It was not pretty, but the Detroit Lions got the job done in Week 10, defeating the Washington Football Team 30-27 on a last second field goal by Matt Prater. It was not a game that should make Lions fans feel that good about the team, though, as they blew a three-possession lead in the second half. Here are a pair of takeaways from a wild one at Ford Field:
Death by a thousand cuts
Washington’s offense is allergic to big plays. Quarterback Alex Smith seemed terrified to throw the ball beyond the line of scrimmage for majority of the game. Former Detroit Lions running back J.D. McKissic became Smith’s favorite man, being targeted 15 times for seven receptions and 43 yards. Almost all of Smith’s passes on the day were short throws until the fourth quarter, where the deficit his team was under forced to attack the Lions downfield; even then, he was rarely throwing passes more than 15 yards downfield. Smith ended the day with a career high 390 passing yards, though it took 55 passing attempts to get there.
Despite the short passes and the fact that the Lions knew the short passes were coming, Washington still managed to stay ahead of the chains. The Lions defense was unable to stop the Football Team’s receivers after the catch, and allowed Washington to dink and dunk down the field all game.
Detroit’s likes bigger, more physical corners who have the ability to come upfield and make tackles. This is specifically the type of offense the Lions should thrive against. They failed in Week 10, though.
The Lions’ defensive game plan seemed to focus on zone coverage this week, which should be able to deal with these kinds of offenses. Unfortunately, the Lions are still a team that looks largely incapable of playing zone. The players are not coordinated and it looks like the necessary communication to play the coverage is not there. Detroit’s defense is not a well-coached unit.
A more aggressive offense until it mattered
The Lions offense looked refreshingly different in the first half. Matthew Stafford was attacking Washington’s defense downfield, and even hit an early 55-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Hall. Detroit’s game plan was entirely different than it was last week against the Minnesota Vikings.
Then a familiar story played out in the second half: the Lions offense became conservative. More run-run-pass and fewer deep passes downfield. Stafford, after an impressive first half, cooled off in the second. Detroit’s offense almost entirely stalled out starting at the midway point of the third quarter. Outside of rookie running back D’Andre Swift, no one could get anything going late in the game.
This has been a consistent problem for this team in the Patricia era, to the point where “Dagger Time” — the teams rallying call to close out late games — has become a sick joke. Detroit managed to steal a win due to an unfortunately timed roughing the passer penalty by Washington, but they were only in that situation in the first place because they blew a 21-point second half lead.
Detroit may have won this game, and that is truly all that matters, but another double-digit lead blown in the second half seems unacceptable.