The Detroit Lions were at Ford Field for the final time of the 2018 season on Sunday. They closed out their home schedule with more of a whimper than a bang, as they fell to the Minnesota Vikings 27-9. Here are a few takeaways from another Lions loss:
LeGarrette Blount should not be getting targets
When the Lions signed LeGarrette Blount this offseason, what they were getting was a known product. One of the best goal line runners of this era. A slow, shifty guy who can power his way through the best of defenses.
Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter apparently did not get the memo, though. Blount was targeted four times, bringing his season total to 15, the highest mark he has reached since 2011.
The four targets ended in:
- A dropped screen pass where he got his head knocked off.
- Another dropped check down.
- A negative-5 yard catch.
- A catch for no gain.
The running back’s time in Detroit, and maybe the NFL as a whole, will probably be over pretty soon. His misuse as a potential receiving back has been an interesting choice by the Lions offense this season, though.
Joe Dahl is actually the slot receiver we were looking for all along
Another interesting play calling wrinkle the Lions used this week was placing guard Joe Dahl in the slot. On both plays he lined up wide and then motioned inside. Both were running plays, where he crashed inside to create room for the running back. Neither play was very successful and he did not really do much on either, but it is a fun wrinkle.
A few weeks ago against the Los Angeles Rams, tackle Taylor Decker caught a touchdown pass, so defenses seeing another offensive lineman line up as a wide receiver will at least have to take notice. Dahl is also a great run blocker, so getting him on the field for a run play is always a good idea.
They were not the best plays, but using both motion and window dressing pre-snap, which the Lions have failed to do all year, is a refreshing change for Detroit’s offense.
Darius Slay is great... and so is Nevin Lawson?
There is something about the Minnesota Vikings that inspires the Lions starting duo at corner. Whether it is the heat of a division rivalry or the chance to show their best against the combination of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, Darius Slay and Nevin Lawson have usually played well against Minnesota.
Today was no different. Slay looked like his 2017-self. He was all over Diggs and became a nuisance for Kirk Cousins when he tried to attack downfield. The oft-maligned Lawson play well, too. He was able to stick with Theilen for much of the first half before an injury removed him from the game. There were no glaring errors in the second half either, and the player that has struggled for much of 2018 had a great game against a good team.
Unfortunately, no one else played well from the Lions cornerback room. Marcus Cooper was terribly beaten for an early Vikings touchdown. Rookie Mike Ford looked lost for much of the day. DaShawn Shead played poorly before leaving the game with a knee injury. Teez Tabor was not even active.
Detroit’s corners have not been great all season, but the two “stars” of the unit playing well to close out the season is a good sign going forward.
Drives keep stalling out
The scoreboard might not reflect it at all, but Detroit dominated a good portion of this game. Minnesota’s offense did not get a first down until late in the first half and Detroit was moving the ball well until it got to within 30 yards of the end zone. Detroit kicked three early field goals on drives that looked promising until they hit a road block as they entered field goal range.
Some of the faults go to play calling — taking a hot Zach Zenner out of the game for Blount was an interesting move on the opening drive — but the players failed to execute when it mattered most. Dropped passes, missed throws by Stafford and bad run blocking caused things to spiral out of control.
The Lions had a chance to race out to a huge lead early in this game but ended up stuttering when it mattered the most. Once the Vikings went up 14-9 just before the half, the writing felt like it was on the wall. While this game does not truly matter, it still feels like a missed opportunity.
Things are looking great for the draft
If you happen to be #TeamTank, then today was great. A Lions loss increases their chances for a top-five selection and puts them only closer to landing one of this years stand out defensive prospects.
Overall, though, Detroit is still in prime position to land an absolute star in the draft this season. That is some silver lining for what has overall been a terrible season.