To beat the Los Angeles Rams, the Detroit Lions not only had to be at their best, but they needed for some luck to bounce their way and their coaching staff needed to put Detroit in the best positions they could be to win the game. The Lions did get a couple turnovers to keep it close, but there were a lot of curious coaching decisions that may have ultimately cost Detroit their upset bid.
Here are five moments in the game in which coaching decisions may have ended up hurting the team and my personal thoughts on each.
End of the first half offensive play calling
The Detroit Lions had just given up the go-ahead touchdown with 2:28 remaining in the first half. With two timeouts remaining, the Lions had a chance to cut down on the Rams’ 10-3 lead, and also get a shot at double dipping by getting the ball back at the start of the second half.
Detroit ran for 6 yards on first down, successfully running down the clock to the two minute warning. However, on the next play, they tried to run the ball again, and Aaron Donald stuffed it for a 3-yard loss. The Rams called a timeout to save clock and when they sacked Matthew Stafford on the next play, the Rams were able to get the ball back with plenty of time to score again. They added a field goal to make it a two-score game by the half.
I don’t mind the first run of the drive, because it is smart to run some clock to prevent another Rams possession. However, the next play was inexcusable. The Rams had two timeouts at that point, meaning they could stop the clock to get the ball back. I know the Lions were trying to catch Los Angeles off guard and I know looking back on the result in hindsight is a bit unfair.
However, the Lions needed to push for points and get this offense back running what they do best. This team used to thrive at the two-minute offense, but now they seem to be content playing two-minute keep away—and they’re horrible at it.
Third-and-goal draw play
Down just a touchdown midway through the third quarter the Lions faced a tough situation. Because of a questionable offensive pass interference call, Detroit was third-and-goal from the 19-yard line.
Instead of opting to take a shot at a touchdown, the Lions ran a draw play to Theo Riddick. It gained 9 yards and the Lions kicked a field goal to bring the score within four points.
Third-and-19 in the red zone is a near impossible play. The chances of converting are slim-to-none. With so little field to work with, the Lions’ would have had to pulled off an amazing play to score, and the risk of a turnover is higher than normal.
However, you’re playing the Los Angeles Rams. You need to take risks at some point and while Chris Spielman may disagree, I think this was a good opportunity to take a shot. Think of the bad things that can happen. An incomplete pass or a sack would almost assuredly result in the same thing that happened anyways: A made Matt Prater field goal. As long as Stafford doesn’t throw an interception, a shot was worth it. But the Lions were happy with three points against a team they knew would eventually score.
Surprise onside kick
Right after the aforementioned field goal, the Lions tried to catch the Rams off-guard with an onside kick. Unfortunately for Detroit, the kick didn’t travel the 10 yards necessary for a legal onside kick and the Rams took over. Los Angeles wouldn’t end up earning a first down, but the field position was good enough for the Rams to kick a field goal and move their lead back up to seven.
I had no problem with this play call. To beat the Rams, the Lions were going to have to take some calculated risks, and this was a good way to keep the Rams offense off the field and potentially give yourself some good field position at the same time.
Yes, it gave the Rams three free points. Yes, that’s the last team you want to give good field position to. But Detroit knew they needed to make some of their own luck, and had it been properly executed, it probably would’ve worked.
THE SLOWEST DRIVE EVER
With the Lions now down 10 points, Detroit got the ball back with under seven minutes remaining. Detroit’s offense didn’t seem to show any signs of urgency. In their 8-play drive that ate up four minutes of game clock, the Lions ran the ball four times and huddled on every single play. The four running plays went for a total of 8 yards. When the Lions finally decided to air it out, they got the benefit of a 48-yard pass interference penalty.
This is when the boos really started to come in from the crowd and it’s hard not to agree with them. By eating up so much time, the Lions made it so they would only have one chance to stop the Rams offense. And by running the ball so often, they killed their chances of putting it in the endzone. Because of the decision to run, the Lions faced a third-and-8 and a third-and-12 on the drive. It’s no wonder they had to settle for a field goal despite getting 48 free yards.
Onside kick No. 2
After that field goal, the Lions were within a single score with 2:54 remaining. The Lions faced a choice: kick deep and hope your defense can get a stop, allowing no more than a single first down; or onside kick and hope for the recovery.
Detroit chose to onside kick it, and did not recover. The Rams would end up scoring a touchdown anyways.
This was a toss-up in my opinion, and I have no problem with the route the Lions went. Before I get into it, here’s what Matt Patricia said about the decision:
They’re one of the best four-minute teams in the League. (They) obviously score a lot of points, very dynamic. I mean, they’re outstanding. They have a lot of talent, they have a lot of guys in the situation that can make big plays. So, with the timeouts that we had, I think it was 2:54 left on the clock, go for the onside, either way we have to stop them, right? If they get two first downs, game’s over, doesn’t matter.
Here’s how I see it.
If you onside kick, you give yourself two chances to win: recover the onside kick or hold the Rams to a three-and-out. Granted, even if the Lions were to hold the Rams to a three-and-out, Los Angeles’ kicker, Greg Zuerlein, would have had a chance at a 55-yard field goal or so. While Zuerlein is one of the league’s best kickers, that’s still no guarantee.
Kicking off normally would have given the Rams the chance to seal the game with their offense. Now, the Lions defense had actually been doing a good of suffocating the Rams offense, so I can see the argument that could be made here. Detroit, with all three timeouts, probably could have afforded to give up one first down and still been in the game.
Overall, I see both sides of the argument here, but I typically tend to fall on the “be aggressive” side of debates like this, especially against a team that executes so well in crunch time, as Patricia alluded to. I don’t have a problem with Matt Patricia’s choice here, but I can understand why some may.