Monday Breakdown: Big-play guys put hurt on Lions

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

The Lions are 0-3 due to countless errors on both sides of the ball, but in each game, they broke one of the cardinal rules in sports.

Don't let the best players on the other team beat you.

In Week 1, the Chargers didn't have tight end Antonio Gates, so quarterback Philip Rivers' top option was wide receiver Keenan Allen. Rivers completed nearly 83 percent of his passes, and 15 of them were completions to Allen for 166 yards.

Last week, the Lions knew the Vikings would try to get running back Adrian Peterson going, but it didn't matter as the three-time All-Pro accumulated 192 yards from scrimmage.

And, on Sunday night, many of the Broncos' best players had the biggest impact on the game. Star edge rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware combined for 11 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas had game highs of nine catches and 92 yards, including a 45-yard score late in the second quarter on a one-on-one jump ball against Lions cornerback Darius Slay. And quarterback Peyton Manning completed nearly 74 percent of his passes and consistently audibled to a perfect call against the Lions defense.

For all the talk in Allen Park about how the Lions can't dictate their offense to the opposing defenses, other teams seem to have little problem imposing their will offensively.

Meanwhile, the Lions offense rarely puts its top playmakers in position to make plays, and the defense doesn't have as many weapons as last year, which makes it harder for guys like Glover Quin and Ziggy Ansah to make splash plays because the opponents know to avoid them.

Perhaps, practicing against a Lions offense that tries to utilize 63 different skill-position players — or so it seems — has contributed to a coaching staff forgetting that the best teams will force feed their top players until the opponent proves it can stop them.

Foster: Lions' Caldwell needs to start calling plays

"You're not going to shut out a lot of great players," coach Jim Caldwell said of the Lions getting beat by the top guys on other teams. "That's why they are where they are. They get paid. But nevertheless, we've got to be able to make certain we make our share. That's the real key. We've got to be able to keep them to a minimum, and we've got to make our share."

So far, the Lions haven't made close to their share of plays — on offense, defense and special teams. Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate have yet to break 90 receiving yards in a game. The Lions continue giving the ball to Joique Bell when Ameer Abdullah is undoubtedly the best running back available, though Theo Riddick is still a useful weapon in the pass game.

Effectively, besides the consistent Riddick and tight end Eric Ebron, the Lions are shutting down their best offensive players for opposing defenses.

Shoot, Atlanta's Julio Jones already has 34 catches for 440 yards, and everyone knows the Falcons are trying to get him the ball. The Eagles, Giants and Cowboys simply couldn't stop him, and the Lions coaches should examine how a guy like Jones can be so effective while Johnson is so limited.

The touchdown Thomas made used to be a staple of Johnson's stellar play. The Broncos realized that Thomas will always have an advantage against any cornerback on a jump ball. Theoretically, the same is still true for Johnson, but the Lions haven't given us an opportunity to see if he can still make those plays.

This week, the Lions should print out photos of running back Marshawn Lynch (if he plays), quarterback Russell Wilson, defensive end Michael Bennett and safety Earl Thomas and post them all around their facility to remind the players not to let those guys control the game. Of course, the Seahawks — with cornerback Richard Sherman, defensive end Cliff Avril and others — have more elite players than most teams, which is why an 0-4 start looks like the most likely scenario for the Lions.

Around the NFC North

*Those supremely talented Seahawks dropped the Bears to 0-3 with a 26-0 win. With Jimmy Clausen at quarterback, Chicago could hardly move the ball, gaining just 146 yards. The Bears gave up a 105-yard kickoff return touchdown and a 64-yard punt return.

*With a 31-14 win over the Chargers, the Vikings improved to 2-1. Running back Adrian Peterson looks like his old self as he rumbled for 126 yards and two touchdowns.

*The Packers (2-0) host the Chiefs on "Monday Night Football."

Around the NFL

*The Colts (1-2) finally won a game, but it's clear that quarterback Andrew Luck is not playing as well as he's capable. He's already thrown seven picks and has a passer rating of 65, which is last in the NFL.

*The Lions have company at 0-3 as the Ravens, Saints and Bears remain winless. Just three teams have made the playoffs after a 0-3 start since 1990.

*While the Lions focus on the Seahawks this week, their Week 5 matchup will hardly be an easy bounce-back opportunity. The Cardinals, who come to Ford Field in two weeks, improved to 3-0 after a 47-7 win over the 49ers. Arizona has scored at least 31 points in all three games.