Five weeks ago, the Detroit Lions were sitting pretty atop the NFC North. Everything was going their way. The Bears and Packers had been completely decimated by injuries, and although the Lions had to deal with the usual amount of NFL injury-related struggles, the key players on the team were well and ready to play. Now, with just two weeks left to play in the regular season, the Lions sit in third place in the NFC North with fading postseason aspirations. With so much going right earlier this season, where did it all go wrong for the Detroit Lions?
The Lions’ nightmare collapse started in the middle of November in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who to this point are still struggling to find their footing. At the time, the Steelers had won just three games compared to the Lions’ six. In addition, the Lions were coming off of back-to-back wins against the Cowboys and the Bears, both teams that were in the thick of the playoff race.
In that game, the Lions were unable to get their offense moving. Matthew Stafford completed just 41.3% of his passes, and with little running game to lean on, the Steelers walked away with the win.
Since that game, the Lions have won just once. In that same period, the Lions have fallen to the Buccaneers, Eagles and Ravens.
With so much going wrong in such dramatic fashion, there’s no shortage of blame to be passed around. In the past five games, Matthew Stafford’s future with the Lions has been repeatedly questioned, largely because he’s finding ways to lose games. Over the course of the Lions’ slide, Stafford has thrown ten interceptions to just nine touchdowns. Those are numbers we expect from Chad Henne or Case Keenum, not from a franchise quarterback.
Then there’s the discipline issue that has haunted the Lions throughout the Jim Schwartz era. The Lions rank sixth worst in the NFL in net penalty yards. In layman’s terms, that just means the Lions are being penalized far more than their opponents. Those are free yards, and in some cases points, the Lions are giving away.
Also disturbing is the way in which the Lions are losing games. In the Lions’ last five games, they’ve held a second half lead in each and every game, but they’ve successfully choked away four of those five games. The Lions, unlike the Detroit Lions of the past, are now starting games just fine, but they’re having difficulty closing opponents out.
The Lions’ recent woes can’t be blamed on any individual person. Sure, Matthew Stafford hasn’t played well in recent weeks, but it’s not all his fault. The Lions coaching staff still appears ill-equipped to have their players ready to play sixty minutes of football each weekend. This staff may have been the right group to dig the Lions out from under the Matt Millen era, but they’re not the group that will take the Lions to the promise land.
If the Lions do go on to miss the playoffs, and at this point, there’s no reason to believe that won’t be the final outcome of their season, there will likely be big changes throughout the organization. Jim Schwartz will likely be the first casualty, but he won’t be the only one. There will be new coaches on board, and the Lions will have to truly consider the direction of their franchise. If Matthew Stafford is their quarterback moving forward, the Lions need more consistency from him, and even more so, they desperately need coaches and players in place that can bring a sense of discipline to a team that is unable to put an entire football game together.