Last season, the Detroit Lions were a playoff team. They had the best wide receiver in the NFL, a franchise quarterback, and a front seven to strike fear into the hearts of offensive lines across the league. Now, they languish at 0 – 5, and seem to be lacking in every department. The low point was when, on Sunday, Matt Stafford was taken out the game for Dan Orlovsky during a dismantling by the Arizona Cardinals. In 2008 the Lions became the first team to go 0 – 16 in the NFL, and questions are beginning to be asked as to whether the 2015 edition will suffer the same fate. Let it be clear, these are not those Lions; but they are still not anywhere close to the same team as last year, and there are a lot of reasons as to why.
Through 5 games, Detroit have a turnover differential of -6, 30th in the league; however, they’re middle of the pack when it comes to defensive turnovers. Matt Stafford has been intercepted 8 times, Dan Orlovsky the once. The Lions have also lost 6 fumbles, including one to controversially end the game against Seattle by Calvin Johnson. Running back Ameer Abdullah is constantly putting the ball on the ground, and the options for Jim Caldwell and Joe Lombardi at running back have been limited with Joique Bell injured. Bell is hoping to return soon, reportedly next week. On the other side of the football, the defense has managed to get 9 turnovers, sitting at 8th in the league, recovering 6 fumbles and taking 3 interceptions. Simply put, the offense has to stop giving the ball away.
The interceptions are being caused in a large part because of a huge reliance on the passing game. So far, Detroit have attempted 233 passes, second only to Houston, and at 6.0 have the worst yards per attempt. Why this reliance? The Lions are currently on pace for 784 yards rushing on the season. They’re averaging 2.8 yards per rush, and until this improves, they will continue to rely on the passing game. The blame for the offensive woes lies squarely at the door of Joe Lombardi, the offensive coordinator. In Golden Tate, Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson he has three incredible weapons in the deep passing game. Stafford has exceeded 4000 yards in each of the last four seasons, and in every one of those seasons he has posted at least 50 passes over 20 yards. This season, he is on pace for 38. Lombardi is asking Stafford to use short passes in lieu of a running game, and is asking Tate and Johnson to become Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Tight end Eric Ebron is proving useful, but needs to improve if he is to prove worth the first round pick the Lions spent on him in 2014. Theo Riddick is being used more as a receiver than as a running back – he caught Stafford’s only touchdown of the day against Arizona and Lombardi really needs to find a solution to the lack of rushing yards to allow the passing game to operate to its full potential.
The offense’s problems have entirely taken over from the issues raised at the start of the season surrounding a defense that lost its two biggest playmakers in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Suh’s absence is showing, as Detroit sit 27th in rushing yards allowed. Regardless, Suh is having problems in Miami, playing on an unproductive defense which has already got the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator fired. In terms of the players who are still in Detroit, the Lions really are missing the on-field leadership of Linebacker Deandre Levy, whose hip injury has resulted in minimal playing time, and was aggravated again in the blowout against the Cardinals. Head coach Jim Caldwell has acknowledged that Levy could be shut down for the season, which would be a huge loss. It’s a huge dropoff for Detroit, who were second only to Seattle in yards allowed last season. A talented secondary has playmaking ability, but with teams being able to move the ball at will on the ground, they aren’t getting many opportunities to make those plays. Questions still abound as to when they will get their first win. The three games before their bye are Chicago, Minnesota and then a trip to London to face the Chiefs. The Bears are looking to be making a recovery since the return of Jay Cutler, and will get better as Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal make their returns from injury. The Vikings sit at 2–2 and have Adrian Peterson making plays and gaining yards, and in Teddy Bridgewater have a quality quarterback. The Lions will probably be 0 – 7 going into London, but the hapless Chiefs look like the best shot for the first win of the season.
In all likelihood, this year will be the end of Joe Lombardi in Detroit, and the Lions will be looking to spend big money in free agency to shore up their running back corps. At this point in the season, however, the dice are rolled, and they appear loaded against the team in Honolulu Blue.
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