Lions’ Lack of Awareness, Running Game Is All Too Familiar

It’s the same old problems. It’s the same old Lions.

Photo by Daniel Meers of the Detroit News

Nine months ago Lions General Manager Bob Quinn was blunt. How could he not? The Lions were next to last in the running game (30th out of 32 teams) in 2016, and haven’t finished better than 28th in the past three seasons. Lions were down to Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington and table scraps after starter Ameer Abdullah was lost to a foot injury after only two games, then backup Theo Riddick missed in the final four regular-season games with a wrist injury.

Quinn vowed for changes.

“Listen, I’m always looking to upgrade. That’s what my job is. I think the players understand that,” he said in a news conference.

“I think the number of new players that we brought in this year and the number of guys we tried out and worked out, I think it was eye-opening to a lot of people. My eyes are always open. If we can get somebody better, then great.”

Granted he put his money where his mouth was by signing former Packer T.J. Lang, and Rick Wagner to help bolster the offensive lines, but he failed to take a running back with his draft picks. Tion Green was added as an undrafted free agent.

But the pains of a running game have shown their head again this season as the Lions are still near the bottom of the league at 29th, and the headaches continued Sunday against the Steelers.

Matt Stafford had previously connected with tight end Darren Fells, and again to T.J. Jones to put Detroit on the doorstep on the four yard line at home in front of a national TV crowd from beating an NFL blue blood.

The next play was a hand off to Washington who lowered his shoulder and bowled over the Steelers defense, and was just shy of putting the Lions a head. But instead of extending the ball a few inches for a touchdown, the Lions saw the goal line as a cliff hanging disaster.

The next plays was an incomplete pass, then another Washington run that went no where, and the Lions were still down 13-12, and stared down yet another field goal opportunity that would once again secure the lead. But the Lions fumbled that idea, and went for another touchdown try, unnecessary mind you, and still came up short.

The ball was snapped, and Stafford’s options were slim, and he tucked the ball and was sacked for a loss. Three

Photo by Kirthmon F. Dozier Detroit Free Press

plays later, Ben Roethlisberger found JuJu Smith-Schuster over the middle and Smith-Schuster sprinted 97-yards for a 20-12 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter.

Why not be secure and take the lead when your defense was holding the Steelers in check? Why not rely on a kicker you extended earlier in the week? Why stop listening to conventional wisdom?

The Lions defense who held Le’Veon Bell to his second lowest rushing total this season with 76 yards. Antonio Brown was held in check with 70 yards on five receptions, was waiting for its offense to pick them up, and it refused.

Instead, Detroit Lions totaled 482 yards (71 on the ground). That total became the third-most in NFL history for a team that failed to score a touchdown.

Yes, the Lions weren’t completely sunk by the decision to go for it when they didn’t have to. They did get another opportunity late in the fourth quarter. But the passing game stalled, and Stafford on third down checked from a pass to a run where Riddick was stopped for a loss of two yards from the six yard line. And, the Lions failed to score because a field goal wouldn’t have won the game.

Instead, had they gone for the field goal in the third quarter, and the game played out exactly how it did, the Lions would have been down 20-18 and could have kicked a short field goal to take the lead.

But that didn’t happen. The opportunity was lost. Now here we are. Back to where the Lions started clinging to hopes and dreams instead of grabbing their destiny by the throat and taking positive steps forward.

The Minnesota Vikings sit atop of the NFC North at 6-2. The Green Bay Packer-less Aaron Rodgers are 4-3. And the Lions are 3-4 with a tough loss after a bye-week, and a Tuesday trade deadline staring at them in the face.

There is still much of the season to play. They still face the Packers next week, and the Vikings on Thanksgiving with the Browns and Bears in between them.

But at some point, you have to be a different team instead of the same old Lions.