I’d almost given up last Sunday. It was almost too much to bear.
The Lions, once up by 14 points late in the game, piddled the lead to zero. And with under two minutes to go in the game, they had a chance for a game-winning drive.
Hadn’t we seen this movie enough by now? I thought. Couldn’t they just hold onto a lead against an inferior team?
The answer I got in return was a resounding “Nope.”
This is the current state of Lions football. And it’s a real sickness that keeps me coming back for more.
It’s a disease that Lions fans know all too well. It’s caused me to endure a winless season, a decade without a sustainable run game, and some historically bad football.
Every week it seems, I wake up and think, “Oh God, I can’t take yet another week of this.” And yet, here I am.
I’m glad you’re joining me.
The Lions victory over the Buccaneers last week showed all the reasons they could make the playoffs. The defense forced turnovers, and the offense moved the ball at will against a porous Tampa Bay defense.
It also showed all the reasons they have no business being in the conversation. The Lions’ self-imposed penalties on both sides of the ball stalled them late in the game. This allowed Tampa to sneak back in and make it too close for comfort.
That type of winning might work against the bottom half of the league, but it won’t come close against the league’s best.
The Bears are coming of their most impressive win on the year. The Lions better be ready if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Here are 10 things I think I know heading into Week 15 against the Bears:
1. I think missed opportunities have killed the Lions all season long. Going back to the Baltimore game, a bad snap/fumble makes Lions unable score on the first drive. Then Prater misses a field goal to tie the game. And finally, while at midfield, a strip sack sets up Baltimore at their own 36-yard line. The Ravens then score to go up 17-0.
There were three drives early in that game where if the Lions would have scored, it could have been a totally different ballgame.
And that theme has shown through in both wins and losses this season.
2. I think the Lions have dramatically cut down on drops this season. Drops have plagued Matthew Stafford and the Lions for years. This season, however, they’ve been one of more efficient teams in the NFL.
3. I think I’m really happy (and sad) for Eric Ebron. I’m happy for Ebron because he finally showed the type of threat he can be against Tampa. The Buccaneers had no answer for Ebron over the middle and the Lions consistently took advantage of the matchup.
I feel bad for Ebron because no matter what he does, Lions fans will put him under a microscope.
Ebron was asked after the game if he’s happy to prove people wrong. His answer speaks volumes:
“No, because I bet they can’t wait to talk about how I dropped a ball. I mean, I’ll never make this fanbase happy.”
I’ll be shocked if Ebron doesn’t leave when he becomes a free agent. And I wouldn’t blame him either.
4. I think the Buccaneers defense is bad. Really bad. They have Pro Bowl talent at all levels, but as a collective unit, they’re one of the worst units in the league.
Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers was the first time in two years that Matthew Stafford wasn’t sacked. Considering how the Lions’ offensive line has played this year that’s saying a lot.
5. I think the offensive penalties stalled what could have been a blowout win in Tampa. The Lions had twelve drives last Sunday. Six of them had penalties that put the Lions in poor field position. Two had interceptions. And another was stalled by a fumble.
The Lions should have easily beaten the Buccaneers, but they made it way too hard themselves. It’s difficult to move the ball when you’re consistently in second-and-20.
6. I think Stafford got greedy on his first interception. It was play action—a situation Stafford has thrived in this season—but right after the fake he was dialed into Kenny Golladay who was blanketed by Brent Grimes.
The unfortunate part, outside of the interception, is that Theo Riddick was wide open in the middle of field.
7. I think the Lions defense is no good without turnovers. The defense looked good last Sunday, but they had five turnovers and still only won by last second field goal. The defense struggles to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks and Mitchell Trubisky is coming off his best game as a pro—completing 78 percent of his passes for 271 yards and a touchdown.
And let’s not forget Jordan Howard. The last time the Lions faced the Bears, Howard ran all over them for 125 yards and a touchdown. The Lions have to find ways to get pressure on Trubisky and be sound in their run assignments.
8. I think Teez Tabor is worth keeping an eye on as the season comes to an end. The rookie cornerback saw a 129% increase in snaps over the previous week, and had the third most Lions cornerback snaps in Week 14.
For the first time this season, Tabor played more snaps than DJ Hayden. That’s a good sign.
The increase in playing time makes sense. When the Lions moved Quandre Diggs to the safety spot it opened up some playing time for Tabor.
The good news for the Lions is that Tabor is making the most of his playing time.
9. I think the core issues of this team are simple, and it all starts in the trenches. On offense, the line was thought to be a strength heading into the season. But injuries have plagued.
There are a lot of reasons the Lions have struggled running the ball and protecting Stafford this year, but sometimes the simplest explanation in the right one: They’ve never been able to have their 5 starting OL healthy for more than a handful of snaps this season.
— Scott Warheit (@swarheit) December 12, 2017
On defense it’s much of the same. The Lions needed Ezekiel Ansah to be a factor this year with no one else behind him. And once Haloti Ngata went down for the year, the run defense has gone down with him.
If the Lions spent every draft pick next year on the defensive line, I’m not sure I could fault them.
10. I think the Lions should win on Sunday. It’s a short week and the Bears will be confident, but this is a game the Lions need to win.
Much like their first meeting earlier this season, the game will close. I don’t see a blowout, but I do see another game winning Matt Prater field goal.