Quote to note: “It’s about being consistent, and not being up and down.” – Safety Glover Quin, on the Lions’ performance before the bye.
The Detroit Lions’ scouting reports and game preparations should include a hard look at themselves as they restart their season after a bye week with Sunday’s road game against the Miami Dolphins.
They were consistently inconsistent in posting a 2-3 won-loss record before the break, with periods of dominating play and maddening lapses and breakdowns in all three phases – offense, defense and special teams.
They are in the race in the tightly packed NFC North, led by the Chicago Bears at 3-2 with the Vikings and Packers tied for second at 3-2-1.
In the Dolphins, the Lions are facing an opponent that is not as formidable as its 4-2 record would indicate. The Dolphins rank 27th overall on offense and 25th on defense.
There is an opportunity to move up in a hurry if they play to the level when they beat the Patriots and Packers in two of their last three games. But they also can slide deeper into fourth place if they’re not on their game.
The answer for what the Lions will make of this season, starting Sunday, is in their hands.
“In the end it’s going to be about us,” said head coach Matt Patricia. “It’s going to be about us doing the best job we can to execute the game plan at a high level – playing with good awareness, and hopefully showing good improvement on what we did in the first five games of the year.”
Patricia saw good signs in the wins over the Patriots and Packers, but also for periods of play in the road losses to the 49ers and Cowboys. Both games were decided on the final possession – the Lions’ failing to convert on third and fourth down in a drive to a potential game-tying field goal, and the Cowboys winning on a last-play field goal.
“You’ve got to kind of get back on schedule, get back in that rhythm,” Patricia said. “It’ll be a lot about us and our preparation – how we handle it.”
Lions, good bye times: A 20-15 loss to the Steelers at home last season ended a five-game winning streak for the Lions in their first game after the bye. The highlight in the streak was their 18-16 win over the Packers in 2016. It was their first road win over the Packers since 1991.
Road loss streak’s dead end: The Lions’ victory over the Dolphins in 2010 ended a 26-game road losing streak, longest in NFL history. DeAndre Levy got the winning touchdown with a 30-yard interception return with 2:11 left.
Dolphins’ O, the Gore details: Frank Gore still has plenty of life left in his legs – and plenty of yards, too. At 35 and in his 14th pro season, he is still piling up yards – 303 on 62 carries for a 4.9-yard average.
“He sure doesn’t run like he’s 35,” said Lions linebacker Eli Harold. “That shows you how he takes care of his body. He’s tough. He’s gritty.”
Gore has carried the bigger load in splitting carries with third-year back Kenyan Drake, who has 52 carries for 210 yards and a 4.0-yard average.
Since entering the league in 2014 as a third-round draft pick by the 49ers, Gore has had nine seasons of at least 1,000 yards rushing and ranks fourth on the all-time list with 14,329. He showed again in last week’s overtime win over the Bears that there are exceptions to rules on when running backs are too old to be effective.
Gore did not wilt in the steamy conditions. With a game-time temperature of 89 degrees and 67 percent humidity, Gore rushed for 101 yards on 15 carries. On one overtime possession he carried four times on six plays for gains of 9, 32, 5 and one yard.
Dolphins’ Tannehill-Brock exchange: Brock Osweiler, making his second straight start at quarterback for the Dolphins in place of the injured Ryan Tannehill, won his only previous start against the Lions.
Osweiler completed 20 of 29 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown and one interception as the starter for the Houston Texans in a 20-13 win in 2016. Osweiler was sacked three times in what was a thoroughly horrid performance by the visiting Lions – and marginally better by the Texans. And that’s putting it kindly.
Prediction: The team the Lions are is what their 2-3 won-loss record says they are – a team around the .500 mark whose fate rests on a play or two in close losses, as happened to the Lions in their losses to the 49ers and Cowboys.
The team they want to be is one that makes those plays more often than not. They ought to do that against the Dolphins and their backup quarterback, Osweiler, who has been on five teams (Broncos, Texans, Browns, Broncos again and now the Dolphins) in the last four years.
The Lions should beat the heat, and the Dolphins, too.
Lions 26, Dolphins 24.