Keys To The Game: Lions Stumble Into Playoffs

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Despite A Three Game Losing Streak, Detroit Skidded Into The Playoffs.

On the back of a Washington loss to the New York Giants, and closing out the regular season with a 31-24 loss to Green Bay, the Detroit Lions clinch a playoff berth. In a game where the division was on the line and the Lions wanted to come out hot in front of their home crowd, things bogged down early with no scoring plays in the first quarter and a missed Prater field goal on the first play of the second.

The Packers made Detroit pay after that play, quickly driving down the field and scoring with a Aaron Ripkowski touchdown. Detroit managed to respond quickly though, going on a drive of their own for a Zach Zenner punch in touchdown. Then holding Green Bay to a short possession before scoring again on a three yard toss to Golden Tate to go ahead 14-7.

With only 23 seconds remaining and Green Bay deep in their own territory it seemed as though that would be all for the half. A crucial blown coverage allowed Aaron Rodgers to gain 40 yards on a wide open pass to Geronimo Allison, setting up Mason Crosby for a 53 yard field goal and tightening the score to 14-10.

Coming out for the second half, Green Bay got the ball back and capitalized again finding Davante Adams in the back of the end-zone for a go ahead touchdown. The Packers never looked back from there as they went on a 14-3 run through the majority of the 4th quarter. Stafford tried to set up the comeback down 14 with three minutes left in the game, but ended his drive with a goal line interception where Micah Hyde boxed out Golden Tate.

The Lions would make things a one score game on a hail mary to Anquan Boldin with 23 seconds remaining, but couldn’t recover the onside kick. With that Detroit broke fans hearts yet again, losing to Green Bay in another big spot, keeping the streak without a division championship alive.

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Key #1: Mistakes And Mismanagement

If the Lions played mistake-free football they probably would have been a lot closer in this effort then how things ended, but they certainly played far from mistake-free football. Detroit missed countless opportunities on offense throughout the game, again especially struggling when coming out for the second half.

Zach Zenner had another huge first half (which we will talk about later on) yet only had five touches and four rushes in the second half. Green Bay had so many cornerbacks injured they were forced to play safeties at corner and yet obvious matchups were rarely targeted. Stafford made several poor decisions with the ball including a backbreaking interception when trying to force a touchdown pass to Tate.

Meanwhile on defense crucial mistakes in coverage opened up huge plays for Aaron Rodgers in back breaking moments when they very well should have gotten off the field. Issues like these plagued Detroit all day long, from the coaches to almost every player. While they had great individual plays here and there a lack of consistency doomed Detroit from winning this matchup.

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Key #2: Can’t Stop The Run

Remember when Detroit’s run defense was stout? After a fairly consistent season Detroit’s run defense closed the year in terrible fashion. Allowing almost 150 yards to fullback Aaron Ripkowski, converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Lions defensive line easily had their worst performance of the season against a very strong Packers offensive line, namely Ashawn Robinson who regularly got pushed around on many of the Packers biggest gains in the run game.

Allowing open holes however was not the only issue on Sunday night. In an odd turn of events the leagues surest tackling unit was extremely sloppy in their play, regularly allowing Green Bay runners to break first and second tackle attempts and pick up additional yards that never should have been allowed. If Detroit wants to keep their season alive next week at Seattle they cannot afford that slop in any phase of the defense against their tough running offense.

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Key #3: Zenner Not A Fluke

To end things on a positive, Zach Zenner showed that the Dallas game was not a fluke. He came out and dominated a tough Green Bay defensive front, putting up 100 all purpose yards and a touchdown in the first half alone. A fair bit of his rise, it must be noted, is from the great run blocking of an incredibly one dimensional offensive line, but Zenner has shown dynamic ability that had not shown up before in his regular season play.

His vision has improved greatly, helping him pick the smart hole and break off longer gains in the second level. His tenacity has arguably grown fighting for every last yard he can get, and his pass blocking keeps Stafford from getting turfed for the most part. While he is far from perfect, he’s becoming a quality player that could be a nice piece in a strong committee when Abdullah and Riddick come back from injury next year. I’ve said this before but it needs to be said again. If Zenner keeps up this effort, the need for Detroit to draft a power runner will evaporate just as quickly as Zach’s rise in the offence.

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Looking Forward

With all that said the regular season is over and the Lions have made the playoffs where nobody thought they could at the start of the season. Dropping to the sixth seed, they have to make a long trip out west to Seattle to face the Seahawks but that may have been the best result in the grand scheme of this season.

Sure a home playoff game would have been huge for the franchise and great for the fan base, but at the same time the Seahawks are struggling heavily with a ton of key injuries while the New York Giants look red hot on defense. In fact, despite the 12th man noise of Seattle, Detroit actually matches up quite nicely with the Seahawks.

They have the defensive talent to get pressure on one of the leagues worst offensive lines, and should be able to take care of the majority of a Seattle receiving game that misses Tyler Lockette. The keys in this area will be finding a way to get back to that tough run defense that they’ve gone away from recently to shut down Thomas Rawls, as well as shutting down Jimmy Graham, one of the Lions toughest tight end matchups this season.

On offense, Detroit needs to air the ball out as much as possible on a Seattle team desperately missing Earl Thomas. Having Travis Swanson back hopefully would be huge for a Detroit O-line that has struggled mightily in their pass blocking. The more time Stafford gets in the pocket, the better chance the Lions will have of pulling out this game and heading back to Dallas for a rematch in two weeks time.

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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.