Keys to the Game Week 2: A Titanic Lions loss

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The Detroit Lions’ Loss Doesn’t Rest With The Officiating Alone

In an impressively depressing turn of events that will be added to the pages of Detroit Lions lore, Detroit blew a 12 point fourth quarter lead to lose to the lowly Titans. Similarly to week one, the Lions were a tale of two halves.

To start, they piled on pressure resulting in a first quarter safety, and were extremely effective on offense moving up and down the field with ease. Then came the second half. An injury-plagued defense simply could not stop anything through the middle of the field, and the offense dried up, stalling until a game-clinching Stafford interception ended this almost unbearable game. Everything, from the officiating, to the color commentary, to the sloppy play on the field, all of it made this one of the ugliest games that I have ever seen as a fan of Detroit – from start to finish. Based on the recent history of this team that is an extremely impressive feat.

A note regarding the game as a whole

I feel the last point in the brief recap above needs to be expanded upon in a section of its own, because this game truly was terrible to watch and not all of it was due either the Titans or the Lions. First and foremost this was the absolute worst color commentary I have ever been subjected to for a regular season NFL game. This is a fairly veteran crew that’s been working together for several years now, and they should be completely embarrassed in their performance today.

Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein, and Andrew Catalon were nothing short of incompetent in their duties, lacking any knowledge of basic football strategy or simply the rules of the game. A better performance could have been provided by over half of the crews that covered the Lions’ preseason games this year. As a national crew that performance should have gotten them removed from their respective positions immediately.

Atrocious officiating in this Lions loss

Speaking of incompetence, the officiating in this game left a lot to be desired. Now in all fairness these teams played so sloppily it would make even the most veteran referee trigger happy, but they simply failed to control the game in any way. Their biggest flaw was a lack of consistency in their calls. Both teams were left confused throughout the contest as they tried to identify why some things were called while others were not.

No example of this was more egregious then a low hit on Matthew Stafford, injuring him and clearly affecting his performance throughout the rest of the game. That play went uncalled while a tap to his helmet gained a fifteen-yard personal foul. Then of course there was the crowning jewel of this dumpster fire of a game, a phantom penalty that voided a clear Eric Ebron touchdown. With those four additional points the Lions would have won this game, and not have to have faced an unnecessarily embarrassing third and goal from beyond the thirty-yard line.

NFL head offices take note, if you allow your product to degrade to the point it did in this game you will lose massive amounts of casual fans and you will lose substantial amounts of money. Which we all know is all you care about anyway.

Keys To The Game

1) Here a drop, there a drop, everywhere a drop….

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The single biggest flaw in the Lions game on Sunday: the receivers were simply not on their game. Out of eighteen missed pass attempts by Matthew Stafford, I counted at least ten drops by Lions receivers. Yes Matthew Stafford was not the same guy after that low hit and was a little off with his throws, but the receiving corps simply had to bring in more balls then they did today.

Outside of Marvin Jones who caught all but two non-penalty related balls, with only one clear drop, the rest of the group was poor to say the least. Yes, Boldin and Tate had some big plays but they also both had boneheaded, uncharacteristic drops and penalties that should absolutely never happen. Those cost the team in key moments. Even Eric Ebron got in on the action, while everyone remembers some of his great catches, he chipped in with two drops and twenty yards in penalties. If the Lions are going to be competitive going forward, they need to get more out of their typically sure-handed receivers.

2) New Job Posting: Detroit Lions Linebacker

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While the defense folded to end the game, it was not entirely their fault. The Lions lost Ziggy Ansah, arguably the lynchpin of the defense, very early to an ankle injury but more notably the team lost a lot of linebackers.

With an already injured DeAndre Levy sitting out and preseason standout Jon Bostic on the injured reserve, the Lions lost both rookie Antwione Williams and Kyle Van Noy to lower body injuries. This resulted in defensive end Brandon Copeland and recently signed special teams player Thurston Armbrister being placed on the field as the team’s only linebackers in the dying moments. Delanie Walker had his way with the middle of the field, racking up yardage and making it look easy against players that should never have been expected to cover him.

You simply cannot expect to be a competitive unit if you are relying on these types of players to be important contributors to your defense. These are the issues with going as thin at a position as the Lions have gone with their linebackers this year, and the blame for that falls solely on new GM Bob Quinn -who might need to be scanning the waiver wire now for some sort of warm body to throw out on the field while the unit gets healthy. Hopefully we don’t lose these players for long and can have them back, and ready for a tough match-up in Green Bay, next week.

3) Here’s to you Mr. Tomlinson… now please find your way to the bench

I don’t know exactly what happened to Laken Tomlinson since he was drafted in the first round. Maybe Lombardi’s system ruined him. Maybe the Mayhew era scouts mixed up the players when they were making notes for the draft, but he has been the biggest liability of the offense if not the entire team through two games and it has not been close. He’s been credited for three penalties but responsible for at least five thus far as well as numerous pressures, a couple of sacks in pass protection, and the run blocking has not been significantly better.

The former first round pick has the mobility of Stonehenge, and more desire to hold on to people then I have ever seen on a football field. I’m honestly beginning to believe he’s just desperate for a hug so he’s bear hugging all the defenders he lines up against hoping they’ll reciprocate. I think Laken has a great mind and if he could find a way to get his feet to catch up to the NFL level I think he would be a phenomenal asset. If he cannot start showing that on the field though VERY quickly, we will need to see what Joe Dahl can do. It’s time to live up to Bob Quinn’s earlier promise of true competition at every position.

4) Sloppy and Indecisive

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The most concerning thing to note was that the Lions were not ready to play today.

Jim Caldwell, known for producing disciplined teams, guided Detroit to an unprecedented and undisciplined seventeen penalty slop-fest worth 138 yards of negative yardage, a yard more then the team’s total rushing yards on the day. The team simply seemed lost out on the field today, lacking direction, with normally solid players looking completely inconsistent.

When losing to a team as incomplete and one-dimensional as the Titans, especially with the talent the Lions possess, a lack of leadership and direction has to play a role. Unfortunately Jim Caldwell is starting to have those terms define his coaching style. It doesn’t seem like it at first, he can quite easily have you convinced that being conservative is the right way to go but one decision he made today burst me out of the bubble.

I was having a back and forth with Detroit Lions Podcast CEO and man-who-beats-his-writers Chris about the decision to punt from the thirty-nine yard line in the early second quarter. He was obviously infuriated by the decision but I argued no, Sam Martin’s a great punter, why not let him pin them deep. Let the defense get another safety, try and play it safe.

It took me a while but when writing this piece I realized…. What in the hell was I saying? Why are you not giving Matt Prater, one of the biggest-legged kickers in the NFL, a chance at a field goal that he’s hit numerous times in his career? Hell why not just go for it on fourth down and see if you can pick up a first down for the offense to keep going, inside the opposition forty? That could put your foot on their throat and get them out of the game before they even thought about coming back.

But, no, the Lions went conservative. DeMarco Murray broke off a long run on the very next play, and there was yet another missed opportunity. There will be an evaluation at the end of this season as to whether Jim Caldwell is the right person to lead this team going forward and if he cannot get this locker room in order quickly his job will be more then in question in the new year.

Teams can recover from losses such as these, it’s been done by lesser teams in the past, however they can also become “what if” moments for teams that were on the verge of going to the next level but just missed out. Hopefully this becomes a galvanizing moment and not another “what if” of Lions history.

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About the Author

Chris is the founder of everything you see here. A former radio presenter and Detroit native, he now resides in sunny California – and like so many of us, he found himself marooned on an island devoid of other Lions fans. After spending a few years in the Detroit Lions Reddit community he decided to start the Detroit Lions Podcast. Its become the #1 Detroit Lions podcast, and regularly ranks with the top podcasts in Detroit. With a mixture of pre-recorded shows, live & recorded phone-ins, and live post-game broadcasts - this is his slice of Honolulu Blue heaven.