2020 Half-Season Review - Pt. 1: Up to the Bye!

I’m going to start this article by congratulating you all. WE MADE IT! (so far, anyway). 8 games into the season, week 9 wrapped up and we’re still going. 6 months ago in April, we were gearing up for a virtual NFL Draft, without knowing yet whether we would actually be having a season come September.

The NFL weren’t alone in this, the NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS and countless other sports leagues across the world were cut short, temporarily stopped or put on hold for the foreseeable future. The pandemic is still running its way around society, but, more importantly - we have FOOTBALL. Now, I don’t want to make this all about COVID, and I won’t - but it’s incredibly tough to mention this year without it creeping into the conversation.

Despite all of the fears and worries, no pre-season and training camp being shaken up and player opt-outs, millions tuned in worldwide on Thursday 10th September (Friday 11th for us Brits) to watch the first game of the season. A repeat of the 2019 AFC Divisional Play-off Game, Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs. I can only imagine the sigh of relief on the 16th September as the week 1 games went on and completed without a hitch.


It’s been a rollercoaster since one that will probably not end for a while as the chance of serious interruption to the league is still relatively high.


Each team has had its own complications to deal with (RE: COVID), accompanied by their own individual scenarios regarding the states of their franchises. The Lions are no different in that. 32 different teams were in 32 different scenarios. Despite the main focus being on the global pandemic in the build-up to the season (and throughout), there have been many other situations that have been in and around not only the NFL but the league as a whole.

The Lions’ situation entering the season

Michigan and COVID: The state of Michigan was seemingly much tighter in restrictions than many other states. The Lions worked with Governor Gretchen Whitmer on the plans to play games, as well as potentially allow fans into Ford Field. Though the games were able to go ahead, it was announced on 28th August that no fans would be allowed in Ford Field until at LEAST the Indianapolis Colts game in week 8 (3rd home game of the season).


Opt-Outs: In July, the NFL and NFLPA announced they would be doing an ‘opt-out’ scheme for players. More information can be found in this article on ROTL about what the opt-outs are and what they mean for the players who accept. The only opt-outs for the Lions were: WR Geronimo Allison, DT John Atkins and C Russel Bodine. No detrimental opt-outs for the Lions, so not much worry was made at the time.


Coaching Changes: the Lions had brought in new coaches in the off-season, most notably being Defensive Coordinator Cory Undlin. A full list of coaching changes can be viewed here. One other change which is missing on the list of changes is the promotion of OL Coach, Hank Fraley.


Player Additions/Losses: the Lions added plenty of new players during the off-season. In the draft, free agency and in trades. I won’t go through them all but I will add a few key players that have left or arrived (inc. the 2020 Draft).


Left Detroit: CB Darius Slay, RT Rick Wagner, DT Damon Harrison, P Sam Martin, DT A’Shawn Robinson & QB Jeff Driskell,


Arrived: CB Desmond Trufant, RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, S Duron Harmon, QB Chase Daniel, RB Adrian Peterson, DE Everson Griffin*


*Signed during the season


Draft:

Round 1 - CB Jeff Okudah (Ohio State)

Round 2 - RB D’Andre Swift (Georgia)

Round 3 - LB Julian Okwara (Notre Dame)

Round 3 - OL Jonah Jackson (Ohio State)

Round 4 - OL Logan Stenberg (Kentucky)

Round 5 - WR Quintez Cephus (Wisconsin)

Round 5 - RB Jason Huntley (New Mexico State)^

Round 6 - DL John Penisini (Utah)

Round 7 - DL Jashon Cornell (Ohio State)


^ No longer with the Lions


Head Coach & General Manager: Going into the season, Head Coach Matt Patricia and General Manager Bob Quinn were both in hot seats entering the season. Matt Patricia was heading for his 3rd season as a Head Coach and so far had a record of 9-22-1. Bob Quinn - who sacked Caldwell after a 9-7 season for ‘not being good enough’ - has stuck by Matt Patricia for so long that many believe they’re a ‘package deal’. They started the season already in the hot-seat with the likelihood that anything less than a playoff run is going to result in their last season at the Lions.


Ownership: In June, it was announced that Martha Ford was stepping down as owner of the Lions, with daughter Sheila stepping up in her position. Sheila has been in/around the organisation for a large number of years now and hopefully, she can bring something different and fresh to the Lions.


Word around the Lions before the season started was positive. It looked like they were turning a new leaf, and the coaching was on to something. Overall opinions were mixed - some believed that they were quietly going to achieve something, others believed the Lions were going to fall flat on their faces. One thing that stayed was that the largest chunk of the fanbase was in that strange, kool-aid period where optimism peaks and despite being wary of what could happen (same old Lions!), there’s a belief that they can actually make something of themselves.

We’re now halfway into the season and the Lions stand at 3-5. Things could be worse, but they could be a whole lot better. Even a couple of weeks ago, optimism was rising and we believed they were turning a corner after the bye. Here’s how the season has gone so far...


Week 1: L 23-27 vs. Chicago Bears (0-1) (0-1 in division)


Detroit opened the season with a big divisional matchup at Ford Field. Before the game, everybody was just so happy to watch Lions football. 60 minutes and 4 quarters later, that relief turned right back into the ‘frustration’ we all know so well.


The Bears were predicted widely to finish 4th in the division and have a disappointing season. The biggest story going into the game, other than the ‘C-word’ (last time, I promise), and the lack of pre-season was the Bears’ QB troubles. Just days before the game, Matt Nagy announced that Mitch Trubisky would start for the Bears in week 1. A decision that excited Lions fans across the world.


The Lions started well, going into the 4th quarter 23-6 up and ended up losing the game 27-23. Multiple unanswered points in the 4th quarter and a blown double-digit lead has become a staple of the current coaching regime. The Lions were in an excellent position to win the game with 8 seconds (+/-) left on the clock when Stafford’s 16-yard pass to rookie RB D’Andre Swift was caught at the 1-yard-line and subsequently dropped before he was able to get it into the endzone for a touchdown.


Positives:

  • Through 3 quarters, both sides of the ball were performing. They didn’t reach the heights we were hoping for, but the defence had held the Bears to 2 field goals.

  • Veteran RB Adrian Peterson looked good. Finishing with 93 yards off 14 carries and an average of 6.6 yards-per-carry.

Negatives:

  • Blown double-digit lead.

  • The run defence was terrible with the Bears accumulating 149 yards from 27 carries (5.5 yards-per-carry).

  • 1st and 2nd Round draft picks Jeff Okudah & D’Andre Swift left a LOT to be desired.


Week 2: L 21-42 @ Green Bay Packers (0-2) (0-2 in division)


After a disappointing end to week 1, another divisional matchup was on the cards against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. The Packers were another team that was being betted against this season. With the belief that the previous years NFC Championship game was a huge overachievement. They seemingly had QB issues of their own after drafting Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 Draft. But, Aaron Rodgers continued to be the starter for the foreseeable future.


The Lions again raced out of the blocks and had an impressive 1st Quarter. Leading the Packers 14-3. 31 unanswered points from the start of the 2nd Quarter and the game was completely dead and buried including a pick 6 deep in Lions territory.


There were flashes of positives but as a whole, this game was poor across the board. Not very many positives seemed to make themselves clear and it looks like an immediate regression. The Packers, however, did look like they were out to prove everybody wrong and Aaron Rodgers was showing everybody that the choice to draft Jordan Love in the 1st round of the draft means nothing for him because he’s still got it.


Positives

  • Rookie WR Quintez Cephus has shown he’s a valuable asset to this Lions team catching 3 out of 3 targets for 54 yards on some big plays.

  • TE T.J Hockenson carried on his form as a top tight end. 4/4 for 62 yards.

  • Kerryon Johnson saw some snaps as a RB, something we didn’t believe we’d see much this year with AP and Swift in the backfield. KJ’s injuries have cast doubt on his future but he’s definitely turned up. He racked up 32 yards on 8 carries and 1 touchdown.

  • D’Andre Swift didn’t have much luck as a RB but 60 yards from 5 receptions and 5 targets saw him shake off that dropped catch in the dying seconds of week 1. Which is exactly what you want to see from your rookie - resilience. And if there’s anything you need when playing for the Lions - it’s resilience.

Negatives

  • Blown double-digit lead… again. Twice in 2 games this season.

  • 31 unanswered points through 2nd and 3rd quarter.

  • Jeff Okudah failed to impress again. Our first-round pick coming out of OSU has struggled to adapt to the NFL from college. There are many factors as to why, but it’s not been easy for him. #FREEJEFE


Week 3: W 26-23 @ Arizona Cardinals (1-2) (0-2 in division)


Our previous meeting with the Cardinals came as part of a 27-27 tie in the opening game of the 2019 season. This is a matchup that hasn’t provided many close calls over the years but the last 2 games have been very, very close. The Cardinals were up to a 2-0 record and Kyler Murray was lighting it up as a true dual-threat QB in his second year. Given the failings on our defence and the Cardinals’ tough defence, not many predicted a close game at all, certainly not one that saw the Lions take it.

The Lions played a tough game, forcing Kyler Murray to make 3 interceptions. During the current HC regime, lack of adaptive defence and in-game adjustments have been the downfall of the organisation. This game wasn’t one of those. Heavy defensive adjustments, including a major swing between man and zone coverage, proved to be a game-changer. The defence looked much, much better and rookie CB Jeff Okudah looked like he was starting to get in the swing of things.


On offence, the Lions looked more efficient but were still unable to convert some big opportunities. Despite the win, many people still felt this offence was not performing up to standard and could still be offering much more. The return of Kenny Golladay was something that excited many fans and with his 6 receptions, 57 yards & TD, he didn’t disappoint. It felt like we’d finally got the dime piece back on offence and things could start falling into place.


So far, special teams haven't had a mention in any of the games so far and that’s not because they’ve been disappointing - actually quite the opposite. Matt Prater hit 4/4 FGs with the longest being a 39 yarder. Prater has been a staple in this Lions team over the years and has had nerves of steel in a clutch moment. This game was no different as his 39 yarder was good with 4 seconds to go. New punter Jack Fox was showing up around the NFL as the leagues top punter in yardage and net yardage.


I’m going to place this into neither positives nor negatives. I’ll let you decide your opinion on it: On the 3 drives immediately following interceptions, the Lions picked up 10 points out of a possible 21. Going punt, touchdown, field goal. Some believe that was ok, some believe it wasn’t enough.


Positives:

  • A WIN!!! About time!

  • The defence was impressive in stopping a fantastic young QB from running all over us.

  • A big and needed change in defensive scheming from 80+% man-coverage in weeks 1 and 2, to 55% in week 3.

  • Matt Prater came through in a clutch moment.

  • Kenny Golladay came back and seemingly helped to revitalise the offence.

  • TE’s TJ Hockenson and Jesse James were able to get into the game and make a difference. A position the Lions have consistently underperformed in throughout the years.

Negatives:

  • Despite 3 INTs, the Lions didn’t have a lead of more than 4 points at any point in the game. They were unable to take advantage of the situation and pull away.

  • The run game wasn’t quite up to what we saw in the previous 2 weeks.


Week 4: L 29-35 vs, New Orleans Saints (1-3) (0-2 in division)


After a big win against the Cardinals, the Lions were preparing to face a Saints team that was also going into the game 1-2 after week 3. Drew Brees wasn’t setting the world alight like the world thought he would, and they were missing key players such as WR Michael Thomas, DE Marcus Davenport and CBs Marshon Lattimore & Jenoris Jenkins. The Saints being depleted in the secondary with their CB 1& 2 both out, was something that excited Lions fans. The offence was tipped to have a field day and with the previous weeks performance against a young, dynamic QB being so good, confidence grew over their capabilities to stop Drew Brees who - despite being a guaranteed Hall of Fame QB and a guy who’s been elite throughout his career - wasn’t performing so far. The deep threat wasn’t as dangerous as feared (Michael Thomas being out didn’t help either) and the option to contain him was a prospect that seemed mouth-watering. The Kool-Aid was flowing.


The game nearly didn’t happen after Saints FB Michael Burton tested positive for the coronavirus the day before. With fears that not only did he have it, but he could’ve potentially passed it on to teammates. Thankfully, with testing protocols, he was retested, other players were also tested and they all came back negative. Game on.


The Lions started bright, scoring a TD on the opening drive, then intercepting Drew Brees straight after, and scoring another TD, flying to a 14-0 lead. However, after that, the Saints put up 35 unanswered points. 5 TDs on 5 drives. The punter didn’t come onto the field until the 3rd quarter for the Saints.


Offensively, apart from the opening 2 drives and the end of the 3rd & 4th quarter, it was lacklustre at best. The following 4 drives after the 2 TDs went punt, interception, punt, punt. The offence didn’t turn back up until the mid-way through the 3rd quarter, with Stafford’s 1-yard pass to TJ Hockenson bringing the game back to a 14-point deficit, giving Lions fans hope that there was more than enough time on the board to keep the momentum going. The Saints. A couple of big stops by the defence were needed, but it was doable. The defence did, but then the Lions started the following drive on their own 2-yard line and failed to get out of their half. A final TD with 3:40 to go, with a 2pt conversion, saw the game close up to a 6 point deficit, but the Saints were able to keep hold of the ball and see the game out. Overall, not a great performance from the offence who showed flashes of what they were capable of - but not nearly enough.


Defensively, it was a lot of trainwrecks. Barring the Saints’ first play interception, the defence was unable to stop them whatsoever. 5 TDs from 5 drives. The NO punter didn’t come out until the 4th quarter, and by that point, it was too late. I honestly cannot put much into words here about what a poor performance the defence had. Alvin Kamara was able to have a field day with the DL and on a number of occasions, the Lions were beat right on top of the LBs, in the middle of the field. Something that wasn’t stopped and Brees continued to get luck throwing to Emmanuel Sanders particularly in that area. I will say this as a positive for the defence, though - Jamie Collins wasn’t awful wracking up 9 tackles, Okwara was able to get a sack & a TFL, Reggie Ragland also with 1 sack and 1 TFL, Trey Flowers was also able to make 2 TFLs. The scheming was wrong on all levels, but there were moments where some players made plays.


Positives:

  • A bright start again, showing the Lions are capable of bringing the heat.

  • Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara were bright sparks of the defence, being able to be the only ones to make plays throughout.

  • Jesse James and Amendola had their hands in big plays on offence.

Negatives:

  • Blown double-digit lead AGAIN!!! (5th consecutive blown double-digit lead - a league record).

  • Inability to stop the run.

  • Inability to put any real pressure on a fading QB.

  • The defence was awful yet again. The Linebackers were a huge and glaring weak spot.

  • Other than opening 2 drives, the offence couldn’t get going.

Week 5: BYE WEEK (1-3) (0-2 in division)


It was a quiet bye week for the Lions, particularly so early on in the season. Despite complaints in the off-season at having such an early bye, it seemed to come at the right time. In a season that was ‘do or die’ for the head coach and general manager, 1-3 wasn’t exactly a favourable scenario for anyone. With mounting pressure and a seat in which the temperature was increasing monumentally, the bye week was much needed time to attempt schematic changes and evaluate the performances before the season ran away from us.


The calls for Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn were enormous and could’ve potentially been the ideal time to do it, so the team could have time to adjust to the changes. But, they remained at the helm for the time being.


The 2nd part of this blog will be dropped tomorrow (13th Nov).

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