Looking for answers: It’s not over for Detroit (3-6) and first-year head coach Matt Patricia, but after failing to produce points, stops, or wins in recent weeks, the Lions find themselves in a precarious position with Carolina coming to town in Week 11.
For the offense, quarterback Matthew Stafford – the Lions’ $135-million dollar man after signing a five-year extension last summer – has not looked like the same player that helped lead the team to winning seasons in 2016 and 2017.
To begin the year, Stafford threw a career-high four interceptions against the Jets in a 48-17 loss. Not an ideal start for someone who finished 31st on the NFL Top 100 list the last two years. So far, Stafford is ranked 17th in passer rating (93.8) among starting quarterbacks and has averaged the 19th-most passing yards per game (265). The 29 times he has been sacked is tied for fourth most, and the rate at which he is throwing touchdowns (16) versus interceptions (eight) would give any fan base pause.
In the three victories, Stafford threw six touchdowns to one pick and twice completed at least 75 percent of his passes, but during the Lions’ three-game losing streak, he has four TDs and three picks. The most uncomfortable stat, though, is that he was sacked 19 times during that stretch, the most of which came when Stafford went down 10 times against the Vikings in Week 9.
After shipping Stafford’s most reliable option in wide receiver Golden Tate to Philly on October 30, the offense’s sputtering has only gotten louder. Outside of rookie running back Kerryon Johnson, there has been little else to speak of. Johnson has been sharp since becoming a starter in Week 4; he ranks top 15 in total rushing yards (554) and boasts the third-longest rush of the season after going 71 yards versus the Dolphins. Wideouts Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay have played admirably, but Stafford and the offensive line have cast overwhelming shadows.
On the defensive side, the story has been much of the same; the Lions are giving up the fifth most points (27.1) and rushing yards (132.7) per game. They have given up 86 total points in the last three weeks. Detroit’s secondary has limited teams downfield with the eighth-fewest passing yards per game (229.4), but seven of their opponents’ last 12 touchdowns have come via the air.
Mounting injuries adding pressure: No team is exempt from injuries, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth noting when gaping holes are formed in the middle of a depth chart.
During their 34-22 loss to the Bears on Sunday, the Lions – already without tight end Luke Willson, Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang and All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay coming into Week 10 – watched several starters get bit by the injury bug. Johnson, Golladay and defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson were among those that were temporarily sidelined in the loss before returning to action, but the most significant losses came at the tight end and receiver positions.
Second-year tight end Michael Roberts, who replaced Willson, went down with a shoulder injury in the second half and didn’t return, further depleting a group that now may only have Levine Toilolo to rely on. That is, of course, if Toilolo, who also briefly exited Sunday’s contest, is able.
The biggest blow came in the form of Jones, the 28-year-old wideout who leads the team with five TD receptions. Jones injured his knee after trying to make a catch down the right sideline late in the third quarter and didn’t return.
Should Jones be ruled inactive in Week 11 against the Panthers, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter will have to lean heavily on Golladay (and his team-leading 601 receiving yards), rookie Brandon Powell and newly acquired veteran Bruce Ellington to try to create some type of consistency.
Third quarter conundrum: Carolina’s offense has struggled to put up points in the third quarter. Detroit’s defense has struggled to stop teams in the third quarter. Something to keep an eye on after halftime on Sunday.