The Detroit Lions finally return to action this week*, after one of the earliest byes in the league. Sitting at 2-1-1, the Lions are currently in second place in the NFC North and hold the six seed in the conference. While that may be technically enough to find themselves in a playoff spot right now, they are going to have to play much better in the final 12 weeks of the season to find themselves playing into January.
Here are five specific players they need better performances out of in the final three months of the regular season.
Damon Harrison Sr.
Whether it’s rust, age, or something scheme-related, Snacks hasn’t been the game-changing force he was when he first joined the Lions halfway through the 2018 season.
Part of it is game-planning, there is no doubt. In 2018, Harrison was regularly playing over 60 percent of snaps, as the Lions sold out to stop the run. This year, he’s averaging just 40.3 percent, as Detroit has faced some seriously heavy-passing teams.
Still, when Harrison has been in the game he hasn’t quite looked like himself:
The #Lions are the 27th graded run defense in 2019, one of the reasons for that is the slow start for DI Damon Harrison Sr.— PFF DET Lions (@PFF_Lions) September 26, 2019
Snacks has earned a 58.9 run defense grade (90.0+ past 4 seasons) and a run stop % of 4.8% (13.0%+ past 4 seasons)https://t.co/JrzV2CPk4N
As a result, the Lions have allowed over 100 rushing yards in all four games this season and are ceding 4.8 yards per carry. That’s not a recipe for success, especially when all three other division foes love to run the ball.
Davis made a miraculous return to the active roster after what appeared to be a serious ankle injury in the preseason. Unfortunately, his return hasn’t been as positive as many hoped. Davis still looks indecisive, he hasn’t been great in coverage, and the pass rushing skills that made him look extremely valuable towards the end of 2018 have resulted in zero sacks and two pressures in two games.
Davis is the worst-ranked linebacker through five weeks (minimum 100 snaps) according to PFF, and if this trend continues, there needs to be a serious conversation about Davis’ future with the team.
Tight ends not named T.J. Hockenson
Jesse James and Logan Thomas have both made some clutch catches through four weeks, and their performance has put last year’s tight end crew to shame.
But one of the biggest failures of the team through the first quarter of the season has been its inability to run. Kerryon Johnson is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry, and if it weren’t for J.D. McKissic’s 44-yard run, the Lions would be averaging just 3.6 YPC as a team.
The interior of the offensive line has actually been excellent thus far. Frank Ragnow is the highest-graded center in the league, and Graham Glasgow is in the top five among guards.
But the problems have been on the edges. Tight ends are absolutely crucial in this blocking scheme, and James and Logan haven’t been up to the task in the first month of the season. Honestly, Hockenson needs improvement there, too.
If Detroit is going to put games away, they need to be able to run the ball late. So far, that hasn’t happened, and the Lions have nearly blown three fourth-quarter leads.
The Lions left tackle has rebounded nicely after a disaster start to the season. He’ll have to keep up that momentum over the next three months, because he’s due to face a murderer’s row of pass rushers—especially when it comes to the NFC North.
Preston and Za’Darius Smith have combined for 10.5 sacks in Green Bay. Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen have 8.0 combined sacks. And let’s not forget about one Khalil Mack.
Decker—and Rick Wagner, for that matter—need to be at their best in these divisional games or Matthew Stafford may not make it through the season.
Flowers has been much better than most people are making his first quarter performance out to be, but the Lions didn’t pay for a good player; they paid for a great player.
Flowers’ versatility and endless motor have flashed at times through four games, but the $90-million man only has 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks through four games. Without Da’Shawn Hand and Mike Daniels for a portion of the season, the Lions’ pass rush has been poor, and some of that falls on Flowers’ shoulders.
He’ll likely never be a 10-sack guy—his game is more about finesse and containment—but he, like everyone on the defensive line, needs to win more one-on-ones.
*Technically next Monday, you sticklers