Usually in this series I go into several bite sized segments to help better analyze the game in-depth for you. There are usually several key areas that define a match-up, things that were done well, things that could be improved upon, stand out performances both positive and negative, etc. This game simply cannot be defined in those terms. The hope is to provide readers with a lighter analysis of the data, several days removed, in the hopes of giving out a few laughs and some thoughts that could stoke debate among some fellow fans leading up to the next game. Unfortunately, I feel like nobody is in the mood for humor this week and the great fans of this woeful franchise deserve a rational, sobering discussion regarding what’s happened/happening to the team. With that, I must ask you to bear with me as I proceed on a bit of a rant. If you’re looking for the usual material, please come back next week and hopefully this franchise hasn’t sucked the will to write these out of me in the meantime.
As a Lions fan I would argue that Sundays loss was one of the most draining, disappointing, and painful losses in recent history. I realize that’s a fairly bold statement, but allow me to clarify. You see as most fans of this team know, there are several categories of pain for Lions losses. At the bottom there are your standard down to the wire close losses, they disappoint you but hey, these things happen to everyone, at least they put up some fight. Then there are the blowouts, which are tough to swallow, but there are occasionally mitigating circumstances, sometimes they were just playing a superior team and were expected to lose, or it was just one of those fluky things that happen once and a while. There are the hopeless games, which we are all too familiar with, where a season has already been thrown out and fans are are almost cheering for losses in hopes of a better draft pick. Those drain you but they come with some sort of understanding and expectation. After that the pain ratchets up in examples like the Dallas playoff game or the Packers hail Mary where there’s clear referee error that directly or arguably costs the Lions the game. Those games are like a punch in the gut, they infuriate you, they galvanize you to the team making you feel like the entire world is against the Detroit Lions and the NFL can’t bear to see them succeed regardless of how well they perform.
None of those situations compare to the final category and this last game without question falls into it. This level is reserved purely for losses of the greatest incompetence, and worse, a clear lack of preparedness, effort, and desire. Why are these the worst kind of losses? They zap fans of their fandom. Anyone who watched that entire display, if they are honest with themselves, should come to the realization that they are in part drained of their desire to watch the team, and that is an amazing thing to accomplish in just one game. If this team wasn’t talented, or the Bears weren’t as terrible as they are, this could be understandable. However the clear gap in ability is obvious, and that makes this result that much more depressing. Games like these require drastic and fundamental changes to an organization.
A woefully unprepared Lions team
It was clear from the start of the game that Detroit was simply unprepared to be at any field let alone Soldier Field. From the players aggressiveness, technique, and execution, to the coaches scheme and leadership, right down to the equipment crew struggling to find cleats for Riddick that would keep him from slipping on his jump cuts, there was systematic failure from the top to the bottom of the organization. I was honestly stunned I didn’t see a Lions water boy squirt himself in the face or a ball boy accidentally over inflate a football to the point of explosion as a cap to this complete and utter collapse. Check for a follow-up as I might just find that on a second take of the all 22 footage. With that in mind, preparing the team is the coaching staff’s primary job, and after Sunday’s performance, every one of their jobs should be in question.
The largest reason for this is the team is regressing in its performance. In Indianapolis the defense struggled a little, but they were playing a pretty good offense. The Lions offense made up the difference, capping off the game with a gutty game winning drive off a Matt Prater redemption field goal. Ever since that point the Lions have produced less and less competitive results, with an ugly loss to a bottom five team in week two, an embarrassing first half blow out with a late, just-short, comeback which Green Bay did everything they could to allow, and now this most recent display.
In a game against the Chicago Bears, a team reasonably in the discussion to be the worst team in the league, who was missing numerous key players like their starting quarterback, running back, middle linebacker, and nose tackle to name a few, the Lions were simply out-played. That is nothing short of unacceptable. On offense, Detroit was unable to get anything going consistently, not once getting on the same page for a full drive. On defense, Detroit got absolutely torched through the air by none other than Brian Hoyer, allowing over a hundred yards on the ground to a mediocre backup running back, and got very little pressure against a much maligned offensive line.
At least there were solid rebound performances from Andre Roberts and Matt Prater on special teams to get all but two of the Lions’ points on the day. This all came in the wake of the Bears playing a very sloppy game, extending drives for Detroit, and ending their own through careless penalties. It was as if Chicago wanted to give the Lions every opportunity to rebound and get back into the game. The Lions response was simply to take even more penalties almost out of some twisted view of fairness. You can say what you want about injuries or any other factor under the sun, but that type of unprepared mess cannot be tolerated by any franchise with any semblance of talent.
Can’t win with coaching like this
Scheme was another clear failure from the staff, a growing theme throughout the season. Teryl Austin started the season forcing players into roles they shouldn’t have been placed into and failed to find ways to adjust to opposing teams strengths. At this point Austin’s defense has objectively gotten worse, making even more absurd match-up decisions like dropping Haloti Ngata into coverage, and forcing guys signed off the street into one on one coverage against high-quality NFL starters. Meanwhile on the other side of the ball, Jim Bob Cooter looked like his players had rough edges, but all in all produced a fairly effective offense.
Sunday however all of his squad’s worst features combined. His offense regressed to constant short plays with very little willingness to test a bad Chicago secondary down the field as if he were trying to channel his inner Joe Lombardi, and continued to force Theo Riddick, a pass catching scat-back, to run between the tackles into bellow average blocking when he has two decently effective power runners just sitting there at his disposal. He refused to feed the hot hand. While all this was going on, good old Jim Caldwell, sat stoically, seemingly using up all his emotion in three instances in the first week of the season, as the team collapsed around him in painful fashion. He said that he would bring a disciplined team ready to compete every game. He failed miserably in both of those goals. The Lions are currently fourth in penalties with thirty-nine through four games, and he just presided over one of the least inspiring lions performances in several years. There were no wake up calls, no calls to action, no change in anything, just pure complacency. Those are issues that have historically lead to termination, potentially sooner rather then later.
With that said not all of the blame here can fall on the coaching staff. Almost every player individually failed to show up for at least a quarter of football from Travis Swanson just getting turn styled by Akiem Hicks, to Mathew Stafford’s fourth quarter interception, to Darius Slay getting absolutely lost looking for the ball as it soared over his head. Preparedness from coaches can only go so far when it comes to placing blame. These players are professional athletes and to a certain degree need to self motivate through any adversities they may encounter, finding whatever way possible to prepare the best they can. That simply did not happen for anyone definitively except for Marvin Jones, Riley Reiff, and Kerry Hyder.
If the Lions are going to get better they don’t just need better leadership from the coaches, but better leadership within the locker room as well. Effort does not simply translate onto the football field, but to everything that happens throughout the week leading up to the game and its clear the Lions have failed in that category. If that doesn’t change, it doesn’t matter who is brought in, the team will never live up to its potential. Two players in particular Golden Tate, and Eric Ebron, need to be addressed separately. I hope I am wrong, but their performance this week indicated they simply gave up, with Ebron’s walking away from the play when he should have been blocking for Riddick, and Tate’s wrong route resulting in a crucial interception. Crucial errors driven by attitude or attention to detail. That type of attitude cannot be tolerated in any way shape or form and they will need to provide several big performances in the coming weeks to regain confidence from teammates, coaches, and fans. These are two players, especially Tate, that I really liked heading into this match-up, and I regret to say this performance might have forever changed my opinion of them.
The Lions lacked the effort needed to win
With this latest bungle, the Lions have fallen to 1-3 on a three game losing streak with two of their supposed easiest games off the schedule. While the optimist in me wants to believe they can still turn things around with three quarters of the season left to play, this season feels completely lost already. Drastic turnarounds would need to occur for any remote chance of a comeback, and I don’t see one coming any time soon. With that in mind then, now that this team has turned a very optimistic picture into a horror show, what is the way forward?
While some have suggested blow the whole thing up, I think that is a very reactionary critique. They still have (outside of this one performance) a top ten quarterback in Stafford, a great receiver tandem signed long term if Tate turns back to himself, a very promising young o-line, and a couple quality young talents on defense. There is a lot to build around in Detroit and they should have their pick of the coaching crop, especially now that Stafford has proven that he can hold his own with the best. What has to, and will, change though is the coaching. It should be moved upon at the soonest availability. I could see Caldwell being kept on until the end of the year when the coaching hunt begins if the team can string together a few wins, however outside of that expect Austin to step in as interim coach within the month of October as the team builds for the 2017 campaign.
While pain is definitely the feeling now, and it’s easy to get stuck in dark times like these and get jaded over so many decades of awfulness like many others that have come before, always remember that this level of failure at least leads to change. Change in turn leads to hope, a chance for a better future, and a whole new reason to get excited about the team. That, or another chance for them to let us down again one more time, and slam the rebuild button for a whole new awful roller coaster ride. This is the Lions after all.
Thanks for reading my rant, I will be back with your regularly scheduled keys to the game next week where I hope this therapy session will have gotten me to the point where I can write positive things again. Hope you liked it and if you have comments let me know in the subreddit, I’m always happy to hear from readers like you.