Anatomy of a loss: Detroit Lions’ big concern goes back to coaching and preparation

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions have found all kinds of ways to lose over the years.

Sometimes, far too many times to count, they have lost at the end of games. We have seen everything from heartbreaks to the absurd — like Justin Tucker bouncing a 66-yarder off the crossbar as time expires last season.

But on Sunday against the Eagles, the Lions did something different. They had a fast start and then found a way to lose in the middle, digging a hole that was insurmountable.

“A couple hiccups there,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said after the 38-35 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

I guess, it’s the old tomato/tamah-to thing.

He says hiccups; I say it was a closer to dry heaves.

As in, puking away a football game.

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Three-and-out

Three-and-out.

Three-and-out.

Pick six

Ugh.

And before the convulsing stopped, the Eagles built a 21-7 lead, which felt like the Grand Canyon.

So what the heck happened?

During those four critical possessions that flipped this game, Lions quarterback Jared Goff went 1-for-7 with a pick-six.

“Just miscommunication,” Goff said.

That sounds so neat and tidy, like there was a text message that somebody didn’t get. Or an email that got deleted by accident.

But this was far more serious than that. These mental mistakes were fundamental, like a receiver knowing what to do in a blitz situation. It’s stuff they talk about all week in meetings and read in the game plan and practice all week on the field.

And yet, mental mistakes doomed the Lions. Which is either on the coaches for how they are teaching the information, or it’s on the players for not learning it.

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Which is frightening when you think about it.

Because that’s ultimately a lack of preparation.

“Man, we came out in the first drive, and we’re moving it,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “And then, we have a communication error, which isn’t on (Goff), and so we lose rhythm, we’re three and out.”

Oh boy, that darn miscommunication again.

On the first series, Goff threw a pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown, who got drilled by a safety for a loss of yards. The big reason? Penei Sewell missed a block.

Then, Goff simply misfired while throwing to St. Brown.

“Then we come back the next time and then we don’t ID a protection very clean, and now he feels like he’s under duress, so that doesn’t help him get in a rhythm,” Campbell said.

On the second series, the Lions tried to establish the run but D’Andre Swift got nothing to the right and then nothing up the middle. That prompted the Eagles to blitz. But D.J. Chark didn’t recognize it. Or didn’t know his assignment on a hot read. Because Chark went long and Goff threw short. The closest player was Darius Slay, who unfortunately no longer plays for the Lions.

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Again, another miscommunication.

Then came the interception return for a touchdown. T.J. Hockenson broke one way, and Goff threw it the other way.

It wasn’t that the Lions weren’t in the same page. They were in different bookstore.

“It was just a poor decision by me and a little miscommunication there,” Goff said.

Yep, I’m getting really sick of that term.

Now, not all of the blame goes on the offense. The Lions’ defense was atrocious, unable to stop the Eagles running game. The big culprit? The players weren’t fitting into the right holes.

Which is a different type of mental error.

To be fair, the Lions scored touchdowns on four of their next five possessions, so they proved they can clean some of this up.

“I thought (Goff) settled in and did some really good things and gave us a chance there at the end,” Campbell said. “I was very confident when we get this ball back, we’re going to go down and win this game.”

Still, it doesn’t excuse the beginning.

Not breaking a route on a hot read? Not knowing adjustments? Everybody is to blame: the coaches, Goff and the receivers.

And we haven’t even brought up the dropped passes, which are technically physical mistakes. But they feel more mental to me. Because it’s all about focus.

“Contagious,” Campbell said.

I do think this roster has improved. And there were flashes of hope late in the game, as the Lions kept fighting. But this team isn’t talented enough to shoot itself in the foot. It isn’t good enough to make fundamental mistakes.

“A lot of mental errors mostly, and stuff that could be cleaned up easily, but stuff that can’t happen on game day,” Goff said. “Hopefully we can attribute it to first-game stuff and hopefully next week, stuff like that isn’t happening. But just mental stuff that myself, everyone, can clean up and do better.”

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The mental mistakes are concerning, especially in comparison to the Eagles.

“I think about what mistakes did they make — they really didn’t,” Campbell said. “They played well. They executed well.”

That’s why the Eagles won. Ultimately, Campbell got outcoached. Or more precisely, the Eagles were better prepared.

You could look at these mistakes and see the positive: They are fixable.

So that’s encouraging.

On the other hand, you can be a far bit more skeptical: It’s all about preparation.

You could hang all of this up to first-game mistakes.

But that seems like a loser mentality. That’s why teams keep losing. At some point, it can’t be acceptable anymore.

To be fair, I didn’t think the Lions would beat the Eagles. But I did expect them to be better mentally prepared.

It doesn’t seem outlandish to expect fewer mental mistakes.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.

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