fame ballot.
So why can the offense not produce the type of production that is expected? There are two simple explanations for this failure, let us see if there is a solution.
One simple deduction to be made of this lack of execution are the protectors of the quarterback, the offensive line. From left to right the line should read as the following: Riley Reiff, Rob Sims, Dominic Raiola, Larry Warford and LaAdrian Waddle. This lineup last year garnered two 1,000-yard multi-purpose yard backs in Joique Bell and Reggie Bush and kept Stafford comfortable, only allowing an average of 1.4 sacks a game. The complete opposite has been achieved through eleven weeks this year, with Stafford getting sacked eight times more than last year’s total and not once produced a 100-yard rusher this season.
Raiola is now in his 14th season at the center position for the Detroit Lions and his end is near. Showing both age and lack of speed is not a player you want leading your offensive line. Left guard Rob Sims is in his contract year and it is uncertain whether he will return to Detroit or not. The right side of the line includes rookies Travis Swanson the backup center, and Garrett Reynolds. The rookie fill-ins are taking over for the in-and-out Waddle and 2013 Lions rookie of the year Warford. Waddle has been injured several different times this year and has not secured his spot all year, and Warford just recently landed on the IR. To sum it up, the offensive line is in shambles.
Jim Caldwell and company were brought in to the Lions Den in order to do something others could not: Win at all costs. Caldwell has shown thus far what a good coaching staff can do as it faces adversity through a major coaching overhaul and everything that goes along with it. Inheriting a playoff potential team is just a bonus for Caldwell, but what he has done thus far has proven to Lions fans just how important it is to have a successful program.
Teryl Austin inherited Pro-Bowl players on the defensive side in DeAndre Levy, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley and his ability to keep Detroit in the No. 1 spot for defense should not go unnoticed. However, there is still the second explanation to why the Lions are not a 10-0 team right now in the NFL and that is because of the offensive coordinator.
Joe Lombardi, ex Saints quarterback coach, descendant of the late and great Vince Lombardi, will bring promise and reform to the young and resilient Stafford. Football is in his genes; he cannot get this job wrong, not with talent level in his command.
Well, since week one the Lions have been under the microscope with new coaching and potential prolific passer Stafford on the hot seat. It is not fair, but it is essential in keeping an organization moving forward.
So far everyone has done their job—even Stafford, who has commanded four comeback wins this season.
Who is to blame then? Joe Lombardi.
The play calling has been hit or miss all season and lackluster in the first three quarters of the game. Why have the Lions only been proficient in the no-huddle two-minute drill offense? Why have the Lions not stuck to the run game even though Bell continues to show he can get the job done, averaging 6.6 yards per carry against the Cardinals. A good coach would take note of his strengths and weaknesses; a great coach would act on this.
If Lombardi wants the offense to pick up he must do just that. Disguise the horrendous pass blocking, pound the ball with Bell, keep the defense on its toes with a hurry up offense of unlimited weapons. Instead, none of this happens.
So now it is time, against arguably the best team in football in the New England Patriots, for Detroit’s offense to show its worth. It must be explosive out of the gate, otherwise they will continue to lose. Joe Lombardi, you have been placed on the hot seat for the lack of legendary stats seeping from this offense. Teryl Austin has shown his worth and there is even nips of him being the next hot commodity in the coaching carousel.
Make that hot seat a registration for two, because Calvin Johnson is starting to disappoint. The drops are starting to become habit and fans are starting to wonder if his contract is worth his streaky play and nagging injuries. Lions should sell high on Calvin while they can or they better hope he starts playing as Megatron of old.
The Lions will be on the road in Gillette Stadium on Sunday, facing a red-hot Patriots team that has been steamrolling its opponents. If the Lions fail to score more than 14 points, then you better believe the seats will get a little bit hotter.
Chris Boggus is the co-host of Lions Den for Impact Sports.