Justin Rogers, John Niyo and Bob Wojnowski break down the Lions' 30-16 loss to the Rams and talks about what the franchise needs to add to become competitive. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Allen Park — Here are four observations after having a night to ponder the Detroit Lions' 30-16 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Detroit's season-long struggles in the red zone were center stage in this defeat. The team worked the ball inside the 20 on five occasions and came away with just 16 points. That's a quick way to derail your hopes of upsetting a juggernaut.
For the year, the Lions are translating 47.6 percent of their red-zone opportunities into touchdowns, a nearly 9 percent decline from a year ago. This comes during a year where the rest of the league has been far more efficient finishing drives. The Lions have plummeted from 10th in conversion percentage in 2017 to 29th this year.
A big part of the problem is Detroit's lack of a go-to player, or even a bread-and-butter play call.
"We have some new guys in some new places, obviously, trying to develop some of those at the moment, to tell you the truth," quarterback Matthew Stafford said.
In previous years, you could always count on Calvin Johnson either being the top option or drawing enough attention that it freed up someone else to make a play. The Lions were a top-seven team in the red zone five times in six years from 2010-15.
Now, maybe the best thing the team has is Kenny Golladay's size, but even that has its limits with the receiver's skill set not conducive to getting separation in tight spacing. Stafford looked for Golladay twice in the end zone on Sunday; on one the receiver caught the pass with a foot out of bounds and the second throw was picked.
Marvin Jones' absence also hurts, but his separation issues can similarly be an issue close to the end zone.
The Lions obviously need more playmakers in the passing game, especially after moving on from both Eric Ebron and Golden Tate. Whether it's in the draft or free agency, they need to find one or two who complement Golladay and Jones in the red zone, options with the short-area quickness to get open consistently within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
Detroit's creative play-calling was refreshing to see, even if it didn't always work out. The shovel pass to Bruce Ellington on third-and-2 was poorly blocked, leading to the receiver getting leveled behind the line of scrimmage, and a double-pass involving Ellington didn't work, in part, because Stafford short-armed the first throw to his receiver.
I even appreciate the first onside kick attempt, which looked to have caught the Rams off-guard, but wasn't properly executed by punter Sam Martin.
The plays that did work, and were unexpected, were the downfield shots to Levine Toilolo, netting gains of 22 and 39 yards, and the excellently designed pass to left tackle Taylor Decker, netting Detroit's lone red-zone touchdown on the afternoon.
Detroit clearly lacks the offensive personnel to keep up with most teams, so creativity and aggression become increasingly necessary. It would be nice to see things trend in that direction down the stretch.
In Ndamukong Suh's return to Detroit he played the role of aggressive agitator that made him one of the city's most popular athlete's and garnered him a national reputation as one of the league's dirty players.
Suh was flagged twice for 15-yard penalties, first for a blatant horse collar tackle on running back Zach Zenner, and a second for a questionable late hit on Stafford, where the 300-pound defensive tackle gave his former teammate a stiff shove just as he released the ball. Excessive? Depends on your viewpoint, but Suh's long past getting the benefit of the doubt.
Suh's finger also slipped through the face mask of Rick Wagner, catching the right tackle in the eye and forcing him to miss two plays. Again, it's impossible to discern intent with Suh because he's always toeing the line.
It's always amusing how these things work. Based on the reaction I've seen on Twitter, most Lions fans feel the eye poke was intentional. Five years ago, those same fans would have insisted it was an accident.
Having agitators like Suh, Bill Laimbeer and Bob Probert is only great when they're on your side.
While still not technically eliminated from the playoffs, we all know the score here. The only standing scenarios anyone should be concerned about at this point is draft order.
At 4-8, the Lions are tied with four other teams for the fifth-worst record in the league. The tiebreaker for draft position is strength of schedule, with the weakest schedule getting the higher pick. If you project out to include Detroit's upcoming opponents, a group consisting of the Cardinals, Bills, Vikings and Packers, the Lions are currently slotted to select No. 5 in April.
The next two games will play a critical role in whether Detroit ends up with a top-five choice or something closer to 10-12. The Cardinals, on deck for next Sunday, are one of four teams with a worse record than the Lions. But if the Cardinals win next week, the Lions would leapfrog them with the tiebreaker, moving to No. 4 (or No. 3 if the Jets beat the Bills).
The following week, the Lions travel to Buffalo, where the two teams will be within a game of each other in the standings. While I won't go as far as suggesting the Lions should tank the final four weeks, it's obvious what they stand to gain if they do lose out.