Allen Park — A significant part of the Detroit Lions’ winless start is the team hasn’t been scoring enough points. And there are two primary culprits contributing to those woes: Turnovers and the inability to consistently generate big plays.
When it comes to protecting the ball, the Lions rank in the bottom half of the league, coughing it up seven times via fumbles and interceptions. They’ve also not been effective enough on fourth-down attempts, converting just three of 11 tries, including multiple in opposing territory.
Quarterback Jared Goff has had a hand in most of those turnovers, losing four fumbles, including three the past two weeks, to go with a trio of interceptions. Coach Dan Campbell knows turning things around starts with his quarterback playing smarter.
“He’s got to take care of the football,” Campbell said. “Because this has shown up again and here we go, we’re in the red zone, why are we struggling to get touchdowns early in the half? It’s because we get in the red zone and turn the ball over. Otherwise, we might score or we should score.”
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Campbell highlighted Goff’s fumble in the second quarter against the Vikings as a prime example of a bad decision. Even though the offensive tackles were both beat on the play — with Penei Sewell’s assignment, Everson Griffen, causing the fumble — the coach noted Goff missed a quick read that was part of the play’s design.
“Look, I think he’s trying to take chances, sometimes to a fault,” Campbell said. “I think he’s trying to get it downfield, sometimes when he might go to the first look. Look, one of those yesterday, (tight end T.J.) Hockenson is open on a hitch. Just throw the hitch, then we don’t have the issue, we don’t have the sack fumble. Just take what’s there, we like it and that’s what it’s for if they’re going to play off (man coverage). Then we don’t even have that mess.”
As for explosive plays — gains of 20 or more yards — the Lions aren’t doing as poorly as you might think. They have 19 pass plays gaining at least 20 yards, which ranks seventh in the NFL. But only two have gone for 40-plus, well behind the league-leading Rams who have seven.
Campbell said the game against the Vikings highlighted Detroit’s top issue with big gains; an overreliance on the intended target to do most of the damage after the catch.
“That’s a hard way to live trying to get explosives, hoping you can get a guy that can break it,” Campbell said. “Every time you get the ball, you’re catching an 8-yard route and then trying to bust it downfield.”
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The problem is that meshes with the offensive play-calling and Goff’s quarterbacking style, extending back to last season.
Through five games, his average pass attempt is traveling 6.54 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, which ranks 30th out of 32 qualifiers. In terms of throws he’s completing, those have averaged 3.83 yards, ranking last. Therefore, it may not surprise you that Detroit’s pass-catchers are fifth in average yards after the catch.
Even though they’ve shown limited effectiveness doing it any other way, Campbell made it clear Monday that he wants his offense to better at testing opposing defenses vertically. He also said it’s on the coaching staff to better scheme up those shot plays, particularly with Goff’s protection, to accomplish that.
“Look, yesterday, we took a shot to (Kalif Raymond),” Campbell said, referencing a long-developing deep pass down the middle that ended up being underthrown into double coverage. “Well, that thing got long. (Goff) got pushed so far out of the pocket, and by the time he was able to set his feet, that’s tough.
“… I just think we have to do a better job with our run-action, our protection, with our plan, just with our drop backs, bumps and nudges,” Campbell said. “Let’s protect him up and let him look down the field and make some throws. And let’s find a way to help our guys get some releases here, too. I just think we have to be creative and really think about how can we help our guys and really maximize what they have.”