The Detroit Lions lost Sunday by a score of 27-24 at the hands of the Carolina Panthers at Ford Field. They now move to 3-2 on the season. For the first thirty minutes, the game went back and forth. As the second half began, however, the Panthers started to take control. Detroit almost completed yet another improbable comeback in the fourth quarter, but Carolina was able to close out the win. Here are three takeaways from the Detroit Lions week five defeat.
Week Five Detroit Lions Takeaways
Offensive Line Disappoints
Entering the fall, one of the biggest talking points of the Lions off-season was their rebuilt offensive line. Headlined by the signings of T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner on the right side, this was the year Detroit was finally supposed to have the size it needed to restore the run game and protect the quarterback. But so far, that hasn’t been the case at all. And Sunday was no different.
Matthew Stafford was sacked another six times by the Carolina defense, adding onto the five sacks he suffered last week against the Minnesota Vikings. Last season, Stafford was sacked 37 times, tied for 11th most in the NFL. Through the Lions first four games this year (prior to their matchup with the Panthers), Stafford was brought down 11 times, also 11th in football. This is not the kind of stagnant growth the team expected when they shelled out nearly $80 million to Lang and Wagner last spring.
The offensive line hasn’t just disappointed in pass protection, though. Detroit’s run game has also failed to show any consistency whatsoever. Of course, the Lions running backs share a lot of that blame as well. But that doesn’t mean the offensive line gets a free pass.
Last week, Ameer Abdullah had perhaps the best game of his young career. The third-year back totaled 94 yards in addition to his first touchdown of the year. Abdullah’s performance provided hope that maybe the Lions would finally have a run game that they could depend on.
But against Carolina, Abdullah and company fell flat. The Nebraska product managed just 31 yards on 10 carries, and Detroit as a team squandered only 50 rushing yards total on 3.3 yards per carry.
Overall, the Lions pass protection and ground attack have proved to be inconsistent at best so far this season. That couldn’t have been more evident than on Sunday. These are issues the team needs to address if they want to return to playoff-caliber football.
Pass Defense Falters
Cam Newton absolutely torched the Lions defense on Sunday. The former Heisman winner completed 26 of his 33 passes for 355 yards, three touchdowns and a passer rating of 141.8 (the maximum possible rating is 158.3). Ed Dickson was the recipient of 175 of those yards, a yardage total he hasn’t topped in a full season since 2013.
As bad as the Lions offensive line was against Carolina, it is the secondary that lost Detroit the football game. They simply couldn’t contain Newton. Whenever the Panthers needed a big play, the former Auburn star found a way to make it happen…every single time.
The most obvious example was when Newton faced third and nine with 2:30 left in the contest at his own 24 yard line. Carolina led 27-24. A defensive stop would give Stafford and the offense just under two minutes to orchestrate a game-tying or game-winning drive. A first down would clinch the victory for the Panthers.
And guess what: Newton fired a strike to a wide-open Kelvin Benjamin across the middle of the field for 17 yards. Three kneels later and the game was over.
Detroit’s pass defense hasn’t been very good this year. Entering week five, the unit ranked 21st in the NFL in passing yards allowed/game, a slight dip from their league ranking of 19 a year ago. But on Sunday, they completely fell apart. Let’s hope this is an outlier rather than what to expect the rest of the way.
Furthermore, the Lions failed to force a turnover for the first time all season. Turnovers have been a huge strength for Detroit’s defense, a momentum shift that the team always seems to capitalize on. Again, hopefully this is something the Lions can improve upon next week.
The Comeback Falls Short…..Again
Two weeks ago, the Lions comeback attempt against the Atlanta Falcons fell inches short- literally- when Golden Tate’s game-winning touchdown was overturned. On Sunday, the team felt a similar type of disappointment.
This time around, there was no referee call to blame or coaching decision to question. There wasn’t even the usual heartbreak one has after a Lions loss. Yet still, many Detroit fans left Ford Field with a sense of what could have been.
Because when Stafford drove right down the field to cut the score to 27-17 with five minutes remaining, everyone was thinking the same thing: he’s doing it again. And when the Georgia product followed it up with another touchdown two minutes later, trimming Detroit’s deficit to three, the contest seemed practically over. All the Lions needed was one more stop, and then another game-winning drive would ensue.
Detroit was unable to get that final stop, though, and the comeback that everyone believed to be coming was suddenly stopped short. There really is nothing to be disappointed about: how can fans possibly expect their team to overcome a 17-point difference in less than six minutes? But when they’ve done it so many times before, it almost does become an expectation.
I guess Lions fans will just have to live with the fact that they can’t find some extraordinary way to win every single contest. Both the Falcons loss and this past week’s defeat have proven that. Maybe the magic will return next Sunday when the team travels to New Orleans to battle the New Orleans Saints.