The first quarter of the season is in the books for the Detroit Lions, whose record stands at a disappointing 1-3 after a 13-20 home loss to the Minnesota Vikings (3-1) in Week 4. Yet again, special teams gaffes and offensive lapses in the first half and red zone plagued the team as they had against San Francisco and Tennessee and Minnesota.
These sad refrains are starting to sound uncomfortably familiar.
The defense held Minnesota to only six offensive points and quarterback Christian Ponder to 16/26 (61.5%) for 111 yards. They limited wide receiver Percy Harvin to three receptions for 22 yards (plus three rushes for 12 yards) and tight end Kyle Rudolph to two catches for eight yards. Cornerback Chris Houston, safeties Ricardo Silva (fresh off the practice squad) and Erik Coleman, and linebackers DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant were all good in coverage. Rookie cornerback Bill Bentley struggled with pass-interference penalties to set up both Vikings field goals and a late 27-yard reception by Jerome Simpson that took precious time off the clock.
The defensive line was respectable with two sacks, three hits, and seven hurries to bug Ponder on 29 dropbacks. They were poor against the run, however, as running back Adrian Peterson ran hard between the tackles on 21 carries for 102 yards (4.9 yards per carry). They did tighten up in the 4th quarter to prevent Peterson and backup Toby Gerhart from icing the game for the Vikings.
A great punt by Chris Kluwe pinned the Lions at the 2-yard line for the final drive. Detroit was unable to get off another Hail Mary because defensive end Everson Griffen foiled them with his second sack of the day.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford was decent, going 31/50 (62%) for 319 yards with one rushing touchdown and for the second straight game no turnovers. However, the offense was unable to finish drives in the red zone, only scoring on one of three opportunities.
On one drive, Jared Allen roped in a coverage sack on 1st down, wide receiver Calvin Johnson was dislodged from the ball by a great hit from rookie safety Harrison Smith on 2nd down, and tight end Brandon Pettigrew dropped a sure touchdown pass. Detroit was forced on to settle for a field goal.
On another drive, running back Mikel Leshoure fumbled at the Vikings 29-yard line after his longest run of the day on a great hit by safety Jamarca Sanford.
On another red-zone appearance, while Johnson was out of the game being tested for a concussion in the aftermath a hit by linebacker Chad Greenway, Detroit went four-and-out in the redzone after an unblocked Griffen sacked Stafford on 4th down.
Wide receivers Nate Burleson and Titus Young both had at least one drop, while Johnson failed to complete a jump ball after Smith made a great hit and was stalled an inch shy of converting a first down on another drive.
A tentative-looking running back Mikel Leshoure was held to 26 yards on 13 carries behind the poor run blocking of Jeff Backus, Dominic Raiola, and Stephen Peterman. One drive stalled when Leshoure was stuffed on 3rd-and-1 from the Minnesota 40-yard line.
Pass protection was poor for the first time this season, giving up five sacks, five hits, and 10 hurries. Most of these were due to good coverage on the part of the Vikings linebackers and secondary, as the offensive line and tight ends were only charged with two sacks, three hits, and eight hurries.
The Lions managed to make the score look respectable in garbage time as running back Joique Bell’s completed receptions of 16, 13, and 23 yards against a prevent defense and Stafford barely stuck the ball over the goal line late, giving Detroit one last desperation chance after a stop. It was too little, too late.
Special teams cost the Lions a second straight game. Cornerback Jonte Green failed to contain as the Vikings simply ran to the opposite side of the kick on the opening kickoff for a touchdown, forcing Detroit to pooch kicks the rest of the game.
During the punt return by birthday boy Marcus Sherels, both special teams specialist Kassim Osgood and running back Joique Bell missed tackles, while and safety John Wendling was blocked perfectly to springing Sherels for the score.
Detroit needs serious help on special teams.
Moving on from disaster
The Lions remain a streaky team. Last year they had streaks of five and three victories, as well as a 1-3 losing stretch. But 1-3 stretches are more tolerable after a 5-0 start. Right now they need another five-game hot streak — or at a minimum, to go 4-1 in their next five games — if they hope to make good on their playoff aspirations. A win in Philadelphia would stave off a four-game skid.
Detroit faces an uphill battle in the final three quarters of the season with four of their next five games on the road (including two road divisional games); three currently undefeated teams (Houston, Atlanta, at Arizona); two games against Green Bay (PackkillLions?); and a regular season finale against the playoff-hopeful Chicago Bears.
The bye couldn’t have come at a better time. Under the provisions of the new collective bargaining agreement, Detroit will have five consecutive days off and won’t return until before Tuesday. Hopefully, the extra rest will help heal some nagging injuries: safety Louis Delmas (knee), linebacker Justin Durant (back), wide receiver Titus Young (knee), and tight end Tony Scheffler (calf).
Pass protection, red-zone offense, and special teams must all be addressed and soon.
The Lions . . . not so Boombaya anymore.