There are a lot of variables up in the air at the moment. As of now, it seems like we are going to see backup quarterback Tim Boyle against Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield. How much will Mayfield’s injuries affect his play? How much will the Lions see defensive player of the year candidate Myles Garrett, who missed practice on Wednesday due to personal reasons, and is dealing with a foot injury?
Let’s take a look at some key factors that will help keep the Lions within striking distance of the Browns, and maybe, just maybe, win a football game.
Keep the offense on schedule
Even more than usual, third down was an absolute menace for the Lions against the Steelers, finishing 4-of-18 on third down conversions. Some of that can be attributed to the weather and Goff’s injury, but much of it is a product of something that has plagued this offense all year.
Yes, the Lions lack playmakers on the outside and yes, the struggles at the quarterback position have been well documented. And if we are being frank, the Lions quite simply are not built to convert many third and longs. They don’t have the requisite pieces to consistently move the football in that manner.
One way around that issue?
Stay in phase. Stay on schedule. Don’t get behind the sticks. However you want to phrase it, the Lions need to move the ball efficiently on first and second downs to avoid these third down attempts that routinely fail and end in a punt (thank you for being you, Jack Fox).
Second year back D’Andre Swift is coming off a career performance against the Steelers and veteran Jamaal Williams practiced this week and was listed as questionable on Friday afternoon, indicating that he’s likely to return after missing the last two games with a thigh injury. Having both available for against a front like Cleveland’s would be big. After seeing what the offensive line looked like with left tackle Taylor Decker back in the lineup, there is reason for optimism surrounding the Lions rushing attack.
Whether it’s Goff or Boyle under center, keeping third downs manageable will be vital to the team staying in the game. Easier said than done, as the Browns have one of the better run defenses in the NFL. They also boast one of the best EDGE tandems in Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. Avoiding third and long situations will help keep the offense on the field, and the Lions in the game.
Get to the quarterback
Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has done a solid job of scheming up pressures on favorable downs. Unfortunately for him, those favorable downs have been few and far between.
#Lions pass rush has really been a problem this year.— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) November 19, 2021
- Last in QB hits (27)
- Last in sacks (14)
- 30th in pressure rate (18.9%)
This issue was especially evident in their tie with the Steelers, where the unit failed to register a single quarterback hit on 50 passing attempts. And it isn’t like the Steelers’ offensive line is some heralded unit either.
And while it doesn’t help that they aren’t getting into preferable third downs on defense, their pass rush woes extend far beyond that. With linebacker Romeo Okwara on injured reserve and veteran Trey Flowers also ruled out on Sunday, the Lions don’t have a guy that consistently can win a one on one. On the edge or the interior.
If you’re Cleveland, that is the luxury of having a Myles Garrett. On those third and long downs, you can rush four, and in doing so, help your secondary by giving them extra bodies to cover on the back end.
To make matters worse, the veterans general manager Brad Holmes brought on to stabilize the middle of the defense - defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Nick Williams - are not performing up to expectations, against the run or pass. I’ve said it before but whether the staff decides to lean more on younger players like Levi Onwuzurike, Alim McNeill and Da’Shawn Hand, or if they continue to stick with the aforementioned veterans, the Lions need more from their defensive front if they are going succeed at all this year.
Mayfield’s quarterback play has been shaky at best this season. If the Lions can hit, hurry or just make him slightly uncomfortable in the pocket, maybe Mayfield will gift them a couple of turnovers.