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Tuesday open thread: Who is to blame most for the Lions’ loss to the Panthers?

There is a lot of blame to go around after the Lions’ loss to the Panthers. Who is the biggest culprit?

NFL: DEC 24 Lions at Panthers Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Saturday’s game between the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers couldn’t have gone much worse for the Lions. They entered the game riding high off a 6-1 stretch, and had they won their fourth consecutive game on the road, they’d be sitting pretty right now in a playoff spot in control of their own destiny for the final two weeks of the season.

But from the beginning of the game, it was pretty clear the Lions would not be walking off the field Saturday with win number eight on the season. The Panthers absolutely dominated both lines of scrimmage in a way we really haven’t seen all season and set several franchise records in the process.

The loss was so thorough and dominant that it has some fans completely abandoning ship for the rest of the season, despite the fact that Detroit’s playoff odds remain somewhat realistic—even if they definitely need some help now.

So let’s play the blame game. Certainly, a blowout loss like that has multiple culprits. In fact, it’d be much harder to point to people and players who weren’t largely responsible for the Lions’ loss.

But today’s Question of the Day is:

Who do you blame most for the Lions’ loss on Saturday?

My answer: I think I have to go with defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.

Detroit’s game plan was not all that different than what we’ve seen since the Lions’ bye week. They play a ton of nickel, relying heavily on their secondary to play near the line of scrimmage, and often act as edge setters in the run game. To be fair to Glenn, that strategy has largely worked over the past two months. But on Sunday, it wasn’t.

Kerby Joseph was credited with three missed tackles. Ifeatu Melifonwu and Jeff Okudah were credited with two each. Will Harris earned the team’s third-lowest run defense grade from PFF (44.0).

The Panthers dominated the Lions’ smaller front, and even when Detroit played their gaps well—which wasn’t very often—they didn’t tackle well. Instead of adjusting the game plan or employing heavier sets, the Lions played nickel essentially 75 percent of the game.

And then, of course, the one time the Lions defense gets themselves into a third-and-long, Glenn called an overly-risky cover-zero blitz, and Sam Darnold hit them over the top for a 47-yard gain.

One also has to question the coaching staff for one critical personnel choice. When asked last Monday who they may start at safety as a replacement for injured DeShon Elliott, coach Dan Campbell said there was one quality he was looking for:

“We need dependability, and we need our football players, man. We don’t need speed, we don’t need quick, we need football players,” Campbell said. “We need dependable football players right now with three to go. So, that’s what’s got to be most important.”

If dependability was what they were seeking, how did they possibly land on Melifonwu, who hasn’t ever started a football game at safety, and not veteran C.J. Moore? Did they really value Moore that much on special teams that they couldn’t take him off of it? If that was the reason, that was a critical error in personnel choices, because Melifonwu looked like someone who had never started a game at safety. This was not the game to see if Melifonwu “has it.” It was a critical game in a playoff race and not the time to experiment.

This Monday, Campbell said something quite revealing about the game.

“We’ve got some new guys playing. Some guys, there were a couple of looks that they were getting confused on,” Campbell said.

It’s hard to read that quote and think of anyone but Melifonwu, as the only other “new” guy playing in that game was fullback Garrett Griffin. And so, again, I ask: How did you land on Melifonwu being the most “dependable” option at safety?

Your turn.

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