Inside the numbers: Lions struggling with slow starts to games

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions are struggling at the start of games on both offense and defense. What does this tell us?

One of my biggest issues with Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is that he always wants his offense on the field to start games. If the Lions win the coin toss, they elect to receive. And if the opponent wins the coin toss, it puts the Lions offense on the field to start the game, at least that has been the case so far this season.

Amazingly, the Lions have started with the ball first in all seven games this year, and they have produced 0 points on their opening drives. The offense has been much better its second time on the field, though, as it has produced 20 points in that particular situation. The offense is even better at the start of the second half, as the Lions have 21 points so far on their opening drives of the third quarter.

Here's an in-depth look at what the offense has done at various points in games this season (in parentheses is where the opponent took over the ball, if applicable):

Week Opening drive Second drive First drive of second half
1 10 plays, 67 yards, botched FG (MIN 22) 10 plays, 85 yards, 33-yard FG 7 plays, 51 yards, 1-yard TD run
2 3 plays, 8 yards, 56-yard punt (ARI 21) 13 plays, 65 yards, blocked FG (ARI 37) 2 plays, 7 yards, fumble (DET 7)
3 6 plays, 27 yards, 53-yard punt (WAS 20) 1 play, 0 yards, INT returned for TD 3 plays, 6 yards, 51-yard punt (WAS 27)
4 6 plays, 20 yards, 43-yard punt (CHI 30) 11 plays, 78 yards, 23-yard FG 3 plays, 3 yards, 57-yard punt (CHI 20)
5 9 plays, 35 yards, 45-yard punt (GB 20) 3 plays, -4 yards, 58-yard punt (GB 30) 8 plays, 19 yards, 57-yard punt (GB 11)
6 10 plays, 41 yards, 34-yard punt (CLE 5) 9 plays, 58 yards, 1-yard TD pass 8 plays, 72 yards, 18-yard TD pass
7 6 plays, 13 yards, 65-yard punt (CIN 10) 16 plays, 79 yards, 3-yard TD pass 8 plays, 80 yards, 27-yard TD pass
TOTAL
0 points, 6 punts, 1 botched FG 20 points (2 FG, 2 TD), 1 punt, 1 blocked FG, 1 INT 21 points (3 TD), 3 punts, 1 fumble

The Lions have also been bad at the start of games defensively, as they have surrendered 20 total points on their opening defensive drives this season. Much like the offense, the defense is much better on its second drive, as it has only allowed 3 points in that situation. On the opening drives of the third quarter, the defense has given up 10 points so far.

Here's more on what the defense has done (in parentheses is where the Lions took over the ball, if applicable):

Week Opening drive Second drive First drive of second half
1 1 play, 78 yards, 78-yard TD run 3 plays, 1 yard, 36-yard punt (MIN 49) 3 plays, -6 yards, 39-yard punt (50)
2 5 plays, 26 yards, 42-yard punt (DET 6) 4 plays, 20 yards, 36-yard punt (DET 7) 5 plays, 16 yards, 52-yard punt (DET 6)
3 7 plays, 29 yards, 42-yard punt (DET 9) 3 plays, 6 yards, 60-yard punt (DET 8) 6 plays, 35 yards, 43-yard FG
4 7 plays, 54 yards, 34-yard field goal 3 plays, 7 yards, INT (CHI 31) 3 plays, 5 yards, 35-yard punt (DET 40)
5 15 plays, 70 yards, 26-yard field goal 12 plays, 36 yards, 52-yard FG 5 plays, 20 yards, 60-yard punt (DET 20)
6 4 plays, 14 yards, 46-yard punt (DET 42) 3 plays, 6 yards, 52-yard punt (DET 12) 3 plays, 9 yards, 50-yard punt (DET 21)
7 3 plays, 90 yards, 82-yard TD pass 3 plays, 5 yards, 49-yard punt (DET 26) 9 plays, 80 yards, 32-yard TD pass
TOTAL
20 points (2 TD, 2 FG), 3 punts 3 points (1 FG), 5 punts, 1 INT 10 points (1 TD, 1 FG), 5 punts

What exactly does all of this information tell us? Mainly, the Lions are just not very good at the beginning of games. It seemingly takes a drive on each side of the ball for the Lions to really get things going. That seemed to be the case last year as well. I don't know if the Lions just need a drive on each side of the ball to adjust to the opponent's game plan or what, but these slow starts are concerning.

I've been arguing since last season for the Lions to defer and let the other team open the game with the ball, and I still think it would make sense to mix things up and give that a try. The defense has shown that it isn't great on its first drive on the field, but the offense has been much worse simply because it hasn't scored even once to open a game this season. Delaying the offense's first drive may not change anything about its slow starts, but at least the Lions would get the ball to start the second half by going on defense first. Sure, you run the risk of going down at the start of games, but the Lions are risking that week in and week out anyway with the offense not scoring any points to open each game.

Again, deciding to defer may not change anything. The Lions could go out and allow a touchdown to open the game and then follow it up with a scoreless opening possession on offense. However, it's at least worth a shot at this point. At worst, the aforementioned scenario takes place and the Lions are in a 7-0 hole. However, they would at least get the ball to open the third quarter in that scenario, and perhaps putting the defense out there first would help light a fire under the entire team. Why not try a different strategy when the current one has failed so miserably?

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