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Buck stops at Caldwell for Lions' offensive problems

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Allen Park – It wasn't quite as theatrical as Wayne Fontes' Big Buck speech a bunch of years back, but Lions head coach Jim Caldwell made it abundantly clear Monday regarding the team's sputtering offense that there will be no excuses, no second guessing and no finger pointing – especially not in the direction of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and his play-calling.

The buck stops at Caldwell.

"Every defensive call, every call on special teams and every call on offense goes through me," Caldwell said. "If I don't like it, I'll change it. But I am responsible for every call that goes into the ballgame. Plain and simple. It's my prerogative. I am responsible for everything that goes on, whether we are effective or ineffective."

Just about everything the Lions' offense tried against the Cardinals in the 14-6 loss on Sunday was ineffective. The pass blocking – from the battered offensive line, from the backup tight ends filling in for Brandon Pettigrew and from the running backs – was bad. The passing from quarterback Matthew Stafford was erratic, as were some of the routes run by his receivers.

Penalties and poorly-executed plays caused drives to break down. Not once were the Lions able to sustain a drive. The only time they got into the red zone was after an interception and return by Cassius Vaughn.

And the inconsistencies shown Sunday weren't a one-week anomaly. They've been going on all season.

"It's back and forth. It's up and down," Caldwell said. "It may be a route that's not run exactly like you want. It might be a ball placement that's not thrown exactly where you'd like it or with the kind of timing you're looking for. Could be pressure on (quarterback) Matthew Stafford that gave you problems.

"There are all kinds of different things happening. It's never been one thing and that's the thing with consistency. We haven't been consistent across the board."

He pointed out, though, that the run game showed some life (6.1 yard per carry average by Joique Bell) and, as evidenced by the three previous wins, the offense has shown some explosiveness, albeit only in spurts.

"All the things we have problems with are things that are correctable," he said. "We can fix it."

Asked why it has taken this long, 11 weeks, to get fixed, Caldwell said, "I can't give you any answers to that. Obviously we know what the problems are. We see them happen and we try to get them corrected. Sometimes it just takes time."

He said he was satisfied with Lombardi's play-calling and he defended a couple of aspects of the game Sunday that were roundly criticized nationally and locally.

Why was Golden Tate targeted only twice?

"It's not a matter of going to him," Caldwell said. "The plays that we called, a lot of them are the same plays where he may have gotten the ball previously. You look at the progression, maybe there was a guy in front of him and Matt has to go somewhere else."

The Cardinals were, in fact, bracketing Tate with two defenders much of the game.

"Those are the things that happen more so than we're not designing plays to go to Golden," Caldwell said. "That wasn't the case. It's just the way it turns out sometimes."

Stafford, under duress much of the game from the Cardinals rush, didn't have a lot of time to get to the third and four reads in his progressions. That also impacted how often he was able to throw to Tate.

"You all (media) think that it's targeting," he said. "But it's not. It's the progression, and pressure has something to do with that."

Calvin Johnson had 12 targets and only five catches. Caldwell was asked if he thought Stafford was trying to force the ball into Johnson too often.

"I don't feel that way," he said.

Caldwell also defended the call of an inside run with speed back Theo Riddick on a key, drive-stopping third-and-1 play at the Lions' 45 with 2:35 left in the fourth quarter, instead of using the more powerful Bell.

"You ask about tactical things," he said. "Oftentimes when we prepare, we look and see what best suits us and we call those plays accordingly. If they work, nobody says anything about them. If not, you've got the benefit of the results and you can make your own assessment.

"In terms of our preparation, we thought that was going to be a good play for us in that situation. It didn't turn out that way."

Caldwell said the team will spend Monday going over the loss to the Cardinals – "We will point out our mistakes with brutal honesty," he said – and then move forward and begin preparations for the Patriots.

There is no need, he said, to make a more out of the game in Arizona than what it was -- one loss.

"We've not been through a tough stretch yet," he said. "One loss is not a tough stretch to me. A tough stretch is where you struggle for an extended period of time, like losing four out of five games like we did in Baltimore and ended up winning the Super Bowl. … It's how you come out of it that counts.

"I know what kind of team we have. We have showed it in spurts – the grit. They come back, they fight you and they don't give up. Even in that ballgame (Sunday) our effort was unbelievable. We need to work on execution in some areas, but we will get better."