DETROIT — The Lions lost another game on Thursday, 23-16 to the Bears at Ford Field, built on the same script in the end: The offense isn’t firing at all, and it has seemingly lost its ability to come back from deficits in the fourth quarter.
It’s not befitting what the Lions expected to have this season, when Matthew Stafford returned for a third full season in Jim Bob Cooter’s scheme and seemingly found a running game at long last. And yet in the highest-scoring season in NFL history, the Lions have yet to top 32 points in and game and have been held to 20 or fewer in five of 11 contests. That is all despite the following:
- A $27 million, 10th-year starting quarterback
- Two $7 million wide receivers who have played 7 of 11 games
- The highest-paid right tackle in NFL history
- Two other first-round picks on the offensive line
- A second-round rookie running back who has the makings of a star
Ironically, Detroit’s latest loss was the first NFL game following the 54-51 thriller between the Rams and Chiefs that set modern records and had the feel, in the words of Rams quarterback Jared Goff, of Texas Tech playing Cal in college football.
And Detroit’s next game will be against Goff and those Rams next Sunday at Ford Field. The Lions will have 10 days to prepare for it, and they’ll need every second to gear up for L.A.’s offense and to find a way to unlock their own, which is starting to look like it’s playing a different sport.
On paper, coming into the season, the Rams didn’t have all that much more than the Lions did in established offensive talent. Todd Gurley was the obvious difference, as he was the reigning AP Offensive Player of the Year coming off a season with 2,000 yards from scrimmage. But Goff was still an up-and-coming quarterback in a new system. His receivers didn’t have the reputations of Marvin Jones or Golden Tate and lacked the rapport with the quarterback. Both teams had invested in the offensive line, but Detroit had invested even more.
And yet the Rams will enter this week averaging 106 yards and nearly 14 more points per game than the Lions do. The Rams are the only team that ranks in the top five in rushing and passing offense. They have exceptional athletes, but they also have the biggest rising star of an offensive play caller in Sean McVay.
McVay is just 32 years old and in his second year as the Rams coach, but he has the team at 10-1 this year after an upstart 11-5 season a year ago. He has become a trend setter for offensive movement in the NFL, constructing analytics-influenced game plans to play percentages while creating mismatches through play-action, motion, tempo and route concepts that pick defenders in space.
Los Angeles isn’t just an offensive team, though. It has the legendary Wade Phillips pulling the strings for a defense that harrasses quarterbacks with Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh in the middle. They give up higher yardage and scoring totals than other teams because of how their lightning-fast offense puts them out on the field so much, but they rank in the middle of the pack at 16th in defense-adjusted value over average, Football Outsiders’ statistic for measuring efficiency up against what other teams do in those situations.
Detroit is struggling on offense and defense this season, and it has had its special teams issues at times as well. That is how a team with playoff aspirations can lose four of five games. Injuries have played a role lately as well, as Kerryon Johnson and Marvin Jones missed the Chicago game with knee injuries and their status is currently up in the air for the Rams game.
Ford Field used to be a significant home-field advantage for the Lions, but they are just 3-3 there so far this season. They have pulled off two wins over winning teams in that building, though, topping Tom Brady’s Patriots and Cam Newton’s Panthers. They also beat Aaron Rodgers’ Packers, who are 4-5-1.
Detroit will need to pull a major upset in this one because Los Angeles figures to be a heavy favorite coming in off of a bye week.