What’s been the Lions greatest weakness as of late? Scratch that. What’s been the Lions greatest weakness of the last 10 years? Is it defense? No. Is it coaching? Maybe. What is it? It’s the Lions inability to stick the dagger in the opponent's back and twist. It’s the Lions not capitalizing when they’re ahead and putting the game away.
One of the chief complaints that Lions fans have had about the team in the last decade is that they appear to go full conservative mode after gaining a lead. We’ve all seen them rest on their laurels and bring out the prevent defense and try running the clock on the ground on offense. If that’s their version of sticking the dagger in, allow me to demonstrate what happens to the Lions just about every time they do that. I’ve brought in a video for the class to watch today. Take it away, boys.
They wind up getting embarrassed. This is a team that hasn’t ranked higher than 17th in rushing yards since 1998. Why are you trying to run the ball? It’s not going to work, and everyone knows it. Why is the prevent defense out there? It’s never prevented anything before. Buckle down, for crying out loud.
Sorry, I let my emotions get the best of me there. It’s quite maddening, and it’s not something one iteration of the team or the coaching staff has done. Sure Jim Caldwell led the league in conservatism, but Matt Patricia is practicing the same approach. At least Jim Schwartz, who couldn’t get it right either, let a young Matthew Stafford chuck the ball down the field late in games.
It’s a counterproductive thing that I’m sure fans of every football team complain about. Why would a team ever go away from what’s working? If your quarterback is having a day, let him keep having a day. Same goes for anything else. If your defense is working with an aggressive game plan, don’t have them back off in the fourth quarter.
The good news is that it would appear the Lions may be aware of this issue. On Monday Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson was made available to the media and he spoke about what the team’s new mantra is going into the 2020 season.
“Everyone says ‘finish,’ but I think we wanted to change it up. We’ve heard that throughout growing up is ‘finish, finish, finish.’” Hockenson said. “We kind of wanted to put our own little spin on it. It was something Stafford came up with. I think we’re all just trying to buy into it, dagger time. Red zone, finishing, it’s the name of the game. It’s just things we want to improve. It’s just a little spin that us as an offense and team that we’ve adopted.”
That is a step in the right direction. Maybe it’s not right to say “finish” anymore. We’ve seen the Lions finish plenty of games. We’ve seen all the come from behind victories in the last minute. They’re a lot of fun. But the idea, now, should be to never be in that situation in the first place.
Sure the aspect of “finish” still needs to be there. The Lions need to finish drives instead of fall short. There needs to be a focus put on completing drives with touchdowns and not field goals. And, for god’s sake, convert on your third-and-1s.
But the bigger goal should be, if the Lions are playing well, they need to continue to play well. This new attitude could potentially keep the Lions out of situations like the ones they had in Arizona and Green Bay last season—getting out to big, early leads, but not putting the dagger in.
It remains to be seen what exactly the Lions mean by “dagger time,” but if it’s anything less than putting the pedal on the floor and keeping it there, this team is going to remain in trouble.