Feb. 26, 2019
Lions Look: Regression
For Detroit Lions fans, that is a word far too commonly heard referencing this franchise.
The Lions travelled to Chicago for their first game of 2018 with the Bears, leaders of the NFC North. A victory for Detroit here would put the Lions right back in the thick of the division race, with a rematch between the two in 11 days time on Thanksgiving Day.
Instead, the Lions were so thoroughly defeated that even the concept of earning a wild card berth seems like a pipe dream.
The Bears offense were forced to punt once throughout the game, with second year quarterback Mitch Trubisky throwing for a career best 355 yards in a 34-22 shellacking that was no where near as close as the score would indicate. The defense would sack Lions QB Matt Stafford six times and essentially shut down rookie running back Kerryon Johnson, with Detroit picking up yardage and points after the Bears had built an insurmountable lead. This has been a very uneven season for the Lions. After losing their first two games of 2018 to the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers, the Lions would win 3 of their next 4 games to even their record to 3-3. Then, in the heart of the schedule, Detroit drops 3 straight, with each successive performance worse than the one before.
For a team who just barely missed the playoffs in 2017, it begs the question: what the hell happened? What happened was a coaching change, from Jim Caldwell, the Lions' winningest head coach in the modern era, to Matt Patricia, a disciple of Bill Belichick and former cohort of general manager Bob Quinn in New England. Quinn, with Patricia, is trying to build the Lions into their version of the Patriots; a team that controls both sides of the line of scrimmage and can adapt to their competition week in and week out. While Patricia may earn a pass due to his limited time at his post, Quinn does not. This is a roster he has built for three years. While he did inherit Caldwell as head coach, that does not excuse Quinn for putting out roster that is unwilling or unable to properly execute for four quarters every time out. The players' dedication and heart are not being questioned here; it's Quinn's capability as a talent evaluator. If he cannot find the players, either through raw talent in the draft or as honed, skilled professionals through free agency, then Quinn should not be at his post. Coaching has served to be an issue, as there was a switch at the special teams coordinator's position this week, a holdover from the Caldwell regime. Another in offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is certainly on the hot seat for his unit's pedestrian performances through the season. Plus, the lack of playmakers, from a dearth of pass rushers to lack of depth in the secondary, have been contributing factors to the Lions' defense among one of the worst in the league. If Quinn, and by extension Patricia, do not turn this team's fortunes around, rest assured that owner Martha Firestone Ford will have no qualms about replacing those who do not meet expectations. Now that said, both Quinn and Patricia should be given a legitimate chance to instill the culture they envision for the Lions. Cutting ties prematurely will only lead to this ballclub being left perpetually adrift. Look no further than the Cleveland Browns as to a chilling reminder of that course of action.
At 3-6, the Lions no longer control their own destiny in regards to playing in January. And quite frankly, your humble scribe did believe that the Lions would take one step back to ultimately go two steps forward in the coming campaigns. So in transitional time, the team can only play their games and continue with this new program. Next up for the Lions are the Carolina Panthers, whose quarterback is enjoying a career year and will roll into Ford Field in a nasty mood after catching a beating on Thursday Night Football against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cam Newton had a banner day last year against Detroit, so the defense will have their work cut out for them. Given the way Detroit have played recently it will be considered a moral victory if the Panthers don't chase the Lions off their own field.