Wojo: Blame for Lions' collapse starts at top with Patricia, Quinn
Chicago — It can’t possibly get worse for the Lions, except you know it can. And the sad truth is, it probably will. This was embarrassing and comically enlightening, as the Lions officially teetered and collapsed.
Matthew Stafford looks lost. The offensive line looks awful. The defense looks scarcely capable of doing its job. Now there’s only one place to point, directly at the bosses, first-year head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn. In a third straight double-digit blowout, 34-22, to the Bears on Sunday, Patricia gave little indication he’s in command of the situation, or knows how to fix it.
We can keep picking apart SOL (Same Old Laments), it just gets redundant. Stafford was pressured and scattered again, sacked six times (down from 10 a week ago) and threw two interceptions. The defense, missing cornerback Darius Slay, was bewildered, as if it had no idea what to do. Mitch Trubisky led the Bears to touchdowns on their first four drives and it was 26-0 before anyone’s tootsies had a chance to freeze.
In the NFL, where practically every game comes down to a possession or two, the Lions are defying logic under Patricia. They’re 3-6, with four losses by double digits, and let’s not pretend they harbor even remote playoff chances. They were swamped by Seattle and Minnesota the past two weeks, and entered those fourth quarters with seven and six points, respectively. On Sunday, they trailed 34-10 after three quarters — it would’ve been worse if Bears kicker Cody Parkey wasn’t busy clanking four kicks off the uprights — before the Lions tacked on a couple of late touchdowns.
The slow starts and futile finishes are an epidemic, and it has to speak to preparation, doesn’t it? Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter had no answers, and if it was an easy fix to fire him, he should be fired now.
But Quinn, who’s had three years to put together this incomplete roster, and Patricia must shoulder the bulk of blame. Patricia is the defensive whiz who was supposed to schematically compensate for what the Lions lacked in talent. Is there some leeway because he’s a first-year head coach? If there is, it’s fading. Remember, the Lions were 9-7 a year ago. The Bears were 5-11 a year ago, fired their coach and hired first-timer Matt Nagy, and are 6-3.
No excuses offered by Patricia, none accepted.
“It’s always going to fall on coaching, first and foremost,” Patricia said. “Whether it’s players or coaches, whatever it is, we’re all in it together. …. Look, no one’s going to feel sorry for us. It’s the National Football league. We’ve got to get ready to go back to work.”
That’s pretty much all Patricia ever says, although he’s known to be far more vocal and demonstrative with his team, away from the cameras. Is there a disconnect between Patricia’s hard-driving ways and the laid-back style of former coach Jim Caldwell?
It sure looked that way in the opener, a pathetic 48-17 loss to the Jets. Murmurs were, practices were excessively long and demanding. Part of that was necessary. If any franchise in the history of mankind needed a culture change, it’s the Lions, but demanding a culture change and actually creating one are two different things, and Patricia has to adjust too.
After the Lions rebounded to beat the Patriots, Packers and Dolphins, they were 3-3, but at the first sign of adversity the past three weeks, they’ve haplessly crumbled. Injuries are a factor, with Slay out, and Ziggy Ansah and T.J. Lang rarely ready to go. Quinn also made the all-business decision to trade leading receiver Golden Tate for a third-round pick, and it’s no coincidence since Stafford lost his valuable safety valve, he’s been indecisive and jittery in the pocket.
In two games without Tate, the Lions have been out-sacked an astonishing 16-2, albeit against two of the best defenses in Chicago and Minnesota. Khalil Mack recorded two of the Bears’ six sacks, turning Matt Stafford into Matt Sackford, before reliable Stat Padford emerged in the fourth quarter, when the Bears’ defense backed off.
Wasted energy, wasted time. The Lions have been outscored by a staggering 72-13 in the first quarter, and there’s no plausible explanation. Stafford isn’t as aggressive early, but the idea also is to establish the alleged new-found running game. Rookie Kerryon Johnson ran for 51 yards against the Bears, and lost a key fumble in the third quarter.
“I thought we had a good week of practice, we were prepared,” Johnson said. “We’re fighting, nobody can say we’re not fighting to the very end. The problem is, we start off slow and then the fight at the end doesn’t matter. I didn’t do enough, that’s for sure.”
In it together
Johnson is an impressive rookie, one of Quinn’s drafting prizes. But the GM’s misses are piling up too. Quinn might have underestimated the impact of Tate’s departure, just as he underestimated releasing tight end Eric Ebron in the offseason. Ebron scored three touchdowns Sunday for the Colts and now has 10 (one rushing), while the Lions struggle to find production at the position.
The problem is, if you focus solely on Quinn’s drafting and signing decisions, you absolve Patricia. And if you focus solely on Patricia’s struggles to piece it together, you absolve Quinn.
They’re in this together, along with the players, and some indeed may be chafing under the new regime. If they’re not buying in, at least show pride in the effort, or more change will come. To simply surrender to frustration is lame.
Patricia has made rookie mistakes, including two failed replay challenges Sunday — a safety and a two-point conversion the Lions didn’t convert. Losing two timeouts could’ve been costlier than it ultimately was.
Much more troubling was how effortlessly the Bears cut through the Lions’ confused defense from the start, and Trubisky was practically perfect — 23-for-30 for 355 yards and three touchdowns. The Lions did shut down Chicago’s running game, but beyond that, the execution was painfully inept.
“Definitely it’s frustrating because we end up settling down and playing better defense,” linebacker Devon Kennard said. “We have to stick together, that’s the message overall (from Patricia), stick together and bounce back. All we have is each other. I believe in the guys in this room.”
That’s fine. But at some point, we’ll need to see more evidence players believe in the Quinn-Patricia regime. And Quinn and Patricia must show they can establish the credibility to earn that belief, a task that gets tougher by the game.