The 2017 Detroit Lions came out of the bye week looking to rebound from a two-game skid that had sent them from the top of the power rankings to a mere .500 record. At home in front of a hyped primetime audience, the Lions had a chance to prove their worth against one of the best franchises the NFL has to offer: the Pittsburgh Steelers.
For the majority of the game, the Lions went toe-to-toe with the Steelers. In fact, you could argue the Lions really took it to Pittsburgh that evening. They outgained the Steelers by nearly 100 yards and were beating them on a per-play basis, too.
But the game is not decided by yardage. It is decided by points, and when the Lions had their best opportunities to score that Sunday night, they didn’t. Detroit had seven plays from inside the Steelers’ 5-yard line. All of those plays combined for five total yards. The Lions never found the end zone that night in a losing effort, churning out five field goals despite five different trips to the red zone.
New Lions head coach Matt Patricia is doing his best to make sure that never happens again. The Lions have now completed two training camp practices, and to kick off both sessions, Patricia lined the team up in goal-line situations.
“I always feel it’s just good to get into the goal-line situations offensively and defensively because there is a lot of situational stuff that comes up there, and formation identification and different possibilities,” Patricia said before Saturday’s practice. “And in such a critical situation of the game you have to perform at a high level. We really need to build that sort of awareness and intelligence here through the course of the next four weeks.”
This is all consistent with general manager Bob Quinn’s efforts to make the team more physical this offseason. The team added LeGarrette Blount to the backfield and first-round draft pick Frank Ragnow to an already-beefy front line.
“We want a big, strong, tough, physical team in the trenches,” Quinn said after April’s draft. “So, that’s my job to kind of fill those roles in terms of the player side, and then it’s Matt and his coaches to kind of implement that style in terms of scheme.”
Patricia said this goal-line focus falls in line with his overall philosophy and isn’t just a reaction to last year’s team, but it may as well be. The Lions were the worst power running team in the league last year, converting just 45 percent of rushes with two or less yards to go—the league average is 64 percent.
And if the first two days of training camp are any indication, Patricia isn’t waiting long to find that strong, physical nature in his team.
Of course, we won’t really see just how physical this team can be until the pads come on Sunday morning. But it’s a safe bet that when the team takes the field for the third time this training camp, they’ll be lining up by that goal line they struggled to cross just a mere nine months ago.