Four Downs: Matthew Stafford will keep getting smashed if Lions don’t fix offensive line

Detroit News

Justin Rogers
| The Detroit News

Here are four observations after having a night to ponder the Detroit Lions’ 41-21 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. 

First down

Whatever could go wrong, did go wrong with the Lions’ offense in this game. The offensive line was bad, the running backs were bad, Matthew Stafford was bad, the play-calling was bad and Kenny Golladay got hurt.

Let’s start with the offensive line. The Lions made another change up front, inserting Joe Dahl back into the starting lineup, which sent Tyrell Crosby to the bench. A curious element of the decision was Dahl was placed at right guard, despite some reasonable success at left guard and rookie Jonah Jackson’s experience and comfort on the right side.

Additionally, it’s becoming clearer by the game that Halapoulivaati Vaitai isn’t right. The foot injury he had entering the season continues to bother him and is hindering his overall effectiveness. A stint on injured reserve might be in the cards. 

To think, the Lions’ line looked like a strength to start the year. But against the Colts’ strong front seven, they were overmatched, giving the running backs no room to breathe and allowing Stafford to be pressured 15 times. 

And while we understand it’s bad business to abandon the run game, the Lions were pounding their heads against a brick wall in this one. On their eight run plays in first-and-10 situations, the Lions gained 3 yards. I repeat, 3 yards. 

Adrian Peterson’s efficiency has declined seven straight games and D’Andre Swift was a non-factor. If the Lions can find a way to get the ground game on track, Stafford is going to continue to get killed. 

Second down

One of the few bright spots coming out of yesterday’s game was the performance of Marvin Hall, who saw a significant workload increase after Golladay’s injury at the end of the first half. 

It shouldn’t have taken this long for the world to see what Hall is capable of doing with more snaps. After an outstanding training camp, he seemed like the logical choice to get the call when Golladay was hurt the first two weeks of the season.

Instead, the Lions rolled with fifth-round draft pick Quintez Cephus, who caught three of his 10 targets in the opener and hasn’t seen a target since Week 2. 

That’s not to say Cephus doesn’t have a future as a productive contributor, but Hall was the right choice then, even if he didn’t get a chance to prove it until now. 

Third down

It’s been a few years, but remember how much criticism Jim Schwartz would get for his team’s undisciplined play after the whistle? While we haven’t seen it to that degree in 2020, it has reared it’s ugly head from time to time — from Jamie Collins getting ejected in the season opener for making contact with an official, to a pair of unsportsmanlike penalties committed by Danny Amendola, to yesterday’s unnecessary roughness call against Danny Shelton. 

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And while Lions fans may not like the call against Shelton, who pulled quarterback Philip Rivers to the ground after the play was whistled dead, it’s a call that gets made in the NFL far more often than not because of the league’s emphasis on protecting quarterbacks. 

The recurrent theme with these dumb mistakes, which have proved costly in two of the team’s four losses, is they are being committed by former Patriots. These are guys who were brought in to fit both coach Matt Patricia’s scheme and locker room culture. 

The Lions toe the line of competitiveness every week. Their margin of error is razor thin. When they shoot themselves in the foot post-play, that can end up being the difference in the game. And whether you think it’s fair or not, those kinds of mistakes are a reflection on coaching. 

Fourth down

Home field doesn’t carry the traditional advantages in this pandemic era, with no stadiums near full capacity, but the Lions’ inability to win a home game for more than a calendar year is still remarkable. 

The team has lost seven straight at Ford Field, including three this year, and there’s no reasonable explanation for it. 

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