The Detroit Lions are slumping, but it wasn’t always like this. Some are quick to call the Lions frauds, but over the first six weeks of the season, the Lions were anything but. They had amassed a 5-1 record and were coming off four straight wins of 14 points or more. Bad teams don’t do that.
But since then, the Lions have certainly played uninspired ball. That is impossible to deny. They’ve been 4-3 over their last seven, and both sides of the ball have regressed significantly.
So let’s dive a little deeper into what, specifically, has gone wrong over the past month and a half, and examine whether these newfound problems are fixable as Detroit attempts to make a December/January title run.
First 6 games: 6 turnovers
Last 7 games: 14 turnovers
The Lions have been incredibly turnover-prone over these last seven games. In fact, only two teams have more turnovers over that same period of time (Jets, Browns).
It’s easy to say: “Oh, well just take care of the ball, and we’ll be fine.” But, unfortunately, turnovers are mostly forced by the opponent in one way or another—be it pressure on the quarterback, excellent coverage, or a savvy punchout from a defender.
For the Lions, the main issue has been pressure lately. Through the first six games, Jared Goff was pressured on 32.4 percent of dropbacks, per PFF. In the last seven games, that pressure percentage has ballooned to 37.4 percent.
As we know, Jared Goff struggles under pressure more than a normal quarterback. But, lately, he’s been a complete disaster. Here’s a snippet from an article from ESPN’s Bill Barnwell.
He has never been a great quarterback under pressure, but before the bye, he ranked 16th in QBR when opposing teams’ pass rushes got in his face. That’s not ideal, but it’s not going to hold back Detroit.
Since the bye, however, Goff’s QBR under pressure is 0.6. That’s less than one out of 100. It’s the worst mark in football. He has posted a minus-25.7% CPOE under pressure over that stretch, gone 10-of-36 for 60 yards, and taken 10 sacks.
So is it fixable?
Well, yes and no. I wouldn’t expect the Lions offensive line to struggle as much as it has recently, especially if they get Frank Ragnow back soon. Without a doubt, Ragnow at center, Graham Glasgow at right guard remains their most efficient offensive line combination out there. And while Goff is struggling right now, he should eventually regress to being at least a below-average passer against the pressure rather than being THE WORST EVER.
But there is a serious problem ahead: the Lions have four straight games against teams that can pressure the quarterback and force turnovers. Take a look:
Broncos: First in NFL in takeaways, 18th in sacks
Vikings: t-13th in takeaways, 14th in sacks
Cowboys: t-7th in takeaways, t-8th in sacks
The Lions secondary has been playing at a pretty poor level all season, but it’s been painfully obvious as of late. Detroit responded last week by making some personnel changes against the Bears. Tracy Walker moved to the bench in favor of Ifeatu Melifonwu, while Kindle Vildor is starting to cut into Jerry Jacobs’ playing time.
Just how bad has it been? Well, let’s look at the splits again:
First 6 games: 60.8 completion percentage allowed, 5.7 Y/A, 8 TDs, 6 INTs, 79.6 passer rating
Last 7 games: 65.0 completion percentage allowed, 7.9 Y/A, 13 TDs, 3 INTs, 106.3 passer rating
Since Week 7, the Lions rank 31st in passer rating allowed, 31st in pass defense DVOA, 31st in dropback EPA allowed, and 29th in success rate.
So is it fixable?
Ehhhhhh... I’m not banking on it. Detroit seemed fortunate early in the season, as blown coverages have been the norm. It’s just a matter of whether the opponents can take advantage of them. Detroit could get C.J. Gardner-Johnson back at the end of the year, and maybe Vildor and Melifonwu help create some stability. But I think the Lions are just kind of stuck with one of the worst secondaries in football right now.
The only silver lining here is that—aside from the Cowboys—they’re playing some pretty mediocre pass offenses down the stretch.
Denver ranks 20th in dropback EPA and 16th in passing DVOA. It’s not entirely clear who the Vikings’ quarterback is right now, but since Kirk Cousins’ season-ending injury, Minnesota has ranked 26th in passing DVOA and 24th in dropback EPA.
The Cowboys... well, they’re second in dropback EPA and sixth in passing DVOA. They’re going to be a problem.
THE STUPID THIRD QUARTER
The Lions have been unfathomably bad in the third quarter. Just look at their overall point differential by quarter:
First quarter: +24
Second quarter: +30
Third quarter: -38
Fourth quarter: +16
The Lions have the edge in each quarter—and by a pretty significant margin in each—except for the third quarter. They are getting absolutely blown out in the third quarter, and it doesn’t make much of any sense, to be honest.
I’d like to say there was some sort of rhyme or reason to it. It doesn’t appear to be indicative of some larger issue, seeing as they remain dominant in the other three quarters. Yet, the problem has been consistent enough that I’m not quite sure we can assume Detroit will eventually regress to the mean.
Lions coaches have been asked about the third quarter lulls several times, and they don’t seem to have an answer for it.
Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson from October:
“It’s a big deal because it was a problem last year. So, it’s one that we haven’t been able to fix yet. We’re certainly aware of it as a coaching staff. The players are aware of it and so, it’s something that we’re looking to improve. There’s a number of ways we’re tackling that right now.”
Coach Dan Campbell after the Bears loss:
“We haven’t been able to get going. We’ve done a lot of different things. We changed what we’re running, how we’re going to run it, what we’re doing, who we’re trying to get the ball to. We fizzled out there. But we’ve always been able to get it going late third or early fourth. We’ve traditionally been a very good first quarter, fourth quarter team. I would much rather be a good fourth quarter team than a third quarter team, but that didn’t even show up today.”
Is it fixable?
Man, I don’t know. It’s been a problem for far too long for me to believe it’s suddenly going to disappear. But here’s a look at the third quarter point differential for the Lions’ upcoming opponents:
Well, that’s good news, I suppose.