ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The answers, they really don’t have them. The questions, though, they know they are out there. How else to explain what’s been going on with the Detroit Lions‘ offense over the past two weeks?
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The inefficient possessions, the inability to score touchdowns. Two losses in which Detroit could have — should have — done more offensively. In three of the past four games, the offense has produced less than 350 yards. Two have been under 300 yards.
It’s clear something isn’t working, something isn’t getting through. If you’re asking yourself where has the offense gone, you’re not the only one.
“I don’t know really how to answer that,” Lions tight end Michael Roberts said. “I can’t give you a clear definition. I just know that we put in time, a lot of effort and a lot of time. Just disappointing to not be able to perform like we know how we can.
“So, to answer that, I don’t really have a clear answer. I guess it would really just come down to execution, executing. We have a game plan, we go out, we practice it and execute in practice, as well.”
On Sundays, it’s been failing the Lions. Even when they move the ball, they can’t score touchdowns. That was supposed to be the strength of this team with a veteran quarterback-coordinator combination in Matthew Stafford and Jim Bob Cooter.
Last week was, the Lions hope, the nadir — a 209-yard output at the Minnesota Vikings that was their worst since 2010. It was the second-worst offensive game Stafford has played in during his NFL career, behind the season-opener against the Chicago Bears in 2010 when Detroit managed just 168 yards.
The only other game since Stafford was drafted that the Lions had this poor of an offensive output was on Oct. 18, 2009, a 26-0 loss at the Green Bay Packers in which Stafford didn’t play.
So, it’s not only been bad for this season, it’s been bad — at least statistically — for Stafford and the Lions historically.
“Just got to put the ball in the end zone more consistently,” Stafford said. “We’ve had some trips down to the red zone, had some chances at some big plays. Whatever it is, I gotta find a way to get the ball in the end zone. That’s really my job when it boils down to it.”
So how does he fix that?
“Put it in the end zone. Make some plays,” Stafford said. “It’s not one thing. It’s not, ‘Hey, we’re missing this throw every time or that throw or this run or whatever.’ It’s getting down there and having negative plays. If we can just avoid some of those negative plays, we’ll be in a good place.”
Right now, the Lions are nowhere near that place. If anything, Detroit is trending toward having a mediocre offense, at best, this season. The Lions are outside the top 10 in every statistical category except time of possession. They are 20th in rushing yards per game (104.3), passing yards per game (248.6) and offensive points scored per game (22.5). With a defense that is still evolving, the Lions’ offense just has to be better than it has been.
And it has just left them with more questions and fewer answers.
“We did not play our best last week,” Cooter said. “It was a unit-wide effort and, obviously, I’m in charge of that, so I’m not doing a good enough job getting us ready to play well on Sundays. There are a lot of different things; you wouldn’t necessarily narrow it down to one thing or one position or one group or one big picture item.
“It’s just overall, we have to play better. I have to coach better. I have to get our guys better. We have to execute better and get back to the fundamentals, get back to the simple things, do those well. Get that thing headed in the right direction and sort of go from there.”
The Lions could try to run more play-action. That’s been an area Stafford has been particularly adept in over the past two seasons; and now, with a run game that is more functional than the ones he had under Jim Caldwell, it would seem like it could be more effective.
And yet the Lions have had the fifth-fewest play-action snaps in the league (46) — and still have completed 73.2 percent of their passes on play-action, fifth highest in the NFL. Five of Detroit’s 14 touchdown passes this season have come off play-action, and the Lions’ 126.4 passer rating in those situations is No. 6 in the league.
But Detroit just hasn’t gone there much.
“I would say we utilize all avenues of attacking the defense. I’m sure if you sort out certain numbers and don’t really take into account game situations, you can kind of make them say whatever you would like,” Cooter said. “Our job is to do what we can do to score points to help our team win games. It’s on us to keep ourselves in a good game situation so that we do have multiple avenues available to us to attack a defense.
“Sometimes we have this year, and sometimes we have been a little bit further behind than we should be.”