• Aaron Fletcher

2020 Half-Season Review - Pt. 2: Mid-way point (with look ahead)

After the bye week, the Lions stood at 1-3 and 0-2 in the division. A situation that nobody wanted to be in and saw the HC come under serious fire.


The pressure was on him to be fired before the bye was over, but, he wasn't and the pressure then turned to performing every week as his job was on the line.


Week 6: W 34-16 @ Jacksonville Jaguars - (2-3) (0-2 in division)


One thing that gave fans some comfort was the prospect of facing a poor Jacksonville Jaguars side that was 1-4 entering the matchup and on a 4 game losing streak. The Jags’ main prospects came through their young offence, one that included 2nd year QB Gardener Minshew, rookie RB James Robinson and rookie WR Laviska Shenault. Accompanied by 3rd year WR D.J Chark (do, dooo, dodo, dodo).


However, both teams poor form saw the game being on a knife-edge. It was a game that could’ve been explosive but also could’ve been a dull and dwindling affair. Thanks to the bye week, the Lions entered the game fresher and hopefully with corrected mistakes.


Offensively, the Lions were superb. Stafford looked fresher and better, D’Andre Swift looked great too. He ran for 100+ yards including a 54-yard burst. Golladay made a huge impact, including a 40-yard and 36-yard catch. Hockenson continued to get in on the action, with his 3rd TD reception in 5 games so far. The offence had a big and notable game, here’s why:

  • Swift is the first rookie RB for the Lions to have 100+ rushing yards and 2 TDs in a game since Barry Sanders in 1989.

  • Swift’s 116-yards on the ground and Golladay’s 105 receiving yards made them the first rushing-receiving duo since Reggie Bush & Calvin Johnson in 2013 to have 100-yard games each for the Lions.


The only problems with the offence were the inability to capitalise on a huge interception in Jags’ territory, which in turn led to a missed FG.


Defensively, we were also top. Gardener Minshew was neutralised and the run defence stopped James Robinson from making his mark. The Jags have generally been a ‘run to set up the pass’ team for the season and with that run threat out of the game, they forced Gardener to throw constantly. Despite only registering 1 sack and 2 tackles for loss, the defence didn’t make life easy for the Jags’ offence, whatsoever. When Stafford threw an interception deep in the Lions’ half, the defence managed to hold the Jags offence after they started their drive at the Detroit 20-yard-line. Amani Oruwariye deserves a special shout-out as well for his play during the game. DJ Chark caught 7 of 14 targets for 45 yards and made a little-to-no impact on the game with thanks to AO.


Special Teams has continued to impress us this season, particularly punter Jack Fox. Even though he’s been incredible, it was great to see he only came out twice in the game at the end of the 2nd and 4th quarters. Matt Prater, however, missed a field goal and has started to show a level of inconsistency we’ve not been used to with him as our kicker.


Positives:

  • The offence turned up both on the ground and in the air.

  • The defence was solid throughout the game.

  • Amani Oruwariye pulled out a huge game.

  • D’Andre Swift was incredibly impressive and showed Lions fans what a stud he will be in the future.

  • Didn’t blow a double-digit lead. The streak is OVER!


Negatives:

  • Failure to convert after a big defensive play.

  • Matt Stafford’s interception was poor and despite his overall good performance, raises continuous questions about his role in the franchise.


Week 7: W 23-22 @ Atlanta Falcons - (3-3) (0-2 in division)


A tough fought win in Atlanta was topped off by a clutch game-winning drive in the dying seconds of the 4th quarter. The Lions travelled 75-yards downfield in 1:04 to win the game after Todd Gurley failed to not score a TD. I know, right?


With just over 1 minute left on the clock and the Falcons in prime position to take the game being 1st and Goal at the Detroit 10-yard-line, the defence allowed Todd Gurley to score on purpose so the Lions can get the ball back for one drive. Anything less than Gurley scoring would result in the Falcons being able to run down the clock and score. Todd Gurley was unable to stop himself at the ½ yard line and toppled over the plane.


The Lions and the Falcons do not know how to produce a boring game and this was no different. A high-flying offence but underachieving Falcons team entered the game 1-5 and seemingly on the way up under a new head coach. Both teams struggled to put their thumbprint on the game and take it away from the other. However, the Lions ended up 1 point winners.


I was away for this game and managed to watch most of it on my phone - but I am not fully in the know of everything and can go off limited watching and the stats available.


Offensively, 9 of our 23 points came from field goals. The offence was able to make drives work but was also often unable to convert into a TD. D’Andre Swift converted a TD on his return to Georgia (he played in college for Georgia), Golladay went for 6 receptions from 7 targets and 115-yards. Despite being able to make some big plays with Golladay, Amendola and Jones, it wasn’t a worldy of a performance by the offence. However, the final 75-yard drive with 1:04 left on the clock and no timeouts was clutch Stafford at his best. Dagger time is REAL!


Defensively, it was an impressive game I thought. The Falcons offence was tipped to rip our DBs to shreds due to their extremely good depth at WR, their TE is excellent and RB also strong. The defence gave up 3 TDs on the game, but, 1 was ‘allowed’ to go in. I was repeatedly frustrated at the missed tackles and failure to stop Matt Ryan and the Falcons in positions that would put the Lions in a great spot for the following drive.


Special teams turned up again. Matt Prater made 3 out of 4 FGs and punter Jack Fox made excellent punts when called up. Not much more could’ve been asked of the special teams.


Positives:

  • Back to .500

  • Dagger time is REAL!

  • The passing game looked threatening.

  • Strong start again


Negatives:

  • Again, unable to really take advantage of big moments in the game and convert TDs.

  • Bright start but unable to take momentum through to the second quarter and beyond.


This has felt to many like a game that should’ve been lost. As our own Ryan Fardon said it “feels like a victory snapped out of the jaws of defeat.” Either way, the game is won.


Week 8: L 21-41 vs. Indianapolis Colts - (3-4) (0-2 in division)


Momentum was seemingly with the Lions for this game. The Colts were 4-2 entering the game and the Lions had clawed their way back to 3-3. The argument against the Lions over those 2 wins was that at the point of playing, both the Jags and Falcons only managed 1 win each. The Colts were a side with a different story and a very, very tough defence.


However, the prospect for the Lions to win 3 in a row and go 4-3 on the season was great. This was an opportunity for the Lions to prove that the wins in the previous 2 weeks were not flukes or down to poor opposition. The offence was due to have a tough day but at the rate, Swift and Golladay were producing, it was something that many had confidence in. The Colts didn’t have an offence that was firing on all cylinders and that’s something that the defence, who showed improvement in the 2 weeks prior, may be able to contain.


The Colts dominated time of possession, particularly throughout the first half. They finished the game with 37:46 minutes possession. Their defence was tough throughout and gave the Lions offence little to no hope whatsoever. The defence was simply unable to get off the field, which wasn’t helped by the fact the offence was spending very little time on there too.


Offensively, it was extremely poor. The play-calling was horrific and Adrian Peterson has continued to see his success drop throughout the season. This has been down to the fact that play-calling on the offence is so predictable, and teams are ready and waiting for AP, knowing exactly what he’s going to do. The Lions had 6 drives in the first half, 3 of which ended in 3 & out, 1 was 4 & out, the other a TD and a missed field goal. The touchdown drive lasted 2 plays and the missed field goal was 8 plays long. The longest they stayed on the field was 1:46 and that resulted in 3 & out and a punt. The second half wasn’t much better. The offence managed 6 drives in the second half: TD, punt, fumble, pick 6, TD & turnover on downs. This just simply isn’t good enough for an offence with the talent this team has. Kenny Golladay was 0 receptions in 4 targets before exiting at the end of the 2nd Quarter. Marvin Hall was able to catch a couple of dimes, though. He looked really impressive with his 4 receptions from 7 targets and 113 yards. Marvin Jones Jr. caught 2 TDs and Agnew was the team’s top rusher with 11 yards from 1 carry. Peterson and Swift little-to-no success whatsoever mustering up 8 yards from 11 carries between them.


The defence was equally disappointing, however, they can probably be given some benefit of the doubt due to how little they were able to get off the field. They actually started the game strong, forcing the Colts offence to 3 punts in a row with an opening 3 & out drive. However, before the halfway up they then conceded 3 TDs on 3 drives. A similar start to the 2nd half saw the defence force the Colts offence to 3 & out twice in a row. The game was essentially capped out when the Colts scored a TD on their 3rd drive of the half, then put more points on the board with a pick 6. Jamie Collins and Tracy Walker both contributed 11 tackles each, Okwara and Shelton both managed 1 sack each, and TFLs came from Jamie Collins (2), Okwara, Shelton, Hand, Flowers & Penisini. Overall, the performance was terrible, but as mentioned above - I have a tough time putting too much on this defence who were given absolutely no respite.


Special teams came out with a good one. Another missed field goal from Prater has started to get Lions fans seriously doubting whether this one-time clutch player is up to it anymore. A bright spark was that the special teams blocked a punt. The blocked punt set up the first TD and gave the Lions excellent field position. It was the Lions’ first blocked punt since Xmas Eve-eve (23rd Dec) 2007!!!


Positives:

  • Marvin Hall is proving to be a deep threat WR.

  • Despite the missed FGs, special teams are going from strength to strength.

  • The Colts were unable to get any real success on the ground game.


Negatives:

  • The offensive line was terrible and offered little-to-no protection whatsoever.

  • The offence couldn’t stay on the field.

  • In 2 or 3 games now this season the Lions have struggled against a QB that’s good in the pocket and doesn’t regularly look to scramble.


Week 9: L 20-34 vs. Minnesota Vikings - (3-5) (0-3 in division)


This is probably the most important game of the season. At this point, every game is essentially a cup final. None more than divisional games. The Vikings were 2-5 and fresh off an impressive victory against the Packers. The Lions needed to win this game if they had any hopes of retaining the season and not allowing it to derail them.


Dalvin Cook was by far the biggest threat for the Vikings and was the primary target for the Lions to make a stop in order to take the game. This was a tall order, despite the run defence having really improved from games 5-7. This was a different kettle of fish, though as Dalvin Cook was by far the best running back the Lions would face since the bye week and stopping him is much easier said than done. Cousins was seemingly the Vikings’ weak point on offence and pressure on the QB, after forcing them into passing situations was going to be key in any Lions success throughout the game. The Vikings defence was having a bad year, even though they had put a lot of time and resources into revitalising it this season. The DBs weren’t performing and the DL had little success so far. The only aspect of the defence performing consistently well was the LB core. Not to mention that despite Kenny Golladay being out for the Lions, the Vikings were missing 3 of their top CBs.


The game was poor from front to back for the Lions as Cook ran all over our defence and Cousins was able to be calm, collected and efficient with the ball in his hands. The Lions weren’t given much on the offensive side of the ball either, though they were at least able to keep drives going for longer this time around.


Offensively, D’Andre Swift had relative success with the ball on the ground, rushing 13 times for 64 yards and Kerryon Johnson accumulating 29 yards from 4 carries. Adrian Peterson had a slightly better game than previously accumulating 29 yards from 8 carries. Stafford threw 32 times for 23 receptions and 211 yards. But, also threw 1 TD and 2 INTs. Both INTs were right down the middle and one was in the end zone. Stafford was injured in the 4th quarter and backup QB Chase Daniel stepped in, throwing 13 times, 8 receptions, 94 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Familiar names were creeping up in receiving, with Amendola, Marvin Jones and TJ Hockenson picking up most of the yardage. Amendola saw the majority of targets and receptions this time round. It just wasn’t good enough again. Stafford looked a shadow of what he once was, the only players on offence seemingly stepping up were Amendola, Hall and Hockenson with Jones Jr. making a play or two. The offensive line again offered little-to-no help to anybody and has continuously regressed in previous weeks. One of the TDs came through another blocked punt and a drive starting at the Vikings’ 2-yard-line. The play-calling has been awful. This was epitomised earlier in the game, the Lions had a 3rd & goal situation at the Vikings’ 1-yard-line, called a stretch play with Adrian Peterson which resulted in a 4-yard loss.


Defensively, the run-game completely decimated the Lions defence. The Vikings’ OL were able to create consistent holes at the line of scrimmage and Cousins was given good time to throw and make the ball move efficiently in the air. Cook ran 22 times for 206 yards including a 70-yarder in which the defence only had 10 men on the field. According to NextGen stats, the pass-rush was actually better than previous weeks in terms of separation from the QB but that resulted in only 1 sack by Desmond Trufant, and 1 TFL which was shared between Justin Coleman and Mike Ford. This had totally undone any positives the defence had made through weeks 6 & 7 and returned to the state they were in between weeks 1-4.


On special teams, punter Jack Fox was seen a lot again doing what he does and Matt Prater made 2 of 3 field-goal attempts. More impressively, they managed to block 2 punts this time. Either something is in the water for the special teams or Brayden Coombs is doing one hell of a job.


Positives:

  • The special teams have been immaculate so far.

  • The run game saw SOME improvements compared to previous weeks.


Negatives:

  • Dalvin Cook ran all over.

  • Not for the first time in the season - the Lions gave up big plays with a missing player.

  • Play-calling was awful again.

  • Ameer Abdullah caught 1 catch for 22 yards and a TD which just felt like a slap in the faces of Lions fans everywhere.


First Half Feelings


It was summed up nicely by one of the commentators on CBS after the Vikings game, who said ‘3-5 will feel a lot different to these teams’. Despite a horrible 1st quarter to the season, it seemed like the Lions were on course for at least turning the corner after the 2 post-bye-week wins. Alas, that’s not what happened. Now we stand here 3-5 and 0-3 in the NFC North.


The biggest debate at the moment is not whether Patricia will stay or not - the consensus among fans everywhere is that he’s not going to touch this Lions team at bare-minimum when the season is over, maybe before-hand. This topic has been thoroughly discussed on numerous occasions throughout the ROTL UK Podcast. But, the biggest discussion right now is whether at all the season is in any way shape or form salvageable. 3-5 feels awful, but as a record, it isn’t the end of the world. In a season such as this one, which has been decimated with injuries and a global pandemic, as well as the extra 7th playoff team, 3-5 at week 9 is NOT the worst possible record to have if you want the hope of potentially making play-offs.


What we’ve seen up to this point (I believe) is that we have players around this whole team who are capable. Capable of making a play, capable of turning up and putting in a shift for the team. We also have players who aren’t. This team has talent across the board, whether it’s with our rookies who’ve improved throughout the season, or whether it’s with players who are a bit older.


We’ve seen flashes of whole team performances, particularly in the Cardinals, Jags and Falcons wins, the whole team played together and played strong. We’ve also seen flashes in the coaching that they can rectify mistakes and scheme for games. But, we’ve not seen any of these things nearly enough. Much to often so far it’s been one or two players turning up, or a slight change here and there. This just isn’t good enough. For a team that’s supposed to be in a make or break year, for players that many of which are playing for contracts going into 2021, this just isn’t good enough. The playoffs seem a long way from where this team is at right now. As I’ve said, 3-5 isn’t the worst record and is salvageable. But, the reasons why the Lions have lost 5 games, the manner in which they’ve turned up and not performed, or the ways in which lack of overall improvements have been made are why this season feels so far gone already.


If the whole team was showing improvements throughout the Colts and Vikings games, even 4-4 would seem fair and possibly salvageable. If the Lions were - at any point - in these games, the opinions would probably be different. But, given the nature of the losses, and the lack of accountability both on and off the field, there's a feeling that nobody really turned up to make these games count. Some players have had good games, or at least not awful games but there’s a lack of leadership, which is key in these situations and that’s all the more damning for this organisation.


I have made a name for myself of being one of the ‘positive’ ones, and I remain hopeful that the Lions can turn this around. I believe that in general, this is a talented team and a team that in another year, probably under different coaching, could be a play-off team on talent. With an improved linebacker core and more consistent receiving and running, this team could be very, very good. They just need leadership. That comes with coaches, but also with key players. When Stafford isn’t playing up to the standard we’ve seen, Prater is a lot less consistent, Golladay has had an injury or two and his contract situation is up in the air and Marvin Jones Jr. is also not where his level we know, it raises questions. More questions than there are probably answers to.


Second-Half - What’s coming up?


In the second half of the season - our fixtures are as follows.


Week 10: Washington Football Team (2-6)

Week 11: @ Carolina Panthers (3-6)

Week 12: Houston Texans (2-6)

Week 13: @ Chicago Bears (5-4)

Week 14: Green Bay Packers (6-2)

Week 15: @ Tennessee Titans (6-2)

Week 16: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3)

Week 17: Minnesota Vikings (3-5)


*@=Away Game - Team - Their record so far


Our remaining fixtures, which include 2 home games and 1 away game against divisional opponents have a combined record of 33-34. We will have to face a Green Bay, Tennessee & Tampa Bay side in a row that have all had great starts and will all be heavily in play-off hunts going into those 3 games. But, the games against Washington, Carolina and Houston provide real opportunities for the Lions to pick-up some key wins. Bringing them to 6-5 entering the final 5 games and potentially right in the playoff hunt.


There's a prospect of an 8th team being allowed into the play-offs at the moment but primarily, we're looking at 7 teams. The NFC East are stealing a play-off spot this year, which means the 3 other play-off spots are going to be all the more competitive. 9-7 might not be good enough for the play-offs. At bare minimum, if the Lions win against Washington, Carolina and Houston, they will need to win 3/5 games at worst to keep them in the play-off picture. The divisional picture may also be huge and the head-to-heads as well. Given that the Lions have lost to the Saints and are 0-3 in the division, those 3 wins will probably have to come against all of our divisional opponents which is a very, very tough ask. We will have to perform in Chicago against a Bears team that's tough (but on the way down after a great start) then we'll have to beat a high-flying Green Bay side at Ford Field and then a potentially crucial game, in Detroit against a possibly resurged Vikings side. Other than that we have Tom Brady's Bucs team (who will be fighting for a high spot and potentially their division) and a Titans team that will be in a similar position. Those 2 games will also be huge as both teams will still be in the hunt and fighting for their position in the play-offs.


While this season so far has been a rollercoaster, it also feels like we’ve got little left to fight for. But, the next 3 games are all very winnable and hopefully, that stretch can see the Lions bring in a good run to a very tough final few games.

Do you think the Lions can do it? Or do you believe that the season’s dead and buried? Tell us your thoughts and opinions on our socials.



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