The Lions special teams unit hurt the team on Sunday…badly. Aaron Brown averaged a poor 18.6 yards per kickoff return, while Chicago averaged a remarkable 47.5 (and 17.4 on punt returns). The Bears average field position was the Lions 48 yard line (helped by 2 Lions turnovers), while Detroit started on their own 18. While that performance makes a game difficult, if not impossible, to win, it wasn’t the reason the Bears ran away with the game on Sunday. It was, again, the Lions failure to adjust to their opponent’s adjustment.
In Monday’s press conference, Jim Schwartz outlined the Bears’ defensive game plan. To start the game, the Bears loaded the front, trying to stop the Lions’ run game. This left the wide receivers in one-on-one coverage, and Matthew Stafford excelled. Stafford put up 221 yards in the first half, 119 to Calvin Johnson.
At half, according to Schwartz, the Bears decided to sit back into the Tampa Two and make the Lions beat them on the ground. Schwartz and the Lions tried to adjust, having confidence in their running game. But it failed. Their first runs of second half went for the following yardage: 1, 3, 5, 1, 0, 4, 0, 5. For the math impaired, that’s 8 carries for 19 yards (2.4 avg). A failing running game led to a failing passing game. After getting nothing on the ground, the Lions found themselves in obvious passing downs, and that’s when Stafford got sacked, four times in the second half (twice on 3rd down). Failed third down conversions (2/7 in the second half, before Culpepper was in), led to quick three and outs (4 in third quarter). Three and outs (along with poor punt coverage) led to good field position for Chicago. And good field position led to 27 second half points for the Bears.
This isn’t an attempt to absolve blame from special teams. It was horrible, maybe the worst I’ve ever witnessed in a game. But they were bad the entire game, including the first half. Nick Harris, when pinned deep in his own territory, managed a poor 36 yard punt, which was returned for 24 yards. Later, another punt was returned 25 yards. Then, nearing the end of the first half, Jason Hanson had a kickoff out of bounds. But despite those first-half special teams blunders, the Lions went into halftime tied. Their offense had played well enough to afford a miscue or two. In the second half, however, the team’s failure to adjust properly cost them any chance at the game.
The Lions are now 1-3, but they have lost their last three second halves (tied NO in week one). In those second halves they’ve been outscored 78-29. Whether that’s a coaching, conditioning or mental issue, through four weeks, it is THE issue. And it needs to be addressed now.
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