Niyo: Inconsistent Lions full of flaws

John Niyo
The Detroit News
As the Bears' Deiondre Hall and Cre'Von LeBlanc celebrate Hall's interception, wide receiver Anquan Boldin heads to the sidelines late in the fourth quarter.

Allen Park — It doesn’t take regression analysis for most Lions fans to understand another frustrating start to an NFL season in Detroit.

The Lions losing is the dependent variable. And the independent variables typically are too numerous to count — the coaching, the injuries, the quarterback, the penalties and so on — so most fans are conditioned to just to throw up their hands and decide the Lions lose because they are the Lions.

That’s often impossible to argue, and coming off another brutal effort Sunday in Chicago, so are the reasons to think Jim Caldwell has much chance, if any, to be this team’s head coach beyond 2016.

But at the moment, there are still a dozen games left to be played and perhaps a few months before first-year general manager Bob Quinn feels compelled to do what he might’ve done — or what he should’ve done — when he was hired back in January.

“That’s something I can’t control,” Caldwell reminded us Monday, a day after his team — looking listless, distracted and downright awful against the lowly Bears — lost its third consecutive game following that season-opening win in Indianapolis.

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“I’m a guy that believes in results, and the results aren’t good, plain and simple. I’m not one to make any excuses or try and hide from facts. I’m more interested in whether or not we’re winning and losing. We’ve been losing as of late, and that’s not good. That’s my responsibility.”

Responsibility and accountability were supposed to be the hallmarks of his tenure in Detroit, and yet four games into his third season at the helm, Caldwell’s team remains plagued by inconsistency. And lately by an inexplicable mix of penalties — 370 yards in four games, second only to Jacksonville — and mental gaffes.

Sending a message

Perhaps that’s why Caldwell and his staff felt it necessary to bench veteran receiver Golden Tate for much of Sunday’s second half, sending a message after a missed signal on Tate’s part led to an errant route and, ultimately, a crucial interception with the Lions driving just before halftime. Tate played only five snaps after that.

“It was a feeling I’ve never had before, for sure,” said Tate, who has just 14 receptions for 95 yards through four games this season.

That’s hardly the type of production expected from a receiver who caught 189 passes in 2014-15 and is the fifth-highest paid player on the roster. But Caldwell refused to even acknowledge that again Monday, dismissing questions about Tate’s diminished role — one that seems a bit redundant alongside Theo Riddick in this offense — as attempts to “sensationalize things.”

“What do I expect his role to be? No different than what it’s been,” Caldwell said. “Golden is a starter for us and we anticipate Golden to play well.”

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Well, he’d better. And he better have lots of company, because unless and until the Lions get their best two defensive players back on the field — Ziggy Ansah and DeAndre Levy — the offense is going to have to win games for them. (Don’t be fooled by some of the scores thus far — Chicago and Tennessee are tied for last in the NFL in scoring this season.)

Right now, that’s obviously not happening, even with that favorable early-season schedule and Matthew Stafford’s supposed comfort level with this retooled offense under coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.

Dead in red zone

The Lions have started with the second-worst average field position in the NFL this season, a nod to their mostly anemic return game thus far. And they’ve averaged more plays per drive than every other team but Dallas, which says as much about a lack of explosive plays as it does Stafford’s improved efficiency. The bottom line is they’ve scored just four touchdowns on offense the last three weeks, including a 2-for-7 showing in the red zone.

“We were No. 1 at it, and now we’re way off,” said Eric Ebron, referencing last year’s statistics, when the Lions ranked No. 2 behind Carolina in red-zone efficiency. “It’s a big man’s game when you get to the red zone. We have to get better at it.”

Problem is, they’ll have to get better up front to do that, and with a young offensive line, the growing pains probably aren’t going away anytime soon.

Not with a pair of top-10 defenses up next, starting with the Eagles and old friend Jim Schwartz on Sunday. And not without a better game plan from Caldwell and Cooter. Sunday, Detroit’s backs managed just 49 yards on 16 carries against an injury-riddled defense that came in ranked last in the league against the run.

“Too many miscommunication errors, too many technique errors and too many penalties,” guard Larry Warford said. “It’s all self-inflicted wounds, man.”

Playing for a coach who was under fire before the season began, that’s a potentially lethal combination.

Wojo: Caldwell's low-key approach isn't working