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3 late coaching mistakes led to Detroit Lions’ demise vs. Ravens

The Lions were crushed by the refs, but the coaching staff didn’t do them any favors at the end of the game.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The refs (probably) blew it. The officials missed a delay of game penalty that would have pushed a 66-yard, game-winning field goal attempt from the devil reincarnated Justin Tucker to a 71-yarder, and even his voodoo magic likely wouldn’t have made it from there. The clock on the field may have been different than what we saw on the field, but who cares? We’re steaming mad right now.

Okay, let’s stomp our feet, pretend like there’s anything we can do about it, and get it out of our system.

Because the Detroit Lions put themselves in this position with a series of very, very questionable decisions that allowed Detroit to get screwed by the refs. Dan Campbell has proved himself to be an aggressive play-caller through two games, but with the game on the line, he appeared to back off and the team gave the Baltimore Ravens just enough rope to win in the most improbable of ways.

Here are three coaching mistakes that led to the Lions’ loss:

Mistake #1: Getting conservative on offense

The Lions were in the driver’s seat of the game. Down two points, but with the ball on the Ravens’ 14-yard line at the two minute warning. The Lions had the option to run the ball three times and milk the Ravens two remaining timeouts, as well as an additional 40-some seconds, leaving the Ravens with just over a minute left and no timeouts.

Or they could’ve gone for the first down — risking a stopping the clock with an incomplete pass — but with the benefit of earning a first down that would essentially seal the game.

Campbell chose to go conservative with three running plays that had very little chance of success. The Lions went backwards three yards and kicked a 35-yard field goal.

There is obviously a risk/benefit analysis to be done here, but here’s why I think it was the wrong decision (even before the benefit of hindsight). The Ravens have Justin Tucker. We all know what he is capable of. They also have Lamar Jackson, who found wide open receivers all day in this game.

Giving the ball back to Lamar with a minute left to go 30 yards is not a great gamble to make, even if your defense had played better in the second half. But I’ll give Campbell a break, if this was the only mistake, it would’ve been forgivable.

Mistake #2: Calling a timeout with the Ravens on the ropes

Despite the first mistake, the defense was playing their ass off. Charles Harris got a sack on first down, Romeo Okwara got a sack on third down. Lamar Jackson had been running for his life and it was a fourth-and-19. He was toast.

But then the Lions called a timeout, and gave him a break and gave head coach John Harbaugh time to really think about his fourth down play. Here’s Jackson after the game:

You gave the Ravens a “huge” timeout when they were up against the ropes, an opportunity for Jackson to catch his breath, and allowed them to change the play. Terrible.

Mistake #3: Rushing three

Rushing three almost always feels like a mistake. You give a quarterback too much time, and they’re eventually going to find someone open. It happens all the time. PLUS, the Lions were doing an amazing job rushing four.

First down: Rush four, sack
Second down: Rush four, incomplete pass under pressure
Third down: Rush four, sack
Fourth down: Rush three, Lamar Jackson has over five seconds to throw it and Will Harris kills you

After the game, Campbell said it was the right call to rush, there was just a breakdown in communication.

“It’s not—the call I thought was fine, it was just the way we played the call. We—communication errors.”

But that’s kind of the point, right? You have an extremely young, injury-depleted secondary who hasn’t played with each other for very long. You also have a defensive line that was kicking ass all game—especially late—and you chose to rely on the former.