Four Downs: Lions' awful game plan turns Bears' Trubisky into an All-Pro
Allen Park — Here are four observations after having a night to ponder the Detroit Lions' 24-20 loss to the Chicago Bears.
It was another junk game plan combined with poor execution from Detroit's defense. All season, the narrative surrounding Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is whether the franchise will finally pull the plug and go to backup Chase Daniel.
Relative to his peers around the league, Trubisky is inaccurate, and its his mobility that made him a viable starter when the Bears won the division last year. But that latter skill has been lost. A lingering shoulder injury has given him an aversion to contact. That was on full display when he had a shot at scrambling for a first down on third down in the red zone and pulled up to avoid a hit.
The other known fact with Trubisky is he struggles against the blitz. He's one of the worst quarterbacks in the league when opponents send an extra rusher. So what do the Lions do? They rush with four or fewer the majority of the game, and often rush with a premium on contain, defending the phantom threat of a quarterback who isn't interested in running.
The result, Trubisky has 3.14 seconds in the pocket on average, according to Pro Football Focus. Over the course of the season, that would be more than any starting quarterback in the NFL.
With that kind of time he could have knit a blanket for Christmas. Instead, he used it to complete 76.3 percent of his passes for a season-high 338 yards. That's 21.6 percent better than his previous season high and 55.8 percent more than his season average, even when you remove the Week 4 game against Minnesota when an injury forced him to exit early.
The Lions' top priority this offseason has to be solving its pass rush, both from a schematic and personnel standpoint. While there are clear deficiencies in the secondary, as well, a collective of five Pro Bowlers in the back end couldn't stop an average NFL passer with that much time to throw.
Here's a bold suggestion, and one where it's too early to know the true cost, but the Lions should seriously consider doing whatever it takes to land Ohio State defensive end Chase Young in the draft. Iowa's A.J. Epenesa looks to be a solid consolation, but Young is the game-changing defensive player in this class.
If the Lions lose out, which is looking more and more likely, they're looking at drafting No. 4 overall. To get Young, they probably have to move up a spot or two. What did it cost the Bears to move up one spot to No. 2 a couple years back? A pair of thirds and a fourth.
That's a steep cost, no doubt. But if the Lions really believe they are one or two plays away every week, then do everything you can to add a player capable of making one or two plays on his own.
As the sample size expands, any doubt the Lions have found a meaningful piece in Bo Scarbrough shrinks.
Scarbrough is the definition of a downhill runner. He wastes little time and little motion getting across the line of scrimmage. Although he doesn't have enough carries to qualify, he'd be among the league's most efficient north-south runners, according to data traded by the NFL's Next Gen stats.
In all three games he's played, Scarbrough has not averaged more than 2.67 seconds from time of handoff to reaching the line of scrimmage. Only six backs average less time than that on the season.
The other thing about Scarbrough is he's built to handle the workload. While there's no guarantees against injuries in the NFL, his 235-pound frame is more equipped to handle 20 carries in a game.
At this rate, he's going to pass Kerryon Johnson as the team's leading rusher on the season as early as next week. He only trails the injured starter by 72 yards.
We probably won't know the status of tight end T.J. Hockenson until early next week, but if he did suffer a high ankle sprain, there's a good chance it ends his rookie season.
If that's the case, he'd finish with 32 catches for 367 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games. That's better production than Eric Ebron or Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit's last two first-round tight ends, provided their rookie years, but still underwhelming given the resource investment and the expectation adjustment following Hockenson's debut.
That Week 1 performance against Arizona — six catches, 131 yards and a touchdown — showed fans the matchup nightmare Hockenson can be. But in the next 11 games, he never topped 56 yards and finished with more than 30 just three times. And the lack of pass-game production wasn't buoyed by his blocking, which was a major work in progress throughout his debut season.
As we noted in the mailbag earlier this week, the overall body of work isn't overly surprising. Tight end is one of the toughest spots to adjust to the demands of the pro game, but it also reaffirms it's a typically poor way to spend a first-round pick.
Maybe Hockenson makes a huge developmental leap in his second season, and becomes the poor man's version of Rob Gronkowski the Lions hope he can be, but there's little question they didn't get enough value out of the young tight end in his first season.
Look at the leaderboard for first-quarter scoring and you'll find it's littered with division leaders or clear playoff contender. Among the top seven teams, Baltimore, New England, San Francisco, Green Bay, Minnesota and Kansas City are a combined 52-14 and all locked into playoff spots.
Then, there's the Lions. Only the Patriots and Ravens are averaging more first-quarter points than the 7.7 the Lions have been scoring after quickly putting up 14 on the Bears on Thanksgiving.
There are some obvious differences between the Lions and the other teams. Some, particularly San Francisco, Baltimore and Minnesota, sustain their scoring through the second halves of games. Also, four of the six have top-10 scoring defenses, while the Lions check in at 25th. And all six are in the top-10 in turnover margin, while the Lions are 19th.
Focusing on one problem at a time, the Lions are 24th in scoring after the first quarter. Against Chicago, the offense posted six points the rest of the way. With the team's final eight possessions, not including the one at the end of the first half, they went three-and-out four times, had a single first down on another, twice stalled in the red zone and settled for short field goals and ended the game on an interception.
This has raised questions about offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's ability to counter punch and adjust after going through his scripted plays. That's difficult to definitively say, but with the defense continued struggles, the offense's inability to keep up its early success has also been an issue.