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Caldwell believes Lions’ problems are fixable

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
In nine trips into the red zone this preseason, Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ offense have just four field goals and no touchdowns.

Baltimore — Take a deep breath. No, don’t hold it. Exhale. It’s going to be all right.

Maybe.

It’s the preseason. These games don’t count and the Detroit Lions still have an 0-0 record. That can’t be emphasized enough. But yeah, there is cause for concern after back-to-back beatings in exhibition action and the regular season fast approaching.

The Lions followed up their dismal home effort against the Cincinnati Bengals last weekend with an even flatter showing on the road against the Baltimore Ravens. The 30-9 drubbing came in the dress rehearsal, the third exhibition game, where quarterback Matthew Stafford and the rest of Detroit’s starters played most, if not all, of the first half.

The action was depressing, the mistakes, plentiful. Through two quarters, the Lions racked up more penalties (eight) than points (six). And for the third consecutive week, the offense squandered red zone opportunities at an incomprehensible rate, looking impressively futile while doing it.

“It’s unfortunate,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “We have to look at it and see if there’s a problem there that we’ve got to be able to solve. Do I think we can? Absolutely. It’s all correctable and I think we’ll get that thing in the end zone.”

After being kept out of the painted grass on three trips inside the 20 against the Ravens, the Lions are 1-for-9 converting red zone trips into touchdowns during the preseason. The starting offense turned their two opportunities into just three points and Stafford has failed to lead the group to six points in nine possessions.

Four field goals, a missed field goal, two punts and two turnovers. A lot of disappointment.

“It’s just little things that are getting us, here and there,” Stafford said. “You know, I missed Marvin (Jones) today on a chance on somewhat of a fade route down there. I’ve got to give him a chance to go make a play. Had a penalty down there, here or there.

“We just have to find ways not to beat ourselves.”

And therein lies the problem. The Lions have been their toughest opponent. Stafford’s misfire to Jones was the least of the issues. Penalties have plagued the Lions this preseason, which is uncharacteristic of a Jim Caldwell-coached team. Detroit has been flagged at least eight times in each of the three exhibition games for a total of 241 yards.

Multiple penalties have occurred in the red zone, including a holding call that negated Ameer Abdullah’s touchdown run against Baltimore.

“You know anytime we have penalties that hurt us and take (points) off the board, we’re certainly concerned about it,” Caldwell said. “We don’t take it lightly. It’s something we have to improve upon. You just cannot put yourself in the position we put ourselves in a couple times there with penalties, personal fouls. We just played senseless.”

The silver lining is this is uncharacteristic. While the Lions unquestionably have a lengthy history of shooting themselves in the proverbial foot, it really hasn’t been in the red zone or with penalties, at least not last season. Only five teams were flagged for fewer infractions than Detroit’s 104 penalties in 2015. And the offense was impressively efficient in the red zone, scoring a touchdown nearly 70 percent of the time. Only the 15-1 Carolina Panthers, by a fraction of a percent, were better.

And while the spotlight has shined brighter on the offense this offseason, the starting defense hasn’t been much better, not since bottling up a Steelers team sitting all their impact players in the opener.

The opposing starting quarterbacks the past two games, Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, combined to go 18-for-25 for 172 yards, a touchdown and zero interceptions. And after Bengals running back Jeremy Hill sliced through Detroit’s front last week, the Ravens averaged 4.8 yards per carry in the first half.

That’s all compounded by the fact the Lions have forced just two turnovers in three games and the starting group has generated none.

Caldwell is right — most, if not all, of the Lions’ problems are correctable. But there’s a whole lot to correct and little time to do it. Last season, the Lions bumbled out of the gate to a 1-7 start and this staff can ill afford another slow start.

It’s the preseason. Nothing that happened in these games will matter in a month. But if Caldwell and his staff can’t get these fundamental problems corrected, it’s going to be another long year.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/justin_rogers

Lions vs. Bills

Kickoff: Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Ford Field, Detroit

Records: Lions 1-2, Bills 1-2

TV/radio: Fox 2/WJR