That was... something.
It may be difficult to put into words what just happened—I will leave that to Mike Payton—so instead I’ll try to focus on some takeaways.
Six offensive linemen might be the way to go
We’ve known all season that the Lions’ passing attack has struggled, but today’s game took that to a whole new level. At halftime, Jared Goff had 11 passing yards, and yet, the Lions were tied 10-10. Coincidence? I think not.
While the temperature, precipitation, and Goff’s health were factors, it was also a result of the Lions running the ball effectively. A key reason for their success on the ground was their utilization of six offensive linemen. With Taylor Decker back from injury, Matt Nelson was frequently used as a blocker, and it showed in the ground game:
This style of football won’t win you Super Bowls, but this might be the best way for the Lions to consistently put points on the board. In a lost season, that might be good enough.
The passing offense is so bad, sacrificing a receiver for an extra blocker won’t make a major difference—when Goff is throwing behind the line of scrimmage, does it really matter? If the Lions can get their run game going with an extra offensive linemen, why not lean into that? Defenses don’t respect your passing offense, so make them fear your rushing offense.
D’Andre Swift had his best game of the season, and it’s no coincidence that it came when the Lions were using an extra tackle. He had struggled running between the tackles, but with an additional blocker, Swift had room to do damage. The injury to Jermar Jefferson on his touchdown run was a tough blow, but at least Jamaal Williams will return soon. In years past, running the ball often felt like a waste of a down. This season, it feels like throwing the ball is a waste of a down.
The problem, of course, is that you are telegraphing your play call. The Steelers, after getting diced in the first half, clamped down on the Lions' rushing attack. The main reason was predictability. Goff couldn’t throw the ball downfield and the Steelers knew this.
I’m not advocating for running on every down, but taking the ball out of Goff’s hands might be the best way for Detroit to win. The Lions should utilize an extra blocker more often to help.
Too many miscommunications
While the Lions looked much better coming out of the bye than they did going into it, there remains one major issue: communication.
This has been recurring all season, and sadly the bye week did not fix it. On defense, the secondary is frequently suffering from miscommunications. Whether it's between two corners or a corner and a safety, it is allowing opponents to break off sizeable plays in do-or-die situations. James Washington was wide open on his touchdown grab, and if it weren’t for the struggles of Mason Rudolph, there could have been more blown coverages.
On the offensive side of the ball, false starts are killing drives before they begin. With the Lions struggling to throw the ball downfield, a false start penalty becomes nearly insurmountable. Goff is already having trouble with second- and third-and-long, so pushing those beyond 10 yards is asking for a punt.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the reason for all these issues. In the secondary, many of the players are young and forced into starting roles. These types of mistakes are less forgivable for the offensive line, although you have to concede the impact of injuries there too.
The Detroit Lions PR Twitter account was very active today. The Lions lost many players to injury against the Steelers, and for a team already suffering a wave of injuries, those are the losses that really hurt.
Jared Goff had a back and hip injury but played through it. Jermar Jefferson immediately left the game after his touchdown run. Matt Nelson suffered an ankle injury as the sixth offensive lineman. Trey Flowers hurt his knee but returned. Jerry Jacobs experienced a groin injury. Worst of all, Tracy Walker was forced out too. I am going to let Jeremy Reisman explain why Tracy Walker’s concussion is a difficult injury to overcome:
Tracy Walker has been the Lions' best defender not only today, but for the entire year.— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) November 14, 2021
Can't afford that loss.
Entering the season, the Lions had one of the weakest rosters in the league. That was excepted of a rebuilding franchise. However, this team has had to scrape the bottom of their roster for starters.
While Goff finished the game, he was clearly aggravated by injury throughout this game. The Lions' inability to throw the ball was amplified as a result, and boy, was it ugly. There were many calling for Goff to be benched, but if he isn’t 100 percent healthy for next week, wouldn’t this be the perfect opportunity to rest him? Doing so would allow you to stick with your belief that Goff is their starting quarterback, but also explore the opportunity to see your alternatives.
It wasn’t a loss, but that somehow felt worse. That might be the ugliest game of football I have seen. A tie was a fitting end result for whatever that was. It seemed like neither team wanted to win. I was legitimately laughing during the overtime period. The Santoso kick, Goff trying and failing to spin out of sacks like Lamar Jackson, the Goff interception brought back on a penalty, Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth fumbling in overtime, all of it made for a bonkers finale.
It comes off as a farce. Many football fans from around the country were redirected to this circus once their respective games finished. They witnessed that. It’s difficult to express what that game was. It was both beautiful and horrible, hilarious and embarrassing. That’s Lions football.