Wojo: Loss puts Mayhew, Caldwell on the spot

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News
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Detroit — This was ineptitude on every level, from the top to the trenches, the type of meltdown that gets people fired. The Lions were beaten up physically again by the Vikings, but that’s not what should shake their foundation.

They were out-schemed and out-toughed in the final three quarters Sunday, a performance so scattered, it’s about time to reevaluate everything, starting with Jim Caldwell and the coaching staff. Sometimes it’s about Matthew Stafford, but not this time, not after this abomination.

The Lions were beaten 28-19, but the score was only part of the story. They were beaten by body and mind, by a Vikings defense that alternately outplayed and outsmarted the Lions offense. The Vikings fell behind 14-3, then spent the rest of the game dialing up blitzes and taking free shots at Stafford, who hurt his left hand but said he was OK. It was incredible, really, to see an NFL team so thoroughly befuddled, its quarterback could barely take two steps without getting hit.

This is on everyone, starting with GM Martin Mayhew, who put it together and bears the most responsibility. But on game day, Caldwell and his offensive staff, especially coordinator Joe Lombardi and line coach Jeremiah Washburn, have shown scant ability to adjust.

Jobs should be in jeopardy if something doesn’t change dramatically, as the 1-6 Lions head to London to face the Chiefs, followed by a bye week. That would be the time for an angry organization to make moves, although the Lions never have operated with urgency. We don’t know enough about owner Martha Ford to gauge her impatience, but if she has watched with objective eyes, she should be furious.

Four downs, no yards

Caldwell had few answers, and along with his staff, piled on with the mistakes. With 2:53 left, Calvin Johnson made an amazing catch at the goal line, as Stafford heaved the ball while getting hit. Johnson was marked down at the half-yard line, although replays showed he might have scored.

Caldwell should have challenged it, but said he didn’t get word from the Lions’ booth to do so. Instead, trying to score quickly before the two-minute warning, the Lions ran another play, a handoff to George Winn – unbelievably, his first carry of the season after coming off the practice squad. No gain. Then a handoff to fullback Michael Burton. No gain. On fourth down, a pass to Theo Riddick sailed wide, and the game was essentially over.

“The logic is, we’re six inches away and the (big backs) are the closest guys to the line of scrimmage,” Stafford said. “Those are our goal line plays. They just did a better job stopping us.”

Stafford stood up to the rush and the questions and did about as well as he could under the circumstances, similar to the 26-16 beating by the Vikings last month. It’s been obvious for a while he can’t singlehandedly solve all the Lions problems, and isn’t singularly to blame.

It’s also apparent the coaching staff — and the line — are adjusting poorly, or slowly. Stafford was sacked seven times, and managed to complete 18 of 26 passes for 256 yards. The Lions led 14-3 after driving 75 and 80 yards on their first two possessions, with Stafford easily finding Calvin Johnson, Eric Ebron and others.

Then the Lions collected only 30 yards on their next seven possessions, while Vikings end Everson Griffen and his buddies were having a blast pounding unblocked into Stafford’s face.

“I don’t think it was giving in, we just didn’t do what we were supposed to do,” Caldwell said. “We just didn’t block well enough, we didn’t take care of some of our assignments. We were just inept for a stretch.”

Failure to adjust

The confusion was staggering. At one point, the Lions called a timeout after a change of possession because they only had 10 guys on the field. At another time, Stafford could be seen on the sideline loudly exhorting his linemen. Washburn reportedly apologized to the linemen for a blown call that led to an unblocked pass-rusher.

The Lions, theoretically, were approaching full health on their offensive line, with Larry Warford and LaAdrian Waddle back from injury, but the protection was non-existent, compounded by strategic gaffes.

“We made some adjustments, we had to,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “Once we got them into throwing situations, I felt pretty good about it.”

If the Lions adjusted, it wasn’t noticeable, and it didn’t work. Adrian Peterson broke loose a few times, and let’s face it, the Lions’ defense is a shell of its previous self, especially in the secondary.

The Vikings’ Teddy Bridgewater started hitting underneath routes, while the Lions’ main mid-range guy, Golden Tate, was invisible, with two catches for 14 yards. Not that Stafford had any time to find him.

“It’s not on Matt to do every single thing,” Tate said. “We gotta protect him, gotta run better routes, gotta be on the same page. They brought some type of blitz that we struggled with. I don’t know if it was the same one, but something made us really uncomfortable. We gotta fix it, because this is a copycat league and I imagine we’re probably gonna see the same thing next week.”

The Lions have been physically beaten a lot this season, and that goes back to some of Mayhew’s head-scratching decisions. They’ve also looked poorly coached, unsure of themselves, such as on that fateful goal line sequence in the closing minutes.

Caldwell is unflinching, vowing to plug ahead, as most embattled teams try to do. But when these things crumble, they’re hard to put back together. Doing the same thing over and over only works if you do it well, and the Lions are running out of time to find anything they do well.

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