Detroit Lions: 10 thoughts from week 5 loss to Panthers

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 08: Wide receiver Marvin Jones #11 of the Detroit Lions is stopped by the Carolina Panthers during first half at Ford Field on October 8, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 08: Wide receiver Marvin Jones #11 of the Detroit Lions is stopped by the Carolina Panthers during first half at Ford Field on October 8, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions’ week five performance was their worst of 2017. The Lions made it competitive in the fourth quarter, but it was too late. Let’s go over the tough loss from week five.

The final score was not an indication of what the Carolina Panthers did to the Detroit Lions. Matthew Stafford gutted out a chance at the end, but the Panthers simply were the dominating team on Sunday. It was a tough loss for a Lions team with a lot of confidence going into week five. Let’s break it down:

1. The left side of the offensive line is broken

Not to completely absolve T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner from fault, but the left side of the offensive line is a glaring issue. Greg Robinson and Graham Glasgow could not block Julius Peppers or Kawann Short, as they were in the backfield all game. Stafford had zero time to find a rhythm and the line did not open any holes for Ameer Abdullah.

Robinson continues to be the biggest weakness on the Lions offense, and I’m not sure Glasgow is the long-term answer at left guard. It is beyond obvious how bad the Detroit Lions miss Taylor Decker. The question will be can the Lions survive till Decker gets back.

2. Jarrad Davis did not miss a beat

One of the very few positives from Sunday was how active Jarrad Davis was on Sunday. Davis continues to thrive as the run stuffer and was impressive spying on the Panthers backfield. Davis had some bad snaps in the passing game but he is still a rookie. He will improve as he gets more reps.

3. There is no imagination with the offense

It feels like the league has caught up to Jim Bob Cooter. While watching the Panthers offense, I was jealous to see how many different formations and play designs they were showing. Despite this, the execution was poor also. It feels like Cooter does not have an identity on offense. The short passes make sense, but teams are adjusting by playing more press man. By playing press coverage and blitzing, it creates panic and Stafford cannot read his progressions.

The diversity in the run game was there the first four weeks, but Sunday was a step back. I am willing to forgive a bad week in the run game, but it cannot happen again. The Lions must find consistency in the playcalling and determine their identity.

4. The offense also lacks explosiveness

My biggest concern is the lack of the big play. Relying on sustaining long drives is a risky strategy. NFL defenses are good and it creates more chances for a defense to force a turnover or a sack. This can create an offense to get behind the chains and stall.

The offensive line cannot block, which limits the ability to throw deep. However, the Lions wide receivers are not creating space and gaining yards after the catch. The screen game is a disaster and Golden Tate seems lost. I would include more rollouts to give Stafford time and try to create big plays. There needs to be a different mindset and better play design to achieve chunk plays.

5. Sometimes a bad matchup is a bad matchup

One thing I wrote about in my preview was the size physicality the Panthers wideouts bring. That was a factor on Sunday with how well Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess played. Darius Slay (finally) did not have an “A” game for the first time in 2017. Benjamin beat him on a deep ball for a touchdown, but it was solid coverage. Benjamin has longer arms and Cam Newton threw a dime. It happens.

I thought Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs both continue to play well. The safeties had a lot of confusion on the back end, leading to success for Ed Dickson. It was more confusion than bad coverage, which is an issue that needs to be corrected. The pass catchers for the Panthers had a physical advantage and Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula had a great scheme. Ultimately, I still trust the secondary to play at a high level.

6. Marvin Jones is alive

The early season struggles are not Jones’ fault. He has not been targeted enough and he is being underutilized. I like the use of drag routes and slants for him because of his size and initial quickness off the line. The eight targets on Sunday is a perfect number for Jones and hopefully, Cooter will add some intermediate and deep routes if the offensive line can improve.

7. The run defense was stout

This was the biggest positive in week five. The run defense, even without Haloti Ngata for a half, really shut down Carolina. Holding a team to one yard per carry usually leads to a victory and was a huge relief after how well Atlanta ran the ball in week three.

Akeem Spence and Jeremiah Valoaga had their best games in week five, and I think A’Shawn Robinson is an underrated cog in the defense. Robinson is not much of a pass rusher but he draws double teams and holds his ground. He has shown the burst to get into the backfield and cause chaos. The Lions need Ngata and hopefully, he will not miss much time, but this is a deep group for the Lions and a strength.

8. Darren Fells is the best tight end for the Lions

How different does the game look if Eric Ebron catches that touchdown on the first drive? It was a devasting gut punch to see Ebron drop that football. Darren Fells is the better blocker and he is showing to be a red zone threat. I like how he can find a hole in the zone and has a connection with Stafford. Fells is earning his playing time every week. I would prefer a more explosive and consistent option, but right now Fells is the best the Lions have.

Personally, I like Eric Ebron and his talent. He can still be a valuable piece for the Detroit Lions. Having said that, Ebron obviously has something going on in his head. He can make those plays and he gets open. That is the frustrating part. It’s looking less likely that Ebron will be a Lion next year.

9. Do not blame Matthew Stafford

Matthew Stafford has not had a good two weeks. This is a factual statement and it is okay to say that. Even so, he is not the problem for the Lions offense. His offensive line cannot block, his running backs are inconsistent, and the wideouts cannot get separation. He was so gutsy and I love him having him as the quarterback for my favorite NFL franchise. The fact he was able to get the Lions in the game down 17 in the fourth quarter speaks of his toughness.

The Lions have to help him out. They must come up with a better scheme and the options around him are not playing to their capabilities. The pass protection continues to kill drive after drive. Stafford is not perfect and he has made some bad throws and decisions. It’s time for Jim Bob Cooter to let him loose and design more downfield throws. I know that is crazy considering the offensive line, but be creative and show something different. Give Stafford a chance to be himself and make plays.

10. The margin for error is a lot thinner

I hate to proclaim a week six game “must win” yet it is a vital game for the Lions playoff chances. Going 3-3 through the first six games brings a lot of questions. The second half of the schedule is easier and the Lions can get on a winning streak. On the other hand, the Lions sorely need a victory against the New Orleans Saints.

Next: Lions game balls for week 5

The Lions had their first bad game of 2017 and it is out of the way. Now, it is time for a complete game from all three facets of the game. The Panthers are a very good football team and they handled the Lions. It’s time to bounce back and overcome adversity for a victory.