Lions trip themselves up in red-zone situations
Allen Park — The devil is in the details, and in this case, the devil is getting across the goal line.
The Lions offense appears to have found its footing coming out of the bye, racking up nearly 900 yards the past two weeks. But the team is still leaving too many points on the field.
In a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Lions’ inability to convert any of their five red-zone trips into a touchdown, including three from inside the 5-yard line, proved to be the difference in the game. In Monday night’s otherwise impressive victory over the Green Bay Packers, the Lions’ issues persisted, with two of three trips inside the five yielding field goals instead of touchdowns, lowlighted by a tough-to-stomach series of three consecutive stuffed runs from the 1-yard line.
Yeah, it’s always tough,” wide receiver Golden Tate said. “Coming from Seattle, pretty much we got to the 5-yard line, we knew we were going to get in. If it was a one-receiver set, or three tight-end set, I was going to the bench and I’ll see y’all when we score. I didn’t have to think about it. It can be frustrating, but I know we have the potential to be a really, really good running team.”
Marshawn Lynch isn’t walking through the door in Detroit anytime soon, but even without a physical north-south runner, the Lions are convinced they have the pieces in place to get the job done. According to offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, it’s simply a matter of everyone doing their job on a given play, particularly in the compacted quarters just shy of the goal line.
“It looks like a nothing run, but one detail of one guy’s block and there’s a touchdown there,” Bob Cooter said. “And we got to continue to clean that up. This league is complex. You’re going to get multiple looks, you’re going to have multiple different guys moving in different spots, and different style of blitzes, and we got to be able to handle that and sort of do a better job with that.
“It’s very, very, very tiny details, but it’s the difference between six points and, or I guess seven points, and three points which we got to better.”
The film backs up Cooter’s assessment. Nearly every failed short-yardage run, there’s one, maybe two blown assignments. And the margin of error in that area is so small that 10 guys doing the right thing isn’t enough to accomplish the task.
And it’s not like it’s the same guy. On the botched red zone runs against Green Bay, a tight end blew his block on one, a guard stumbled on another and an offensive tackle and wide receiver collided on a third. Each small error led to failure.
Not surprisingly, these run game execution errors aren’t limited to the red zone. The revolving door of miscues are hampering just about everything the Lions are trying to accomplish on the ground. The team is dead last in power conversion rate — third or fourth down runs needing to gain two or fewer yards — and stuffed run percentage, with 31 percent of the team’s carries resulting in no gain or a loss yards.
“Yeah, no one likes to get stuffed, especially how hard we work on the details of getting things, but it will come,” running back Ameer Abdullah said. “I’m a believer if you work hard, you’re practicing the right way, it’s bound to happen for you.”
It’s these issues that are preventing the offense from reaching its full potential, especially when the passing game is starting to click on all cylinders. The early-season pass protection issues have been much improved, helping Matthew Stafford throw for 784 yards in two games with receivers Marvin Jones and Golden Tate combining for 27 catches, 434 yards and two touchdowns.
The team has been particularly successful throwing the ball downfield, which should be opening up things on the ground.
“There’s always going to be something that you’re not good at, you’re deficient at,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “That’s the way football is. You’re not going to be perfect. So, the things where your weaknesses lie, you just got to keep working at it. You got to keep working and trying to get better, and that’s what we’ll keep doing.”
Fixing the ground game against the Browns this Sunday won’t be easy. Despite the team’s dismal 0-8 record, their defense has been good, especially against the run.
Coming into the game, Cleveland is holding opponents to a league-low 2.9 yards per carry, a half-yard better than any other team. They’re also stuffing 31 percent of carries. Only the Philadelphia Eagles have been better.