November 18, 2012 at 1:00 am

Chris McCosky

Chris McCosky's Four Downs: Matthew Stafford, Lions offense in different time zones

First down

If former Pistons coach Larry Brown did the postgame interview for Jim Schwartz, this is what he would have said:

"I don't know what was going on out there with our offense — we played like strangers."

The word that came to mind watching the Lions on offense was disarray. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and his receivers, but for a few spurts, were completely out of sync. Passes were dropped. Passes missed their mark, many by wide margins. Wrong routes were run and route adjustments were missed.

"I didn't play my best," said a terse Stafford. "It was a little bit of everything."

He didn't care much for the word disarray, however.

"Disarray is probably not the right word," he said. "Coming into the week we were the No. 2 offense in the NFL, so if that's disarray, then OK. But, obviously, we didn't play our best against a good football team."

Schwartz said it was failure in every facet — the quarterback missed throws, receivers dropped passes, pass protection was spotty — but he may have hit the nail on the head when he said the communication was bad in route adjustments.

That means Stafford was changing plays at the line and the receivers weren't making the adjustments. Or there were two options against certain looks and they were taking the wrong ones. That would explain some of the balls that were thrown a time zone away from the intended receiver.

Titus Young and Tony Scheffler seemed most out of sync with Stafford. Young was targeted six times and caught one ball. He was benched on the final possession. Scheffler, who had been a non-factor in the three previous games, was thrown to 10 times with only two catches.

Stafford's decision-making at the line wasn't flawless, by a long shot. There were at least four plays when the Packers loaded up the box and left receivers single-covered on the edge and Stafford didn't check out of the run.

On his two interceptions, one was a poor decision (he didn't see Casey Hayward jump the route) and the other was ball thrown behind Scheffler, which turned into a 72-yard pick-six for M.D. Jennings.

"I have to play better to give us a chance to win," Stafford said.

Second down

If this continues to go downhill, if the offense continues to have disjointed performances, if coaches continue to squabble on the sideline, somebody is going to be scape-goated. And as unfair as it may be, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is probably going to take the hit.

He has already taken heat for the team's season-long battle against slow offensive starts. There has been tension behind the scenes all season between Linehan and some of his offensive assistants. On Sunday, it spilled out publicly when receivers coach Shawn Jefferson was shown on the Fox broadcast shouting and gesturing at Linehan.

Linehan remained stone-faced and didn't respond.

There was 1:13 left in the game when the exchange took place. The Lions had failed to score a touchdown when they had it first-and-goal from the 10. Later, after Green Bay took the lead, the Lions misfired on four straight pass plays.

Jefferson seemed to shout at Linehan, "I said throw the ball!" That would have been a reference to two straight run calls against a loaded box from the 10.

It could also have been in reference to the fact that Calvin Johnson didn't get a pass thrown to him in the three plays from the 10, nor in the four-and-out series that followed.

"We've all been through this," Johnson said. "We've seen all of this happen before. We should be able to bounce back from that. It shouldn't be a problem."

Linehan, all things considered, has done an outstanding job with this offense. He has come up with innovative ways to get rookie tackle Riley Reiff involved. He has tried to build up the run game. He has been masterful at moving Johnson around and finding favorable matchups.

Losing receiver Nate Burleson to injury has hurt the cohesiveness of the receiving corps. Young, in his second year, still makes too many undisciplined plays, too many mental errors. Rookie Ryan Broyles is just getting his feet wet.

Should Linehan take the fall for that? No. But if this continues to go bad, it's a pretty good bet that he will. Schwartz signed an extension before the season. Stafford and Johnson aren't going anywhere. Coordinators usually always take the fall.

Third down

Two plays by Packers tight end Jermichael Finley broke the Lions' backs.

The first one was his 20-yard touchdown catch early in the second quarter. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers executed a fake screen and middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch bit on it.

That left Finley open down the seam. Cornerback Jacob Lacey, who was playing in the slot, was late to get over to him.

The Lions had good success using the nickel package against Rodgers, but that was one occasion where it hurt them.

The Lions were also in nickel when Finley struck for 40 yards in the fourth, a play that set up the winning touchdown. Rodgers made an adjustment at the line, moving Finley off the edge. Finley caught the ball in the flat and receiver Jordy Nelson was blocking while the ball was in the air.

He was able to take out Lacey, who gave up too easily on the play, and Finley dodged the tackle of Tulloch and raced down the sideline.

"It was a subtle adjustment there," Rodgers said. "We talked about it on Saturday, actually, in a meeting, about how we wanted to block that. I am guessing Jordy blocked at least two guys because he came open late."

Fourth down

It was a mixed bag for Lacey. He got his first interception as a Lion, but he also got beat on the winning touchdown.

With 1:55 left, Rodgers threw an air ball toward the back of the end zone toward Randall Cobb. Lacey didn't turn around in time to react to the ball, and safety Ricardo Silva arrived just a split second too late.

"Just didn't make the play," Schwartz said. "You have to find the ball in the air and get it knocked down. The quarterback just threw it straight up in the air."

Twitter: @cmccosky

Quarterback Matthew Stafford, left, and his receivers, but for a few spurts, were completely out of sync Sunday. / Daniel Mears/Detroit New
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