Breaking news: the Detroit Lions have lost a game in November.
The descent towards the first overall pick got put on hold last week with a tie, but the Lions got back on track with a loss to the Cleveland Browns. No Jared Goff meant Tim Boyle was starting his first career game, and the results were as pitiful as expected. The Lions don’t have a lot to be excited about right now.
Here are some takeaways from another disappointing performance.
Meet the new quarterback, same as the old quarterback
Many have been calling for Boyle to start over Goff for w while now. We got our wish today, and we looked stupid.
A week after Goff threw for just 114 yards in four quarters plus overtime, Boyle somehow finished with a worse stat line. He went 15-for-27 for just 77 yards and two interceptions. The offense was a wounded bird under Goff, but the offense was a cooked turkey under Boyle.
I will give him some credit for some downfield throws, and the second interception wasn’t entirely his fault (see the following section). However, his accuracy was off all day, and a majority of his throws hit the dirt before the arms of his receivers. For all the talk about Boyle’s arm, it didn’t amount to much yardage-wise or scoring-wise.
Perhaps the saddest part, is that despite Boyle’s bad play, was it a serious step-down from Goff? This offense was very similar to previous weeks: bad. The offense once again lived and died by the run game, with the passing attack playing a marginal role. Goff may be the safer option, but no quarterback on the Lions roster is going to make a difference. Come 2022, the Lions may have to completely overhaul this position.
An awful debut for Josh Reynolds
Maybe we got too excited about Reynolds. There was a lingering hope that Reynolds could vault himself into the WR1 with Detroit, but against the Browns, it was a dreadful first outing.
His first target resulted in a drop. Later in the quarter, he had an offensive pass interference penalty that wiped out a 13-yard reception for Amon-Ra St. Brown. That drive ended in an interception. In the second half, Tim Boyle threw a nice pass deep downfield, but Reynolds made a horrible attempt at the jump ball, resulting in another interception. With zero catches on the day, Reynolds made a negative impact in his debut.
There’s a chance he improves upon the return of Goff, given their Rams connection. However, the early returns were unimpressive.
What happened to Dan Campbell’s aggressiveness?
Early in the season, one of the few bright spots on the team was the aggressive play-calling of coach Campbell. These previous two games have been anything but.
When your quarterback throws for just 77 yards, you are unlikely to win, but Campbell made plenty of poor decisions that proved costly in a 13-10 loss. Third-down play-calling remains an issue for Detroit. On multiple instances, the Lions ran a draw play on third-and-long. While Swift turned a third-and-8 into a lengthy touchdown, that seems to be an outlier rather than the norm. The remaining attempts only yielded punts.
There are two specific plays I want to mention. Trailing by six points about halfway through the fourth quarter, the Lions opted for a field goal from the Browns’ 25-yard line on fourth-and-one. The analytics didn’t like that decision, and neither did I:
---> DET (7) @ CLE (13) <---— 4th down decision bot (@ben_bot_baldwin) November 21, 2021
DET has 4th & 1 at the CLE 25
Recommendation (STRONG): Go for it (+4.4 WP)
Actual play: A.Rosas 43 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-S.Daly, https://t.co/TxBVmsEn5D. pic.twitter.com/aFCxPvFCsB
The offense had struggled all game to muster anything, and there was no guarantee they could return on another drive. As it turns out, the Lions never got that close again. The field goal amounted to nothing.
The other play that struck me as a complete surrender happened on their very final drive. Now trailing by three points, the Lions ran a draw play on third-and-14. Swift got just five yards, the Lions punted, and they never touched the ball again.
Sure, the offense is struggling and Swift is the only aspect of the offense working. However, to make those types of decisions is a failure as a play-caller. Coupled with some questionable time management, and I’ve been very disappointed in Campbell in recent weeks.
Good blitzing but bad pass rushing
For all the bad we experienced against the Browns, at least the defensive play-calling had some positives.
The Browns’ passing offense struggled on the day, but Aaron Glenn did a good job of dialing up some blitzes at key moments. These blitzes were especially important because the pass rushers on their own were unsuccessful. The Lions finished the game with one sack and three quarterback hits, and I’m fairly sure all of those came on blitzes—two of those hits may have come on the same play as well. Aside from designed blitzes, the Lions were doing nothing to disrupt Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield.
The Lions are dearly missing Romeo Okwara (injured reserve) and Trey Flowers (inactive with a knee injury) only worsened the problem. The Lions are getting closer and closer to the first overall pick, and the union with Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon edge rusher) becomes more and more likely. Detroit needs some help rushing the passer consistently. Charles Harris has been a pleasant surprise, but he isn’t the dominant player they need.
Another critique of the edge defenders has been their poor job of setting the edge. Nick Chubb totaled 130 rushing yards, and many of those came on plays where he bounced outside. If the Lions aren’t successfully rushing the passer, they should at least set the edge. For all the faults of Matt Patricia, at least his defense was good at that.
A horrible FOX broadcast
As an NFC team, we are often subjected to FOX broadcasts. There are some decent units, but as the Lions are a bottom-tier team, we are often met with bottom-tier broadcast crews. Gus Johnson is a star, but LaVar Arrington struggled immensely in his debut. From mistaken players to laughing at the difficult pronunciation of Amani Oruwariye, it was frustrating to listen to. I understand he is a new commentator, but he had plenty of “self-inflicted wounds”, a phrase he too often used on Sunday.
Additionally, the FOX broadcast crew often failed to show good replays of critical moments. An Oruwariye pass interference? Here’s a zoomed-out view. Jonah Jackson gets an extremely odd penalty between the third and fourth quarter? Mention it once and never show the incident. Add in some bad weather, and it wasn’t an enjoyable broadcast to watch or listen to.