Why Detroit Lions, NFL’s second-highest scoring offense, ‘not clicking on all cylinders’

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions rank second in the NFL in scoring and lead the league in rushing, but first-year offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said his unit has not been as sharp as he’d like through two weeks.

“If anything the first two weeks have shown us how far we have left to go,” Johnson said Thursday. “I don’t think anybody right now in that room is necessarily happy or pleased with what we’ve put on tape so far. There has certainly been some encouraging things, but there are – we’re not hitting our stride, we’re not clicking on all cylinders, whatever cliché you want to use. I think these guys all understand that we’ve got some big grass to go here before we’re really where we need to be.”

The Lions beat the Washington Commanders, 36-27, last week, with two points coming on a safety, and have scored at least 35 points in consecutive games in the same season since the final two weeks of 2011.

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Amon-Ra St. Brown is fourth in the league with 17 receptions, D’Andre Swift is fourth in rushing with 200 yards and the Lions are the only team with two or more rushes of at least 50 yards (they have three).

Johnson was disappointed, though, with the way the Lions closed the first half against Washington last week. Leading 22-0 with 32 seconds to play and a chance to put more points on the board, the Lions went three-and-out with three straight incomplete passes. Swift and T.J. Hockenson had drops on the drive, and Jared Goff overshot DJ Chark on a deep pass.

“We have to be able to finish games,” left tackle Taylor Decker said. “I felt like early we were smelling a little bit of blood in the water and we didn’t put them away and then it was a fight till the end, which that’s fine. You have to play the entire game. But I think we need to continue to take steps and continue to improve at a fast pace.”

Another area of concern, Johnson said, is the Lions’ penchant for three-and-outs.

The Lions have seven three-and-out drives through two weeks, another where the possession lasted two plays and ended in an interception, and a ninth where they failed to convert on fourth-and-3.

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Excluding end-of-half and end-of-game possessions that ended in a kneel-down, the Lions have failed to pick up a first down on nine of 23 offensive drives (39%) this season. Of the 14 possessions in which they’ve picked up a first down, they’ve scored on 11.

“It’s a huge issue,” Johnson said. “And I would say just when you look at the big picture of the game, that first game, the way our three-and-outs came about back to back to back, that did no favors to our defense and really put us in a hole early. This last game they were kind of staggered more around the halftime area, and so at least our defense didn’t feel the effects of the momentum quite as much and having to be on the field and get drowned out.

“But it’s certainly — the onus for me at least is those first-and-10 calls, the drive-start calls, those need to be efficient plays for us. Whatever direction we go, run, pass, we need efficient plays. As long as we get the first, first down, we feel really good about our chances of going down the field. But you’re right, that’s been our Achilles heel so far is just being able to get that first, first down within a series.”

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Spies like us

David Blough declined an offer to join the Lions practice squad when he was cut earlier this month, choosing to sign with the Minnesota Vikings practice squad instead.

Blough has intimate knowledge of the Lions playbook after initially winning the No. 2 quarterback job out of training camp, and as Minnesota’s No. 3 quarterback, he has shared that knowledge with the Vikings ahead of Sunday’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Johnson downplayed the notion that Blough’s presence gives the Vikings an edge in game-planning, though, and said he does not plan to change much about his offense this week.

“Everyone steals plays from each other, so I don’t think anything we’re doing is necessarily revolutionary,” Johnson said. “There are some things that David might know situationally about us that — well, we also know what he knows. So we are calculated in how we respond to that. But yeah, I mean there are a couple things that we’ll address. Other than that, though, like once again, we’re not going to overthink things from that regard.”

Tips appreciated

It did not show up on the stat sheet as a blocked kick, even special teams coordinator Dave Fipp did not see it in real time, but Lions defensive end Charles Harris tipped Joey Slye’s missed extra point with 1:56 left in last week’s win over the Commanders.

“We were just talking about that,” Fipp said Thursday. “Somebody had told me that Charles Harris said to them that he swore it hit his thumb, which he would know better than me, obviously. But I didn’t know it. That was the first time I had heard of that, so I don’t know if we got anything on it.”

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Replays appear to show Harris getting a piece of Slye’s kick with his right thumb. Had Slye made the extra point, Washington would have pulled within eight points – a one-score game – and been one stop from getting the ball back with three timeouts left.

“Those guys on field goal block have been playing well,” Fipp said. “They’ve been playing really hard. There’s guys out there that I don’t want to say take the play off, but don’t play it with as much energy. And there’s some teams that (play it hard) and I would say you would have to say those guys are playing with more. So it’s been encouraging.”

Commanders had a chance to pull within eight points when they scored with 1:56 left in last week’s game, but kicker Joey Slye missed the extra point.

Turns out, Slye’s kick was blocked.

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

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