The Detroit Lions Beat The Philadelphia Eagles In A Comeback Win!
Still riding high on the euphoria of Sunday’s thrilling 24-23 win over the previously undefeated Eagles, many Lions fans are starting to feel some good about the team again. Fans should beware though, not to let recency bias cloud their view of the bigger picture.
Before I proceed, I’d like to add the disclaimer that there were several positives about Sunday’s win. The defense (read: Darius Slay) came up big when it needed to, and the offense looked pretty good in the first half as the team ended its losing streak. But, make no mistake: this team still has but a snowball’s chance under Jim Caldwell this season.
This Win Doesn’t Absolve Caldwell
Whether or not Caldwell saved himself from imminent termination Sunday, we’ll never know. He did, however, prove himself to be an incompetent strategist yet again.
In the first half, the Lions had three offensive drives for three touchdowns. During which they ran 32 plays for 230 yards of offense, dominating time of possession 18:08 to 11:52. Mind you, this was done against what’s been a good Philadelphia defense this season. One that had yet to allow a passing touchdown all year. Going into the locker room up 21-10 at halftime, the Lions seemed to be in control of the game. And how did they come out? Flat.
There’s an old adage that says “you play to win, not to not lose” but the latter is exactly how the Lions played in the second half. On their first drive of the third quarter, the Lions ran three plays for -7 yards and turned the ball over on a Matthew Stafford fumble. After a good defensive stand to hold Carson Wentz and the Eagles to a field goal, they ran three plays for eight yards on the ensuing drive and punted it away.
The much-maligned defense forced a three and out, and the offense responded in kind with seven plays for a meager five yards. Then, after going down 23-21 to trail for the first time in the game, the Lions responded with another three and out after gaining just three yards.
Until Detroit recovered a Ryan Matthews fumble in enemy territory, they had run just 16 second-half plays on four drives for a grand total of eleven (yes, eleven) yards resulting in one turnover and two punts. There was also the questionable direction the offense took on the final drive, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Jim Bob Cooter vs Jim Schwartz
As good a defensive coordinator as Jim Schwartz is, and as stout as his defense has been, the credit there does not go to the Eagles. The Detroit turnover was the result of a mental error by Matthew Stafford, and the Philadelphia defensive unit did their best to extend Detroit’s drives by committing several penalties. Nor does the blame rest on the shoulders of Jim Bob Cooter, who called a brilliant game in the first half.
The fact of the matter is, in the second half, the Lions offense was boring and see-through. How then does Cooter go from coordinating a highly efficient attack to one that is predictable and listless? Well, Cooter’s job is to simply facilitate the game plan of the head coach: James “Conservative Jim” Caldwell.
In the first half, the Lions ran 32 plays, 19 of which were called as pass plays (although two resulted in Stafford scrambles). That’s 59% pass to 41% run, and it worked. The Lions exploited an average Philadelphia secondary, one that featured rookie Jalen Mills after Leodis McKelvin went down with an injury. However, the Lions ran predominantly in first down situations, with 11 out of the 16 first downs (68.75%) they faced being called run plays. For a team that only ran the ball for 41% of all the plays they called, that’s an abnormally high number, especially so for a team whose offensive identity is short quick passing. All this to say, it was very obvious Detroit had made it a point of emphasis to run the ball on first down.
On their first three offensive drives of the second half the Lions opened up with three run plays, two of which resulted in a loss of yards, for a total of a negative yard. Good coaches make adjustments, and bad coaches don’t. The Eagles played the run on first down in the second half, and Jim Caldwell didn’t switch up his game plan, and it nearly cost his team the game.
Where To Point The Finger
It would be easy to point to Jim Bob Cooter and say that it’s his fault for being a predictable play caller, but the game plan had Caldwell’s fingerprints all over it. As evidenced by the final drive which resulted in a field goal and long known as a conservative coach with poor clock management, Caldwell was definitely responsible for the timid philosophy which resulted in the Lions settling for a field goal.
Caldwell, armed with the most accurate red zone passer of 2015, drove down to the Eagles’ six yard line and decided he wanted his team to play to not lose. Yes, after Theo Riddick had a TD reception from the one-yard line in the first half, the team would indeed hand the ball off instead of mixing in the pass.
The Lions ran for negative two yards on first down, then again for just three yards on second. All of a sudden, like he had been all second half, Stafford was put in an obvious passing situation.
Once, on a 2nd and 24, he was sacked for a fumble. On a 3rd and 10, he fell short of the first down mark on an eight-yard completion to Anquan Boldin. On a 3rd and 11, he came up short again on a ten-yard completion to Marcin Jones. Then, on a 3rd and 7, he was sacked yet again.
To that point, the Lions were 0-for-3 on third and long in the second half. Then, on third and medium with goal to go, the Eagles sacked Stafford for a fourth time and forced a Matt Prater field goal. Philadelphia was forced to burn three timeouts, but Detroit ran off just twelve seconds while settling for a field goal. This meant that the Eagles only had over a minute and a half to drive 43 yards (or about four successful passing plays) and kick a field goal.
With the way the defense had been playing, I’ll take giving them a timeout or two to drive 75 yards and score a touchdown. Especially considering the fact that the team had forced three field goals on the day, one of which was a Caleb Sturgis 50-yarder.
Simply put, Caldwell’s ultra-conservative strategy consistently put his team in a position to fail. Were it not for a great pick by Darius Slay, they might have lost. The Lions may have improved to 2-3 on the year, but make no mistake: the team didn’t win this one, they just didn’t lose it.