What happened on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns? Let’s set the table real quick. The Detroit Lions are down 13-10 and the Browns have the ball. The Lions defense forces an incompletion with a well-timed blitz. The Browns punt and the Lions get the ball back with 5:16 left and a chance to go down field to get the go ahead score and maybe win the game.
Tim Boyle, who’s having a very rough debut up to this point, throws a nice 24-yard pass to T.J. Hockenson, and it appears the Lions are in business, potentially on the way to their first win since December 6, 2020. The Lions then go back to what they’ve been doing all season. The run Jamaal Williams for no gain, then throw a screen to Godwin Igwebuike, who had two defenders standing right next to him. With the game on the line, the Lions ran the ball on third-and-14 and predictably, it did not work. Detroit opted to punt on fourth-and-9, and the Browns ran the clock down for the win.
Let’s break down these decision. On the surface, they’re huge mistakes. It’s just about as conservative as you can get, and it resulted in exactly what you’d expect in an overly-conservative gameplan: a loss.
There are only three ways to think about it here. Either the Lions coaching staff is incompetent, they’re severely lacking talent or they’re just doing it on purpose. I’ve already seen plenty of fans suggest the coaching staff is throwing. We’ve seen the Lions coaching staff do creative things before. Lions fans know the Lions have the capacity to draw up plays that can get yardage. We’ve seen them be risky before, but this looked like pure turtling. It looked like the Lions just gave up.
Why would a team do this? Is it to get draft picks? Is it to just see who can take it and who can’t? Are the Lions using the 2021 season to find out what players they’re going to move forward with? I couldn't tell you. What I can say is it’s just really hard to believe that any coach would coach this way on purpose. It’s really hard to believe that any coach would draw stuff up like this at a crucial part of the game and then send it down to the field with confidence that it’s going to somehow work.
There’s an old saying that says insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Is the Lions coaching staff insane? Have they given up on this season and started to just mail it in?
The Lions are doing nothing creative, they’re no longer taking risks, and it almost seems they have no interest in winning games. Some fans feel like this staff and front office are eager to get to the offseason so they can get to work on the future, and they don’t care what the on field product looks like.
Of course they’re not losing on purpose. It’s a ridiculous thing to even think about. Logistically, it’s really hard to believe that 53 players, an entire coaching staff and an entire front office got together and said, “Hey guys, let’s all go lose on purpose.” There’s just no way. I know the Philadelphia 76ers and their “process” got everyone on this idea that tanking in sports is a real thing, but it’s not. Every time the players take the field, they’re fighting for their job. The same goes for coaches. This is the Not-For-Long league, and just about everything we’ve seen from these players and coaches suggest they are all playing with that chip on their shoulder, knowing any moment could be their last in this business.
So if the Lions aren’t losing on purpose, it has to be one of those other two things. Maybe it’s a bit of both. Maybe it’s incompetency and it sucks to say that out loud. I’ve long been a believer in the idea that Dan Campbell is the guy, but Sunday’s loss against the Browns has me wondering if he’s long for this world. The play calling late in the game was very poor and it would have been nice to see some of
Still, I’m Campbell another pass here. The fact is this team is very untalented. They are in the seventh circle of quarterback hell and the the 12th circle of receiver hell. You saw Tim Boyle throw the ball on Sunday. Do you really think Boyle throwing the ball on that third and long would have made a difference? Only one receiver actually made catches on Sunday and that was rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown. He’s likely to be the only guy left on this unit in 2022. Just listen to Dan Campbell talk. He’s basically saying the team is lacking talent without directly saying it.
“I‘m sure there’s a lot of people that question I was too conservative, and maybe I ought to throw it a lot more, but I’m just not ready to do that with where we were at here,” Campbell.
Reading between the lines, it’s clear what he was thinking. I have a quarterback in his first career start currently struggling. I have a receiving corps lacking a single down-field playmaker. I don’t trust them right now.
You really have to re-ground yourself with this team every week. No, they’re not losing on purpose. They’re just not a good football team, and most, if not all, fans knew that coming in. The Lions are severely lacking talent and until talent arrives, this is what football is going to look like in Detroit. I know Lions fans want a winning team, but I just can’t see how you could expect that right now. Things will change some day. It’s just not going to be right now. Let’s all put down the conspiracy hats and put on our realist hats. This team is bad and that’s it.