By Harsha Hebbale
Twitter – @Harshmallow81
Recap: Lions 13 – Texans 20
Some people will rip QB Matt Stafford. Some people will rip head coach Jim Caldwell. But what occurred on Sunday was nothing more than a regression to the mean, with the Lions, and with their opponent.
Coming back from behind in the 4th quarter cannot be a team’s calling card. As exciting as it can be, it is not a sustainable recipe for victory. What we saw on Sunday was a quarterback, who might not be ready just yet to join the MVP conversation, struggle mightily to convert 3rd downs and extend drives. What we also saw was a team finally stepping up and making plays to put the game away, something the past 3 lions opponents were not able to do.
It would have been highly optimistic to expect Stafford to continue on his gaudy statistical pace. The past 3 games Stafford was completing over 70% of his passes with an immaculate 8TD to 0 interception ratio. And although Stafford didn’t turn the ball over against the Texans, the crispness and flow to the offense we had been accustomed to seeing, simply wasn’t there. With only 58 yards rushing in the game, the lions were left in several 3rd down situations. The real story of the Lions offense on Sunday was their pathetic 3-11 efficiency on 3rd downs.
So fans are left to wonder, what happened to the offense that scored 3 touchdowns in the first half against Philadelphia? What happened to the offense that scored 31 points against the Rams? Where was the laser-like precision of the offense that scored a touchdown in less than 60 seconds against the Redskins? And the answer to these questions is simple. That offense was there the past 3 weeks. And now it’s not. And that’s to be expected with this offensive roster. Since Jim Bob Cooter took over as offensive coordinator the offensive philosophy has been protect the QB by getting the ball out quickly and into the hands of playmakers. Coupled with the departure of Calvin Johnson, the Lions rely on small gains to the move the chains instead of large chunk plays. This was evidenced on Sunday when the Lions could only muster 2 passing plays the entire game that went for more than 15 yards. The Houston Texans did a great job of taking away the big play from the Lions, with RB Theo Riddick and TE Eric Ebron being the 2 leading receivers. And when you rely on small gains to extend drives, you give the opposing defense more and more opportunities to get off the field on 3rd downs.
Which brings us to the Lions defense. The bend-not-break strategy that worked so well in the past 3 weeks failed to get the job done on Sunday. All things considered, the defense kept Detroit in the game. Limiting a team to only 17 points through quarters will put you in a position to win most games but unlike the Philadelphia or Washington game, there was no gift-from-heaven turnover this time. Brock Osweiler threw an ill-advised pass deep in Detroit territory late in the first half which was picked off, but played a clean second half. And with a 7 point lead in the middle of the 4th quarter, the Texans put together a 9 play, 6 minute drive to kick a field goal and extend the lead to two scores. Osweiler made some short throws to move the chains and the running back tandem of Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue attacked the Lions D-Line for some key late game 1st down conversions.
Head coach Jim Caldwell took a lot of heat on social media on Sunday for mainly 2 decisions that were made. The biggest being attempting an onside kick with 3 minutes and 3 timeouts left. The idea to onside kick with that much time left in the game is basically you don’t trust the defense to get off the field. Say what you want, but that call was validated when the Texans were able to run out the rest of the time. Had the Lions opted to do a normal kick off, the Texans would have been kneeling on their own side of the field instead of the lions. The other decision that was made (or wasn’t made) was the decision to not challenge the Deandre Hopkins incompletion in the 3rd quarter. To the naked eye it was a close call, but the way these calls usually end up is the call on the field standing. The dreaded “indisputable evidence” or lack thereof would have cost the Lions a timeout in a close game and therefore Jim Caldwell’s decision to not challenge was wise. If the refs initially ruled it a fumble, I believe the Lions would have gotten possession. But “Ifs” don’t get you anywhere in the NFL.
Overall a very disappointing Sunday to Lions fans. But not totally surprising. A dramatic 4th quarter comeback can’t be expected every week especially with a defense that is decimated by injuries. However with an apparently weak NFC, the Lions still have a lot of meaningful football yet to be played. The Lions look to bounce back next week in Minnesota against a nasty opposing defense. The lions will need some big plays out of their offense as well as force Sam Bradford into some mistakes if they want to improve to 5-4 and keep their playoff hopes alive.