Lions outsmart themselves in loss to Ravens 4

12:24 AM 19 Dec 2013

How I felt after the game…

Yeah, it looked like the Detroit Lions were going to stomp the Baltimore Ravens after their first drive, but that was far from what happened. So how does a team drive the field and score a touchdown the first time they get the ball and then forget how to score after that for almost the entire game?

Well, I have the answer, but it’s a little complicated. There’s blame to go around, so lets look at who is getting fingers pointed at.

First and foremost, Calvin Johnson.
Let me just point out to rational fans,(those that still are), that megatron didn’t cost the Lions a victory with his two drops, or by not getting his feet down in the end zone on a pass that few other receivers could have hauled in. Did Johnson have a bad game? Hell yes he did, but he was not the reason the Lions lost to the Ravens. Get off him.

Second, our brilliant NFL Officials
Now we’re on to something. The first thing I noticed, and so did anyone watching the game after the replay, was the bogus facemask call on Jonte Green, who clearly had his hand on the shoulder and that’s it. Before that point, and this will surprise some Lions fans, the Ravens had 4 penalties to just 2 for the Lions.

Two plays later, the officials called Don Carey for pass interference. Those that thought the Lions were a dirty team and were losing faith now had reason to be optimistic, the Lions now had caught the Ravens with 4 penalties.

Look, I agree with the Unnecessary Roughness call on Louis Delmas, he went high and there was helmet to helmet contact, so the officials didn’t get everything wrong. They did, however, fail to see holding by the Ravens offensive line on a regular basis and missed a game changing pass interference call when Joe Fauria was going for a catch in the end zone while being held.

Yeah, that could have and probably did change the outcome of the game. The Lions lost 18-16, just 2 points, and would have probably at least kicked a field goal if a penalty had kept that drive alive. It didn’t.

Third, floundering Matthew Stafford 
Yeah, he didn’t play well. There are reasons a quarterback gets happy feet,(that’s when it looks like he is running in tires), and doesn’t set to throw. The obvious one is simple, he sucks. We all know that despite the bad games, Stafford is still one of the brighter younger talents in the game today. Remember the QB sneak that fooled everyone, including his own offensive line, to score and win the game? Remember the dismantling of the Green Bay Packers a few weeks back? Hey, remember that one time a rookie quarterback got hit, suffering a separated shoulder, and came back in with no time left to throw his fifth and game winning touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns?

Yeah, there are those that feel Stafford can’t hit megatron in stride, though he did in the loss to the Ravens. Some of his throws were well placed, and he did look comfortable at times, just not often enough. He doesn’t suck, so get over it.

Imagine Robert Griffin III or Michael Vick trying to run the Denver Bronco offense exactly the same way Peyton Manning does, or Peyton Manning running a read option offense. Some things just don’t work, and sometimes a quarterback isn’t comfortable in a particular offense.

Stafford is the most effective with one tight end and a back in the formation, and Brandon Pettigrew seems to have worked his way out of the offensive game play with his drops earlier this season. Pettigrew was only targeted 3 times against the Eagles and 2 times against the Packers, and again just two times in the loss to the Ravens before injuring his ankle in the second half. That’s not good for the offense, because Pettigrew is the best blocking tight end on the roster. That allows him to be in the formation between the 20′s, where anything goes. That’s also the main reason Joe Fauria isn’t in the game when the Lions are in the middle of the field, his run blocking. Stafford needs a tight end to throw the ball to, that’s one of his strengths.

Yeah, you wouldn’t think quarterback Alex Smith is the best in the NFL, but in the right offensive scheme, one that plays to his strengths, he can flourish. That leads directly to who we can blame next for the loss to the Ravens.

Fourth, the coaching staff
Yeah, the game plan on offense looked awesome coming out of the gate, but the Ravens adjusted. The Lions run the ball an average of almost 28 times per game, and Monday night was no different. The Lions ran the ball 28 times. Thing is, the only rush on third down was a Stafford scramble on a broken play that saw him get tackled short of the first down marker. A penalty on the Ravens gave the Lions a first down. The Lions threw the ball on third down, and that’s all they did, the entire game. To make matters worse, they lined up with an empty backfield on several occasions.

The Lions ran the ball 28 times on Monday night, but only one carry came on third down, a Matthew Stafford scramble that saw him slide short of the first down marker. A blow to the helmet by the Ravens defense gave the Lions first down yardage. The Lions had 5 first downs by rushing in the first half, and only 3 from passing. None of the rushing first downs were a third down conversion, the Lions were not running on third down.

This empty backfield look…not good for any 3rd and short unless it’s under 2 minutes remaining and you are down by 4 or more, not for Stafford anyways. With a lone back, Stafford hit over 61% of his passes last season. 4+ Wide, Stafford hit only over 56% of his passes last season. The Lions did line up with no TE and pass 71 times last season, that’s even worse, with Stafford hitting just 43.7% of his passes under that formation.
All of the above indicate Stafford isn’t a spread the field and throw the ball guy, he needs a back and tight end..Linehan played exactly to the weakness of Stafford on Monday, from what I saw. Way too much empty backfield.

Now, remember the question in the first paragraph of this article? Hint:

how does a team drive the field and score a touchdown the first time they get the ball and then forget how to score after that for almost the entire game?

Here is the first drive:
1st down, pass
2nd down, run
3rd down, pass(Joique Bell, the Lions had a back in the formation on this third down, 46 yards)
1st down, run
2nd down, run
3rd down, pass(it was a 3rd and 7, Stafford hit for 5 yards, a penalty gave the Lions a 1st down)
1st down, pass
2nd down, Reggie Bush touchdown run

Take a look. You’re the Ravens defensive coordinator. You adjust, play run only on first and second down and just pass on third down. It works, the Ravens make the Lions offense start to flounder.

Somehow, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan decides to use that plan the entire game. The offense does not adjust after the Ravens do. To make matters worse, the Lions started using an empty backfield look. Why is that worse?

  1. There is no back, the QB can’t check to a run if he doesn’t like the defensive look before the snap.
  2. The defense just has to play pass, the run is not something they need to worry about.
  3. No back means that a blitz becomes more effective, with nobody to pick up any defender that comes free in a rush. 
  4. There is no back to throw an outlet too. Remember that 46 yard Bell catch on the first scoring drive?
  5. If Stafford doesn’t like the defensive look before the snap, his only option is to throw to another route or call a time-out to change the play. Schwartz rarely does that.
  6. Matthew Stafford has to make five reads, all fast, probably with an extra defender or two on a blitz. It isn’t his game, he isn’t Peyton Manning.

You make the call. In my opinion, there is no excuse for the sorry offensive game play that Linehan refused to budge from, even after the Ravens had it pegged. That took one drive. If you just pass on third down and still run for your average, you are also running more on 1st and second, against a Ravens defense that probably figured that out quickly. Wanna know why the Lions found themselves in those thidr down situations? Just think about it.

The Lions needed to get some first downs on 1st and 2nd down, not stumble along.

Jim Schwartz isn’t without blame here. The Lions have too much talent on the roster to play the way they have. The undisciplined football has been an ongoing problem, one I no longer think Schwartz can get a handle on. Rumor has it that the Lions must make the playoffs for Schwartz to keep his job. I didn’t agree with that assessment when I first heard it, but I do now.

Gunther Cunningham has done an adequate job this season, in my opinion, besides a few second half collapses here and there. At 67 years old, a top five rushing defense might not be enough to save his job. The Lions are going to have to move on soon on defense, and I have seen him as the scapegoat for some time now after the season is over.

In the end, you could be one of those fans that thought the Ravens would be a tough team to beat. I did. They came into that game having won four in a row. Thing is, they beat the Lions without scoring a single touchdown, and that irks me more than a little.

4 thoughts on “Lions outsmart themselves in loss to Ravens

  1. Reply RustyHilgerReborn Dec 19, 2013 6:29 PM

    Great post. I just wish you mentioned the 2nd Stafford interception, where Pettigrew and Bell both ran their routes directly into Kris Durham’s shallow cross, causing Durham to alter his path, making him late getting over. That INT killed at least a field goal attempt and led to a Ravens FG. Even if Stafford just took a sack, there’s a good chance they could at least pin the Ravens deep. Or even better, if Pettigrew/Bell ran their damn routes correctly, it could have been an easy 1st down!

    • Dave Brown, TSB Senior Writer Reply Dave Brown, TSB Senior Writer Dec 20, 2013 12:16 AM

      Pettigrew and Bell are both well established in the passing offense, which leads me to believe there was confusion as to what play they were running. I would think Durham would be the culprit on that play, getting his route mixed up.
      I don’t think anyone ran their route incorrectly, but someone did run the wrong one.

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