Detroit Lions, now 1-3, have no defense for their defense

by | Oct 5, 2020 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

It’s probably a good thing the Lions didn’t have fans inside Ford Field on Sunday. The fewer witnesses, the better.

This was sad, lifeless, sometimes cringeworthy defensive football, bad tackling, no tackling, low resistance, no resistance. Please don’t let the 35-29 score fool you. It wasn’t that close.

Let me sum up the day mathematically. The Lions scored 14 points in the first five minutes. Then the Saints scored 35 unanswered points in what felt like three hours. Then most people stopped watching. Then the Lions scored 15 points.

If you add that up, you’ll see Detroit still came up short. Hey, football’s like watching a movie. If you fall asleep in the middle, it’s tough to catch up at the end.

The final dagger came on a play so typical it bears recapping: Two minutes left. Third-and-3 for New Orleans. If the Lions hold, they’ll likely get the ball back with, incredibly, a longshot chance to win. If they don’t, it’s over.

And the snap …

Drew Brees tosses the ball to running back Alvin Kamara, who races untouched to the sidelines for the first down.

Done. That easy. Such was the Lions’ defense against New Orleans on Sunday — and, let’s be honest, against everybody this season except Arizona. Never mind that the Saints came into this game missing their all-world receiver, Michael Thomas, their starting tight end, Jared Cook, and starting guard Andrus Peat. Never mind that all game long their offensive linemen were hobbling to the bench with injuries.

Didn’t matter. The Saints are a deep, well-coached team, whose second-line players are still more effective than the Lions’ first. And against superstars like Kamara, the Lions were toy soldiers getting knocked over by a Tonka Truck.

“We got a little too comfortable,” said Lions linebacker Reggie Ragland.

Comfortable? The Lions should get comfortable the day Julian Assange gets comfortable. Until then, guys, look at your track record. The Lions blow leads the way NASCAR blows tires. Since Matt Patricia’s arrival, they have failed to win 21 times after being ahead. Twenty-one times? That leads the NFL.

So at least they’re good at something.

Too comfortable? Did he really say that?

What did we really expect?

“Obviously we all think we can play better and coach better,” Patricia said afterward. I’lll spare you the rest, because it’s pretty much the same thing every loss. Not happy. Gotta clean things up. Lot of work to do. Need to coach better. Execute better. Yadda, yadda.

This time, Patricia mentioned “fundamentals” several times. Those are things such as  tackling. Covering. Breaking up plays. The Lions did precious little of that Sunday, after a tipped interception that set up their quick second touchdown.

The fact is, Detroit’s run defense was to the Saints’ rushers what a weed is to a lawnmower. What a pin is to a bowling ball. Here’s how much the Saints worried about the Lions. On third-and-goal from the 6, they RAN THE BALL! And they SCORED! Third-and-goal from the 6? Yep. Latavius Murray sliced through the middle and dragged defenders to the end zone.

Oh, and on a third-and-goal from the 3 — a passing down for most NFL teams — they ran Murray again, and again, he cut right through for the score.

Oh, and on a fourth-and-4, not far from midfield, they didn’t even hesitate. Brees found Kamara down the right sideline for 29 yards. Fourth-and-4? That says they’re not the slightest bit worried about the Lions stopping them,

And why should they be? Whatever defensive reputation got Patricia this job three years ago, it has long since dissipated. Teams can’t wait to play the Lions’ defense. It makes backups look like stars and stars look like they should renegotiate their contracts. Brees toyed with the Lions, and found Emmanuel Sanders wide open so many times, that at one point the Fox analyst, Jonathan Vilma, remarked, “This looks like practice.”

Well, practice makes perfect. And the Lions have gotten really good at his. They’ve given up 127 points in four games, or an average of 32 points per Sunday. Every starting quarterback has thrown for at least 240 yards against them. Every opponent has gained at least 100 yards rushing (the Packers had 259).

The Saints came in here 1-2 on the season, with tough losses to Green Bay and Las Vegas. But a trip to Detroit is better than Lourdes. The Lions should get paid by health insurance.

“The biggest thing for us, really … is consistency,” Patricia said.

I don’t know how to say this nicely, Coach. You are consistent. Consistently can’t stop the run, or get to the quarterback, or make the big defensive stop when most needed.

Consistency is kind of the problem.

No defense for this defense

Because of that, everyone knew, against the Saints, the Lions’ offense would need to be a rabbit, staying out in front as long as possible. And they started that way, with Matthew Stafford leading a pretty drive for a 7-0 lead and capitalizing on the one New Orleans mistake for a quick TD and a 14-0 lead.

And then the wheels came off. The Lions went nearly 2 ½ quarters without scoring. In between Stafford threw a bad interception in the end zone, and had a number of off-the-mark passes which sailed high or wide. That’s unusual for him. But not unusual for how things go with the franchise.

“I gotta do a better job,” Stafford said, which, like Patricia, is something he bravely says after every loss. When a reporter noted that he looked particularly frustrated out there Sunday, Stafford replied, “If you see frustration, it’s probably for myself. I just wish I could have been better today.”

That might have helped. But when you surrender consecutive scoring drives of 75, 80, 80, 49 and 75 yards, that’s a defensive loss. And the more we go on this way, the less defense there is for it. Patricia and Bob Quinn have had time to build their roster. They signed expensive defensive free agents such as Trey Flowers, they used high draft picks on defensive guys such as Jeff Okudah, who probably wishes he had stayed another year at Ohio State.

We’re a quarter of the way through the season, and once again, it’s not working. The Lions don’t stop people. When you grab a fast 14-0 lead, at home, you need a defense to put its foot on the opponent’s neck and turn it into a blowout.

Did anybody think that was going to happen Sunday?

The Saints surely didn’t.

And that, for the 1-3 Lions, is the problem.

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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