Detroit Lions’ offense is beyond repair and Dan Campbell knows it: ‘We are very anemic’

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell is an honest man, never one to sugarcoat anything.

When he made a public admission last month he needed more from quarterback Jared Goff, he did so only after telling Goff the same thing in private.

When his eyes welled up after a last-second loss to the Minnesota Vikings, that emotion was residual from his teary-eyed talk in the locker room.

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And when he bluntly put the blame on himself for Sunday’s debacle of a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Campbell wasn’t spewing mindless coach-speak. He and his staff really did lead the Lions’ comedy of errors.

But one thing Campbell cannot bring himself publicly to admit at the midpoint of what is shaping up to be another disastrous season, perhaps because doing so would concede defeat, is that the Lions’ offense is hopeless and nothing meaningful can be done to fix it till the offseason.

The Lions hit their bye week 0-8 as the only winless team in the NFL. They’ve lost 12 straight games dating back to last season. And as bad as their defense has been, ranking last in the league in points allowed for the second straight year, their offense is demonstrably worse.

Campbell said after Sunday’s 44-6 loss that he fears his offense’s struggles have seeped into other areas of the team, as human nature suggests they would.

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“Maybe the fact that we’re not moving the ball, I think that affects our team a little bit,” Campbell said in another raw postgame news conference. “I just think it does. And I think it — there again, it kind of becomes contagious. And I think we just, we got to find a way to generate some type of momentum and flow out of our offense because we’re — it’s hard to dink and dunk down the field, and try to run it, and then they stuff you. It’s just, that’s a hard way to live right now.”

That’s the way the Lions have tried to live all season, and for that they have only themselves to blame.

In an era defined by explosive offenses and uber-talented quarterbacks, Campbell and first-year general manager Brad Holmes have assembled a roster that lacks even the most basic elements needed to be successful.

Their receiving corps is worst in the league, with no true field-stretchers on their roster. Their offense does not do enough to scheme open players who cannot get there on their own (or the two who can, but who constantly face double-teams because defenses do not respect anyone else). Their offensive line has been a disappointment, though losing their two best linemen to injuries hasn’t helped. And Goff has not met even the low expectations most had for him at quarterback after the Lions acquired him as part of their January trade of MVP candidate Matthew Stafford.

Campbell defended Goff on Sunday, saying he is not to blame for the Lions’ plight — or at least wasn’t Sunday.

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“I don’t see it,” Campbell said. “Look, aside from the fact that on the fourth down he threw (a pass) into the stands, which, yeah, that’s not a good decision, I don’t know what he’s supposed to do. I really don’t. As far as the way that game went. I don’t look at him and go, ‘Well, he’s the problem.’ That’s just not where I see it. I do see this: Offensively we are very anemic. And so, if you were going to ask me, ‘Where are you going to look this week?’ That’s the first place I’m looking. I’m going to look at it three times before I look anywhere else.”

Campbell can look at the Lions a hundred times if he wants, through as many lenses as he can find, and there still will be nothing he can do to fix it.

Sure, the Lions might be able to bandage enough of their scabs to win a game or two in the final nine weeks, especially if Taylor Decker returns from injured reserve. But Revlon does not make enough makeup to doll this pig up.

The Lions have scored more than 20 points in a game once all season, in Week 1, when they needed two touchdowns in the final 3 minutes of a blowout loss to hit that mark. They have almost as many turnovers (11) as touchdowns (14) through seven weeks. And 46% of their scoring — 61 of their 134 points — has come in the fourth quarter, mostly in garbage-time minutes.

Goff, who has taken 22 sacks and committed 10 turnovers this season, had no answers when asked Sunday what more the Lions can do to jumpstart their offense in the second half of the season.

“That’s the question, right?” he said. “I thought there were times where we did good things. First (pass) of the game was awesome, right? (A 22)-yard gain to T.J. (Hockenson), stalled out there. Can you point to it? I don’t know. I’ll have to watch the film, but — finding ways to get guys in positions to make plays and me being able to find them and put the ball on them. And I know that’s a simple answer, but that really is it.”

That’s the simple answer for teams with the requisite talent to keep it simple.

For teams like the Lions, who have to execute two fake punts and a surprise onside kick to stay within nine points of one of the best teams in the NFL — and who this season has proven lack the resilience to bounce back from tough losses and play competitive games the next week — the more accurate answer awaits in the offseason.

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The Lions need to add a playmaking receiver or two, and not the Breshad Perriman/Tyrell Williams types. They need to hope Decker and Frank Ragnow come back completely healthy from their injuries, lest they squander their window of having a good, young, affordable offensive line. They need a second tight end, though that may be a luxury given their shortcomings on the other side of the ball. And they need a quarterback, one who has both the arm and willingness to challenge defenses deep and one who can bail out his own offense with his feet.

That’s a lot to accomplish in a single offseason, and chances are it won’t all happen next spring.

Campbell hinted at some cosmetic changes coming in the near-term. He said Sunday he wants to re-examine how the Lions are using rookie receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown during the bye week and see if there aren’t better ways to deploy him alongside Hockenson and D’Andre Swift.

“I still don’t think we’ve turned over every leaf,” he said.

Maybe not, but when the trees are barren to begin with, there is only so much to find.

Campbell has to know that, even if he does not want to say it. There are nine more trying weeks ahead.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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