Detroit Lions come up empty on TDs, fall to Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-15
The Lions lost their third straight game to fall to 3-4; lone offense was five Matt Prater field goals.
Five trips to the red zone, no touchdowns.
There’s no other explanation needed for why the Detroit Lions lost their third straight game Sunday night, 20-15, to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Lions outplayed the Steelers in many ways. They put up 482 yards of offense on the NFL’s No. 1 defense. They held Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown (aside from one busted play) largely in check. And they got another huge game from Matt Prater.
But as great as those huge games from Prater are – he made field goals of 48, 37, 51, 34 and 19 yards Sunday – they’re turning into quite the problem for a Lions team that has a severe allergy to the end zone.
Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter acknowledged his offense’s shortcomings this week and said he sees his unit “being a much bigger part of our team winning ball games as we move forward.”
On Sunday, the offense was the reason why the Lions lost.
Matthew Stafford made some nice throws in a 2-minute situation late in the first half, and Marvin Jones, TJ Jones and even Eric Ebron had big plays.
But the Lions lost this game because they couldn’t get the ball in the end zone, specifically on back-to-back possessions that sandwiched the game’s biggest play – a 97-yard Ben Roethlisberger to Juju Smith-Schuster touchdown pass – in the second half.
The Lions had first-and-goal at the 4 midway through the third quarter but suspect play calling kept them out of the end zone. Dwayne Washington, who’s emerged as the Lions’ short-yardage back, ran for 3 yards on first down. Stafford threw incomplete on second. Washington was stopped for no gain on third down. And the Lions, trailing 13-12, decided to chance their luck and go for it on fourth-and-1.
Stafford, in what appeared to be a pass play, tried running up the middle when his receivers didn’t get open and was stopped for a short loss.
Smith-Schuster beat Quandre Diggs for his long touchdown three plays later, but the Lions were on the doorstep of the end zone on their next possession again.
Faced with another first-and-goal from the 4, the Lions couldn’t get in the end zone on three straight plays before settling for a Prater field goal.
The Lions’ inefficiency on offense – they finished j2 of 11 passing for 6 yards and ran for just 4 yards on five carries in the red zone Sunday – has held back an otherwise solid football team. Not a championship one, but one that should contend for the NFC North title.
Now, the good news from the Lions’ standpoint is that, despite four losses in five games, the Lions are not out of the division race.
The Minnesota Vikings lead the division at 6-2, but the Lions already won in Minnesota and have a much more favorable schedule down the stretch. In fact, the Vikings are the best team left on the Lions’ schedule, and other than that, they have winnable games against teams like the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers (twice) and Chicago Bears (twice).
Nothing the Lions have done on offense of late should lead anyone to believe they’ll have an easy final two months. They need Cooter to find the magic potion he had when he first took over as a play-caller from Joe Lombardi two seasons ago.
If that happens, if they can get healthy against teams that aren’t as good as the Steelers, the Lions still might be a playoff team at the end of the day.
If not, their offense, with the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL, needs some serious examination.
Contact Dave Birkett: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!