The Detroit Lions were officially eliminated from playoff contention last week when they lost to the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving day. The loss was also their eighth of the year. This means they will finish the season with a losing record and they have eclipsed the seven losses that was not good enough for general manager Bob Quinn when he fired head coach Jim Caldwell.
It also will be the second straight year without meaningful December football for the Lions. A season that started with so much promise, after an offseason where the team went on a huge spending spree, ends with a thud. Detroit was swept by the Chicago Bears and stand at 0-4 in divisional play. A loss to Washington in the nation’s capital a week ago is one of the franchise’s lowest moments in recent years.
How did we get here? What went wrong for the 2019 Detroit Lions?
A roster decimated by injuries
It is not news to anyone that the Lions have been pummeled by the injury bug this season. These are their inactives from the game against Washington:
detroit going today without:— mansur shaheen (@mansurshaheen) November 24, 2019
$90 million star defensive end
best defensive tackle
all pro return man
1st round center
Majority of their most important players on both offense and defense — including Matthew Stafford, Kerryon Johnson, Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, Trey Flowers, Da’Shawn Hand, Darius Slay and more — have missed time this season due to injury. Running backs have constantly been churned on and off the roster and even backup quarterback Jeff Driskel was placed on season-ending injured reserve last weekend.
It’s hard to find any continuity when you’re constantly forced to throw different guys into the fire every week. The injuries do not let the coaching staff and front office off the hook because:
A lot of the offseason additions have kinda sucked
Detroit went on a spending spree this offseason that had many excited for the upcoming years. They added a few big name players and really looked like they were a team that was ready to compete this season.
Three months into the year, a lot of these moves have not worked out. Trey Flowers, who was a ghost early on in the year, has been one of the few free agency successes on this team. Wide receiver Danny Amendola has proven to be a great pickup as well. The rest, however, have been sub par.
Justin Coleman looked like an elite nickel corner early in the season, but his play has fallen off a cliff since the bye week. He has become a liability and his playmaking ability has seemingly vanished. Rashaan Melvin looked like he was in the midst of a career renaissance early in the year, but he has reverted back to his 2018 form when he was one of the league’s worst corners. Andrew Adams did not even make the 53-man roster.
On the offensive side of the ball, tight end Jesse James has been a non factor, with fellow free agent tight end acquisition Logan Thomas proving to be more valuable. Oday Aboushi was set to be the team’s starting guard at the beginning of training camp, but he barely made the roster as has rarely played.
Even the draft additions have not done much. Eighth overall pick T.J. Hockenson has not been much of a contributor after a hot start to the season. Will Harris has taken over the starting safety role since being selected in the third round, and often looks lost back there. Austin Bryant did not feature until late in the year due to injury. Travis Fulgham and PJ Johnson never played a game. Isaac Nauta has spent much of the year on the practice squad.
The only two picks that you could argue are a success are Ty Johnson (sixtth round), Jahlani Tavai (second round) and Amani Oruwariye (fifth round). Tavai has been the best linebacker on the team this year, but it has been easy to stand out in a shallow crowd. Oruwariye has looked great in limited action, but it’s too early to consider a player a success after only two games with meaningful playing time. Johnson has at least contributed, but he has not been much help on offense either, especially as the team has needed someone to step up at running back.
What’s the defense doing?
Patricia looked like a genius after the Lions forced Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes into the worst game of his career in Week 4, but it has been a rocky road since then. It is truly hard to explain what this team’s strategy on defense is.
They refuse to blitz, almost to a fault as we saw against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 7, and it means they rarely, if ever, generate a pass rush. While their two starting edge defenders, Flowers and Devon Kennard, are great players (probably the best two in the front-seven) neither are the type of devastating pass rusher that can routinely win double teams on the edge and be a nuisance to quarterbacks. Combine those two with the fact that the interior defenders are Damon Harrison Sr. and A’Shawn Robinson, two players who provide no pass rush, and it is hard to see how this team expects to get to the quarterback. While they could get away with not regularly generating pressure in 2005, it’s 2019 and making the quarterback uncomfortable should be the main goal of your front seven.
You would figure that a team that is built specifically to not rush the passer would be pretty good against the run. But no, they cannot stop the run either. A big problem lies with the linebackers, who occasionally look like they have no idea what is going on. The only worthwhile linebacker, Tavai, does not have the range and athleticism to make up for the failures of Jarrad Davis and Christian Jones. Which leads us into our next point:
What is Bob Quinn’s strategy?
Despite all of Quinn’s talk about building the team between the trenches, Detroit isn’t playing there after years of trying to add talent. On offense, the team has spent draft capital to bring in Frank Ragnow, Taylor Decker and Graham Glasgow in recent years. Quinn also gave huge contracts to T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner in the 2017 offseason. As we stand, the team has a sub par offensive line that fails to keep their quarterback upright and can not generate any running room.
On the other side of the ball, they should be better up front. Harrison changed the run defense for the better when he was acquired midway through last season, but they were a disaster before then. Their rush defense has fallen off a cliff this year. While their edge rushers are actually great run defenders, they don’t matter when teams can just gash them over the middle all day.
Beyond that, Quinn recently chose to make some interesting moves such as extending Christian Jones while also trading away starting safety Quandre Diggs. While Diggs was not a perfect play, Harris has been awful in relief of him.
Quinn really seems to want to build this team in the trenches, but it seems like that is their weakest point on the roster. Where is this team going? What’s the plan exactly?