Detroit Must Open Up Offense Before the Fourth Quarter

Jim Bob Cooter Needs to Abandon Quest for Balance.

Much has been made of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford this season for how well he has played late in games. He’s been magical in the fourth quarter this season, but the other three-quarters haven’t been so pretty for these Lions. Watching Detroit’s 17-6 loss to the New York Giants yesterday, it became painfully clear that Detroit’s offense is one-dimensional, yet trying to be balanced.

Offense

Dec 18, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Detroit Lions running back Dwayne Washington (36) is tackled. New York Giants defensive end Kerry Wynn (72) during first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Lions flat out can’t run the ball. They can’t run block. They don’t have a game-changer at tailback. At this point, every run is essentially a wasted down. It’s one thing when you’re leading and just trying to run the clock, but as you all know, the Lions have trailed in all but one game in the fourth quarter.

They have been squeaking out close wins without scoring a lot of points, mostly because their defense has been outstanding for a nine-game stretch. Detroit sputters around offense, stays within a TD, and then asks Matthew Stafford to go win it in the final few minutes.  He’s a damn good quarterback, but you can’t sustain that model in today’s NFL.

Opposing defenses know Detroit can’t run the ball, plus they know the Lions will try to anyway. When Jim Bob Cooter took over last season, one of the first things he did was take away those obvious runs on first and second down, instead, opting to be more aggressive with Matthew Stafford. The Lions got into a nice rhythm — similar to how the New Orleans Saints played when they won the Super Bowl — and that was key to Detroit winning six of its final eight games in 2015.

Somehow, Detroit’s back to those obvious runs that put Stafford in a bad position on second and third downs. Now, Stafford is hurt, (torn ligaments in middle finger) so I understand wanting to try to run the ball. Plus, there are all those cliches about running the ball in December to win. Realistically, the Lions just aren’t that team. I’m not suggesting the Lions stop rushing all together, just understand who they are by passing to set up the run.

Matthew Stafford almost can’t be stopped under two minutes, even when the defense knows Detroit is in pass-only mode. That is partially due to the fact that defenses go into soft, prevent-style packages, which someone like Stafford can pick apart. Still, Stafford has shown to be better in an up-tempo offense. Next week, Detroit goes up against the Dallas Cowboys, the best running team in the NFL by a mile.

offense

Dec 1, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21). Celebrates a first down during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Cowboys defeated the Vikings 17-15. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Lions are NOT the Cowboys, despite putting nearly identical resources into their offensive lines. The Cowboys have an elite rusher in Ezekiel Elliott as well, making their rushing attack even more dangerous. If Detroit comes out trying to beat the Cowboys at their own game, they’ll lose even worse than they did to the Giants.

Jim Bob Cooter has gotten a lot of credit for his success this season, so it’s only fair to give him some blame for yesterday. Cooter has proven already, though, that he is not stubborn, or stuck in a philosophy that doesn’t work. He was probably right to not expect Stafford to be himself, and therefore try and run it more.

Injuries to Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, though, certainly took away some of the short passing stuff that Detroit has gotten so good at. And it also didn’t help that the Lions were without starting center Travis Swanson.

But Matthew Stafford didn’t look to be hindered by the glove. He was spraying the ball all over the field yesterday. Now that we know Stafford isn’t going to be a shell of himself, there is no excuse to try and pound the rock against the Packers and Cowboys.

I fully expect Cooter to adapt his gameplan next week, as he has done time and time again. The Lions were way too predictable last week, but I will be surprised if they score only six points in another game this season.

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