Wojo: Lions can't run, can't hide from their flaws
Detroit — The Lions still can’t run, not consistently. They still can’t stop the run, not at all. They still can’t outrun their weaknesses, which were exposed and laid bare in humbling fashion.
This is why the Lions can’t be trusted, not yet, because in a turning-point type of game, they got punched and couldn’t punch back. Embarrassing miscues. Careless mistakes. And a defense that was picked clean by a great quarterback.
As much as we might think the Lions are nearing legitimacy, as much as they looked the part winning three of four games, they’re barely halfway there. Seattle’s Russell Wilson found all the holes and the Lions offered feeble resistance in a 28-14 loss Sunday.
Both teams were 3-3, both had designs on making a run, but the Lions still can’t outrun their past and their nature. They lost partly because Matthew Stafford committed two huge turnovers in the fourth quarter, and mainly because their defense still can’t control anything.
In a nasty little twist, the Lions’ run defense is killing their emerging run offense. They rank 29th in the league in rushing yards allowed and 32nd in yards per carry. The addition of Damon “Snacks” Harrison this week should help, and he made an impact Sunday, with seven tackles and a sack. But when he was out, the Seahawks ran freely, keeping the ball from the Lions’ offense and confirming an old adage — one snack doesn’t make a meal.
“It’s a full-team effort in the run game, and we have to get everybody executing better,” Matt Patricia said. “I have to coach it better. We need to get our fundamentals better. It’s not one player. It starts with me.”
Back to old ways
Of course, Pete Carroll has been winning a long time in Seattle with the grind-it-out approach, and while the names have changed, the Seahawks’ punishing style hasn’t. They controlled the clock behind Wilson’s superb direction — 14-for-17 passing for 248 yards — and the Lions barely got to touch the ball.
If you have a weakness in the NFL, opponents will find it. When the Seahawks weren’t pounding away, Wilson was picking on Lions second-year cornerback Teez Tabor, while diligently avoiding Darius Slay on the other side. The Lions marched 91 yards for a touchdown on their opening drive, but had only one more possession in the game’s first 28 minutes. By halftime they trailed 21-7, and every chance to rebound was squashed by a glaring gaffe.
Ameer Abdullah fumbled on a kickoff return, and you have to wonder if his future here officially is in jeopardy. Stafford dropped the ball trying to escape pressure, losing the fumble in Seattle territory with seven minutes left. Later, he threw a horrible interception to Justin Coleman on first-and-goal from the Seahawks’ 4.
“The interception was just a bad decision,” Stafford said. “You look at it, offense didn’t run the ball well enough, defense probably didn’t stop the run well enough, third downs, turnovers, field position, you name it, we didn’t do it well enough.”
When you don’t have the ball — Seattle had a 35-25 time-of-possession advantage — it’s hard to use your fresh new weapon, Kerryon Johnson. The rookie carried four times on the first drive, then only four more the rest of the way, finishing with 22 yards (he did catch six passes for 69 yards). That came after his breakout 158-yard show in last week’s victory in Miami.
The Seahawks tallied 176 rushing yards, 105 by Chris Carson, to the Lions’ measly 34. They easily controlled play and Wilson was brilliant, finishing with a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3
Once the Lions fell behind, they had to revert to their old ways of winging and hoping, with Stafford hitting Marvin Jones in stride for a pair of touchdowns. In the past five games, Stafford had been excellent, efficient and mistake-free, primarily because he didn’t feel compelled to do everything. As this team has learned, and as Patricia and his staff are trying to address, you can’t win consistently if you can’t run and can’t stop the run. The Lions seemed to be halfway there with Johnson’s emergence, but they have a considerable way to go.
Out of focus
If they thought they’d arrived after two straight victories, ha, welcome back to reality.
“We didn’t focus on nothing, we couldn’t stop the run and we let the Seattle offense control the game,” defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said. “We came out flat with no focus. We just weren’t ready to go again — that team came off that bus ready to go. They were ready to execute everything, they were ready to put their skills on display. We just came out there and weren’t focused at all against this team and that’s the weird part.”
Oh, there were lots of weird parts. Like with 2:18 left, when Seattle was pinned at its own 3. Punter Michael Dickson stood in the end zone and prepared to take a safety, but when the Lions’ special teams comically didn’t pursue him, he saw an opening and chugged to the 12 for a first down.
Another weird part is, the Lions can handle the Patriots and Packers at home, and win at Miami. But their four losses have come against middling teams, at least record-wise — the Jets, 49ers, Cowboys and Seahawks.
And that’s precisely where the Lions now sit, middling along. It’s foolish to even think about the playoff picture in October, but against opponents like this, huge opportunities are blown. Seattle is an NFC team with a similar record, and the Lions now hit the road to face division rivals Minnesota and Chicago.
Nearly midway through the season, we still have no idea who the Lions are, or what they can do especially well. We know what they can’t do well enough, an issue easily diagnosed but not easily fixed.