Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
Nothing like a tough loss to deflate all the positive vibes from a strong preseason and impressive opening win. The Lions hit the road and the road hit back, as Arizona overcame a lengthy Lions lead and beat Detroit 25-21 on Sunday.
I broke the game down over at Bleacher Report, but here are some more expansive thoughts.
1. The return game was the #1 culprit in the loss. Last season Detroit ranked 31st in the league in average starting field position off punts and kicks. In this game, the Lions fell far short of that egregious mark. Twelve times Arizona kicked the ball, and the Lions got the ball past their own 20 yard line just once. That drive started at the 21, right before halftime, and the Lions decided to run out of the clock after the first play went nowhere.
Micheal Spurlock was supposed to be an upgrade over Stefan Logan, but in this game he was wildly ineffective. I don’t want to take away from Arizona’s coverage units, which were excellent as was punter Dave Zastudil. But good return men make the first tackler miss. Great return men make multiple tacklers miss. Micheal Spurlock didn’t make anyone miss, other than one runback which was negated by a (correct) holding penalty. Starting so deep in its own end is a burden on the offense. It changes the level of aggressiveness in the play calling, and when the Lions scale back on the throttle they’re just not very effective.
2. I was baffled like everyone else at the heavy reliance on Brandon Pettigrew. His run blocking and pass protection merit the most snaps of the tight ends, and I’m okay with that. But I have no idea why he was on the field as the prime receiving tight end over Joseph Fauria and Tony Scheffler when the Lions went to a spread set or faced obvious passing downs.
Depending on which stat book you believe, Pettigrew had either two or three drops in the game. There was another pass where Pettigrew did a terrible job of presenting his wide frame as a target for Stafford. Tony Scheffler is incredibly one-dimensional, but at least he is good at that important dimension. Fauria played very well in the opener but saw just 6 snaps in this one. Stafford never attempted a pass at either of them.
What is truly puzzling is that the Lions opted to play Kris Durham on more than half the offensive snaps over Scheffler. They are basically the same guy as receivers, except Scheffler is lither in the open field and more of a threat after the catch. Once Patrick Edwards left the game with an injury, the Lions had a crying need form someone who could lift the lid on the defense. Scheffler occupies either a linebacker or a safety and usually gets a quick, clean release.
3. Bill Bentley saw extensive action, and it came at Ashlee Palmer’s expense. Arizona used three or more wide receivers on more than 50 of their 69 snaps (they had two kneel downs at the end which gave them 71 officially). Bentley made some good plays, but those get lost in the pass interference calls.
The first DPI call was a tough one. Bentley certainly violated the technical rules of interference, and he cannot expect the benefit of the doubt as an inexperienced nickel back. The second one however, wow. You name the errors that a corner can make in coverage, and Bentley pretty much checked off every box on that one play.
One of the reasons the Lions liked Bentley as a draft prospect was his outward confidence and his ability to put mistakes behind him. Let’s hope that the short memory and the swagger are still present. The next game at Washington figures to be a pass-happy affair, and the Lions need Bentley to be strong.
4. Even though CJ Mosley didn’t play poorly, and Jason Jones saw some effective time inside, the defense really missed Nick Fairley. Big Nick excels at getting into the backfield quickly off the snap and pressuring the QB in the face. That’s not Mosley’s game, and it gave Carson Palmer way too much time to throw far too often. Arizona’s offensive line is not very good, and they had their hands full with Ndamukong Suh. Had Fairley played, they would have paid dearly for the extra attention paid on Suh, who was outstanding even without his normal partner in crime. Here’s hoping Fairley gets back on the field vs. Washington, which likes the power run game.
5. I was disappointed that the Lions didn’t give rookie Theo Riddick more of a chance after Bush got hurt. Joique Bell is a good player, but he’s not an elusive type of back that can embarrass defenders in the open field. Riddick has a similar skillset to Bush, certainly more so than Bell. The Lions could have used that kind of skills on the last couple of drives; Arizona knew they could cover Bell with a linebacker, but Riddick has the immediate speed that could either get free from a LB or command a safety. Instead we saw Riddick on just one snap.
The overriding takeaway from the second half offense is that the Lions desperately lack speed, and it sorely inhibited their ability to dictate the action. Detroit stubbornly stuck with proven, plodding non-factors Kris Durham and Brandon Pettigrew instead of infusing some speed with Scheffler or Riddick. That decision will haunt Scott Linehan.