The Lions nearly pulled off another comeback, but there is reason for concern after the team fell behind three scores after three quarters.
Allen Park — The numbers aren’t pretty.
Through five games, the Lions rank 29th in the league in total offense (288.2 yards), 30th in yards per play (4.57), 29th in passing yards per play (5.25) and 25th in rushing yards per play (3.53).
Granted, the Lions still rank 10th in points per game (24.6) but some of that is contributed to the short fields the offense has had to work with as well as the two interceptions and one punt returned for scores.
But for a team that has no shortage of offensive weapons and the league’s highest-paid player at the head of a high-powered attack that can heat up at a moment’s notice, the figures are underwhelming.
When asked Monday why the Lions don’t have a more explosive offense, Lions coach Jim Caldwell insisted he’s only concerned with one thing — winning.
“I’m not interested in window dressing, and what the numbers say, and what they look like and all that stuff. It’s never mattered to me,” Caldwell said. “I’m interested in scoring defense and then obviously winning games. And all the other stuff, it’s great to talk about. I think it brings about fan interest, which is super. But for us, we’re talking about winning, and winning is the key.”
Caldwell noted big plays are always key and it’s vital to be on the plus side of how many you get versus how many you give up.
In Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the Panthers, the Lions (3-2) ended up on the wrong end of the explosive play count. In total, Carolina finished with eight plays of at least 15 yards while Detroit had six. And of those eight plays, three of them burned the Lions’ defense for 30-plus yards and led to points.
Tight end Ed Dickson rumbled for 64 yards on a catch-and-run in the first quarter that led to a 21-yard field goal and then broke free in the secondary for a 57-yard reception that set up Christian McCaffrey’s 6-yard score in the second quarter.
Then in the third quarter, Cam Newton threw a perfectly placed ball down the left sideline on a 31-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin.
Likewise, all six of the Detroit’s big plays came on scoring drives, but four of them came during the last two drives in the final nine minutes when the Lions were trailing 27-10.
In the first quarter, Ameer Abdullah ripped off a 16-yard run on the first play and Theo Riddick eluded a couple tackles on a 21-yard reception. But the offense floundered during the middle of the game as it tried to dink and dunk its way down the field and didn’t show signs of life until the fourth quarter when Riddick, Golden Tate, Jared Abbrederis and Darren Fells each hauled in catches of at least 16 yards.
Caldwell said while it’s “debatable” whether the team is taking enough chances for explosive gains since every play has a deep component built into it, he still has to keep working to get the most out of the offense.
“We have the potential, we have the ability,” Caldwell said. “We’ve gotten big plays, got big plays out of Fells in the end zone, we got a number of big plays during the course of the game. Just not enough, and we got to get more and it’s there.”
Of course, there are other factors at play. The Lions have been without rookie receiver Kenny Golladay, who has proven to be a big-play threat with his 6-foot-4 frame, the past two games. During that same span, Matthew Stafford has been under plenty of duress, and the play calling has raised some eyebrows.
For the season, the Lions rank near the bottom of the league in completions of 20-plus yards (11; tied 26th) and 40-plus yards (one; tied 28th), and are tied for 12th with seven other teams with three rushes of 20-plus yards.
Caldwell said the Lions need to improve in every phase from top to bottom and made it clear he’s not satisfied with anything at this point.
“We just got to be better. We got to run the ball better, we got to throw the ball better, we got to catch the ball better. And that’s really it,” Caldwell said. “The other thing is that the fact of the matter is we got a lot of football left, and the thing that I think that I’m most concerned with is the fact that we just continue to improve every single week. I think our guys have the kind of attitude that it takes to do that, but they also have to be riverboat gamblers in a little bit too, with a short memory.
“So, once we get through this game, going through it, looking at the details, looking at what we need to improve upon, then we got to move on because we got a really tough opponent (New Orleans Saints) coming up as well this weekend.”