48, 20, 49.
Those were the lengths of each of Matt Prater’s field goals in Sunday’s debacle at New England. His kicks represented all of Detroit’s offense on the day, as they failed to reach the end zone for the second consecutive week. Since Theo Riddick’s game-winning touchdown catch in Week 11 versus Miami, the Lions have scored a mere 15 points over the course of two games. But all of those points have come by way of field goal. Go figure.
The first several weeks of this season were dominated by the team’s ineffectiveness at kicking the ball through the uprights. While Prater has been reliable when called upon, he is the third kicker Detroit has employed this season. That’s never a stat a team wants to be associated with. Nate Freese was let loose after missing four of his seven attempts, and the same went for Alex Henry after converting on a single field goal in five tries. The Lions are usually a dominant home team, but the clear reason they lost to the Bills at Ford Field in October was the liability of Henry; his three missed field goals in the game proved costly, as even one made attempt would have sent the game into overtime. Now that Prater is on board, their field goal woes have definitely died down, but their inaptitude at converting these easy points was one of the major story lines of the first half of their 2014 season.
In a twist of fate, making field goals has actually hurt the Lions the past two weeks. At Arizona, and especially at New England, the team had to settle for field goals on drives when they could have just as easily put seven points on the board. The Lions drove into Patriots territory on many occasions, but each time they were unable to reach the end zone.
The first thing that stands out from this chart is that even though Detroit failed to score a touchdown while in plus territory, none of these drives ended on an interception or fumble (in fact, Stafford only threw one interception the entire game). So it’s not as if it were one big mistake per drive that cost them, such as an unlucky interception on a deep pass. Rather, a series of miscues prevented the offense from getting anything started; among them, an inability of Stafford to deliver while facing pressure, a severely unassertive running game, and untimely drops by the receiving corps.
Stafford was sacked only two times by New England, and neither of them occurred while the Lions were on Pats side of the 50-yard line. However, he did not fair well when faced with pressure, as evidenced by his 39.1% completion percentage. Stafford was complete on only 14 of his 34 short pass attempts, the type most common when the ball needs to be thrown away quickly. In contrast, Tom Brady was complete on 36 of his 48 short passes, aided by his ability to release the ball quickly; it also helped that the Lions failed to record a quarterback sack for their second consecutive contest.
To compliment a putrid passing game in Foxboro, the Lions game was equally as bad, if not worse. Their longest rushing play of the day was on a 13-yard reverse to Golden Tate- his only carry of the game. Meanwhile, lead back Joique Bell totaled a mere 48 yards on 19 carries. When it seemed almost certain that Detroit would take a 10-3 lead in the second quarter, Bell was given the ball three yards from the end zone. He managed only one yard on the play, and did not receive a carry for the rest of the drive, which resulted in a made field goal. Facing a dominant team on the road, it was a MUST for Detroit to get an early lead, but when the opportunity was literally within a handful of inches, they were unable to capitalize. This one play is really a microcosm of Detroit’s running game as a whole in the blowout loss.
Detroit might have failed to score a touchdown in this game, but boy, did they have so many chances that were oh-so-close. In the second quarter, tight end Joseph Fauria got his hands on a short lob pass in the end zone, but was unable to come down with it.
Later in the quarter, the Lions were given a free play when the Patriots’ Jamie Collins was penalized for being offsides. Stafford targeted wide receiver Corey Fuller deep, and chances were good that it would have resulted in a touchdown, had Fuller seen the ball just a second earlier. Instead, the pass was just beyond his reach and thus another opportunity was wasted.
On consecutive plays in the fourth quarter, Jeremy Ross juggled and subsequently dropped a would-be touchdown, and rookie tight end Eric Ebron dropped a wide-open pass that would have given Detroit a first down.
It should have been expected that Tom Brady and the Patriots would light up the Lions, so it’s hard to blame the defense too much for allowing 34 points. However, the offense did not show up at all either. In all phases of the offensive game plan- passing, running, receiving, and coaching- Detroit looked like the 2008 winless version of themselves. Fans can blame the play calling of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi all they want, but what it really came down to was a failure to convert on golden opportunities. That is what differentiates Super Bowl contenders like the Patriots from the Lions. Detroit still posts a very formidable 7-4 record and an easy schedule presents itself throughout the next month, but make no mistake- if the Lions hope to be playing in Arizona in February, their inexcusable offense approach will need to change soon, and quick; they’re right back at it in three days, hosting the Bears on Thanksgiving.