4 games into the year we’ve reached the end of the “1st quarter” and I feel like this is the point where you can start coming to some conclusions about this Lions team. Detroit goes into Dallas in the closest thing to a “must-win” game outside the division as you can get, falling into a 1-3 hole is devastating, while getting back to .500 feels like a huge win after the way they started on MNF against the Jets. The Lions came into this game dead last in the NFL against the run giving up 149 ypg, a key stat against a rushing attack featuring one of the game’s best offensive lines and star running back Ezekiel Elliott who had run for 5.7 yards per carry going into week 4. If you polled fans pre-game you’d have a nearly unanimous response, stop the run, force Dak to beat you through the air, and dare them to outscore Matt Stafford and this Lions offense.
Well, shocker, the Lions didn’t stop the run. Dallas controlled the game on the ground with Zeke running for 152 yards on 25 carries, good for 6.1 ypc (this to go along with 4 catches for 88 yards and 1 TD). Also worth noting that not only did he finish strong, but started the game running for 5.8 ypc in the 1st half. It’s very obvious at this point that it’s not a schematic issue, Matt Patricia shouldn’t be entirely let off the hook but it’s very clear that the Lions simply don’t have the talent in the middle to effectively stop a good NFL rushing attack (or even a mediocre one). It starts with the front 3 or 4 who are getting consistently blown off the ball as Dallas was ripping 5-10 yard runs up the A-gap left and right, and it’s not helped by the weak linebacker play against the run. Jarrad Davis lacks the instincts needed to play Mike linebacker at a high level and often runs himself out of plays. This is surely going to haunt the Lions throughout the year just like it did last year, and we’re going to have to count on turnovers and tremendous play in the back end (again).
The lack of passrush is also becoming evident on defense. While we came into the game near the top of the league in terms of sack numbers, there hasn’t been a whole lot of consistent pressure on opposing QBs. There’s a big difference between coverage sacks and a good pass rush, and this was proven again today as Dak made a few key plays after sitting back in the pocket for more than 4-5 seconds.
On offense it’s becoming clear that Babytron (Kenny Golladay) is the future of this receiving core, and is going to make Golden Tate a lot more replaceable than I thought going into this last year of his contract (though he had a monster game with a couple big plays to keep us alive). The offensive line, though they were missing TJ Lang most of the game, was very inconsistent in both run blocking and pass protection, looking very solid at times, and leaving the Lions backfield out to dry seemingly just as often. Demarcus Lawrence was noteworthy with his 3 sack performance, but he wasn’t the only one getting in the backfield.
The one thing that frustrated me more than anything this game was the Lions not giving Kerryon a chance to get going. He ripped a huge run on the 1st play of the game, went for a solid run on the 2nd, then seemed to not touch the field until his 4th quarter touchdown. He showed good vision on his limited carries, and showed his potential on a huge TD run where he made quick work of Dallas safety Jeff Heath, bowling him over on his way to the end zone. Ultimately Kerryon ended up with 55 yards and 1 TD on just 9 carries, only 2 more than LeGarrett Blount who ran for only 12 yards on his 7 carries. It seems like the Lions are reluctant to let the rookie RB take over this backfield, but you have to ride the hot hand, especially in this big of a game early in the year.
1-3 is a damning record early in the year, especially in the NFC North. Chicago improves to 3-1 after a thrashing of the Bucs, and Green Bay takes down Buffalo to improve to 2-1-1. We know the talent on the Vikings roster even though they sit at 1-2-1. It’s going to be tough to get back into a playoff position, but I’m interested to see how this year progresses throughout Matt Patricia’s first year as head coach.