Monday, October 24, 2011

Tired of Waiting

"Just wait 'til we start playing"

That's what head coach Jim Schwartz told his team after they completed at 24-point comeback against the Cowboys on their way to 4-0 record. Three weeks later, the Lions sit at 5-2 and we're all still waiting to see the Lions "play".

Sunday's loss to Atlanta is likely to send hundreds of fans into a crazed frenzy, and I'm truly not trying to feed into that, but it's hard to ignore how frustrating it is to watch this team play lately. We've all seen the potential of this team. We've seen Stafford dazzle and dominate. We've seen the defensive line rack up sack after sack. We've seen this team lead the league in point differential. We've seen this team blow out a team, and comeback from an unbelievable deficit on the road.

So when the Lions start regressing (at least, offensively) and drop two key games against NFC foes, fans are likely to start getting upset.

Last week, I called out Matthew Stafford for his weak first half performances and all-around stinker against San Francisco. Admittedly, Stafford's performance against the 49ers was excusable, as San Francisco has one of the best defenses in the league (in fact, in my Atlanta preview, I found that Stafford had one of the best performances of all the quarterbacks that have faced the 49ers to date). But the offense's performance against the Falcons was terrible and without justification. Here's what the damage looked like compared to Stafford's past performances this year:

Visual learners? I got your back:

If it weren't for Stafford's modest*, but solid, performance against the Bears, there would be a pretty steady decline in all of those graphs.

Okay, I'm sure you get my point by now, but the question remains: why? Well, pass protection certainly has something to do with it (but not all of it). Sacks surrendered by week went as follows: 0,0,5,0,1,5,3. But then the question becomes, why are they suddenly giving up more sacks? That answer can't really be found on any spreadsheet or box score, but I contest it is due to a lack of a running game. Defenses are adjusting. They are no longer threatened by Detroit's backfield (especially without Jahvid Best now) and are committing more defenders to stop the pass**.

As fans, we love to finger point so we can ball up all of our anger and frustration into one mass and hurl it at one player. But this is a failure at all levels of the offense: play-calling, pass protection, quarterback accuracy, receiver drops, run blocking, running back vision, everything. No one unit is playing to their full potential. I'm not saying that everyone on offense sucks, but each unit is making their fare share of mistakes. The good news is that we've seen all of those players, at times (but never the same time, unless you count preseason, which I do not), play great games. There's still reason to be optimistic. There's still reason to believe playoffs are a possibility (see: defense). But the Lions are going to have start playing as a complete unit again before things turn around. Until then, we wait.

*I call Stafford's performance against the Bears modest because he only threw the ball five times in the last 25 minutes of the game. 

** For what it's worth, Stafford claimed defenses aren't doing anything different in the past few weeks

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