The Detroit Lions, after a disappointing 28-19 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 7 of the NFL season, now head to London, England where they will face the Kansas City Chiefs (2-5) on Sunday, Nov. 1 at Wembley Stadium.
It will be the Lions’ second consecutive year of having a game across the pond; they beat the Atlanta Falcons last season 22-21.
While the Lions managed to beat 11 teams last season, this year’s opponents haven’t been so willing to help the Lions out in the victory column, as Detroit is off to a 1 – 6 start. In painful reality, the Lions are much closer to securing a No. 1 or 2 draft pick in next year’s NFL Draft, than they are of securing a playoff spot this season.
Feeling a need to jumpstart the team’s lackluster offense, 24 hours after the loss to the Vikings, Coach Jim Caldwell announced that offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, as well as offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn and assistant line coach Terry Heffernan, had been replaced.
According to the Lions’ official website, quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter will take over as offensive coordinator, tight ends coach Ron Prince takes over for Washburn as the new offensive line coach and will remain as the team’s assistant head coach. Running backs coach Curtis Modkins continues his duties, but will also become the team’s run-game coordinator. Special teams assistant Devin Fitzsimmons will become new tight ends coach.
The timing of the changes was interesting. Caldwell, just after noon on Monday, told the media that there were no changes to report. About four hours later, just before heading to London, Caldwell recanted and announced the changes.
Offensively, there were lots of places to point fingers as to why the Lions made such changes. The team is ranked 29th in points scored (19.9), dead last in rushing offense (68.0), and 20th in overall offense (346.6).
Against the Vikings, the offensive line allowed quarterback Matt Stafford to be sacked seven times and hit hard at least a dozen more times. There was a slowness in someone making sure that 11 offensive players were in the game when the Lions had the ball. The team had to burn a precious timeout in the third quarter because only 10 players took the field ready to snap the ball.
Play calling was suspect at best, and there was very little adjustment offensively to what the Vikings were doing defensively. With the exception of two points that the Vikings intentionally gave the Lions by running out of bounds in the end zone with 59 seconds left in the game, Detroit could only manage three other points after the 5:03 mark of the second quarter, thanks to a Matt Prater 52-yard field goal.
The Lions started the game against Minnesota fast and furious. In the first quarter, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and tight end Eric Ebron both made touchdown catches that had the Lions off and running, 14-3. Yet, the start was similar to how Detroit performed in the first quarter in the season’s opener against the San Diego Chargers, when the Lions struck with quick scores. In both the Minnesota and San Diego games, the Lions went from the “fast and furious” to the “slow and lack-less” in the ensuing quarters.
Defensively, there’s been moments of greatness for Detroit, especially from defensive end Ziggy Ansah. In the Minnesota game, he had one sack, four tackles, forced a fumble, and impressively ran down the Vikings’ great running back, Adrian Peterson, when it looked as if he would score on a 75-yard run. Linebacker Stephen Tullock also played well with four tackles and four assist. Jason Jones had four tackles.
However, regardless of how well a defense plays, it will wear down – physically and mentally – when it’s forced to spend an exorbitant amount of time on the field because the offense can’t sustain movement of the ball.
After the Viking’s game, Caldwell was asked by reporters about the team appearing to give up. “I didn’t think it was giving in,” he said. “We just didn’t do some of the things we were supposed to do. We were just inept for a long stretch of the game.”
While it’s strange to hear a NFL head football coach use the word “inept” to describe any aspect of his team’s performance, the fact of the matter is Caldwell is 100 percent correct. With questionable play calling, bad clock management/mental mistakes in key situations, “inept” is actually a good word to describe the entire team so far this season.
Following the shakeup of the offensive brain trust, the Lions need a victory over the Chiefs in London in a bad way, because after the game across the pond and a bye-week, the so-far undefeated Green Bay Packers will welcome Detroit back to America and Lambeau Field in Week 10. The Lions will host Green Bay on Dec. 3. Other teams with better records than the Lions will also be waiting in line.
The way that the Lions have played this season, it’s tough to find many wins on the team’s remaining schedule, even though there are several “should win” games for the Lions. These days, however, “should win” has not always come to fruition, and time is running out. Yet, according to veteran safety James Ihedigbo following the loss to Minnesota, “We are not ready to give up. We will stay together and fight until the end of season. We are a team!”