The Detroit Lions have once again found themselves in loss column. Just in time to travel to the New Orleans Saints, who are coming off their bye week. Neither team has played consistently yet this season, but the Saints enter Sunday’s game after a 20-0 thumping over the hapless Miami Dolphins. This is the the third time the Lions face off against an NFC South opponent. Hopefully this matchup will end differently than the first two.
Here are 10 things I think I know heading into Week 6 against the Saints:
1. I think the Lions offensive line is holding the team back. Look, there are a lot of things wrong with the offense right now, but chief among them is the offensive line. At one point in Sunday’s game against the Panthers the Lions offensive line started three out of four drives with a holding penalty, a sack, and strip sack. Again, those things didn’t just happen during drives, they started drives. The Lions were consistently put in bad spots on offense to start drives throughout the middle of that game.
2. I think Matthew Stafford doesn’t trust his offensive line. Stafford’s taken a beating throughout the season. He’s had 12 sacks in the last two weeks alone. It feels like he’s starting to feel pressure even if it’s not there. Taylor Decker can’t get healthy soon enough.
3. I think Darius Slay had his worst game as a Lion last week. Coming into the game, I expected Slay’s agility and speed to be a nice weapon against Kelvin Benjamin’s size. That clearly didn’t happen. According to Pro Football Focus, Slay gave up five catches for 71 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Panthers. Cam Newton had a 155.6 quarterback rating when he targeted Slay on Sunday. The Lions will need Slay to get back to his big play ways against the Saints on Sunday.
4. I think the Saints were lucky to trade Adrian Peterson to the Cardinals. It clearly was a rocky marriage from the beginning. It never made sense to me to add a former stand alone running back with no skills in the pass game to a team that relies on running backs catching the ball out of the backfield. The Saints were one dimensional with Peterson on the field and losing Peterson, and his salary, will do them well.
5. I think I hate Jim Bob Cooter’s play-calling right now. The Panthers played Cover 1 defense and dared the Lions to beat their man coverage. Cooter failed to dial up plays to defeat that defensive scheme, and the Lions receivers failed to get open. It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg thing, but in the end I put the blame on Cooter. His play calls have been too conservative this season and he needs to help get the most out of his players.
6. I think the Lions need Ezekiel Ansah to get back to form. Unfortunately it looks like his knee injury will linger throughout the season. Outside of the Giants game, Ansah has had little impact, including getting pretty well shut down by former Lion Riley Reiff in Week 4.
7. I think I’m excited to see what signing Datone Jones can do for the Lions’ pass rush. I’m not sure he’ll have a big impact, but at this point the Lions can use any help they can get along the defensive line.
8. I think the Eric Ebron experiment may be heading down a dark road. I loved Ebron coming out of college. I thought he would be a perfect fit for the Lions as a movable chess piece. And we’ve seen that at times, but he is way to inconsistent. I still hold out hope, but the majority of fans are increasingly frustrated with Ebron.
9. I think the Lions need to convert more third downs. Against the Panthers the Lions had five straight drives that were three-and-out or worse. Last Sunday the Lions failed to convert a third-and-2, a third-and-3, another third-and-2, a third-and-1, and a fourth-and-1. Teams are usually happy to be in third-and-short situations, but the Lions need to convert those if they want to sustain drives.
10. I think it’s easy to be critical after a loss. But I also agree with Don Carey when he says “there are minor things that we are going to taken care of... and we’re going to be okay.” There isn’t much that separates the winners from the losers in the NFL. The bounce of the ball can make you 10-6 or 6-10. We’ll see if the Lions can correct their mistakes and get back in the win column this week in New Orleans.